saint martin travel guide

5 KEY REASONS TO VISIT THE ISLAND OF ST MAARTEN / ST MARTIN

The island of St Maarten / St Martin boasts breathtaking shorelines, the prettiest beaches and bluest waters in the Caribbean, exciting nightlife, world-class shopping and an inspiring arts and culture scene that has catapulted this destination to become the “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean.” In addition, there is so much more to this island paradise shared by France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands: a cosmopolitan culture and world-class cuisine, a sophisticated but comfortable lifestyle, and unforgettable adventures, trips and excursions in the heart of the Caribbean.

saint martin travel guide

BINATIONAL & MULTICULTURAL: CARIBBEAN AND COSMOPOLITAN

Experience the Caribbean through a European lens and savor the cultures brought here from more than 100 nations. Explore local customs on both French and Dutch side of the island.

saint martin travel guide

CULINARY CAPITAL OF THE CARIBBEAN: RESTAURANTS CATERING TO ANY TASTE

Top chefs stir a melting pot of flavors in multicultural St Maarten / St Martin. Tempt your taste buds at hundreds of restaurants and cafes around the island - from Philipsburg's Boardwalk to Grand Case restaurants.

saint martin travel guide

HIGH STANDARDS OF HOSPITALITY: OUTSTANDING HOTELS, RESORTS & VILLAS

Enjoy all the comforts of home in St Maarten / St Martin's high standard resorts from charming boutique hotels to all-inclusive resorts, whilst enjoying our duty-free shopping and vibrant nightlife of a leading tourism destination.

saint martin travel guide

ISLAND OF A 1000 EXPERIENCES: BEST OFFER OF EXCURSIONS IN THE CARIBBEAN

From adrenaline-pumping activities to do on land and at sea to historic sites and thrilling tours, there's something for everyone on St Maarten / St Martin. Plan and book your own itinerary!

saint martin travel guide

SXM: HUB OF THE CARIBBEAN, HUB OF THE WORLD

Easily reached from both sides of the Atlantic, St Maarten / St Martin makes the perfect base for exploring the Caribbean by island hopping.

STAY WITH US

Where to stay on st maarten / st martin.

The Morgan Resort & Spa St Maarten hotel and its pool with bright weather

Stay at our Amazing St. Maarten / St. Martin Resorts

From hotel experiences customized to your desires to business and meetings trips, from unforgettable wedding settings to all-inclusive resorts, explore how a St. Maarten / St. Martin resort fits your dream holidays best!

Azure Art Hotel and Simpson Bay Beach with palm trees and waves in front

Discover our Unique Boutique Hotels

Indulge in idyllic island locations and book a stay at one of St. Maarten’s one of a kind boutique hotels.

St Maarten villa rental with lush green hills in background at sunny weather

A Private Paradise: St. Maarten / St. Martin Villas & Condos

Spend your holiday time in one of St Maarten’s / St Martin’s beautiful villas, condos or vacation rentals, where luxury meets amazing views over the Atlantic and / or Caribbean!

Beds along the pool at a St Maarten villa for sale

Your Own St. Maarten / St. Martin Real Estate

Find your personal piece of paradise on St. Maarten / St. Martin. Let trusted advisors and agencies assist in finding the real estate property of your dreams.

Luxury boat charter moored at Orient Bay Beach

Set Sail on our Island Boat Charters

Explore St. Maarten’s pristine beaches, coves and bays. Go island hopping and sail around the azure seas surrounding St. Maarten and St. Martin on a private catamaran or yacht.

ST MAARTEN BY CRUISE

Visiting st. maarten / st. martin by cruise ship.

Enjoy the many things to do in cruise port St. Maarten by embarking on an island excursion, by exploring port of call Philipsburg or by spending a day on close by Great Bay Beach. See our suggestions how to create an unforgettable St Maarten / St Martin day!

THINGS TO DO

Top things to do on st maarten / st martin.

View of Mullet Bay beach and Caribbean sea with parasols with cloudy st maarten weather

Relax at the Best Beaches of St. Maarten / St. Martin

Apart from world famous beaches like Great Bay Beach, Orient Bay Beach and Maho Beach, there are 34 more pristine beaches to visit on island. Explore our seashores, beach bars, restaurants, and wide variety of activities nearby.

5 people taking Diving lessons under water at the St Maarten coast

Come Dive With Us ! Scuba Diving & Snorkeling

The natural beauty of St. Maarten and St. Martin continues under the sea. Enjoy and explore its wonders with the many diving and snorkeling tours. Take an excursion and delve into the island's magnificent underwater world of St. Maarten marine life.

Girl coming down the Soualiga Sky Explorer and Flying Dutchman zipline

Explore the Famed Offer of St. Maarten / St. Martin Excursions

Take part in one of the many adventures St. Maarten / St. Martin has to offer. From the steepest zipline in the world to the best island tours, enjoy one of our island strengths - our wide palette of activities and tours.

Catamaran Lambada sailing with group with St Maarten sunset in background

A Premier Sailing Haven

Next to its famous St. Maarten Heineken Regatta and Caribbean Multihull Challenge, sailing hub St. Maarten / St. Martin has much to offer to sailors year round from scenic marinas to idyllic spots to anchor.

Shop on Front Street shopping street in Philipsburg St Maarten with roof of St Rose Arcade

Experience An Awarded Shopping Destination

St. Maarten / St. Martin is known as the number 1 shopping spot in the Caribbean. The island won many awards for this special feature. Spend an unforgettable day bargain and souvenir hunting in the vibrant seaside resort towns of the island.

VISIT ST MAARTEN / ST MARTIN: EXPERIENCE THE CULTURE

Explore 'the friendly island' st maarten / st martin.

Artist Zillah Duzon-Hazel in front of her Philipsburg wall painting

Indulge in St. Maarten / St. Martin Culture

The unique melting pot of local St. Maarten / St. Martin culture added with hundreds of others have led to a wide palette of artistry, galleries and murals. Make your holiday an inspired one!

The Old House plantation house of Amuseum Naturalis near Orient Bay

Visit our Museums and Learn About Our History

Visit the museums on island to learn all about the past, traditions, legends and folklore of St. Maarten / St. Martin.

Statue of  traffic man Osborne Kruythoff in Cole Bay St Maarten

Discover our Island Monuments

Delve into St. Maarten & St. Martin history by visiting the monuments, statues and landmark buildings along your island excursions!

Terrace of La Patrona restaurant at Simpson Bay Resort & Marina at sunset in sunny weather

SAMPLE OUR MANY CUISINES: RESTAURANTS

Welcome to the island known as the culinary capital of the Caribbean!

Snippet of February listing of events on 2023 St Maarten Events Calendar

St. Maarten / St. Martin Events Calendar

From famed St. Maarten Carnival to the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, the island is famous for its many events. Check out the SHTA calendar for what's on during your visit!

TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR AROUND THE ISLAND!

It is quite the task which of our 37 beaches to select on your St Maarten holiday! In cooperation with our partners ShowMe Caribbean, take a virtual tour 360 degrees excursion of our famed beaches Maho Beach, Orient Bay Beach, Great Bay Beach, Anse Marcel Beach and many more!

Catamarans for rent lying on Orient Bay Beach with flags waving over them in windy weather

ORIENT BAY BEACH

View of Philipsburgs Great Bay Beach with catamarans and Fort Amsterdam in background

GREAT BAY BEACH

Folded parasols at Anse Marcel Beach St Martin with sea and green hills

ANSE MARCEL BEACH

St maarten / st martin stories, view our latest blogs & stories .

See our blog information below to remain up to date with your favorite Caribbean holiday destination! View our special blogs on the following popular island topics:

Icon for blog on latest St Maarten visitor news

CULTURE & ARTS

Icon with sailing boat for blog on St Maarten sailing news

HEAR FROM OUR ST MAARTEN / ST MARTIN PEOPLE

"Shopping is one of the most awarded features of St. Maarten. Come and indulge in the experience in our famed shopping street Front Street, Philipsburg"

Mike & Peter Mirpuri, Ballerina Jewelers

"The Boutique Hotels of St. Maarten made the islands’ repute of "The Friendly Island". Come and stay where everybody remembers your name from last year!"

Samantha Layne & Patricia Rogers, L'Esperance Hotel

"Research has shown one of St. Maarten's key features is its wide offer of activities. As an island, don't forget to indulge in the many tours on, in and under the water!"

The Aquamania Team

Google

St. Martin Travel Guide: Unveiling the Caribbean Paradise for Vacationers

Why choose st. martin for your next vacation.

Highlighted in our St. Martin Travel Guide, this radiant gem in the northeastern Caribbean Sea offers a rich tapestry of cultural experiences, breathtaking sceneries, and thrilling adventures. The captivating island, a melting pot of diverse cultures, stands as the ultimate paradise for travelers seeking a tropical getaway.

Its unique dual nationality, split between French Saint-Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten, makes it an exotic blend of European charm and Caribbean hospitality. You’ll find French bakeries, Dutch architecture, and Caribbean beach bars all on the same island, painting a vibrant cultural tableau.

Whether you’re looking to explore lush nature reserves, bask on sun-soaked beaches, or dive into a world of vibrant marine life, St. Martin will not disappoint. From the culinary delights of Grand Case to the bustling night markets of Marigot, every moment here unfolds a new chapter of exploration and discovery.

The island’s compact size belies the wealth of experiences that it offers. It is a unique destination that provides the perfect balance of relaxation, adventure, and cultural immersion. Take a trip to St. Martin and let the Caribbean magic unfold.

Saint martin Caribbean -St. Martin Travel Guide

Climate and Best Time for a St. Martin Vacation

St. Martin, with its tropical allure, is a year-round travel haven. It dons a warm, sunny disposition throughout the year, making it a perpetual magnet for sun seekers. Despite this, many travelers favor the months from December to April , when the island is graced with cooler temperatures and diminished rainfall, creating the perfect setting for outdoor exploration and beach lounging.

During this period, the island is at its vibrant best, as the streets buzz with vivacious festivals, and the local flora bursts into a spectacle of color. The azure waters are crystal clear, perfect for snorkeling and diving enthusiasts to explore the underwater marine life. Additionally, the trade winds provide ideal conditions for sailing and water sports, adding a thrilling dimension to your Caribbean vacation.

No matter when you choose to visit, St. Martin promises a tropical paradise replete with unforgettable experiences.

The Uniqueness of St. Martin

Saint martin croissant

Blends of Cuisine

The culinary landscape of St. Martin is equally varied and delicious, a testament to its multicultural heritage. Savor the island’s unique gastronomy, where European sophistication seamlessly melds with Caribbean zest. From fresh seafood dishes garnished with local herbs to decadent French pastries and robust Dutch cheeses, your taste buds are in for a cosmopolitan treat. Truly, a visit to St. Martin is an exploration of culture and cuisine, offering a wealth of experiences under the Caribbean sun.

Caribbean Dancers

Blends of Culture

The soul of St. Martin thrives in its rich cultural blend. This island, a lively canvas of diverse traditions and languages, encapsulates a harmonious confluence of French, English, Dutch, and indigenous influences. As you navigate through the bustling local markets or tranquil beaches, the polyglot nature of the island becomes evident, with melodious fragments of different languages floating in the air.

head of the beautiful big iguana in park of Saint Martin island of United States

Serene Beaches and Exotic Wildlife

St. Martin hosts 37 breathtaking beaches. However, did you know that St. Martin is also home to a butterfly farm? Or that the island’s rocky cliffs and offshore cays provide sanctuary to numerous bird species?

St. Martin isn’t just a tropical paradise; it’s a vibrant cultural experience, a serene escape, and a wildlife haven rolled into one. So why not choose a St. Martin vacation for your next travel adventure?

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Must-Visit Attractions in St. Martin

St. Martin is an island that amazes travelers with its unique blend of natural wonders and historic sites.

Natural Wonders

Loterie Farm

On the slopes of Pic Paradis, the Loterie Farm offers a break from the beach scene. Lesser-known to tourists, this private nature reserve tempts visitors with a canopy adventure course, hiking trails, and a calm natural pool.

Pic Paradis Overlook

St. Martin’s highest point, Pic Paradis , provides a stunning panorama of the island. Few people know that there are two viewing areas, one showing the island’s luscious interior and the other offering a view of neighboring islands in the distance.

Historic Sites

Overlooking Marigot Bay, Fort Louis stands as a testament to St. Martin’s history. A less commonly known fact is that the cannons still visible were discovered underwater, having been thrown in the sea when the fort was abandoned.

The Old House

Also known as La Maison, the Old House is a living museum providing insights into traditional West Indian life. What’s unique is that it’s in a traditional West Indian home, offering an authentic glimpse into the past.

A Saint Martin travel experience isn’t complete without visiting these attractions. From the heights of Pic Paradis to the depths of Loterie Farm, and from the historic Fort Louis to the charming Old House, your St. Martin vacation will be filled with discovery. Experience the allure of St. Martin’s unique blend of nature and history on your visit.

Experiencing the Delightful St. Martin Cuisine

St. Martin, a culinary treasure of the Caribbean, combines local ingredients and international influences to create a flavor experience you won’t forget.

Local Delicacies

Accras de Morue

Accras de Morue, crispy saltfish fritters, are a much-loved starter on the island. A lesser-known fact is that these golden bites often feature in local festivals and gatherings, making them a part of St. Martin’s vibrant social scene.

Johnny Cake

St. Martin’s Johnny Cake, a fried cornbread, isn’t your usual sweet cake. This versatile treat often accompanies savory dishes, even replacing bread in sandwiches. It’s a local secret that some eateries serve them with a dusting of powdered sugar for a sweet twist.

Dining Experiences

Gourmet Restaurants

St. Martin is also known as the “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean.” But few know that many of its gourmet restaurants, especially in Grand Case, often blend Creole flavors with French techniques, offering a truly unique dining experience.

Local Eateries

Local eateries, called “lolos,” are where you’ll find the heart of St. Martin’s cuisine. Interestingly, these modest establishments often serve some of the freshest seafood on the island, sourced from the local fishermen each day.

Whether you’re indulging in gourmet dining or exploring the flavors at a local lolo, experiencing St. Martin’s cuisine is a highlight of any St. Martin vacation. Embark on a culinary adventure and discover the delightful tastes of this vibrant island on your next Saint Martin travel.

Top Accommodations in St. Martin for a Comfortable Stay

Whether you prefer the lap of luxury or budget-friendly options, St. Martin offers a variety of accommodations to make your Saint Martin travel memorable.

Luxury Hotels

Belmond La Samanna

Belmond La Samanna, set on the island’s most exclusive beach, Baie Longue, is a luxurious retreat offering an unrivaled level of seclusion. Beyond its famed setting, it’s less known that this resort is home to an impressive wine cellar, housing over 12,000 bottles – a must-visit for wine connoisseurs.

Sonesta Ocean Point Resort

Sonesta Ocean Point Resort is a stylish and modern, adults-only resort in Maho Bay. Not many know that its design incorporates eco-friendly practices, ensuring luxury without compromising the environment.

Budget-friendly Options

Divi Little Bay Beach Resort

For those seeking affordability without compromising comfort, Divi Little Bay Beach Resort provides an answer. It’s tucked away on a private peninsula, ensuring tranquility away from bustling tourist spots. The resort’s scuba diving excursions to untouched local shipwrecks are a unique offering not to be missed.

Hôtel Esmeralda Resort

Located in Orient Bay, Hôtel Esmeralda Resort offers comfortable villas amidst a lush tropical garden setting. What many don’t know is that each villa has a semi-private pool, a little-known fact that ensures an intimate and memorable Saint Martin travel experience.

Whether you opt for the unparalleled luxury of Belmond La Samanna and Sonesta Ocean Point Resort or the budget-friendly comfort of Divi Little Bay and Hotel Esmeralda Resort, St. Martin offers a home away from home for every traveler. Choose your preferred accommodation and create unforgettable memories on your St. Martin vacation. Remember, your choice of accommodation can redefine your vacation, so choose one that resonates with your desires for luxury, comfort, and unique experiences.

Unpacking the Costs: What to Expect When Budgeting for St. Martin

Visiting St. Martin is an unforgettable experience, but it’s essential to understand the costs involved. Here’s a breakdown to help you budget for your Saint Martin travel.

Average Costs for Food

Meal Expenses at Restaurants

Eating out at restaurants in St. Martin offers a blend of gourmet cuisine and local flavors. Typically, an average meal costs between $20 to $40 per person, though upscale restaurants may be higher. Not commonly known, lunch is often less expensive than dinner, offering a budget-friendly option to enjoy the island’s gastronomy.

