Exploring Sint Maarten This New Year
The Caribbean islands of St Maarten and St Martin are unique destinations, divided into two nations on a tiny island.
Sint Maarten, also known as Saint Martin in French and Sint Maarten in Dutch, is an island in the northeast Caribbean, east of Puerto Rico. Despite only 87 square kilometres, the island is roughly 60/40 between France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This makes it the smallest inhabited island in the world that is divided between two nations.
The Dutch side of Sint Maarten, often misspelt as St Marteen, is known for its lively nightlife, beaches, drinks made with native rum-based guava berry liquors, and numerous casinos. On the other hand, the French side of the island is known for its nude beaches, high-quality French and Indian Caribbean cuisine, fashion, and shopping, including outdoor markets.
Things to Do in St Maarten & St Martin
Front Street & The Boardwalk
If you’re arriving in St. Maarten/St. Martin by cruise ship or spending some time on the island, the capital of Dutch St. Maarten, Philipsburg, has plenty of fun things to see and do. Most of the attractions are within view of the beautiful blue waters of Great Bay.
Philipsburg is a small area located between the Salt Pond and Great Bay. If you enjoy shopping, Front Street is the place to be. You can find various items, from inexpensive souvenirs to diamonds and watches.
If you’re hungry, head to the Boardwalk for a wide variety of dining options, from casual to elegant.
Take a dip in the Caribbean sea off Great Bay, relax on the beach, and then return to the Boardwalk for a refreshing cocktail.
Philipsburg tends to quiet down quickly in the evenings, but it’s a beautiful day!
The Sint Maarten “America’s Cup” 12 Metre Challenge
Have you ever dreamed of sailing on a real racing yacht? If so, you should check out the 12 Metre Challenge! This experience allows you to be part of the crew sailing an authentic America’s Cup yacht. Even if you don’t have any sailing experience, you can still join in on the fun! It’s one of the top things to do in St. Maarten. The 12 Metre staff is excellent and will ensure a fantastic time.
Crazy Airplane Landings and Take-Offs at Maho Beach
Maho Beach, located on the island’s Dutch side and right next to the airport, is world-renowned for its low-flying aeroplanes. The jet blast of larger planes taking off can even blow people into the water! This makes it one of the most popular tourist attractions in St. Maarten and a must-visit spot on the island. Notably, a charming bar, Sunset Bar and Grill, is where you can sip on cocktails while observing the plane’s landing. Alternatively, you can head to the smaller and less crowded Driftwood Boat Bar on the other side of the beach. If you are not renting a car, remember that a taxi ride to Maho Beach can be expensive. However, you can book a half-day tour of St. Maarten, which includes a visit to Maho Beach, to save some money. Besides, it is best to take a tour to relax and enjoy a few local rum punches on the beach without worrying about driving back.
Grand Case & Its Festival
The small beach town of Grand Case, in St. Martin, the French side of the island, is often called the Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean. With its high-quality restaurants and exciting mix of French, Caribbean, and Creole cuisine, 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 plenty of options exist!
Grand Case’s Street Festival
One of my favourite things to do in St. Martin is to attend the “Mardis de Grand Case” event, which starts on the last Tuesday of January and is held every Tuesday evening until the first Tuesday in April. The main street of Grand Case is transformed into a large craft market where you can find entertainment such as music bands, dancers, acrobats, carnival parades, and a lively, multi-cultural vibe. If you are on the island during these months, it’s worth a visit!
Pinel Island is a charming little island in the heart of St Martin’s Marine Reserve. It is a perfect half-day trip from St Maarten and a place I often went to on a day off while living in St Maarten.
Take a 5-minute ferry ride from French Cul de Sac to get to the island. Pinel Island is considered one of the best places for snorkelling and is loved by kayakers and stand-up paddling enthusiasts. The main beach is lined with sun loungers and umbrellas, making it a great way to spend a few hours on the beach.
