Which island is known as the culinary capital of the Caribbean and boasts over 1 million visitors each year?
Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is a small island located in the Caribbean islands and is less than 4 hours from New York City. It boasts more restaurants per capita than most of the surrounding Caribbean islands, offering everything from haute cuisine to homemade Creole cooking.
You may have heard of Saint Barth, its luxurious neighbor, known for the multi-millionaire moguls, celebrities, and politicians that call it their second (or third, or fourth…) home. Think of St. Maarten/St. Martin as the more affordable version of Saint Barthélemy, with plenty of things to do at a more accessible price point.
Part of the Dutch Caribbean, St. Maarten/St. Martin is a favorite spot for tourists who come to sunbathe on its many beautiful white sand beaches, snorkel among the abundant marine life and sample the variety of international cuisines and cultures. It is a truly international island, owing to its unique composition of being two countries on one island – half of the island is the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the other half is an overseas collectivity of France.
Planning a Trip to Saint Martin? Here are my top 10 things to do.
It’s hard not to make a splash in St. Maarten/ St. Martin. The best way to experience the island is by spending time on a boat. Whether you are coming in by cruise ship or coming in by plane, there are many aquatic options available, like touring on board a sailboat, catamaran, motor boat or mega yacht. You can charter and captain the boat yourself or relax and let a professional crew do the work. Opt for a romantic sunset cruise or book a charter boat for the day to see the hidden bays and rocky cliffs around Prickly Pear Cay or Anse Marcel. You can even charter a fishing boat for a day at sea and eat what you catch. The possibilities are endless!
2Scuba diving and snorkeling
The shores around St. Maarten/St. Martin are designated as protected marine parks and are home to hundreds of varieties of tropical fish and vegetation. Certified scuba dive trips take you to old shipwrecks, stunning coral reefs and even shark dives! We don’t endorse shark diving as they attract sharks with raw meat and then the sharks tend to stick around. Even if you are not up to diving you can still see snorkel and swim to see many different types of fish, and even the occasional manta ray or dolphin. Visit the island of Tintamarre or Creole Rock to swim with the sea turtles.
Like many islands in the Caribbean, St. Maarten/St. Martin is a prime destination for duty-free shopping. The island may be small but it offers a wide variety of boutiques and even a few malls where you can work your wallet. Specialty stores line the boardwalk in Philipsburg where the cruise ships dock, and here you can pick up island souvenirs or purchase jewelry, liquor or cigarettes tax-free. Be sure to also check out Guavaberry Rum Emporium, where locally-manufactured fruit-infused rums are sold in one-of-a-kind painted bottles.
Locals and tourists alike call Mullet Beach in Cupecoy the “best beach in Sint Maarten”. Long stretches of white sand blanket the shores as the clear, calm turquoise waters beckon you to enter. Plus, you can watch the airplanes and private jets coming in over the ocean to land at Princess Juliana Airport. Which leads me to number 5…
5Watching the planes take off and land at Maho Beach
Thanks to an airport with a very short runway that skims the beach at Maho Bay, this unique experience is arguably what St. Maarten/St. Martin is most known for. The beach located at the end of the runway of Princess Juliana Airport is the prime destination for watching airplanes take off and land. Every afternoon, people gather to watch the huge Airbus A340s and Boeing 747s land overhead. Just a few yards from the edge of the tarmac, thrill seekers can enjoy an adrenaline rush by watching the airplanes approach and pass only a few feet over their heads. Watch out for the jets as they take off again, you could get blown away, or at the very least, expect a face full of sand.
This little island off the French side is a favorite spot for its clear, calm waters and picturesque views. Take a ferry from Orient Beach and within minutes you are on the shores of Pinel. Or if you are feeling more active, you can also rent a kayak or stand-up paddle board to get there. Two beach restaurants serve up freshly-caught seafood and keep the drinks flowing all day.
7Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit
This quirky museum on Front Street in Philipsburg is a must-see for all the Star Wars movie buffs. Owned and operated by Nick Maley, an artist who contributed to the creation of Yoda and other movie creatures, the museum contains his private collection of movie relics, replicates and other mementos from films including Star Wars, Men in Black and Terminator. Mr. Maley is at the museum most days and is happy to answer any questions.
8The Butterfly Farm (La Ferme aux Papillons)
Located on the French side of the island near Galion Beach, the butterfly farm is home to forty different species of butterflies. Guided tours take you through the evolutionary cycle of the butterfly, from tiny egg to caterpillar and to pupae. Wear bright colors and citrus perfume if you want to attract the butterflies to land on you.
Notorious for being a nudist beach, there is still something for everyone without having to strip down to your birthday suit. It gets its reputation from Club Orient, the only clothing-optional resort in Saint Martin that is located here. However there are plenty of other reasons to enjoy Orient Bay, such as the large number of bars and restaurants located directly on the beach plus parasailing and windsurfing.
In Marigot, the capital city of the French side of Saint Martin, traditional Creole houses line the small streets and everywhere you see locals, school children and tourists milling about and going about their daily lives. Overlooking the port, Fort Louis is an important historical monument in Saint Martin that offers a glimpse into the history of the island as it moved between Dutch, Spanish and French rule. Climb the steps to the top for some amazing views of the bay.
St. Maarten/St. Martin is a small island but it offers much to discover. There is something for everyone, with activities for solo travelers, couples and families alike. Its diversity is reflected in its sweeping seascapes and natural vegetation, as well as the people who call it home.
Been to St. Martin/St. Maarten? What are your favorite things to do? Let me know in the comments!