Cost of Local Street Food

For a budget-friendly food experience, local street food costs around $5-$10 per meal. Besides being economical, it’s a lesser-known fact that these food stalls often carry traditional dishes you won’t find in restaurants.

Average Costs for Travel and Accommodation

Transportation Expenses

Renting a car is a common way to explore St. Martin, with rental rates averaging $30-$40 per day. Unexpectedly, you’ll find gas prices higher than in the US, due to import costs, averaging about $1.40 per liter.

Accommodation Rates

The cost of accommodation can vary widely, depending on your preference. Budget guesthouses can range from $70-$90 per night, while luxury hotels may cost $250-$500 per night. Unknown to many, off-peak season rates are significantly lower, making the dream of a St. Martin vacation more achievable.

Understanding these costs will ensure a smoother travel experience, allowing you to focus on creating unforgettable memories in St. Martin.

Tips for a Successful Saint Martin Travel

Planning a St. Martin vacation requires insightful decision-making. Here are some tips for a successful travel experience.

Best Time to Visit

Traveling during Off-peak Seasons

Traveling in the off-peak season, generally May to November, lets you enjoy the island’s beauty with fewer crowds and lower prices. It’s a lesser-known fact that rainfall is often brief and followed by sunshine during these months, making it a viable option for budget travelers.

Attending Local Festivals

St. Martin’s colorful local festivals are a treat to witness. For example, the lesser-known Marigot Fisherman’s Festival in July offers authentic cultural experience not commonly experienced by tourists.

Safety and Health Precautions

Travel Insurance

While St. Martin is a safe destination, investing in travel insurance provides peace of mind. Beyond common knowledge, insurance can also cover trip cancellations, an aspect often overlooked by travelers.

Vaccinations

Routine vaccines should be up-to-date before any overseas travel. While it’s common knowledge to take malaria precautions, it’s less known that there’s no risk of Yellow Fever in St. Martin. So, the Yellow Fever vaccine is unnecessary.

These tips ensure your Saint Martin travel is nothing short of a memorable adventure.

Crafting Your Dream Vacation in St. Martin

Embarking on a St. Martin vacation means exploring a blend of cultures, pristine beaches, and culinary delights beyond the common tourist’s eye.

Revisiting the Highlights of St. Martin

Caribbean Saint Martin

The essence of a St. Martin vacation is its diversity – from the lesser-known yet magical spots like Loterie Farm to the vibrant nightlife. It’s a destination where memorable experiences await.

As you leave footprints in the white sands of this paradise, St. Martin leaves a lasting imprint on you. So, consider these insights as you craft your unforgettable Saint Martin travel journey.

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St. Martin/St. Maarten

St. Martin / St. Maarten Travel Guide

St. Martin/St. Maarten is a brilliant blend of unique qualities not found anywhere else in the Caribbean.

Here, French and Dutch blends with Afro-Caribbean. Large Resorts share the island with cozy escapes. And the blue sky gradates perfectly into turquoise waters and white sand beaches.

It’s a place where driving 10 minutes can take you from one country to the next or what feels like a world away.

  • Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten and COVID-19

St. Martin vs St. Maarten

Topless and nude sunbathing.

  • Where to Eat

The Bottom Line on Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten

Know before you go.

St. Martin/St. Maarten Sailing Chart

At 37-square-mile, St. Martin/St. Maarten holds the honor of being the smallest inhabited island divided between two nations with the Saint Marten island side belonging to the French and Sint Maarten being a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. So, of course, when talking about this destination’s unique qualities we have to start with its dual-nation status. 

French Saint-Martin

The north of the island, is an overseas collectivity ( collectivité d’outre-mer or COM) of France. And it really feels like it.

In the Collectivity of Saint Martin, expect most people to speak French (and some English). Menus will likely be in French. Most people will prefer you pay in Euros and the cuisine leans heavily in the French West Indies creole style.

Another sight you can expect to see on the French side are topless women and on some beaches nude sunbathers. For more on that, jump to our section on topless and nude sunbathing.

Dutch Sint Maarten

The Dutch side of the island is in some ways even more geopolitically unique. Sint Maarten is one of just four countries that together form the Kingdom of the Netherlands .

For the geography buffs out there, the Kingdom includes Sint Maarten and the Netherlands itself, of course, plus two other Caribbean destinations: Aruba and Curaçao!

There are two big differences between Sint Maarten on the south side of the island and its neighbor of Saint-Martin to the north.

One of those differences is the use of the Netherlands Antillean Guilder (or Florin) as its primary currency. Usually, hovering around half the value of the USD, the currency change can sometimes cause some confusion when you see your bill looking twice as much as you expected!

The other big difference is casinos. There are roughly a dozen free-standing casinos though guests at larger properties are offered on-property gaming.

To be honest, I’m no gambler. So, I have no interest in Sint Maarten’s casinos, I’ve never been to any, and have no recommendation for folks who are into it. If that’s your thing, I can only wish you the best of luck!

What’s in a name?

So, while these two sides are quite different, they do share the same, though differently spelled name. What’s up with that?

Well, like that one horrible ancestor in everyone’s family tree, that’s thanks to Christopher Columbus—the Caribbean’s genocidal not-so-great grandfather. It’s been said, he spotted the island on the holy day of St. Martin of Tours and named it after this Christian saint from France .

It should be mentioned that like everything he “discovered” people were already living on the island and already had a name for it: Soualiga. A name that translated to Land of Salt.

Before getting to the list of our favorite beaches, let’s first touch on what can be a touchy subject. That subject, of course, is how much should you take off when you visit St. Martin/St. Maarten’s beaches.

Topless women on St. Martin / St. Maarten

Topless women

The French plus beaches have equaled toplessness since around when Brigitte Bardot renounced tops on the French Riviera in the 1960s. Back then, topless sunbathing and women’s liberation went hand in hand.

It wasn’t about overt sexualization, it was about women claiming their bodies as their own and exercising their freedoms. It was about equality.

Today, unfortunately, things have taken a bit more of a prudish turn.

So, can you expect to share the sand with topless women on these beaches? Yes. Can you expect that to be the choice of the majority? Not so much.

Thanks to toplessness feeling overly sexualized (something often blamed on visitors from the United States), American visitors bringing more reserved standards with them, and the rise of social media where unwanted images plastered on Facebook can cause a person problematic job interviews—the women who choose to go topless are now in the minority.

All that said…

Should you go topless on St. Martin?

Sure. No one will bat an eye and flash a frown should you feel comfortable going topless on the beaches of St. Martin.

Orient Bay Beach Sign

Nude sunbathing

The most important thing to know about nudity on St. Martin is that the far end of Orient Beach is the one and only officially clothing-optional beach. Read our review of a day in the nude on Orient Beach .

Does this mean you can’t lay under the sun au-naturel on any other beach? Not really.

There are a number of other beaches that have become known as being nude-friendly, but you just need to always know that they are not officially designated as clothing-optional.

Some of your best bets for enjoying a nude beach experience away from Orient Beach would be Happy Bay, the far side of Pinel Island, and Petites Cayes.

Should you go nude on St. Martin?

On the designated area of Orient Beach? Yes! And if you’re discreet, respectful, safe, and comfortably secluded—you should be OK on other select sands. Try for weekdays on out-of-the-way beaches.

St. Martin/St. Maarten Beaches

It is no exaggeration to designate the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin as home to some of the most perfect beaches in the Caribbean. The island’s crystal clear water, blending into blazing white sand, and European/Caribbean beach culture make the island one of my favorite beach travel spots.

Nude Orient Beach Club Orient St. Martin

As we touched on above, Orient Bay is home to the only officially clothing-optional beach on the island, but it has much more than just that!

Orient Bay is a little over a mile of beach fun. You can find rentals for all sorts of water sports including windsurfing, Hobie cat sailing, and even jet skis. There are water trampolines, snorkel rentals, and more.

On the sand, you can rent beach chairs for varying prices depending on who you rent from. Behind the beach chairs are restaurants, bars, and shops.

All this commerce is a testament to how busy Orient Bay can get. If there’s a cruise ship (or two) in port, you can expect it to get very busy.

Still, going at the right time (early on weekdays) and renting chairs at the right place is key to having a great time on this world-famous beach.

Happy Bay Beach

Happy Bay is what it says it is. So if it’s semi-secluded sands and chill vibes can’t make you happy, there’s a problem… With you!

There are two primary ways to get to Happy Bay. One is a short hike from Friars Bay just to the south. The other way is strolling from a parking lot through long swaying grasses and an abandoned development.

The reward is a small, quiet bay. The first time I visited years ago, I was the only one there for the whole day. More recently, it was much more populated, but not nearly enough to make it feel particularly populated.

And thanks to its quiet nature, Happy Bay is considered one of the favorites for nude sunbathers looking for a serene clothing-optional beach experience.

Friars Bay is a great beach for those looking for some chill facilities on the beach thanks to Kali’s Beach Bar and Grill .

You can expect a lot of the typical beach bar fare here, but for something a little more special, try one of Kali’s rum infusions.

Passion fruit, pineapple, and other tropical tastes are mixed with rum before baking in the sun for days or weeks. The result is a sweet (by not cloying) treat!

Pinel Island

Found off the coast of French Saint-Martin in the northeast part of the island, Pinel Island is home to a nature preserve, several magnificent beaches, plus Karibuni Restaurant .

So, you can easily alternate between snorkeling the serene waters, soaking up the sun on white sand, and sampling their signature lobster lunch.

The Ferry Shuttle leaves every hour from the Cul de Sac pier.

Baie Rouge Beach

Baie Rouge is a favorite around here. I love it for the perfectly arcing blaze of white sand, little shady nooks, and lack of much else.

It’s easily accessible and sometimes you’ll find a small makeshift bar, but plan to bring your own provisions when visiting.

Cupecoy beach is special for a number of reasons. The first is Dany. He’s been manning the beach for over a decade dishing out beach chairs, beers, a little rum, and vibes.

Seriously, if you go to Cupecoy and don’t chat with Dany for a second you’re missing out!

Besides that, depending on the time of year, there are accessible caves carved into the bright yellow limestone cliffs backing the white sand.

Now, what you choose to do in those caves is up to you… But if you can’t imagine how to make the most of secluded, gorgeous, picturesque caves on a quiet beach—again, you may want to talk to Dany as we did .

Besides, Dany and the caves, Cupecoy offers another splendid example of why Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten has some of the best beaches in the Caribbean.

Maho Bay Beach

We can’t do a guide without talking about Maho Beach . You know Maho beach. It’s the one world-famous for its incredibly close proximity to Princess Juliana International Airport.

You’ve seen the photos and videos of people being blown away by the powerful jet blast of planes about to take off. You’ve probably also seen the photos and videos of people standing on the sand looking like they’re about to be crushed by massive jumbo jets about the land.

The question is, should you visit?

I mean, if you’re just doing it for the ‘gram , I guess. But to be honest, it’s not really our scene. It’s overcrowded. Noisy. And smells like jet fuel.

If you have a passion for airplanes or airports, knock yourself out. As for us, we’ll be quietly sipping some rhum agricole on one of the island’s many other much quieter, more picturesque beaches. 

Where to eat

Being that St. Martin/St. Maarten is such a blend of cultures from the French, Dutch, and Afro Caribbean; it should be no surprise that the flavors of the island are equally diverse and delightful.

Lolos food

One must-stop on any trip to the island has to be the lolos. Found at the northern end of the venerable Grand Case restaurant row, these are open barbecues serving up local fare at decent prices.

Expect to get a plate of rice, salad, veggie, macaroni pie, maybe some spaghetti and a protein. The choices range from shrimp to ribs to lobster and plenty in between.

Read the complete review of our favorite pick from the bunch: Sky’s the Limit .

Roti Hut

On the other side of the island, another excellent spot for Afro Caribbean fare is the Roti Hut. Wedged into an unassuming corner on the edge of Phillipsburg, this little spot was the best roti I found on the island.

Of course, no one would ever say Sint Martin is known for this particularly Trinidadian dish, but that just made finding a good one that much more surprising!

Back up on Restaurant Row in Grand Case, Ocean 82 is an excellent spot to get a taste of high-end French cuisine blending with Caribbean flavors.

Overlooking the beach and blessed with sunsets almost as delicious as the food, Ocean 82 has spectacular lobster dishes. Also, don’t pass up on some of their pasta. They’re stellar.

Loterie Farm Sandwich - St. Martin

Loterie Farm

Loterie Farm is a lot of things. It’s a hotel, a nature preserve, and at times party central . A farm is the one thing I’m not sure it is.

Still, the food and atmosphere at the restaurant are quite pleasant. So pleasant that with a few ti’ punches to accompany your lunch, you may find yourself here in time for dinner.

Great Supermarkets

This cannot be overstated: St. Martin has excellent supermarkets. And I’m not talking about typical Caribbean supermarkets, either. I’m talking about plucked straight out of France and dropped in the West Indies level of supermarket.

My favorite is the Super U up north in Hope Estate. It’s massive. It has a rum (and rhum) selection that would put some of the best rum bars to shame. And it also has plenty of locally sourced fish and fruits to choose from.

Sailing Saint Martin Island

There are few things we love more than sailing this sparkling island in the Caribbean. Your best bet to make that a reality is with Sunsail out of their base in Marina Fort Louis.

Once you’ve secured your boat, the island and its surrounding waters are your oyster. On our last sailing adventure, we explored anchorages from Ile Tintamarre to St. Barts to Anguilla to Simpson Bay to even Great Bay—and many more spots in between! (And you can bet some of those stops were clothing optional .)

Circumnavigating the square miles of stunning shore in the region is a truly special way to explore the region.

Like other nearby leeward islands, both sides of this unique destination (St. Martin the French and Sint Maarten the Dutch) deliver jaw-dropping beaches galore. But there’s so much more than just beaches. Also be sure to soak in the eclectic cuisine, hikes, parties, and colorful characters that make “The Friendly Island” unlike any other destination in the Caribbean.

St. Martin / St. Maarten Map

Last updated by Patrick Bennett on 07/13/2023 .

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St-Martin & Sint Maarten

The world's smallest area of land divided into two nations, this half-French, half-Dutch island's fascinating cultural mix incorporates a rich African heritage and 120 different nationalities speaking 80-plus languages, giving rise to some of the finest cuisine in the Caribbean.

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Attractions

Must-see attractions.

Îlet Pinel

This petite offshore islet is fab for a sun-soaked afternoon. Refreshingly undeveloped (it’s part of the Reserve Naturelle Saint Martin or St-Martin…

Loterie Farm

Loterie Farm

Loterie Farm is the brainchild of former actor Bill 'BJ' Welch who left the Hollywood rat race to turn a former plantation into a private nature reserve…

Baie Longue

Baie Longue

Baie Longue embraces two splendid miles of white sand and rocky outcrops, making it a prime spot for long strolls and meditative sunsets. The impossibly…

Happy Bay

If you're looking for an off-the-beaten-track beach, head to the northernmost point of Friar's Bay beach and look for the dirt path that twists for 450m…

Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit

Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit

This 1st-floor museum is the brainchild of makeup artist Nick Maley, whose role in creating Yoda of Star Wars fame garnered him the nickname 'That Yoda…

Petites Cayes

Petites Cayes

One of the island’s top hidden beaches, Petites Cayes is accessible via the Sentier des Froussards (Froussards Trail), a narrow, steep and rocky trail…

Fort Louis

It's a short but steep climb up to what's left of this once mighty fort, completed in 1789 under St-Martin's then-governor Jean Sebastian de Durat to…

Friar's Bay Beach

Friar's Bay Beach

Pretty and protected, this west-facing cove has two beach bars, chic Friar's Bay Beach Café and funky Kali’s Beach Bar, which hosts famous full-moon…

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Complete St Maarten and St Martin Travel Guide

Complete st maarten and st martin travel guide, what you need to know.

St Maarten is famous for its “airport beach”.  You will also find 37 beaches of warm turquoise water, golden and white sand, and hidden bays to scuba, SNUBA, snorkel, jet ski, sail, and paraglide. You will also find ziplining, hiking, shopping, amazing food, rum tasting, 20+ casinos, and iguanas. Often referred to as The Friendly Island, The International Island, The Sun-Soaked Island, and The Culinary Capital of the Caribbean, St Maarten is a luxurious destination that receives over 3.7 million tourists each year. Planning international travel can be overwhelming and time-consuming while working full-time. Use this St Maarten and St Martin travel guide to plan your perfect vacation.

Long Bay St Martin

What You Need to Know When Planning a Trip to St Maarten and St Martin

Where is st maarten and st martin.

