The Canal de Beauregard, also known as the Canal des Esclaves, is a narrow path that snakes around the hills between Carbet and Fond St. Denis in the north of Martinique. In Fond St. Denis, the road is marked but not very clearly. Coming from Saint Pierre, you will pass a church and then turn up a hill where a sign says “Canal des Esclaves.” This sign does not indicate that you are supposed to turn right at the sign down a steep narrow driveway-like path. Keep following the path and you will reach the start of the canal.
If you miss this turn completely like we did, you will end up driving on a narrow mountainous street. We had driven quite a ways before we stopped to ask if we had missed the turn off, and by that point we were nearly at Saut Gendarme. A short trail leads to a waterfall that you can swim under, and though we felt it was too cold to attempt at seventy degrees, we ran into some women in soaking bras that had clearly decided spontaneously to jump in. The waterfall is not as impressive as some in Martinique, but I imagine it is just as refreshing and the hike itself takes only about five minutes. There’s a small picnic area too—perfect if you bring lunch for after your swim.
We finally arrived at the Canal des Esclaves and headed out along the narrow canal. The trail follows the canal, with small breaks where the path widens. The canal was built by slaves to bring fresh water to the plantations and distilleries around Saint-Pierre and Carbet. The work started in 1772 but took about 17 years to complete. The slaves had to carry rocks on their backs all the way up the mountain to build it. Thousands of slaves worked on this project and many died from falling rocks and from falling from steep and slippery paths from the rain. The canal survived the 1902 eruption, and use of the canal halted completely in 1956.
The canal is beautiful and offers gorgeous views of the mountains. It runs through the rainforest, although a comparatively tame rainforest. There are not very many snakes, which I was relieved to discover and they tend to be very timid. Still, you might catch glimpses of hummingbirds, crabs, and goats that are permitted to wander the mountain during the day.
The hike is not very strenuous and fairly flat. It takes between an hour and an hour and a half one way—about three hours roundtrip. It’s a good hike for people who aren’t in the habit of hiking on their butt, as was the case for me on most of Mont Pelée because it was so steep. However, the path is very narrow at parts and those who suffer from vertigo might find that the beautiful view is not worth the nausea.
If you do this hike, remember to bring a picnic lunch. There is a restaurant at the base in Fond St. Denis, but it is fairly expensive, and you can expect to spend a minimum of twenty Euros per person, more if you get drinks and dessert. We arrived at 1:30 and learned that they had already stopped serving food for lunch.