If you seek a Caribbean style vacation with a European flair, this island’s for you. St. Maarten, the Dutch side, takes up the southern third of the island. Local residents are amiable, open-minded, and truly accommodate any lifestyle. It’s a real testament to their motto: “Live and Let Live”. Gourmet dining and water sports are top pastimes on St. Martin, the French side.
Though this island only takes up about 37 square miles, there are more than 400 restaurants to choose from. Maybe you want a cloth napkin and fine china experience, or perhaps you’re in a “paper plate and eat with your hands” mood. Believe us, there are plentiful upscale restaurants and roadside food stands – and everything in between.
While different in some aspects, both sides share idyllic beaches, lush and hilly terrain, and varied lodging options. Visitors here can also soak up three distinct cultures – the playful Dutch on one side, the sophistication of the French on the other, and a blend of both through the islanders’ exotic native heritage.
St. Maarten touts an extensive selection of duty-free shopping. Check out Philipsburg. You’ll find everything from jewelry and computers, to liquor and cameras. Because St. Maarten is a free port, there are no local, VAT or any indirect taxes. You pay the price you see (unless you can use your haggling skills to pay less!).
Sunning the day away can be achieved on any number of white sand beaches. Little Bay Beach offers a bit of seclusion, soft sand, and rental loungers from the beach’s resort. Great Bay Beach provides ample people-watching opportunities. Nearby restaurants, bars, and shops create a bustling environment – especially if cruise ships are in port. Situated in Simpson Bay, Kim Sha Beach offers calm waters, wide sands, and a few food vendors. There’s also a dive center and other water sports vendors.
Nightlife in St. Maarten runs the gamut. An array of lively casinos, relaxing hookah lounges, piano bars, and sports bars keep you occupied into the wee hours.
Though not your typical Caribbean island excursion, the Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit is a must see. Displays showcase more than 60 years of movie making. Darth Vader and Pinhead from Hellraiser are here, as well as life casts (casts of their actual faces) of Hollywood stars like Michael Jackson, Johnny Depp, and Sean Connery. There are also life casts of historical figures, including Abraham Lincoln. His mold was made just three months before his assassination.
Whether you prefer lazy, sun soaked time on the beach or vigorous hours on or under the water, St. Martin gladly obliges. Water based tourism is the number one activity on this northern French side. A good selection of water sports vendors and dive shops offer surfing, sailing, kayaking, kite surfing, and diving excursions.
Eating a meal in St. Martin isn’t just sustenance. It’s a thing. In fact, the restaurant rich village of Grand Case is said to be the gourmet capital of the Caribbean. Whether you gravitate to trendy bistros and chic restaurants, or prefer laid-back beach bars and local BBQ joints, your culinary dreams will come true.
For beach lovers, Orient Bay is popular and most developed area. Along this two-mile stretch of sand, there are actually five beaches – Kontiki, Kakao, Bikini Beach, Waikiki, and Coco Beach. At the south end of the bay, you can dare to bare it all at the island’s only naturist resort (and nude beach).
Visit nearby Loterie Farm for ridiculous views. Situated at the foot of Pic Paradis, it’s the highest point on St. Martin. Meander about this former sugar plantation and observe a wide variety of wildlife and local botanicals. For an exhilarating adventure, try out the zip line. If you prefer a more low-key day, sequester yourself in L’eaulounge. You’ll feel like an A-lister soaking in the natural spring pool and Jacuzzi, then retreating to your private cabana.
Pleasant temperatures year round make any time a good time to visit the island. However, you can save about 50% on your hotel rate by visiting in May and June. You can also enjoy a bit of savings in November through mid-December.
Places to base yourself during your stay are quite numerous. Choose from well-known resort brands, casual beach clubs, and private rental villas – to name a few.
St. Maarten / St. Martin tops our “best of” list in several categories – gay friendly, most attractions, sailing, and nightlife. In addition, with its unspoiled beaches and lures for couples, we think this island makes an ideal honeymoon destination.