St Maarten is part of the Dutch Antilles with a population of about 74,000. It is an eastern Caribbean island about 190 mi east of Puerto Rico. This is the smallest landmass in the world to be shared by two different nations. The island is 36 square miles; France (Saint Martin) owns 20 square miles of the land while the Netherlands (Sint Maarten) owns the other 16 square miles. Anguilla is nine miles north of St. Martin and can be reached by a 12-minute flight or a 25-minute ferry ride. St Barts is 19 miles southeast of St Martin and can be reached by a 15-minute flight or a 40-minute ferry ride.

What is the language is spoken in St Maarten and St Martin?

The official language of St Maarten is Dutch; the official language of St Martin is French. English is widely spoken throughout the island, you may also hear Creole and Spanish.

Do I need a visa to visit St Maarten and St Martin?

According to Project Visa , US citizens do not need a visa to visit St Maarten and St Martin. Please check current COVID restrictions before arrival.

What is the currency in St Maarten and St Martin?

St Maarten’s official currency is the Netherlands Antilles Guilder. St Martin’s official currency is the Euro. Both sides of the island accept US Dollars.

Great Bay St Maarten

Can I use credit cards and ATMs in St Maarten and St Martin?

Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted. ATMs on the Dutch side disperse Guilders and Dollars; ATMs on the French side dispense Euro and Dollars. It is always a good idea to carry some cash.

How much should I budget per day in St Maarten and St Martin?

According to ChampionTraveler , the average cost of traveling to Saint Martin is $1,818 for a solo traveler, $3,265 for a couple, and $6,121 for a family of 4.

When is the best time to visit St Maarten and St Martin?

Summer in St Martin/St Maarten is hot with little breeze, expect temperatures between 75-85. Winter temperatures range from 66-83 degrees and tropical showers are common. The best time to visit St. Martin and St. Maarten is May and June or between November and mid-December. The hurricane season normally runs from June to November. The high season is from mid-December to April, so expect high prices. Carnival is celebrated from mid-April through mid-May.

What type of transportation do St Maarten and St Martin use?

Car rental is the best way to get around this island. Traffic drives on the right-hand side and road conditions are good. The borders are open and you can travel freely between this island’s French and Dutch sides. Taxis are available at the airport, cruise ship pier, and ferry docks. Buses run unscheduled routes marked by their destination, simply put your hand out if you want the bus to stop.

Rotary Lookout Point St Martin

What kind of adaptor do I need in St Maarten and St Martin?

St Maarten uses 110 voltage at 50 Hz. Power plugs and sockets are types A and B, this is the same as in the US. St Martin uses 220 voltage at 60 Hz. Power plugs and sockets are type E. However, I stayed in St Martin and did not need any adapters or converters.

What should I pack for St Maarten and St Martin?

Casual clothing made of cotton and other light fabrics is common in St Maarten and St Martin. Pack T-shirts, shorts, sundresses, a sun hat, swimwear, swimsuit cover-up or sarong, sandals, flip flops, or water shoes. Men should bring nice shorts and a button-down shirt for a night out. Do not forget to bring sunscreen and a snorkel mask. An umbrella may be needed during the winter rainy season.

Is St Maarten and St Martin a safe country for solo travelers?

Crimes against tourists in St Martin/St Maarten are relatively low but have increased in the past few years. Protect yourself against petty theft and rental car break-ins, for example, leave your valuables at home, carry small bills, do not leave belongings unattended on the beach, and don’t leave anything of value in cars (including the trunk). The risk of terrorist attacks in St Maarten/St Martin is low. However, the area is used to smuggle illegal drugs from South America to Europe and North America, and related violent crime is possible but this rarely affects tourists. Never leave bags unattended or carry a package for anyone. Some airports have installed “body scanners” and you may be required to have a scan.

Where to Stay While Visiting St Martin and St Maarten

I stayed in a villa at La Samanna. La Samanna, A Belmond Hotel , is a luxury St. Martin resort overlooking Baie Longue (Long Beach). It is regularly ranked as one of the top 10 hotels in the Caribbean. This property is located just over the French border and a couple of miles from Princess Juliana Airport in St Maarten. The resort was refurbished after Hurricane Irma in a French Mediterranean style of white-washed villas and buildings. There are 83 rooms and eight 3-bedroom and 4-bedroom villas on a cliff overlooking the mile-long beach of white sand. This 5-star beach resort offers cabana rental and provides complimentary use of non-motorized water sports equipment such as double kayaks, hobby cats, and snorkel gear. The resort has a pool, spa, tennis courts with a resident tennis pro who offers lessons, and a fitness center offering yoga and Pilates. The concierge is available to arrange activities such as a champagne sunset cruise. In addition to La Cave Wine Cellar, the largest private wine cellar in the Caribbean, there are several restaurants on the property. A breakfast buffet is available each morning on the terrace, the beach bar offers table service and delivers to the cabanas, and Trellis Restaurant serves French Cuisine. Check out the walk-through video of a 4-bedroom villa below.

What food do I need to try in St Maarten and St Martin?

St Martin is referred to as the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean, be sure to have a meal on Grand Case Blvd to discover why. While visiting St Maarten try conch and dumplings, Johnnycakes (cornmeal pancakes), cod fritters, and Guavaberry Liqueur. The island is also known for its rum production and tastings are widely available.

Tips for Traveling in St Maarten and St Martin

  • There are two airports. Be sure you fly into the correct one, likely Juliana International Airport.
  • By Dutch law, you must always carry your ID, carry a copy of your passport with you.
  • St Maarten/St Martin is a duty-free island.
  • Phone calls between St Maarten and St Martin are international.
  • Tipping between 10-15% is appreciated, many restaurants have already added a 15-percent service charge ‘tax’.
  • It is safest to drink bottled water.

Sentry Hill St Maarten Rainforest Adventures

Top Things to See and Do in St Maarten

  • Relax at Sunset Bar (whiteboard with all planes that will take off) and watch the planes fly right over your head at Maho Beach
  • Shop for duty-free jewelry  on Front Street
  • Buy One Love, One Life, One Island souvenir T-shirt on Old Street
  • Ride the Sky Explorer chairlift up Sentry Hill and take in the view
  • Fly down the world’s steepest zipline, the Flying Dutchman
  • Glide down the side of a mountain on an inner tube on the Schooner Ride
  • Hang out in a beachfront café at Great Bay
  • Spend a day relaxing on the white sand beach of Mullet Bay
  • Enjoy a sunset cruise
  • Take a horseback ride through the ocean
  • Tempt Lady Luch at Casino Royale
  • Check out the mega-yachts of Simpson Bay Lagoon
  • Sample a few of the 50+ flavors of rum at Topper’s Rhum distillery, be sure to try Guavaberry liquor
  • Hike the Devil’s Cupper trail Head from Guana Bay and enjoy the view of St Barts
  • Check out the world-famous nudist resort, Club Orient
  • Spend a night out in Simpson Bay
  • Visit the Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit of holograms, replicas, and props from the artist who worked on Yoda
  • Make new friends at Parrot Ville Bird Park

Great Bay St Maarten

Top Things to See and Do in St Martin

  • Check out the view from Pic Paradis, the highest point on the island
  • Explore the historic Fort Louis and take in the view
  • Visit the spice market in Marigot, St. Martin’s French capital
  • Have a cocktail in a tree lounge or relax in a cabana at Loterie Farm St. Martin
  • Hike Sentier des froussards up and over a hill to a deserted beach
  • Stop by Rotary Lookout Point and walk-in ankle-deep water to a small rocky island
  • Take a perfume-making class at Tijon Perfumerie
  • Have dinner on Grand Case Boulevard and see why this is called the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean
  • Check out 100+ varieties of butterflies at the Butterfly Farm

Fort Louis St Martin

Top Things to See and Do Around St Maarten and St Martin

  • Rent an underwater Sea Scooter
  • Kayak to Pinel Island for lunch and snorkeling
  • Island hop to Anguilla
  • Tour the villages on Saba Island
  • Snorkel with sea turtles on Tintamarre
  • Spend a day with the rich and famous on St. Barts
  • Hike up the Quill, a dormant volcano, on St. Eustatius
  • Scuba dive the coral gardens at Saba Island and hang out with sea turtles

Be sure to check the St Maarten and the St Martin Boards of Tourism for current events

Pinel Island

Interesting Facts About St Maarten and St Martin

  • Columbus named this island on November 11 1493 but never physically stood on it.
  • St Martin has changed nationality 18 times.
  • The US Navy built Princess Juliana Airport in the 1950s.
  • There are over 120 nationalities and 50+ religions.
  • The island sits between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator and receives the full force of the sun.
  • There are more duty-free shops than beaches.
  • The Flying Dutchman at Rainforest Adventures is the steepest zipline in the world.
  • Dominoes is a popular game.
  • The 12-minute flight from St Martin to Anguilla is the world’s shortest flight

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St Maarten and St Martin Travel Guide with everything you need to plan the perfect vacation. When to visit, things to do, what to eat, budget, pack

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Have a great vacation!

Wow! This is amazing and beautiful. Happy to know that English is widely spoken. Thank you for this very detailed guide. Very helpful for first-time travelers like me.

This island of many names is known to me as “The Island We Were Supposed to Honeymoon On”! Many years ago, we’d made plans to spend several days in St. Martin when my (now ex) husband and I were to be married. Long story short, our circumstances changed and we instead spent the night in Boston at a luxury hotel. That was lovely, however, it can’t compare to St. Martin! Your post reminds me of all the good reasons to visit this beautiful destination. Thanks for the inspiration to visit solo, soon!

Really lovely to learn more about St Maarten and St Martin, as they are a destination I’ve not read much about previously. Seems like a really interesting place with many different cultural / language influences from the UK, Netherlands, France, and Spain! The landscapes and seascapes look spectacular and good to know a car rental is a good way to travel, as that’s a favourite for us. I’ll look out for that guavaberry liqueur!

Here’s my comment: It’s fascinating. It is geographically close to America, but it belongs to France & Netherlands. So they use both Euro & USD! It’s so tiny and still owned by 2 countries! It’s intriguing. Indeed it is a bit like Belgium which is also half Dutch & half French. It is considered the Culinary Capital of the Caribbean? Wow. That’s promising. Yoda guy movie exhibit sounds interesting. I really wouldn’t miss the guavaberry-flavored rum!

Thanks for the nice read! I have been fascinated by the island of St Maarten/ St Martin since university days. Back then I attended a lecture about the multicultural society of St Maarten/ St Martin. The presenter showed a lot of pictures too and I loved it. Your post brought the island back on my travel wish list!

St Maarten and St Martin although similar sounding seem quite different. A very nice guide detailing all possible thoughts. While in St Maarten sampling a few of the 50+ flavors of rum would be really nice since I used to be a rum drinker in my younger days. Checking out the mega-yachts of Simpson Bay lagoon should be fun as well. Wouldn’t mind checking out the nudist resort Club Orient. Watching the view from Pic Paradis and exploring Fort Louis should be a good experience in St Martin.

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This Caribbean Island Has a Famous Luxury Hotel, a Waterfront Airport, and the 'Most Extreme Beach in the World'

How to plan a perfect trip to Saint Martin.

saint martin travel guide

The Best Times to Visit St. Martin

The best hotels in st. martin, the best st. martin beaches.

  • Things to Do in St. Martin
  • What to Eat and Drink in St. Martin

Margaret Pattillo

Saint Martin is a unique gem among picturesque Caribbean destinations: one wondrous island split between two separate countries. Dutch Sint Maarten and French Saint-Martin have coexisted peacefully here since the Partition Treaty of 1648. (No wonder they call it the “Friendly Island.”) Nearly all of its 2 million annual visitors fly into the Dutch side, home of Princess Juliana International Airport (and its world-famous beachfront runway). Though most of the main tourist attractions are within French borders, wherever you end up on island you won’t be far from pristine surf, boutique beachfront hotels, and colorful cafes and bars teeming with local flavor. Here’s how to map out your ideal St. Martin getaway.

With its positioning along the eastern edge of the Caribbean Sea, St. Martin enjoys tropical weather all year long. There are actually only two seasons here: dry season and wet season. The former lasts from December to April and is also the peak time for tourists who crave nonstop sunshine. Still, if you arrive along the shoulder months — November or May — you might just catch the best of both worlds; the rain is still minimal, and so are the crowds. Total flying time is just under four hours from New York airports, which offer several direct flights daily across multiple airlines.

The island has no shortage of luxury lodging. But La Samanna, A Belmond Hotel , is the undisputed winner for well-heeled jet-setters. Hugging the cliffside above its own private beach, this luxury property features stand-alone suites and a top-notch food and beverage program including the island’s oldest wine cellar. It all comes at a premium, of course: rates here usually start above $1,000 per night. 

If you’re OK with dialing down the opulence a notch or two, consider Paradise Peak Bed and Breakfast . These cozy cottages are tucked into the high rainforests of the island, suspended 1,300 feet above sea level, with unrivaled views of the surrounding landscape. Sure, you’re not by the beach, but you can easily admire it in the distance from the serenity of your heated pool. 

For those who crave something closer to the action, consider booking your stay at Divi Little Bay Beach Resort . It overlooks Great Bay on a spit of land within striking distance of Philipsburg’s famed nightlife. 

When it comes to world-class sandy shores, St. Martin is an embarrassment of riches. Singling out the best is something of a fool’s errand since the entire island is pretty much enveloped by one big, beautiful beach. So, pick your personal slice of paradise based upon what, precisely, you’re after. For example, if you want to avoid other people entirely, Mullet Bay is for you. It’s on the western side of Sint Marteen, not far from the French border. In fact, the entire peninsula here boasts secluded gems like Long Beach, which abuts La Samanna resort. In between sits Cupecoy Beach, which is notable for its limestone cliff formations rising gracefully from the sands. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s Maho Beach, which some have dubbed “the most extreme beach in the world.” Why? Because jumbo jets take off and land directly overhead on account of the unusually short landing strip at Princess Juliana International Airport. It is teeming with crowds and anything but serene, but it certainly makes for a good Instagram story. 

If it’s aquatic activity you’re craving, the bustling strand of Orient Beach is where you want to be. But with a slew of clubs, bars, and restaurants right alongside it, you have to be comfortable with crowds. Farther down the eastern shore, Dawn Beach is another popular destination, prized for its talc sands and unobstructed views of St. Barts across the channel. Hedge your bets between beauty and boisterousness with an afternoon at Anse Marcel Beach. Perched at the foot of a narrow cove, overlooking Anguilla, with its own namesake resort , this place has a little bit of everything.

Things to Do in St. Martin 

You’ll want to allow ample time for simply laying on the beach and soaking up the sun, of course. But if that ever gets old, there’s an abundance of activities both on and offshore to keep you busy. Start off by snapping selfies in front of the iconic murals of Marigot. The vibrant Wall of Art was created, in part, by local street artists in the wake of Hurricane Irma — an inspired testament to resiliency. If you want to increase your heart rate, head over to Loterie Farm , where you can tour the rainforest by zip line. The area is also a good launching spot for ambitious hikers looking to amble their way up to Pic Paradis , the island’s tallest point. Start from the trailhead near Colombier, and it’ll be a 3.1 mile out-and-back journey to the pinnacle. 

If you prefer to stay over water, the options are equally as robust. Up along the northern end of the island is Orient Beach. Its calm, cerulean surf sets it apart as a prime location for marine activities. At Bikini Watersport , based right on the beach, you can rent Jet Skis or go parasailing above the waves, with views of neighboring St. Barts hovering over the distant horizon. Just north of the beach is a Cul-de-Sac Bay, where you’ll find the ferry to Pinel Island. The five-minute ride spirits you to this idyllic iguana-guarded getaway. It’s a Natural Reserve with some short walks to be enjoyed amongst the native flora or fauna. Or you can stay near the dock and enjoy piña coladas and cod fritters from a tables and stools literally seated in the water. For those favoring a more private experience, charter a catamaran with Pyratz Gourmet Sailing and you can combine a full-day cruise with chef-prepared cuisine and craft cocktails.

What to Eat and Drink in St. Martin 

Just make sure to save room for dinner, because St. Martin is proud home to some of the finest cuisine in all of the Caribbean . In Marigot you can embark on an evening crawl through the many Creole-centric restaurants crowding the center of town. Le Petite Auberge is a standout here — a cozy affair specializing in local seafoods bathed in rich, buttery sauces and curries. 

Up the road is Grand Case, another quaint village overrun with fine flavor. Check out Ocean 82 , one of the island’s most famous dining destinations. Grilled lobster and creamy pasta dishes are on heavy rotation as diners enjoy seaside sunsets. 

