The Caribbean island of St Maarten and St Martin: two nations on one tiny island…
I don’t know what it is about St Maarten but for some reason out of all the different places I once called home, it’s one of the rare ones I keep traveling back to…
Sint Maarten (French: Saint-Martin; Dutch: Sint Maarten) is an island in the northeast Caribbean, east of Puerto Rico.
This tiny 87-square-kilometer (34 sq mi) island is divided roughly 60/40 between France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This makes it the smallest inhabited island in the world divided between two nations.
Sint Maarten’s Dutch side is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewelry, drinks made with native rum-based guavaberry liquors, and casinos. The island’s French side is known for its nude beaches, clothes, shopping (including outdoor markets), and French and Indian Caribbean cuisine.
All in all it has a lot to offer tourists and compared to similar size Caribbean islands there is a lot going on here…
I could talk about this island for days but here I’ll limit myself to my recommendations for things to do if you ever visit Sint Maarten / Saint Martin:
1. Front Street & The Boardwalk
Whether arriving by cruise ship or spending time on the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin, Philipsburg, the capital of Dutch St. Maarten, offers some fun things to see and do, most within view of the gorgeous blue water of Great Bay.
Philipsburg is an area of only a few streets sandwiched between the Salt Pond and Great Bay. Do you like to shop? You can find a lot of items in Front street: from inexpensive souvenirs to diamonds and watches. Want to find something to eat? Go to the Boardwalk for a variety of options ranging from very casual to elegant. Go for a swim in the Caribbean ocean off Great Bay, lounge around on the beach and return to the Boardwalk for a tropical cocktail. It quiets down quickly in the evenings but it’s a great place to spend a day!
2. St. Maarten “America’s Cup” 12 Metre Challenge
Ever dreamed of sailing a real racing yacht? The 12 Metre Challenge gives you the opportunity to be part of the crew sailing a real America’s Cup yacht. This is a truly unique experience and even better, you don’t need any sailing experience to join!
The 12 Metre staff is absolutely great and will make sure you have an amazing time.
Go to 12Metre.com for more information
3. Sea Trek / Tiki Hut
My personal favorite: I once spent a season working with Sea Trek as a safety diver and highly recommend this trip!
Sea Trek allows anyone from the age of 8 to walk underwater. Even if you can’t swim! It’s a great way for non-divers to experience the underwater world: you will walk past shipwrecks and coral reefs while being surrounded by tropical fish…
Combine this tour with a day at Tiki Hut, a platform just across from the Sea Trek adventure where you can snorkel, relax, sunbathe and have lunch. Sheltered in a calm bay this is a great way to spend a day in and on the water.
4. Crazy airplane landings and take-offs at Maho Beach
Maho Beach on the Dutch side of the island, right next to the airport, is world famous for all the low-flying airplanes. People can actually be blown into the water because of the jet blast of larger planes taking off. Very touristy of course but a must see when on the island!
5. Grand Case & its festival
The small beach town of Grand Case, on the French side of the island, is often referred to as the Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean. With its high quality restaurants and interesting mix of French, Caribbean and Creole cuisine I believe this title is well deserved and I highly recommend dining here at least once. The Grand Case Boulevard and the beach are lined with restaurants so there are plenty of options to choose from!
Grand Case’s street festival
The “Mardis de Grand Case” start on the second Tuesday of January and are held every Tuesday evening for 12 weeks. A large craft market invades each side of Grand Case’s main street and you’ll find entertainment such as music bands, dancers, acrobats, carnival parades and a lively, multi-cultural vibe. Well worth a visit if you happen to be on the island during these months.
6. Pinel Island
Pinel Island, set in the heart of St Martin’s Marine Reserve, just 5 minutes off the shores of French Cul de Sac. It is considered one of the better places for snorkeling and loved by kayakers and stand up paddling enthusiasts.
Behind the main beach, you will find an untouched part of St Maarten. Follow the tiny trail and escape to the Northern side of Pinel Island where you will discover a wild beach protected by a reef and with a completely different feel than the other, more crowded side of this tiny island.
Pinel island is the place where residents of St. Martin/St. Maarten go to relax, especially on weekends. The end of the road at French Cul de Sac opens onto a wide sandy area where you will find the ferry that can take you to the island.
Pinel also offers a few cute little restaurants and makes for a perfect relaxing day of swimming, snorkeling and sunbathing.
7. Orient Bay
Orient Bay, or in French “Baie Orientale”, is a 2 mile long, white powdered sand beach, protected from the Atlantic waves by a reef.
Orient Bay is the only beach on St. Martin with a large number of beach bars and restaurants directly located on the beach. Water sport facilities are available such as jet skis, sail boats, paragliding, and some kids activities.
The beach is reputed as much for its natural beauty and setting as it is for being the island’s main clothing optional beach. Although clothing is optional everywhere on the beach, only a small section on the south end is used as a real nude beach.
The trendy beach bars with great cocktail menus and frequent beach parties give this beach a cool vibe.
8. Loterie Farm
I love this place. If you need a change from all those white sandy beaches and the crystal clear water, move inland to the Loterie Farm, on the French side of the island.
Loterie Farm is a secret hideaway nestled in the hillside of Pic Paradis where you can wine, dine, climb, hike and glide over the treetop canopy. The bar/restaurant looks like a luxury tree house and the pool area with its comfortable cabanas and tropical vegetation is truly lush.
Not the cheapest option but at least stop by for a drink or a hike through the unspoilt, green hills.
For more information: Loteriefarm.com
9. Boat trips
Spend a day, or half a day, on a boat exploring the waters around St Maarten / St Martin. There are many different tours available but most offer a number of stops to give you the opportunity to swim, snorkel at some great reefs or just relax. Some tours include a Caribbean lunch and there are several tours that will allow you to explore a different island.
Several companies throughout the island offer these boat trips. My recommendation is Captain Alan, departing from the French side of the island.
Hotel Review: The Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa St. Maarten
The last time I was in St Maarten / St Martin I stayed at The Westin Dawn Beach Resort, a hotel known as one of the better ones on the island and I will therefore add my review.
Hotel Rooms: the rooms are spacious and comfortable and many come with a great sea view. Some are in need of minor maintenance and it is a shame that the ground floor rooms don’t offer access to the pool area or beach.
Hotel Facilities: the hotel has a gym, a spa and a nice lobby plus a casino. The bars and restaurants provide a great mix of fine dining and poolside snack options with the bar seats inside the swimming pool being a very nice addition! I highly recommend the Sunday brunch, even if you are not staying in the hotel.
Hotel Location: quietly located on its own private beach. Perfect if you are looking for a relaxing stay on a tropical island and are not planning on leaving the resort much. But if you do want to explore the island the hotel’s location is a bit remote and everything you want to see or do requires driving.
Hotel Value: Rooms start at $199 per night. On an island where hotels are quite expensive this is good value for money. The resort offers good quality service, great facilities, a lovely pool area, a beautiful beach and all the comfort you can expect from this type of resort.
Overall rating: 8/10
For more information about the Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa visit their website >>
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