However, there is more to Pinel Island than just the main beach. Behind it, there is an untouched part of St Maarten. To get there, follow the tiny trail to the Northern side of Pinel Island. Here, you will find a wild beach protected by a reef with a completely different feel than the other, more crowded side of the island.
Pinel Island is a popular spot where residents of St. Martin/St. Maarten go to relax, especially on weekends. The island offers several cute little restaurants, perfect for a relaxing day of swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing.
How to Get to Pinel Island
At the end of the road in French Cul de Sac, there is a wide sandy area where you can find a ferry to take you to the island. Alternatively, you can rent a kayak or a paddleboard to reach Pinel Island. I once rented a paddleboard on a windy day and realized that Pinel is farther away than it appears. However, it is a fun and healthy activity that provides a good workout.
Orient Bay, also known as “Baie Orientale” in French, is a stunning 2-mile-long beach with white powdered sand. It is protected from the Atlantic waves by a reef. This beach is the only one on St. Martin, with many beach bars and restaurants located directly on it. You can enjoy various water sports activities such as jet skis, sailboats, paragliding, and kids’ activities.
The beach is famous for its natural beauty and setting, and it’s also known as the main clothing-optional beach on the island. Although clothing is optional everywhere on the beach, only a small section on the south end is used as a natural nude beach.
The trendy beach bars with great cocktail menus and frequent beach parties give this beach a relaxed vibe, and it’s a great place to spend the afternoon or evening. However, please note that this beach often has a lot of seaweed.
One of my favourite places to visit in St. Martin is Loterie Farm, located on the French side of the island. If you want a break from the white sandy beaches and crystal clear water, head inland to this secret hideaway in Pic Paradis’s hillside. At Loterie Farm, you can climb, hike, zipline over the treetop canopy, wine, and dine.
The bar/restaurant resembles a luxurious treehouse, and the pool area boasts comfortable cabanas and lush tropical vegetation. Although it’s not the most affordable option, you can still visit for a drink or hike through the unspoilt, green hills.
If you want to have a great time in the Caribbean, exploring the waters by boat is the best way!
You can opt for a half or full-day boat tour that will take you around St Maarten / St Martin to explore different stops. You’ll have the opportunity to swim, snorkel or relax in some great reefs, and some tours even come with lunch included. Some tours will take you to explore different islands, which can be exciting.
Several companies on the island offer boat tours. If you’re looking for a full-day tour, I highly recommend the one that takes you to Anguilla and Prickly Pear. However, I have some great memories of the Lambada Sunset Cruises if you prefer a shorter tour or a catamaran.
If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s even a tour in St Maarten called the Rhino Safari Excursion, where you can drive your small motorboat, even if you have yet to experience it!
Fort Louis, Marigot
Marigot, the capital of the French side of St. Martin, boasts one of the top attractions on the island - Fort Louis. The fort in the town offers breathtaking panoramic views of the island that are to be noticed. To reach the fort, you can take a relatively easy walk on a well-maintained path with steps. However, it can get quite hot during the summer months, so it’s advisable to wear comfortable clothing and carry water with you. The Dutch side also has a fort called Fort Amsterdam, which you can hike up to, but Fort Louis is more impressive.
Nightlife in Sint Maarten
Sint Maarten is a popular destination for its vibrant nightlife. While Grand Case on the French side is great for dining out, Simpson Bay on the Dutch side is the place for a lively night out. This area offers a variety of bars, restaurants, and casinos within walking distance of each other.
Pineapple Pete is a highly recommended restaurant with a lively atmosphere and a game room with pool tables. Buccaneer is another popular spot for sunset drinks, but their food and service may need to improve. Soggy Dollar and Dinghy Dock are local favourites for drinking and dancing, while Roxxy offers trendy dining and clubbing on the beach.
If you plan a night out in Simpson Bay, visiting a few different places and following the crowds is best. You may even need to spend several evenings here to experience everything it offers!