For more of a French Bistro vibe, head to L'Atelier Bar à Viande et Poisson in Orient Bay. The steak frites are as savory as any you’ll find in Paris. And the wine — as well as rum — options are plentiful. If you’re really like to elevate your dining experience to another level, however, you have to reserve a table at La Villa Hibiscus , just under the shadow of Pic Paradis. It is owned and managed by chef Bastien Schenk and his wife, Sabine. Schenk trained under Joêl Robuchon back in France, before bringing those Michelin-informed sensibilities back to this pristine part of the island. The daily, French nouvelle -style tasting menu is conceived based upon whatever’s fresh and seasonal at the moment.

Down in Philipsburg, the Dutch are doing things slightly less precious, but they’re having a great time while doing so. Check out the Greenhouse for a prime example. Signature items include the Jamaican jerk chicken salad, as well as the manageably spicy bang bang shrimp. The boisterous beachside dining hall features live music on most nights of the week. If you’re strolling through town during the day, stop in at the Amsterdam Cheese And Liquor Store — recognizable by its bright yellow façade. It’s a great place to stock up on authentic gouda, or simply pair a wedge with wine during their daily tastings. However you play it, do not leave without sampling a sip of the guavaberry liquor, a local delicacy.

Island of St. Maarten/St. Martin: A Guide For First Time Visitors

St. Maarten-St. Martin Waterfront

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The island of St. Maarten/St. Martin is situated in the Northeastern Caribbean Sea. Among other things, it’s known for its unique system of governance, with one side of the island (Sint Maarten) belonging to Dutch territory and the other side (Saint Martin) being French territory. It is the smallest landmass divided by two nations.

Set against the backdrop of the dazzling sun, gorgeous mountainous terrain, and turquoise waters of the Caribbean, St. Maarten/St. Martin makes for a unique and eclectic culture. Add some Caribbean flair to this Dutch-French island, and you have a unique spot to visit.

Planning a trip to the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin? Here are all the can’t miss attractions, things to do, see, eat, and explore during your visit to the “Friendly Island.”

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St. Maarten vs St. Martin: A Guide For First Time Visitors

One island, two countries.

With no physical border between the two territories, residents and visitors are free to roam both sides of this bucket list destination all while enjoying the perks of two distinct cultures.

  • Capitals : Marigot is the capital on the island’s French side, (St. Martin), while Philipsburg is the capital on the Dutch side (St. Maarten).
  • Money : St. Martin uses the euro, while St. Maarten operates on the Netherlands Antilles guilder. The U.S. dollar is widely accepted.
  • Atmosphere : St. Maarten is bustling with commercial activity from casinos to its busy  Philipsburg cruise port , while St. Martin centers around pristine secluded beaches and its world-class gastronomy.
  • Lifestyle : Dutch St. Maarten boasts a more energetic lifestyle, the quiet French St. Martin plays to its natural elements and gourmet food offerings.

Map of St. Maarten/ St. Martin Itinerary

Best Time to Visit the Island of St. Maarten/ St. Martin

  • Best time to visit : mid-December to April
  • Not-So-Good months to visit :   June to October – hurricane season

The weather is excellent year-round with less rain during the winter and spring months, leaving more time to soak up the island’s sun and beauty. You also won’t want to miss the famous St. Maarten Carnival in the spring.

June through November is the off-season. You’ll find less congested roads and crowded beaches, favorable accommodation rates, all accompanied by the dreaded hurricane season.

Fun activities to add to your St. Maarten/ St. Martin itinerary

Island of st. maarten/st. martin airports.

St. Maarten Princess Juliana SXM Airport

The island of St. Maarten has two airports. The Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) located in St. Maarten serves as the primary airport for the entire island. Most major airlines fly there, including American Airlines and United.

The airport is famous for the low flying planes over Maho Beach , a site to be seen, but best watched from a distance to avoid the dangers of jet blast.

There is also a small airport on the French side called L’Espérance Airport, also referred to as Grand Case Airport , primarily for small charter flights.

What to Pack for St. Maarten/ St. Martin

A St. Maarten/ St. Martin vacation is all about sea, sand, and fun in the sun. There’s no such thing as enough swimsuits, beach cover-ups , light t-shirts, shorts, and sundresses . So leave the jeans at home, bring your summer best and make room for these items when packing for your St. Maarten/ St. Martin beach vacation :

  • Light, breathable clothing
  • Sunscreen (at least SPF 30), I prefer Sun Bum’s reef-safe sunscreen
  • Aloe vera after-sun lotions for sunburns
  • Tote or beach bag to carry your essentials
  • Sunglasses and sun hat
  • Sandals or flip flops
  • Travel umbrella , lightweight poncho, or rain jacket/coat for unexpected showers

saint martin travel guide

Wide Brim Sun Hat

saint martin travel guide

Straw Beach Tote

saint martin travel guide

Kindle Paperwhite

Where to Stay in St. Maarten/ St. Martin

As mentioned, both sides of the island have their own cultural vibe with the Dutch side generally considered the party zone, while the French side is more reserved. Where you stay will ultimately depend on budget and personal preference, here are a few recommendations to experience the island’s charm.

St. Maarten-St. Martin Island

Phillipsburg

St. Maarten’s capital, Phillipsburg, has one of the best shopping experiences in the Caribbean and is a magnet for tourists with its duty-free shops, and buzzing restaurants.

The Dutch side has plenty of accommodation options after a long day of shopping and sightseeing, The Villas on Great Bay are simply exceptional.

However, Phillipsburg has some affordable hotels too including Holland House Beach Hotel , Sea Palace , and the Horizon View Beach Hotel . These are all beach-front properties located just minutes from the heart of the capital.

Simpson Bay

This corner of the island is the center of entertainment and nightlife. Top-notch marinas, restaurants, clubs, and bars are just a part of the big picture. If you’re feeling lucky, casinos are always open.

All that fun can be tiring, luckily hotels overlooking the Bay offer excellent relaxation. One of them is La Vista Beach Resort , a place where you can feel like a king, but still, stay on a budget.

Other popular accommodations include the Simpson Bay Resort Marina & Spa , a sprawling complex on the marina with spacious suites and villas, and my St. Maarten base, the Atrium Beach Resort , a newly-renovated resort and spa with luxury vibes.

The more extravagant part of the island, Orient Bay, is a popular area for luxury-seeking tourists. The island’s finest beach, excellent dining scene, and top-notch resorts are the highlights of this area.

There’s really no science behind choosing the right hotel in Orient Bay. Each one is excellent for its own reasons. However, Oyster Bay Beach Resort and Hotel La Plantation have, by far, some of the friendliest staff on the “Friendly Island.” A fan of boutique hotels will surely enjoy the stay at the Princess Heights; a royal accommodation with good value!

Plan Your Stay: Search more top-rated St. Maarten/ St. Martin hotels and accommodations – Read reviews, check rates, and availability here!

Getting around st. maarten/ st. martin.

St. Maarten-St. Martin Taxi

Taxis are plentiful in the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin and operate between the two capitals. Unlike in North America, taxis here operate on a fixed fee, usually paid in cash; and those on the Dutch side only accept U.S. dollars. Always agree on the price before entering the car.

MiniBus/MiniVans

There is a privately-owned minibus (passenger vans) system that can connect you to Philipsburg and Marigot. The minibusses run through major areas of the island with fares between $1 or $3 USD, depending on the destination.

Although the minibus system is a great way to see the island, be aware the bus schedule can be unpredictable, so it’s best for those travelers without a time-sensitive itinerary.

There are several rental car companies at Princess Juliana Airport. Since the island is small, renting a car gives you the freedom to explore the whole island. But keep in mind the island is mountainous and most of St. Martin and St. Maarten roads are narrow, so if you’re renting, opt for a car on the smaller side.

Be ready to pack your patience; traffic on both sides of the island can be a nightmare.

Best Things to Do (and See) in St. Maarten/ St. Martin

St. Maarten/St. Martin has it all for a perfect getaway. From foodie havens to unique shops, here’s a list of what not to skip when visiting St. Maarten/ St. Martin.

Grand Case, the small, secluded town on the French side is a source of gourmet cuisine and a foodie’s paradise. High-quality restaurants define this part of the island. If you want to stay somewhere you’ll always be able to get a quick bite, Grand Case is for you.

St. Maarten-St. Martin Lolo Rib Shack

With many restaurants sprinkled along the seashore, it will be tough to choose which one to try. Stroll the endless sandy beaches or stop for a bite at one of the town’s many luxe restaurants or seaside open grill barbecue-style joints known as the LoLo’s. The rustic locals spot Rib Shack lolo N°6 near the Grand Case Beach Pier is one of my favs.

St. Martin Grand Case Beach

Insider Tip : For a spectacular photo opportunity, be sure to scope out (under) the Grand Case Beach Pier.

Saint Martin Grand Case Pier

Pinel Island

For a unique day trip, take a ferry or water taxi over to Pinel Island , an uninhabited piece of land off the French coast that’s great for swimming, snorkeling or getting away from it all. You can rent a beach chair and umbrella and soak in the sun or explore the tranquil waters. It can be busy on weekends here, so if possible, aim for a weekday trip.

Tijon Parfumerie

Want the opportunity to create your own personal fragrance? Schedule a class with Tijon Perfumerie in Gran Case, choose from their collection of 300 essentials oils, create and name your own unique perfume or cologne. Perfume-making classes ranging from one to three hours with a keepsake scent that’s uniquely yours. I promise this is one of the most unique tourist activities you’ll ever experience.

Pic Paradis (Paradise Peak)

The highest point on the island, this peak is part of a chain of hills. You can hike the entire thing in a few hours, or drive part way and hike the last few minutes to the top.

Either way, you’ll be greeted with breathtaking views of the beautiful, turquoise seas and the island’s lush topography. The hike is a bit steep, and the sun can be intense, but if you love the outdoors and want an unforgettable view, you’ve got to try it out!

Loterie Farm

This nature sanctuary is over 100 acres of zip lines, hiking trails, and lush hideaways. It’s also where you go to begin the hike among the mango and mahogany trees up Pic Paradis. Once you’ve exhausted yourself, enjoy the pool area or a food and wine experience at the restaurant.

Marigot Market

The French capital is full of things to do, from shopping and dining to tropical walking tours and historical site seeing. Only four streets wide, it’s easy to explore the area’s beautiful colonial houses, quaint cafes, and handicrafts open market.

Marigot Market is a traditional souvenir market with local charm: haggle, explore the seaside, and eat yummy food. Shopping here gets you the opportunity to meet the local people, hear their stories, and help out the economy. It’s sustainable tourism at its finest.

Fort St. Louis

Overlooking the Marigot Bay stands a fortress dating back to 1789. The fort once served as the defensive point for the harbor warehouses. Rebuilt a few times over the centuries, Fort St. Louis is now a preserved landmark where you can learn a lot about the island history. You’ll come for the lovely building, but you’ll stay for the story behind it.

Rainforest Adventures St. Maarten –  Rockland Estate

For the adrenaline seeker, check out Rockland Estate from one of St. Maarten’s highest point. The eco-adventure park features mountain surfing and gliding, explorer chairlift, and the world’s steepest zip line dubbed “The Flying Dutchman.” The zip line is over 1,000 feet in the air with 2,800 feet of cable going down the line in 45 seconds. You’ll forget about fear once you see the beautiful landscape underneath you.

Front Street & The Boardwalk

St. Maarten Philipsburg Boardwalk

A major shopping and strolling destination, this beach-front stretch runs parallel to the sea in Philipsburg. It can get crowded, especially when the cruise ships  are in port, but it’s a lively place perfect for purchasing duty-free goods (liquor, jewelry, etc.) at huge discounts.

Other  top tours and activities  to add to your St. Maarten/ St. Martin itinerary

Best st. martin/ st. maarten beaches.

With 37 beaches with spectacular coastline, St. Maarten/ St. Martin embodies the meaning of relaxation that comes to life and one of the best places to visit in the Caribbean!

St. Maarten-St. Martin Island Ocean and Mountain Views

  • Maho Beach : You’ve already heard of the Maho Beach and its popularity for its plane landing at the end of the Princess Juliana Airport runway. Maho beach is especially popular when cruise ships are in port.
  • Cupecoy Beach : Hidden between ochre-colored cliffs are Cupecoy beaches. This group of small beaches has the most romantic sunsets. Try catching at least one while on the Dutch side of the island.
  • Great Bay Beach : Nestled in the center of it all, in the heart of Philipsburg, Great Bay beach is perfect for those who love an active vacation: beach, shopping, and dining all in one area.
  • Mullet Bay Beach : A Caribbean paradise with powdery white sand and tall waves perfect for surfers.
  • Dawn Beach : fine sea and sand, and interesting attraction
  • Orient Bay Beach : Known as “St- Tropez of the Caribbean,” Orient Bay is large, popular, and offers sorts of fun activities.
  • Friar’s Bay Beach : Among St. Maarten/ St. Martin’s finest family-friendly beaches.

Where to Eat & Drink

Foodies will love the fact island’s cuisine is a wonderful mixture including Creole, French, Dutch, German, and English. If you get tired of the typical tourist spots, I recommend you give some of these local favorites a try.

St. Maarten-St. Martin Cappuccino Restaurant

Cappuccino Bar Restaurant : Located on the Dutch side, this diner-style eatery is open 24 hours a day. Kick back with some classic comfort food and take advantage of the big-screen t.v.s in a tropical, open-air setting. One meal was not enough; we found ourselves going back several times during our week-long trip!

Pineapple Pete’s : is the perfect place to mix and mingle, play some pool, and enjoy mouth-watering delicacies.

Sunset Bar & Grill : Adjacent to the Princess Juliana Airport, this beach-front bar and grill was the perfect place for us to enjoy some local seafood, a few cocktails, and safely watch the famous SXM and Maho Beach plane landings and take-offs.

Buccaneer Bar : A lively, beach-front bar and restaurant, this casual spot was our perfect happy hour spot right along the waterfront!

Guavaberry : What trip to the Caribbean is complete without rum? Be sure to sample the island’s native liqueur, Guavaberry, made from rum, cane sugar, and local, wild guava berries. You can easily pick up a bottle at the Guavaberry Emporium  or one of the duty-free shops.

Final Thoughts

I hope this helps you plan your perfect trip to St. Maarten/ St. Martin and provides a sound basis for your list of things to do and see while visiting this beautiful island.

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Travel Guide to St Martin – How, Where & Frequently Asked Questions

To discover more about this beautiful Caribbean Island, check out our travel guide to St Martin ! This guide will help you prepare your next Caribbean trip!

The island is located at the tip of the N. Eastern Caribbean & direct flights from international airports make travel to St Maarten a breeze! Miami is 2.5 hours away and 4 hours from New York. Paris & Amsterdam connect the island with Europe in just 9 hours. If you associate the Caribbean with a laid-back atmosphere, a tranquil beach , and a quiet sunset, then you haven’t been too feisty St. Martin and St. Maarten.

saint martin travel guide

What’s the best part of visiting this dual-governed island ? You can get a taste of two distinct, lively cultures all for the price of one vacation. It’s the home of the island’s tastiest restaurants and party beaches. Whereas cosmopolitan St. Maarten shelters the most animated casinos, bars, and clubs. A territory of the Netherlands Antilles, St. Maarten takes up the southern 16 square miles. To the north, you’ll find French St Martin, with its harbor full of St Martin Yacht Charters, quaint homes and luxurious villas in Les Terres Basses built up into the cliffs, reminiscent of a Mediterranean Fishing Village.

saint martin travel guide

Vacation in Saint Martin means ultimate leisure and unlimited fun. The co-existence of two different cultures in St Martin for over 350 years has added to the island’s attractions. The northern side of the island is occupied by the French, while the southern part belongs to the Dutch. But, the best thing is that travelers can freely roam around on the island – there is no checkpoint between the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten and the French Collectivity of Saint Martin.

saint martin travel guide

Table of Contents

Questions and Answers about St Martin

Where is st martin.

Sint Maarten is an island country in the Caribbean. It is a constituent country of the Kingdom of Dutch. With St. Martin free again, both the Dutch and the French jumped at the chance to re-establish their settlements.

saint martin travel guide

Is it safe to travel to St Martin?

St. Maarten is generally considered a safe place to visit, but as with any tourist destination, there are some general safety precautions you should take. St. Martin is one of the safest warm weather climates (outside the US) locations to visit. However, you will still hear of crime here and there, so you should always watch your back, walk-in groups, and be aware of your surroundings.

One of the biggest crimes here is passport theft. The perpetrators then “doctor” the passport to serve their particular purposes. Because of this St Martin travel experts recommend carrying your original driver’s license with you, but carrying a photocopy of your passport and keeping the original in your hotel safe. But if the copy does get stolen, be sure to notify the authorities. In addition, rental cars are often broken into.  However, they do ask you to leave your car unlocked and do not leave anything in the rental car as the damage caused to break in is costly.

saint martin travel guide

How to Change Money in St Martin?

On the French side of the island (St. Martin) the official currency is the Euro (EUR, €). On the Dutch side (St. Maarten) the official currency is the Netherlands Antilles Guilder or Florin (ANG; symbol ƒ). Foreign currencies can be exchanged at banks or at hotels. Recommended currency to take to St Martin/St Marteen is the US dollar, but all major currencies can be exchanged at banks on the island. Usually, the best exchange rates will be given at banks. The easiest and best way to get cash away from home is from an ATM . The Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are available on the island in the main towns. Most of the machines work on Cirrus or Plus networks and they accept international credit (Visa, MasterCard) and debit cards. Credit cards are also widely accepted on both sides of the island.

saint martin travel guide

What is Unique about St Martin ?

St. Martin’s Dutch side is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewelry, drinks made with native rum-based guava berry 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. Dozens of festival events took place on different islands to celebrate the birds that live only here. St. Martin’s events included the Endemic Animal Festival hosted by Les Fruits de Mer, and Earth Day festivities hosted by Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC).In Puerto Rico, a special training workshop gave teachers learning tools about birds to use in classes year-round. On St. Martin, festival attendees planted coconut trees and painted bird feeders.

What is the culture of St Martin?

saint martin travel guide

The border between the Dutch and French sides of the island is virtually imperceptible, and although the two countries share many aspects of culture and heritage, each side has retained much of the distinctiveness of its own national culture. English is also widely spoken and is taught in schools. Afro-Caribbean people brought their culture and language to St. Martin, and some of the native islanders speak a French-based patois, which is a mixture of French, African, and other dialects. The true voice of the Caribbean is found in the region’s unique musical styles. The original rhythms of this amazing part of the world mostly come from African roots and use a lot of drums. The types of music that have originated from the Caribbean region include calypso, merengue, soca, zouk, reggae.

Meanwhile, the main religious influences on St. Martin come from European cultures. The majority of the people on both sides of the island follow Roman Catholicism. The Methodist church is the second most popular denomination on both sides of St. Martin.

saint martin travel guide

What is the Geography of St Martin?

The island of St. Martin is not a country. It’s actually made up of two territories, known as “the Dutch side” and “the French side. The island of St. Martin sits at the heart of the Antilles Archipelago in the Northern Hemisphere, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator. More precisely, it lies towards the north of the Lesser Antilles, created when the Atlantic Plate slid under the Caribbean Plate to form the string of islands that includes St. Martin. Approximately 240km to the southeast is the island of Guadeloupe. Saint Martin faces out towards the Atlantic on its eastern side and is washed by the waters of the Caribbean Sea on the west coast. With a total surface area of 88km², the island is 15km long and 13km wide at its longest and widest points.

saint martin travel guide

How to travel to St Martin?

If you are planning to travel to St. Martin, here are some of the airlines that will take you to St. Martin from these countries.

  • London: British Airways, Delta Airlines and Air Canada offer flights from London to St Martin.
  • USA: Air France, KLM and Copa offer flights from the USA to St Martin.
  • Dubai: British Airways offer connecting flights from Dubai to St Martin.
  • Singapore: British Airways offer connecting flights from Singapore to St Martin.

saint martin travel guide

How to travel to St Martin-Transport in St Martin

  • Public buses:  Public transportation is limited to small busses that run between major areas.  There is no schedule or bus stop, you just watch for a bus (minivan) to approach and flag them down. Note: The busses do not run much at night and almost never past 11 PM.
  • Taxis: During the day, these vans mostly cater to cruise ship traffic, motoring travelers to and from the top sites. But the taxis are also great transportation at night, particularly as the minibusses are less likely to run.
  • Private transfers:  Renting a car is a cheap and easy way to get around either St. Martin or St. Maarten. Rental kiosks are located just outside the airport.

saint martin travel guide

What’s the food like in St Martin?

The cuisine on St. Martin is a collaboration of tastes from Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa, and showcases the diversity of the island’s people. In both French and Dutch St. Martin, the cuisine reflects the island’s blended culture. You’ll find delicious authentic cuisine all over St. Martin. The most well-known dishes on the island include French, West Indian, and Creole foods, and featured island dishes include a mixture of French, African, and Indian recipes.

What is the weather like in St Martin?

The climate of Saint Martin is tropical, hot and sunny all year round: the average daily temperature ranges from 25 °C (77 °F) in the coolest period, between January and March, to 28 °C (82 °F) in the hottest and most humid period, between June and October.

saint martin travel guide

Important things to pack for a trip to St Martin

  • Clothing:  As a general rule, light-weight, light-colored clothing in natural fabric and flip flops or sandals s are the best choices. Linen shorts or khakis paired with cotton t-shirts or tanks are common. Swim Wear is a must.
  • Shoes:  Loafers or boat shoes for formal wear as well as athletic shoes and flip flops or sandals’.
  • Toiletries and Health Care:  Bring toiletries and health kit.

10 Amazing places to see and things to do in St Martin

1. macaws and iguanas at the st. maarten zoo.

For a fine introduction to the colorful array of endemic species common on St. Martin and throughout the Caribbean tropics, be sure to make a beeline for the island’s zoological gardens. They can be found on the northern edge of the Great Salt Pond that surrounds Philipsburg on the Dutch half, guarded by marauding peacocks and set to the sounds of stalking ocelots and swinging green vervet monkeys.

2. Enjoy the views from Fort Louis

saint martin travel guide

One of the largest forts on the island, Louis was once the site of armed battles between the major European powers of the Caribbean, and today some rusting cannons can still be seen peppering the lookouts.

Suggested Tour: St Maarten History Tour

3. Conquer the ziplines of Loterie Farm

Built on the land of a historic plantation, Loterie Farm is now an all-around resort that hugs the green and pretty edges of Pic Paradis hill. It’s got sparkling pools and treehouse-style cabanas peppering its well-manicured gardens and offer a series of eateries on-site, from the earthy Bamboo Room to the Hidden Forest Café.

Suggested Tour: Fly Zone Treetop Adventure at Loterie Farm

4. Hike to the summit of Pic Paradis

Glowering down on the whitewashed homes and sparkling beaches of Orient Bay, the pretty French Quarter of Orleans and the brackish lagoons that encompass Philipsburg to the south, Pics Paradis is home to unquestionably some of the best views on the island.

Suggested Tour: St Maarten Hiking and Snorkel Tour

5. Watch KLM fly in on Maho Beach

saint martin travel guide

Okay, so there are certainly oodles of much prettier beaches lining the shores of St. Martin, both on the Dutch and French sides of the island. But people don’t flock to the sands of Maho for sun and sand (although it has to be said that the sun and sand aren’t at all bad here!). Most come to gawp upwards into the sky when the colossal aircraft of KLM and other airlines begin to descend.

Suggested Tour: Amazing Plane Spotting at Maho Beach

6. Sample potent drinks at the Sint Maarten Guavaberry Company

St. Martin’s local take on the Caribbean’s favorite liquor (that’s rum, just in case anyone was in doubt) is a potent infusion of sugarcane and the curious little guava berries that grow like wildfire amidst the central hills of the island.

7. Enjoy the tropical beauty of Mullet Bay

saint martin travel guide

Once you’re done gawping at the colossal airliners that descend over Maho Beach, be sure to make a beeline for the picture-perfect beaches of Mullet Bay. Nestled in its own little cove just around the headland from the Princess Juliana Airport, this seaside strip has it all: scintillating sands of alabaster white; lapping Carib waves shining in a Greek-blue hue; splashing rollers for the bodyboarders.

Suggested Tour: No1Sxm Sunset Sail Experience

8. Orient Bay Beach: one of the world’s best

saint martin travel guide

There are plenty of reasons why so many travelers hail the sloping yellow-white sands and turquoise shallows of Orient Bay, running in an arc of Caribbean color around the north-eastern side of the island, as one of the top seaside locations on the globe.

Suggested Tour: Bernard’s Tours Orient & Maho Beach Break

9. Stroll the Philipsburg Boardwalk

saint martin travel guide

Arching its way along the length of Great Bay Beach, where the city of Philipsburg meets the Caribbean Sea, the town’s Boardwalk is a lively affair. Hot dog concession stands and conch-touting holes-in-the-wall spill out onto the paving, while the smells of Jamaican jerk drift from the countless eateries and their palm-shaded terraces. Shopaholics can enjoy a sprawling bazaar at one end of the promenade, laden with arts and crafts, Reggae-coloured bracelets and the like.

Suggested Tour: Philipsburg Foodie Walking Tour

10. Meet the local fliers at The Butterfly Farm

saint martin travel guide

The St. Martin outlet of The Butterfly Farm is a great place to get a close-up glimpse of some of the Caribbean’s most majestic flying creatures. The butterflies also guarantee a grand show, with the likes of everything from mimic-whites to majestic checkered swallowtails to see. Patrons can also attend regular tutorials on butterfly-friendly gardening techniques and horticulture.

Suggested Tour: Custom Private St Maarten Sightseeing Tour from Philipsburg

Final thoughts on St Martin

saint martin travel guide

At once French and Dutch, lively and laid-back, graced with pretty beaches and rising to palm-studded hilltops, famed for its shopping and sweet guava berry rums, seaside beach bars, and casino-lead nightlife, there are many sides to little St. Martin. It’s hardly a wonder that so many cruise ships opt to drift into the harbors of Marigot and Philipsburg on their way through the currents of the region. There are also opportunities to hit the jet skis and see multi-colored butterflies, to sail across to untrodden islands and unravel the history of colonial conflicts between The Netherlands and Spanish sailors, to talk to macaws and see bearded monkeys, finishing off with a medley of tasty rums and Haute foods courtesy of the Parisian influence.

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Travel Guide to St Martin – How, Where & Frequently Asked Questions

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3 thoughts on “ Travel Guide to St Martin – How, Where & Frequently Asked Questions ”

Great Post!!! I truly believe that there is much more to explore new places. The world has incredible beauty which makes us visit new places for sure.

Great article-thank you! My husband and I are traveling to St Marten in Feb 2021 & spending 1 week on French side and 1 week on Dutch side (with 2 days in St Barths)?. This article gets me excited & feeling prepared!

Half of these locations are no longer in business. Guavaberry, the zoo and the butterfly farm are gone. Loterie farm zip lines only open weekends, here now and you need a serious update to your info.

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St. Martin - St. Maarten   Travel Guide

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saint martin travel guide

13 Best Things To Do in St. Martin - St. Maarten

Updated December 1, 2022

Like most Caribbean destinations, St. Martin and St. Maarten is wonderful for relaxing in the sand or playing in the waves, but families take note: St. Martin's beautiful beaches are clothing-optional (especially the tourist favorite,  Orient Bay )

  • All Things To Do

saint martin travel guide

Sailing, Yachting and Boat Tours Sailing, Yachting and Boat Tours

Surrounded by the gorgeous Caribbean water on all sides, one of the more popular activities on the island is to get off it! Sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, snorkeling, diving and any other watersport you can imagine is easy enough to schedule, and many companies stand ready to take you out for the day. Since St. Martin is in the heart of the Lesser Antilles, it's also quite popular to visit other islands, such as Anguilla, St. Barts and Saba.

Day sails or specialty boat tours that offer everything from eco-snorkeling to party-in-the-sun itineraries are quite common. Daysailing companies that receive excellent reviews from past visitors include Soualiga Destinations Boat Tours and Captain Alan's Boat Charters .

saint martin travel guide

Orient Bay (St. Martin) Orient Bay (St. Martin) free

Orient Bay Beach was hit hard by Hurricane Irma and is one of the places on the island that recent visitors said was a bit shocking to see, with most of the businesses completely wiped out. That said, they still extol the virtues of the clear waters and fluffy white sand.

There are some vendors plying food and drinks and the popular Club Orient, a naturalist hotel, which was totally destroyed and is currently under renovation, is operating a few beachside concessions.

saint martin travel guide

Cupecoy Beach (St. Maarten) Cupecoy Beach (St. Maarten) free

Located on the island's southwest tip, Cupecoy is a set of three beaches surrounded by limestone cliffs. It's also the last beach on the Dutch side before crossing the northern French border. Travelers say the sunsets here have to be seen to be believed, with dramatic views of Saba in the distance. Consider enjoying the day's end in one of the area's beach bars, or by buying a cold beer from one of the local vendors walking along the shore. Cupecoy Beach is also noteworthy as a LGBT-friendly beach, and families should beware the clothing-optional section of the beach's northwest end. Recent visitors said the beach is stunning and romantic and suggest getting there early to claim a spot in the sand.

You can visit Cupecoy for free, but there are paid parking lots at the adjacent Cupecoy and Sapphire beach clubs.

saint martin travel guide

Loterie Farm (St. Martin) Loterie Farm (St. Martin)

Visitors can hike, lounge in a pool cabana or even take a zip line through the treetops on the 135 acres of forest and farmland located near the foot of  Pic du Paradis . The farm has made a nice recovery since Hurricane Irma, though recent visitors say that the vegetation is not as lush as it used to be. That said, visitors were impressed with the amenities, service and food and pleased with how fast the farm has resumed operations.

Adventurous types can still enjoy Loterie's zip line that soars through Loterie's forest, but the obstacle course for children, Ti-Tarzan, was destroyed during the hurricane. The popular Hidden Forest Café was also damaged during the hurricane, but lunch and snacks are served by the pool in the meantime.

saint martin travel guide

Mullet Bay Beach (St. Maarten) Mullet Bay Beach (St. Maarten) free

Many call calm and quiet Mullet a decent alternative to the noise and sand blasts of  Maho Bay , or to the crowds of the French side's  Orient Bay . Along with its clear waters, travelers were pleased with Mullet Bay's soft sand and surfer-ready waves.

Because of its proximity to the cruise terminal (about a 30-minute drive), you'll likely encounter crowds when ships are docked. Chair and umbrella rentals cost about $15 for the day, according to past visitors. You'll find few facilities here, so plan accordingly. Mullet Bay sits near the airport, just south of scenic  Cupecoy Beach and is free to visit.

saint martin travel guide

Friar's Bay (St. Martin) Friar's Bay (St. Martin) free

Friar's Bay, or  Anse des Pères , has a more family-friendly atmosphere than some of the other scantily clad shores of St. Martin. That's because its crystalline waters have gentle, swimmable waves that are easy for children to handle. You can watch your kids play from the beach bars that corral Friar's; Kali's Beach Bar offers food and drink if you get hungry. The secluded Happy Bay is a 10-minute jaunt away, and according to many, this tiny stretch alone is worth the trip. 

You'll find both Friar's and Kali's Beach Bar between the towns of Grand Case and Marigot (at the foot of  Pic du Paradis ), but take caution on the snaking, bumpy road down to the shore. Though there are restrooms in the beach bars, there are no public bathrooms surrounding the beach.

saint martin travel guide

Dawn Beach (St. Maarten) Dawn Beach (St. Maarten) free

Located just south of the Dutch/French border, Dawn Beach is famous for two things: One, the amazing sunrises that earned the shoreline its name. And two, clear water that's perfect for snorkeling.  

The Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa dominates much of this shoreline, so the beach receives a lot of foot traffic. Also keep in mind that Dawn Beach's Atlantic Ocean waves can sometimes be rough. If you have children with you, consider visiting  Friar's Bay  on the French side; it has calmer waves. Past visitors offered mixed reviews of Dawn Beach. Some called it clean and relaxing, while others described it as average with too much seaweed.

saint martin travel guide

Front Street (St. Maarten) Front Street (St. Maarten) free

Shopping is great throughout the island thanks to its duty-free status, but the best bargains on jewelry, china, electronics and more are found on Front Street in Philipsburg (found on the Dutch side). Should browsing turn to buying, make the Guavaberry Emporium – and its primo-potent liqueur – your first stop and purchase. Head over to Front Street's eastern end and the glittering slot machines of the Coliseum Princess Casino if you still have money to burn.

Travelers recount that shopping on Front Street can be intensely crowded, especially when a cruise ship is docked. You can temper the experience with some window-shopping on Back Street or a dip in the Great Bay, both of which run parallel to Front Street.

saint martin travel guide

Maho Bay (St. Maarten) Maho Bay (St. Maarten) free

Are you looking to relax in tranquility? Keep looking – Maho Bay beckons to amateur photographers, aviation fanatics and curious thrill-seekers. The southwestern beach's fame is due to its unusual proximity to the Princess Juliana International Airport. Every afternoon, travelers love to stand on the sands to take pictures of the approaching planes and feel their jet blasts. 

For many travelers, Maho Bay was a must-see bucket list-experience. For others, the beach was too small and crowded to enjoy. If you're looking for a quieter afternoon along the shore, try the island's other beaches, such as Mullet Bay .

saint martin travel guide

Pic Paradis (St. Martin) Pic Paradis (St. Martin) free

You can drive or take a taxi up Pic Paradis mountain's 1,492 feet for a heart-stopping view of all of St. Martin/St. Maarten, as well as the surrounding islands of  Anguilla , Saba and St. Eustatius. Also known as Paradise Peak, the mountain was a hit with recent visitors, who said it is worth the hike for the stunning panoramic views.

You can reach the peak two ways: You can pay to park at Loterie Farm (found at the base of the mountain) and hike up to the top, or you can drive your car to the end of the road and walk about 10 to 15 minutes to the summit (for free). If you choose to hike up to the top, heed the advice of past visitors and bring plenty of water, bug spray and stable shoes with good traction. Some reviewers also warned future visitors not to leave any valuables in their cars at the summit as theft has been reported. According to travelers, signage is also not abundant.                

saint martin travel guide

The Butterfly Farm The Butterfly Farm

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saint martin travel guide

Fort Louis Fort Louis free

saint martin travel guide

St. Martin National Nature Reserve St. Martin National Nature Reserve free

saint martin travel guide

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La Samanna, A Belmond Hotel, St Martin

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Porch & Peony

Saint Martin Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know About The Friendly Island

Known as “the friendly island”, Saint Martin (or Sint Maarten) is a tropical conglomeration of cultures, languages, food, and scenery. Originally planned as a one-year anniversary trip that turned into a three-year anniversary trip (…Covid), Charlie and I had the opportunity to soak up the sun on this tiny island of the Caribbean. Filled with cultural, culinary, and picturesque adventures, our trip was full of memories that we certainly will always treasure. Having learned so much about the atmosphere and offerings of this little island, I wanted to put together a post touching on all the things we found helpful to know during our trip throughout Saint Martin.

About Saint Martin / Sint Maarten

Saint Martin is a beautiful, tropical oasis that combines several cultures within one island. With the northern half of the island being a French territory (Saint Martin) and the southern half being a state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Sint Maarten), this Caribbean gem features two capitals (Marigot on the French side and Philipsburg on the Dutch) and many cultures compiled into one location. Known as the “Europe of the Caribbean”, St. Martin has a mountainous interior that leads to 37 beaches around its perimeter. With stunning blue water and high elevations to take in the views, St. Martin is a combination of beautiful scenery, delicious food, and fun cultural adventures that we are thrilled we got to experience. While much of the island still shows signs of the damage and slow recovery from Hurricane Irma that struck them in 2017, the locals of St. Martin are very gracious and excited to welcome in tourists to explore all that their island has to offer.

Saint Martin Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know About The Friendly Island

What Language Is Spoken In Saint Martin?

While French is the official language of St. Martin and Dutch is the official language of Sint Maarten, English, Spanish and Creole are also used throughout the island. As we spent most of our time on the French side, we primarily heard French, or a French Creole combination being spoken by locals and other tourists. As we were operating in English, however, we were able have a range of communication all throughout the island and the language differences never became a barrier for us.

French Side VS. Dutch Side

While there are two different countries inhabiting St. Martin, both tourists and locals can pass throughout the island freely and the signs indicating each side are almost reminiscent of passing into another state. Like various states, each portion of the island has attractions that draw people in, but as the entire island can be driven in less than 2 hours, you certainly can check out each side if you are staying for any length of time.  

The Dutch Sint Maarten features not only the Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM), but also a cruise port for popular cruise excursions like Maho Beach and the Flying Dutchman (the world’s steepest zip line). Seeing this, they typically draw in most of the crowds, have a busy nightlife scene and a beach party atmosphere.

Maho Beach - Sint Maarten

French Side

In contrast, the French side of St. Martin provides a quieter approach to the island with delicious food offerings along Grand Case, hiking or zip lining courses at Loterie Farm and island excursions to Pinel Island. As we were looking for a slower paced, relaxing vacation immersed in the culture, we spent the majority of our time on the French side which I believe gave us an amazing sense of the lifestyle, beauty and adventure of St. Martin and certainly would be the part I would go back to again.

The beauty of St. Martin is that there is something for everyone, regardless of the atmosphere they are most drawn to. Likewise, both sides of the island accept US dollars (with many places working in cash) and have a variety of exchange rates to the Euro, depending on your shopping location. Several restaurants and our hotel also took Visa and Mastercard, but as Amex was not as widely accepted, we tended to use Visa or cash. Either way, much like the language situation, we did not find that the currency ever became a hindrance for us and it is quite easy to operate on either side of the island.

How Safe Is Saint Martin?

As St. Martin is known as “The Friendly Island”, Charlie and I only ever experienced kind hospitality by locals and tourists alike. That being said, however, as with any time you are traveling, it is wise to be alert, keep track of your belongings and stay aware of your surroundings. As our hotel was within walking distance of Grand Case, we frequently would walk down for dinner in the evenings and even though the sun sets around 6:30 and would be dark on our walk back, various police or security officers would be throughout the streets to ensure people’s safety. As we did not spend any time in the evenings on the Dutch side, I cannot speak directly for that portion of the island, but overall, we felt quite safe throughout our trip.

Saint Martin Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know About The Friendly Island

Where To Stay

While Charlie and I researched many different hotels, Airbnb’s, and resorts to stay at throughout the island, we decided to stay at Hotel L’Esplanade . Unlike many Caribbean islands, St. Martin does not feature many all-inclusive resorts. As they have such a rich food scene, you will definitely want to check out their different local offerings. That being said, Hotel L’Esplanade made our trip an absolute delight. With beautiful grounds, lovely views, fabulous Mediterranean inspired architecture, and wonderful service, L’Esplanade was the perfect launching point for exploring the island. Set on a hill, the hotel overlooks Grand Case and provides an easy pathway down to the main street to access restaurants and shopping. Do be aware that most of the hotel is accessible by large staircases, so be prepared to get in your steps for the day! We quite enjoyed this aspect; however, I did want to mention it should you be bringing a stroller or have limited mobility. Likewise, they have a beautiful pool open 24/7, complimentary yoga classes, and a spa onsite. While Hotel L’Esplanade is not beachfront, their sister hotel, Le Petit, is right on Grand Case beach and we were able to use their chairs, umbrellas, and towels anytime.

Hotel L'Esplanade - Saint Martin

Beyond just their beautiful grounds and location, Hotel L’Esplanade has fabulous service. Whether helping with reservations, booking transportation, providing optional daily room cleaning, or taking daily breakfast orders (the breakfast was sourced from a local bakery and was SO delicious), the staff at Hotel L’Esplanade was so very helpful. As they knew we were coming for our anniversary, the staff prepared our room with rose petals and champagne, in addition to their usual welcome basket, stocked fridge with drinks, outlet adaptor and books to take on the beach. If you are even remotely considering a vacation to St. Martin, I would HIGHLY recommend staying at Hotel L’Esplanade as they made our trip a pleasure to experience. Similarly, they have been so kind to offer 10% off your stay for our readers by using this special code, PP10, so be sure to mention it when you book!

Saint Martin Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know About The Friendly Island

How To Get Around The Island

While there is a taxi and bus system throughout the island, we found it most beneficial to rent a car. The taxi and bus system tended to run on “island time”, so if you have any time sensitive reservations or if you want to explore the island more at your own pace, I recommend renting a car. Regardless of where you are staying, there are many rental car companies stationed near the airport, however along with Hotel L’Esplanade’s other merits, they were wonderful in getting us set up with transportation. Upon arriving to the SXM airport, we were picked up by the rental company associated with our hotel and brought directly to Hotel L’Esplanade. We then were able to rent a car through this company for the duration of our stay, before being transported back to the airport for departure. If you are not renting a car, but are staying at Hotel L’Esplanade, they also provide a shuttle to restaurants along Grand Case and to Le Petit for the beach.

Once you have rented a car, there are a few great tidbits to know.

First, as we were operating without using Google maps or our phones at all, we decided to use a paper map to travel the island. This worked out well, but as the maps provided primarily showcase the main thoroughfares, be prepared for driving adventures throughout the island. As there are only a few large streets, we learned the French side fairly quickly and barely needed the map by the end of our stay.  

Likewise, cars, trucks, and motorcyclists greet one another in passing by honking their horns. Don’t be surprised if you hear horns honking throughout your drive, as typically this is the greeting instead of a wave.

Saint Martin Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know About The Friendly Island

Unique Excursions

While St. Martin has many excursions and activities to partake in (other than the beaches!), these were a few of our favorites.

Loterie Farm

Loterie Farm - Saint Martin

Located in one of the valleys throughout the center of the island, Loterie Farm provides access to secluded lagoons, quite dining, zip line ropes courses and hiking trails. Charlie and I did their classic ropes zip line course and had a blast climbing through the trees among the iguanas. We also tried out one of two hiking trails which lead to gorgeous views up the mountain. While we did not hike to their highest point on the island, Pic Paradise, the hike that we did still had beautiful views and felt as much of a climb up the mountain as a hike. Both the hiking and zip lining though are worth checking out and are a wonderful physical addition to your trip.

Saint Martin Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know About The Friendly Island

Tijon Parfumerie

Around the corner from Hotel L’Esplanade is Tijon Parfumerie . Created with the practices of perfumeries in France, Tijon offers “build your own perfume” classes that immerse you into the world of fragrance. As you get to learn about perfume creation, make three unique scents and take home your favorite fragrance, Charlie and I had a blast testing various scents and creating new perfumes that were distinctly to our liking. The staff at Tijon gave us a goodie bag of items to take home with us, provided a drink to celebrate the final scent we created and were extremely helpful throughout the entire process. Not only was the class engaging, but their gift shop is also beautiful and is a great stop to get unique soaps, perfumes, jewelry, or household gifts both locally made and sourced from France, Indonesia and other unique spots. This gem is an excursion that I recommend for anyone wanting to immerse themselves into the French Caribbean as wearing your perfume once you have returned home will bring back many happy vacation memories.

Tijon Parfumerie - Saint Martin

Another fabulous excursion within the island is to visit the Ti Spa . Located on the ground of L’Esplanade, the Ti Spa is open to both guests of the hotel and to the public. While they offer a wide variety of massages and personal care treatments, Charlie and I opted for a couples massage that was simply delightful. While getting a massage is not entirely unique to St. Martin, it certainly cements the relaxation of the Caribbean and is great if you spent previous days traversing a zip line course or hike around Loterie Farm.

Ti Spa - Hotel L'Esplanade - Saint Martin

Our Favorite Beaches

While the entire island of St. Martin has 37 beaches to offer, we primarily explored 4 of them. Each one was absolutely beautiful, especially when the sun was out to give them their blue green hue. Despite each of them being very different, St. Martin overall provides unique beaches that have brilliantly clear (and slightly chilly if the sun’s not out) water, rocky shore and coarse sand. While very different than Florida and East Coast beaches in terms of sand texture, water clarity and wildlife present, St. Martin’s offerings are often very picturesque and a delight to experience.

Saint Martin Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know About The Friendly Island

As the beach at Grand Case was the closest, it became the one we perhaps knew best. Never extremely crowded, but never empty, the beach at Grand Case stretches from the left of Le Petit Hotel down all the way to the pier near the Lolo Restaurants. Many of the restaurants along Grand Case are beachfront and look out directly on Grand Case beach which is beautiful for dining as well as swimming. As I mentioned previously, due to our connection with Hotel L’Esplanade, we frequented the chairs and umbrellas at Le Petit Hotel which almost always were available in some capacity and made for the ideal spot for oceanside reading.

Likewise, as we brought our own snorkeling gear (see which we used below), we found that the snorkeling was best here at the Grand Case beach of all the areas we tried. From huge starfish to tiny striped fish to spiny sea urchins, the waters along Grand Case were teeming with activity which was such a fun experience to see and I would definitely recommend exploring.

Grand Case Beach - Saint Martin Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know About The Friendly Island

Unlike the popularity of Grand Case, Plum Bay is a hidden cove of beach. Set back into a gated community, we at first were unsure if we were able to visit this beach, but after talking with the guard at the gate, we were quickly let through. Once within the gate, it is a beautiful drive passing other gated homes until you reach the public Plum Bay beach access. As it is a hidden treasure, we probably only saw about 10 people the entire time we were out there, and most of them included residents of the community walking the beach and a couple of people setting up for a wedding. Since there were not any existing chairs or umbrellas set up, we brought our own small packable picnic blanket and tent (see ours below!) which was fabulous for a little shade throughout the day. Despite it being cloudy the day we went, the scenery was beautiful, and it was fabulous to have about a mile stretch of beach to ourselves.

saint martin travel guide

Cupecoy Bay

Much like Plum Bay, Cupecoy Bay is an absolute hidden gem. While not a long stretch of beach, Cupecoy Bay is made of several little pockets of steep beach tucked between large rocky cliffs. As there are several hotels further up the embankment, we parked on the road and then took a small dirt path that led down to the cliffs. Several of the beach nooks had stairs leading down to the water, which thankfully made them reachable. Not quite as quiet as Plum Bay, but not as busy as Grand Case, we had about three groups of people come and go while we were there. Likewise, as it was so rocky, we expected it to have fabulous snorkeling, but found that Grand Case still had a greater variety and number of fish present. The ocean floor was very interesting to see however as the waves create large divots in the sand. Overall, Cupecoy is absolutely stunning and most certainly makes you feel like you are set in a tropical oasis.

Cupecoy Bay - Saint Martin Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know About The Friendly Island

Pinel Island

Last, but certainly not least, we explored Pinel Island. Reachable by a ferry ride or kayak trip, Pinel Island is gorgeous. With crystal clear water, Pinel Island was perhaps the least rocky beach we found, but certainly the most crowded. Up a little way on the beach, beach chairs and umbrellas line the sand and are available to rent for the day. Likewise, there are a couple of restaurants that provide beachside service for drinks and food which make for a wonderfully easy excursion. We managed to get a set of chairs on the very outside corner, so the island did not feel as crowded as perhaps it might have felt a couple of rows back. Not only was Pinel Island picturesque, it was also ideal for families with small children as they could easily play in and explore the shallow clear waters. If you are coming to St. Martin and want to feel as though you have stepped foot into a different world, then a visit to Pinel Island is a must do.

Pinel Island - Saint Martin Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know About The Friendly Island

With so many cultures colliding in a small space, the food scene of St. Martin is amazingly delicious. With various tiers of dining options, we found most of our meals at either local bakeries, the Lolos, or elegant French establishments. The local bakeries are a fabulous bang for your buck with options ranging from fresh pastries, quiches and coffee to deli sandwiches and smoothies. As we primarily ate on the French side, the French influence could most certainly be seen in the fresh baguettes, pastries, and food available. Likewise, the Lolos are a treat you must have while in St. Martin. With 5 open air Lolos in a hub together between the water and street of Grand Case, each restaurant provides slightly different offerings ranging from entire red snappers to curry chicken to barbeque ribs. Lastly, we had the opportunity to try several elegant French restaurants throughout Grand Case and Marigot and each was absolutely delicious. As the food scene is so rich, I will make another post regarding our favorite restaurants and local finds (check it out HERE! ), but overall, we found that with an adventurous palette and willingness to try new foods, the cuisine throughout St. Martin is a joy to experience.

Saint Martin Travel Guide: Everything You Need To Know About The Friendly Island

Final Thoughts

Unlike our past vacation posts that have been about wintery environments (ex. Jackson Hole and Denver ), St. Martin is a great stop for anyone willing to experience the sun filled adventure of a new culture in all of its food, customs and landscapes. Whether you are interested in exploring the lively side of the Dutch or the laid-back side of the French, St. Martin has plenty of beautiful water and delicious food to create a very memorable vacation.

Happy traveling!

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saint martin travel guide

Sint Maarten Travel Guide

Useful tips, average trip cost.

December to April

Netherland Antillean guilder

Ideal Length Of Stay

7 to 14 days

About Sint Maarten

The quintessential beach vacation.  The gastronomic capital of the Caribbean.  This is Saint Martin/Sint Maarten.  Two cultures – one 34 square mile island.  For over 350 hundred years, the French and Dutch have coexisted on this small island, living amicably and creating a tourist destination that is the envy of the Caribbean.  The former home of the Arawak people, then the Carib tribe, the island was settled by Europeans in the mid-1600s.   

There is so much to do on this unique island.  Saint Martin/Sint Maarten has activities to suit absolutely everyone.  Everything from swimming to diving to boating is available on most beaches (36 in all), but the most active beach is Orient Beach on the Dutch side of the island.  Orient Beach offers what you imagine when you daydream about what a Caribbean vacation could be like turquoise water, white sand, and beach restaurants.  You can Jet Ski, parasail, snorkel, and more.

The food in Saint Martin/Sint Maarten is something you will not soon forget.  From the French Marigot to the Dutch Phillipsburg, the cuisine on St. Martin/St. Maarten is unrivaled by any other island.  The influences of both cultures are evident in their cuisine. The French side of the island offers a variety of gourmet foods. The chefs are influenced by traditional French and West Indian cooking and use fresh seafood and tropical fruit in their preparation.  St. Martin also has fantastic food stands called lolos, where you can sample specialized food on the go. The Dutch side of the island is considered the gastronomic capital of the Caribbean.  Worldwide cuisine such as Greek, Thai, Indian, German, and Indonesian are represented with impeccable flair. Much like the lolos on the French side, roadside grills dot the landscape on the Dutch side, offering savory barbeque and Johnny cakes for you to enjoy on the run.  If you are looking for the daily catch, my favorite restaurant is Lee’s Roadside grill in Simpson Bay – their grilled lobster is to die for!

Saint Martin/Sint Maarten has it all.  There isn’t anything you could think to do on vacation that can’t be done on this versatile island.  You have to see it to believe it.  

Where To Stay In Sint Maarten

Visitors to Sint Maarten stay in a wide variety of accommodations, including private rental, guesthouses, and luxurious all-inclusive hotels.  Some of the best hotels in Sint Maarten include: 

  • Blue Pelican Vacation Rentals
  • Divi Little Bay Beach Resort 
  • Oyster Bay Beach Resort 
  • The Horny Toad Guest House 
  • Simpson Bay Beach Resort 
  • Sonesta Great Bay All-Inclusive Beach Resort, Casino & Spa
  • The Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa

Activities Sint Maarten

Major tourist activities for sint maarten include:.

  • Exploring the historic capital city of Philipsburg
  • Shopping for luxury items, including jewelry on Front Street 
  • Exploring a Yoda Guy, a Star Wars exhibit creature by Nick Maley, who worked on the films 
  • Hanging out at Maho Beach to watch the airplanes fly over 
  • Visting the Parotte Ville Bird Park
  • Hiking Guana Bay and Bellevue Hiking Trails
  • Exploring Fort Amsterdam initially built 1631 
  • Swimming and relaxing at one or more of the islands beautiful beaches, including Mullet Bay Beach, Simpson Bay Beach, and Cupecoy Beach 
  • Snorkeling and diving at the more than 30 dive sites across the island

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 13 square miles 

Population:

Official language:.

Dutch & English 

St. Maartener 

Capital City:

Philipsburg

Government:

Constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Telephone Country Code:

right side of the road

Local Beer:

National dish:.

Conch and dumplings; also callaloo soup

Main Airport:

St.  Juliana International Airport (SXM)

Electricity:

110v/50Hz – plugs are US standard two and three-prong

Visa Information for Sint Maarten

Sint Maarten is a Dutch Caribbean island, and as such, immigration rules for The Netherlands apply. That said, visitors from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom do not need a visa to visit Sint Maarten.     

All visitors to Sint Maarten must have a valid passport. Furthermore, all visitors must have a return or onward ticket plus sufficient means to support themselves during their stay in Sint Maarten .  

How Long Does It Take To Get A Visa For Sint Maarten

With a valid passport and supporting documents, it typically takes two weeks for a Sint Maarten visa application to be processed by the nearest Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. An approved visa application grants entry to Sint Maarten for three months.  

Is It Safe In Sint Maarten

Compared to major American and European cities, Sint Maarten is relatively safe, and crime levels are low.  That said, it is vital to be vigilant at all times, especially when away from the major hotels and tourist areas.  Take sensible precautions to secure personal possessions, including wallets, purses, and handbags. 

How To Get To Sint Maarten

Most visitors to Sint Maarten and Saint Martin arrive via the Princess Juliana International Airport (IATA: SXM, ICAO: TNCM).  

From Canada, book flights to Sint Maarten via:

  • Air Canada (Seasonal): Toronto–Pearson
  • Air Transat (Seasonal): Montréal–Trudeau, Toronto–Pearson
  • Sunwing Airlines: Montréal–Trudeau, Toronto–Pearson
  • WestJet: Toronto–Pearson

From the United States, book flights to Sint Maarten via:

  • American Airlines: Charlotte, Miami, Philadelphia (Seasonal: New York–JFK)
  • Delta Air Lines: Atlanta, New York–JFK
  • JetBlue: Fort Lauderdale, New York–JFK (Seasonal: Boston, Newark)
  • Spirit Airlines: Fort Lauderdale
  • United Airlines: Newark (Seasonal: Chicago–O’Hare, Washington–Dulles)

From Europe, book flights to Sint Maarten via:

  • Air Caraïbes: Paris–Orly
  • Air France: Paris–Charles de Gaulle

Within the Caribbean region, book flights to Sint Maarten via:

  • Air Century: Santo Domingo–La Isabela
  • Air Sunshine: Anguilla, Dominica–Douglas-Charles, Nevis, St. Thomas, San Juan, Tortola, Virgin Gorda
  • Caribbean Airlines: Port of Spain
  • Coastal Air: Anguilla, Dominica–Canefield, Nevis, St. Croix, St. Eustatius
  • Copa Airlines: Panama City–Tocumen
  • Divi Divi Air : Curaçao
  • Fly All Ways: Curaçao (Seasonal charter: Paramaribo)
  • InterCaribbean Airways: Tortola
  • KLM: Amsterdam
  • Seaborne Airlines: San Juan
  • Sky High Aviation Services: Santiago de los Caballeros, Santo Domingo–Las Américas
  • St Barth Commuter: St. Barthélemy
  • Trans Anguilla Airways: Anguilla
  • Winair: Antigua, Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Dominica–Canefield, Dominica–Douglas-Charles, Nevis, Pointe-à-Pitre, Port-au-Prince, Saba, St. Barthélemy, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, San Juan, Santo Domingo–Las Américas, Tortola

When To Go To Sint Maarten

The high season for Sint Maarten is mid-December through mid-August when the weather is warm and sunny.  It is also the most expensive time to visit Sint Maarten, and good hotels are often booked far in advance.  The low season is from mid-August to the end of October when temperatures are hot and humid, plus there is an increased risk of hurricanes. Some hotels close, and other offer discounts during this period.   

Major events attracting visitors to Sint Maarten include:

  • March: Heineken Regatta 
  • April: St Marteen Carnival 
  • July: Grand Case Festival 
  • November: St Maarten Day 
  • December: Alliance Boat Race 

Weather In Sint Maarten

The weather in Sint Maarten is warm year-round. The temperature stays in the 80°F all year and is cooled by trade winds. The wet season is June through December, coinciding with the hurricane season. The island is quite popular in March, with many events related to the Heineken Regatta and Sint Maarten Carnival. May through June is a great time to capitalize on reduced prices and quieter beaches. Also, November through early December is an excellent time to visit.  

Getting Married In Sint Maarten

Marriage requirements:.

Couples wishing to get married in Sint Maarten must be submitted to the Civil Registrar at least 14 days before the ceremony’s date. 

Documents Requireds

In addition to the completed application for marriage, both the bride and groom will need their:

  • birth certificates along with driver’s licenses or other forms of identification
  • certificates of no impediment or single status report

Also, if applicable: 

  • divorce papers i.e., decree absolute and/or death certificate of spouse
  • proof of parental consent if under 18, stamped and signed by a solicitor
  • proof of name change by Deed Poll stamped and signed by a solicitor

Residency Requirement:

One week for St. Maarten.

Witnesses: 

Six witnesses are required if the marriage is performed outside of the Marriage Hall and two witnesses if the wedding occurs in the Marriage Hall.

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The Ultimate St. Martin Travel Guide

When it came to where to vacation in the Caribbean this spring , my husband and I decided on St. Martin. We were looking for something easy to get to from the states, with a gorgeous hotel that we could post up at for some much needed R&R. We were also looking for something baby-friendly, since we wanted to bring our little 11-month-old boy along, too! St. Martin turned out to be the best getaway for our little family. Only a few hours away from Miami, it’s an easy one stop from most places in the USA, or a direct from the big airports! The hotel we chose was absolutely UNREAL (I get into that more below) and we couldn’t have asked for better weather. It definitely won’t be our last time in St. Martin!! Whether you’re traveling to St. Martin on a romantic getaway as a couple, as a family on a family vacation , or as a group on an adult spring break , here are all of my tips to make sure you have the best trip to St. Martin, from where to stay, to what to eat, what to do, the best beaches, beach clubs, and more. 

saint martin travel guide

Shop my hat here

Where to stay in St. Martin

The jetset pick: belmond la samanna .

The Belmond La Samanna is the nicest resort on St. Martin. It was built to feel like Greece, but in the tropics, and is characterized by gorgeous Mediterranean architecture and lush tropical foliage, with colorful details and bouganvillea that makes you feel like you’re somewhere between Italy and Greece. Belmond never misses, and La Samanna is one of their best resorts. It’s exclusive and boasts one of the best beaches in St. Martin, or even the entire Caribbean, on Baie Longue. There are 83 beautifully-decorated ocean-view guest rooms, suites, and multi-bedroom villas, and all of the facilities here are colorful, chic, tropical, and make for an absolutely perfect Caribbean vacation. 

saint martin travel guide

We stayed in a oceanview suite with terrace . All of the rooms at La Samanna, A Belmond Hotel, St Martin have stunning private balconies and some even have a plunge pool. I don’t think it’s necessary, however, since the beach is right there! And the main pools on property are SO beautiful (and kid-friendly!).

Photo of Suite with Terrace #1

Ready to book? Contact my travel agent – she doesn’t charge a fee for Jetset Christina readers ( just use this link and the referral code JETSETCHRISTINA ) and she can get you perks like a complimentary upgrade, resort credit, free breakfasts, and more! 

saint martin travel guide

What is the best time of year to visit St. Martin?

We traveled to St. Martin in May, which we found to be absolutely perfect weather. The best time to visit is the shoulder season between high season (December through April) and the hurricane season which starts in June/July and goes until November. 

saint martin travel guide

How long does it take to get to St. Martin?

It’s a four hour direct flight from JFK, a 4 hour from Charlotte, or a 3 hour flight from Miami. 

saint martin travel guide

Is St. Martin safe?

We found St. Martin to be very safe, it’s known as the friendly island, and you feel that right when you touch down at the airport. It was easy to get a taxi and the taxi operators were the best ambassadors for their friendly island! They were awesome. 

The main tourist areas of St. Martin are generally safe, but you should take sensible precautions as a traveler. Don’t wear too flashy of belongings while walking around in public places, etc. 

Is St. Martin baby-friendly?

Yes! St. Martin is one of the most kid-friendly destinations in the Caribbean, and a great destination to travel with little ones due to its calm beaches, soft sand, kid-friendly restaurants, and warm weather (we also didn’t experience any wind on the beach – at least in May – like we did when were in Anguilla in March!) We had the best time in St. Martin traveling with our baby. The hotel ( Belmond La Samanna ) felt extremely safe and easy to navigate with a baby!

saint martin travel guide

The best restaurants in St. Maarten

Le temps de cerisses in grand case.

Le Temps des Cerises, Grand Case, St. Martin

Located on the edge of the Bay of Grand Case, Le Temps des Cerises is a hotel restaurant that is a gorgeous spot for breakfast, lunch or dinner. Head to this stunning private beach to grab a bite, then bask in the sun and enjoy a sun lounger and parasol.

saint martin travel guide

Photo via Le Temps de Cerisses management, OpenTable & TripAdvisor

Grand Case Java Restaurant

For unreal views, head straight to Grand Case Java. A mediterranean restaurant with fresh fish, the perfect set up with live music, and views of the sunset over the ocean.

            View this post on Instagram                         A post shared by Java Sxm (@java_sxm)

La Plaj – located at the Belmond St Martin

Laplaj - Belmond La Samanna, Terres Basses, Saint Martin

Come have a chic lunch at Laplaj at the Belmond – one of my favorite spots! Also, on Wednesday through Saturday nights, it turns into an Italian trattoria for dinnertime and the food is to die for!! 

This French-european style elegant bistro is a great restaurant to pop in on any trip to St. Martin. 

Le Bistronome SXM

If you’re looking for an intimate date night restaurant in St Martin with amazing food run by a great husband-and-wife team, this is your spot. 

Bamboo House

If you’re looking for good food and a chic party atmosphere, Bamboo House is your spot! 

            View this post on Instagram                         A post shared by Bamboo House SXM (@bamboohousesxm)

What to do in St. Martin

saint martin travel guide

Pinel Island – Head to the Yellow Beach Beach Club: get the lobster fresh from the ocean! SO GOOD! 

Mullet Bay is a secluded and spacious beach on St. Martin. You can rent chairs and umbrellas from the snack bars on the south side, or go to the secluded northern end for a little privacy. I’d recommend getting a reservation ahead of time at Kalatua Beach Club. 

Mykonos Club

If you’re looking for an outdoor party scene, or visiting on a holiday like New Years Eve, this is your spot. Mykonos is set amongst the crashing waves and incoming planes on the shore of Maho Beach. The focal point of the club is their zero-entry pool making every night feel like the ultimate pool party.

Maho Beach to see the airplanes land in St Martin

You’ve probably seen videos of Maho Beach when looking up St. Martin. Maho is a unique beach in St. Maarten, where travelers flock to experience the thrilling rush of airplanes flying extremely close over your head! The best time to go to Maho Beach is in the early afternoon which is when the larger jumbo jets land. Head to Sunset Beach Bar for the best views of the planes!

saint martin travel guide

Saint Martin / Dutch Antilles 

Get out on a sailboat!

saint martin travel guide

What should I pack for a trip to St. Martin?

I packed a good amount of swimsuits, beach cover ups, and cute dresses for dinners at the resort or out and about. Click any of the below to get to the links to my outfits I wore! 

saint martin travel guide

If I had to choose a favorite dress from the whole Jetset Christina X REVOLVE capsule collection , it would be this one . This dress is SO cute, so chic, and so classy, but unique. I’ll be wearing it all summer long.   

saint martin travel guide

Swimsuit – aqua velvet shimmer bikini from here ( my favorite) , cover up resort shirt linked here (wearing S) , hat linked here

saint martin travel guide

Pictured here with these pants , this top , this hat, this suitcase , and these shoes

Lovers and Friends x Jetset Christina Sydney Pant in Coral Pink

Staying at the Belmond La Samanna St. Martin

The 5 Best Luxury Villas to Rent in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

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WRITTEN BY: Christina

Christina is a leading luxury lifestyle and travel blogger with over 2 million readers. Follow her on instagram @jetsetchristina.

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You are here: Home » Travel » Travel to St. Maarten: 18 Unusual Things to Do

Travel to St. Maarten: 18 Unusual Things to Do

St. Maarten / St. Martin Travel Guide

Last Updated on January 8, 2023 by Audrey Scott

Many people travel to St. Maarten / St. Martin for its Caribbean white sand beaches. While they are beautiful and all that you would expect from a Caribbean island, there are so many more things to do in Saint Maarten / Saint Martin than just its beaches. This travel guide shares 18 unusual things to do in St. Maarten / St. Martin drawn from ten days traveling all around the island with the goal of finding some of its more off-the-beaten path experiences and places.

Whether you’re traveling to St. Maarten / St. Martin as a standalone Caribbean island vacation or as an excursion from a cruise, you'll be sure to find something from our travel guide below with favorite outdoor activities, hikes, beaches, and day trips to make your visit memorable.

St. Martin beaches

Table of Contents

Visiting the Caribbean Island of St. Maarten / St. Martin

At the end of the year as winter days grew shorter and the Christmas holidays approached, we set our sights on checking in with each other before we found ourselves immersed in the uptake of a new year. Taking off to the Caribbean to spend some time together away from our laptops, reflect on the past year and take a deep breath before a busy year ahead was just what we needed.

It was with this frame of mind that we left our home base in Berlin mid-December for St. Maarten, the Dutch side of an island in the Caribbean divided in two with its French counterpart St. Martin.

Beautiful Caribbean Beaches

While we weren't fully disconnected from the internet and the world during our time on St. Maarten, we found that removing ourselves from all that was familiar and routine — and giving ourselves a dose of sunshine and warmth — helped us to relax, gain some perspective, and enjoy time together as an ordinary married couple (i.e., not as business partners ). Not to mention, a sort of decompression seems to occur naturally when staring out over water to the horizon for long periods of time.

In this way, pressing the pause button from time to time in one’s life creates space to disconnect, reconnect and to clarify what matters most.

Update November 2022: We have updated this article to take into consideration any St. Maarten / St. Martin Covid travel requirements and to try to ensure that all activities and recommendations below are still available with the most updated information . This post was originally published in February 2016 and updated in November 2022.

Going Off the Beaten Path in St. Maarten / St. Martin

The idea of this trip, as with most of our travels, was to go beyond the obvious — in this case, the beaches. This involved exploring both sides of the island — Dutch St. Maarten in the south and French St. Martin to the north – and following suggestions, on and off the tourist trail, to experiences that would move us.

The cliché of white sand Caribbean beaches stretching along dazzling, turquoise water is far too accurate. We were tempted to park ourselves on one of the several we sampled, and never leave. But we also knew there was more to discover and things to do in St. Maarten than appears on the surface.

Next, we would be fibbing if we told you that St. Maarten / St. Martin is not heavily touristy. It would be very easy to visit and only see the developed and trafficked areas of the island and draw your experience and conclusions from there, but dig a bit deeper and you’ll find a dimension to the island that few others see. On several occasions we found ourselves surrounded by rugged natural beauty, without a soul around.

Things to Do in St. Maarten, Hiking

We enabled our experience of St. Maarten in full by talking with as many people as we could. Our goal: to connect with and better understand this island of 80,000 inhabitants that welcomes an astonishing 3.7 million travelers a year, and to uncover a diversity of experiences that speak to both adventure and relaxation.

That’s where this travel guide filled with unusual things to do in St. Maarten / St. Martin comes in. Pick and choose from the experiences below to piece together a St. Maarten travel itinerary that best suits your travel goals and interests, from beaches to hiking to adventure activities.

18 Unusual Things to Do, See and Experience in St. Maarten / St. Martin

As you go through our recommended beaches, hikes, tours, and things to do in Saint Maarten / Saint Martin below you'll notice that they are mostly activities that take place outdoors, in nature and away from crowds. This reflects what we did and our personal recommendations. However, this also makes these more “Covid-friendly activities” as doing things outside has a lower risk than indoors or with large groups of people.

Some of the following experiences and activities we paid for ourselves and some were provided free to us (as indicated below). Some we learned about by talking with locals or long-time residents, and others we discovered on our own. In other words, we tried to learn as much as we could about St. Maarten/St. Martin and experience it to the fullest in the ten days we had.

A note on costs: Prices for experiences vary slightly depending upon season (high or low), number of people in the group, and other factors. Legend: $ = up to $50, $$ = $50-$100, $$$ = $100-$150, $$$$ = $150+

1. Race at sea and take the controls of a real America's Cup boat with the 12-Metre Challenge.

Yes, this experience can take you on THE winning boat from the 1987 America’s Cup, the Stars & Stripes. This alone is kind of exciting. Board the boat, and each of your group is assigned a crew position. From there, you get a quick lesson, you practice a bit, the helmsman issues the commands and with a traditional 6-minute start, it’s off to the races.

You witness and participate firsthand in the teamwork required to make a craft like this take flight on the water. This became even more evident – and dramatic — as we sailed right into a brief tropical storm with the wind whipping the sails and our boat carving slightly terrifying angles.

What really set this experience apart, however, was the competition. We raced against another America’s Cup boat (True North, from Canada) under standard regatta regulations, giving us a wee taste of the adrenaline of an actual race.

St. Maarten Sailing Adventure

The only danger with this experience is that it may make you want to take sailing lessons and rent your own sailboat to go around the Caribbean. Not that we speak from experience or anything…

If you only have one day in St. Maarten as an excursion from your cruise, consider this activity. It has the right mix of adrenaline, being out on the open waters and fun.

How to do it: The 12 Metre Challenge is located at Dock Maarten , Philipsburg. Note: Cruise ship passengers must book through their cruise line. Cost: $$ Disclosure: This experience was provided to us as media.

2. Day trip to Shoal Bay, Anguilla to relax on the #1 ranked beach in the Caribbean.

On our first day in St. Maarten we heard Shoal Bay beach described to us as “heaven on earth.” That the recommendation came from a long-time resident with experience throughout the Caribbean told us we must go. But we’ve been to plenty of “best beaches,” so we managed our expectations.

Anguilla Beach, Shoal Bay

Shoal Bay Beach over-delivered. Not only was the beach a carpet of soft, pristine white sand, but the light and water played a range of blue shades of the likes we’d never before seen, except for glaciers in Antarctica. The blue glow can appear almost artificial and HDR’d, but it’s not. It’s simply the way Mother Nature worked out in this part of the world. Now we understand why this beach is ranked #1 in the Caribbean and #5 worldwide.

The other notable feature of this beach during our visit: it was almost empty. The restaurant where our tour went was a simple, local family-run establishment, which lent a fitting and traditional laid-back Caribbean feel.

Anguilla Shoal Bay Beach

How to do it: We took a day trip package that included a speedboat from St. Maarten (dock near the airport) to Anguilla + bus transfer to/from Shoal Bay + lunch + free use of beach equipment such as snorkel gear and paddle boards. Cost: $$$ Disclosure: This experience was provided to us as media.

Other day trip options to Anguilla from St. Maarten include:

  • Catamaran to Prickly Pear and Anguilla islands (8 hours): This day trip sails along the coast of St. Maarten and visits both Prickly Pear and Anguilla Islands so you can swim in the clear waters and enjoy the beaches in both places. Departs in the morning from Simpson Bay. Price includes a BBQ lunch.
  • Private speed boat from St. Maarten to Anguilla (8 hours): Enjoy a private excursion to Anguilla to enjoy the beauty of Shoal Bay beach and nearby Sandy Island and the clear waters of Crocus Bay. Enjoy complementary champagne and drinks. You'll have flexibility with your day as you'll have your own captain and guide to help create a memorable private trip experience.
  • Speed boat day trip to Anguilla (6 hours) that includes stops in Cap Juluca, Sandy Island, and Little Bay in Anguilla to go swimming and enjoy lunch (included in price). On the return you stop by Maho Beach in St. Maarten to watch the planes land just above you at the airport (see #3 above). Departs in the morning from Cole Bay, St. Maarten.

Remember that Anguilla is a different country so be sure to bring your passport and $20 for the clearance and customs fees.

3. Get away from it all with a hike in Guana Bay.

It’s easy to get caught up in St. Maarten tourist trail areas and question, “Is this all there is to the island?” However, a short drive over the hill to the southeastern corner of the island and Guana Bay served as our first glance at a different sort of St. Maarten / St. Martin.

Hiking on St. Maarten

The trek from Guana Bay to Pointe Blanche is one of the areas on the island where you'll find yourself surrounded by rugged natural beauty without a soul around, save perhaps for a few goats.

How to do it: You can do this Guana Bay hike with Tri-Sport. They offer a couple of departures each day during high season. We recommend choosing the morning departure (9AM) as you’ll avoid the strong heat and sunshine. Joost, our guide, provided terrific historical and environmental context. Not to mention, he’s a font of useful information and recommendations for other treks in St. Maarten. Cost: $ Disclosure: This experience was provided to us as media.

4. Drive a Rhino along the western coast of St. Martin.

“I designed this myself and it’s impossible to tip. That’s why we call it a Rhino ,” Oliver, the owner of Rhino Safaris explained when we first arrived. He did this so that everyone – from children to 90+ year olds – could enjoy the experience.

I had memories of tipping a jet ski on a college break many years ago, so I was of relieved to find out this hybrid Jet Ski/zodiac could not be flipped. It took a few minutes to get used to the Rhino and what it could do in terms of speed, turns, and tricks, but once we did, it was fun and addictive.

Things to do in St. Maarten, Drive a Rhino

Additionally, having spent time sitting in traffic driving the western part of the island, it was a pleasant change to enjoy the same areas from the freedom of the water.

How to do it: The “ Rhino Safari ” departs from Simpson Bay just behind Pineapple Pete’s restaurant. The tour includes not only driving your own Rhino up the western coast, but also snorkeling at Creole Rock at the northern end of the island. Cost: $$ Disclosure: This experience was provided to us as media.

5. Marvel at the planes landing over Maho Bay beach.

Never have we been to a destination where the airport is such a tourist attraction. But sit on or near the beach at Maho Bay and you’ll quickly understand why. The photo below pretty much says it all. It looks Photoshopped, but it’s not.

St. Maarten Airplane Watching

How to do it: While you can stand on the beach to watch the planes land overhead, we recommend Sunset Bar as an ideal spot to capture a photo without the jet blast. The surfboard outside the bar is updated daily with the flight schedule. Or you can check out the arrival schedule at SXM airport and try to figure out which flights will have the biggest planes.

Good looks can also be had from Driftwood Bar on the other side of the beach. Air France flies the largest jets (i.e., most dramatic landings and photos).

Book a tour to watch the planes land over Maho Bay: If you have limited time in St. Maarten, consider booking a plane viewing day trip that will transfer you from the port in Philipsburg to Maho Bay so you can enjoy some time on the beach and see the planes landing. Alternatively, you can arrange a half-day trip in St. Maarten that will take you to Orient Beach and then to watch the planes at Maho Bay.

6. Enjoy the sunset and a rum punch on a catamaran.

There’s something naturally calming about staring out over the sea at a sunset as the glow of the sun melts into the water. Now, do that same thing with from the webbed deck of a catamaran with a rum punch in your hand and you’ll find yourself exhaling – literally and figuratively — even deeper.

St. Maarten Sunset Cruise

How to do it: Aquamania offers sunset and dinner catamaran trips on Wednesday and Friday evenings, departing from Simpson Bay Resort marina at 5:30 PM and returning at 8:30 PM. Alternatively, you can choose this shorter sunset cruise (1.5 hours) with daily departures that includes drinks and snacks, but not a full dinner. Cost: $$ Disclosure: This experience was provided to us as media.

7. Wake up early and go for a run (or stroll) at Cupecoy Bay and enjoy a Caribbean beach all to yourself.

If running isn’t your thing, then swap it with walking or cycling. Whatever you do, get up early and head to the cliffs. You’ll be rewarded not only with the soft glow of early morning light, but also with a Caribbean beach to yourself.

Empty St. Maarten Beach

8. Get above it all at Pic Paradis.

There is something about making your way to the highest point to get some perspective. Having an aerial view of St. Maarten (and St. Martin) from the lookout at Pic Paradis, the highest point on the island at 1,391ft / 424m, helps you see the contours of the land and how all of the places you’ve visited fit together.

St Maartin Pic Paradis

How to do it: In our rental car we followed the Pic Paradis signs from the main road between Marigot and Grand Case and parked on the side of the road up the hill from Loterie Farm (it was closed the day we visited, Monday). From there it was a relatively short, but steep, walk to the top. Alternatively, if you have a 4-wheel-drive car you can drive virtually the entire way to the peak and lookout.

9. Cross the border and practice your French.

One of the things that attracted us to St. Maarten/St. Martin was that the island has been divided between the French and the Dutch for over 350 years. Today, the Dutch side is an independent country, while the French side remains a territory of France. We wondered what that would look and feel like.

St. Maarten Border

While there are no border controls between the sides and countries, you’ll still see signs posted across the island welcoming you each time you cross. Cross from the Dutch side north and you’ll have a chance to practice your French. You’ll also see a different style of architecture and town planning. Not to mention, the bread and pastries are unsurprisingly better on the French side of the border.

10. Chill out at Mullet Bay beach.

There is no shortage of postcard-like beaches to choose from on the island. One of our favorites for relaxing, swimming and sunning was Mullet Bay. Since there's a golf course on one side of the beach, it is somewhat protected from development and the shadow of any large buildings.

St. Maarten Beaches, Mullet Bay

Of course, we aren’t the only ones to have discovered this beach. But, we noticed that if we went before noon or after 3PM it emptied as day passengers returned to the cruise ships. Ideal for a morning read or late afternoon nap.

A note on St. Maarten / St. Martin beaches: All beaches on the island are public, meaning that you have access to try any one you’d like. Some beaches have sun chairs and umbrellas for hire, usually organized by restaurants or bars, but you have the right to plunk your beach towel at random and enjoy the beach for free.

11. Bicycle to Fort Amsterdam.

With so much of St. Maarten covered in new buildings and developments (something like 90% of the island was destroyed by Hurricane Luis in 1995), we were curious to learn more about its history and the strategic role the island played in the colonial wrangling between the Spanish, Dutch and French empires over the centuries. This is where the historical bicycle tour of Philipsburg with Barend, our guide, helped fill in the gaps.

St. Maarten Philipsburg History

One of the focal points of the bicycle tour is 17th century Fort Amsterdam, originally built by the Dutch, then lost to the Spanish and successfully defended to ward off a return Dutch invasion. The Dutch leader from that lost the fight (and his right leg), Peter Stuyvesant, went on to become mayor of New Amsterdam. Eventually he traded New Amsterdam (now, New York) to the British for the wee island of Curacao, in perhaps the very first of the worst of Wall Street deals. This story reinforces how the islands are historically more connected to our present day circumstances than we realize.

Additionally, the bicycle tour takes you through Back Street, Philipsburg. While the souvenir shops and tourist restaurants in Philipsburg harbor and Front Street may feel overwhelming, this residential area just a few blocks away will give you a sense of what the island might have looked like before the rebuilding and tourism boom. Many traditional homes have remained in the hands of the same family for multiple generations.

Walking Back Street of Philipsburg, St. Maarten

How to do it: The historical bicycle tour with TriSport leaves from the cruise ship harbor in Philipsburg. There’s a choice of several departures, but we recommend taking the early one (8:30 AM) to beat the heat and the crowds. If you would like a more challenging ride, check out the other bicycle tours offered. Cost: $-$$ Disclosure: This experience was provided to us as media.

12. Scuba dive at Saba island and swim with sea turtles in coral gardens.

“I’m sorry. It looks like visibility isn’t as great as it usually is,” Bob, our dive master, apologized to us before we descended to the dive site known as Tent Reef.

A few minutes later we swam over coral gardens bursting with colorful coral and fish. We encountered sea turtles noshing on jelly fish, and saw puffer, parrot and lion fish dart in and around the reef. I thought: “Hmm, if this is considered ‘bad' visibility, I can’t imagine what ‘good' must look like.”

Saba Scuba Diving

Diving in Saba was a top priority for us as we’d heard that the dive sites there are considered some of the best in the Caribbean. It took a little logistical juggling, but we did find a way to combine two dives there within a day trip from St. Maarten. The only downside of this plan is that you don’t have time to explore the island itself. There are supposed to be some gorgeous coastal treks, so consider extending your Saba trip to several days.

How to go scuba diving in Saba: There are ferries that offer day trips from St. Maarten to Saba that run most days in high season. Edge offers a day trip package to Saba with round-trip ferry service, hiking and the option for scuba diving. Makana Ferry goes to Saba in the late afternoon/early evening in case you want to spend a couple of nights there. The ride takes 1.5 hours and can get rough. If you get seasick easily, consider taking some motion sickness medicine or carry Sea Bands.

We arranged our dive in advance with Saba Divers. They meet you at the ferry, check your Padi certification, gear you up, manage two dives, and get you back to the ferry for the late afternoon return to St. Maarten. Fun and experienced dive masters. Cost: $$$$

Saba Covid Travel Requirements (November 2022) : No requirements now for proof of vaccination, negative test or EHAS form.

How to go scuba diving in St. Maarten: If you want to go diving, but don't have the time to go all the way to Saba for the day consider doing a half-day double tank drive in St. Maarten instead. The dive staff will choose the dive site based on weather and visibility that morning so that you're diving in optimum conditions. If you haven't been diving within the last year, it's recommended to start with a shallow dive as a refresher.

If you don't have your PADI certificate, but want to get a feel for scuba diving and being underwater, then you can do a 3-hour Discover Scuba tour that introduces you to scuba diving and all of its gear in shallow waters. This is a great way to test out scuba diving in clear Caribbean waters.

13. Taste rum at a local distillery.

“I used to experiment with flavored rums in my kitchen to make gifts for friends or for guests at my husband’s restaurant. After I decided to do this professionally, I taught myself enough Mandarin to navigate the factories in China to get the bottle design exactly as I wanted it. I’ve always been hands-on,” Melanie, co-founder of Topper’s Rhum, laughed as she explained the genesis of her rum business.

Teaching yourself “enough” Mandarin is no easy feat, but this focus on detail fit with what we saw and tasted during our visit to the distillery.

St. Maarten Rum Tasting

Melanie has been successful with her current lineup of white, spiced, coconut and flavored rums like white chocolate raspberry. Her experiences continue with new flavors in her office-cum-laboratory. The coconut rum was our favorite for drinking straight, but we later sampled the Mocha Mama (think Kahlua without the cream) over vanilla ice cream. Nice!

How to do it: Topper’s Rhum now offers distillery tours for the public. Otherwise, you can sample (and buy) any of the rums at one of the two Topper’s restaurants .

14. Practice Your Tanning Skills at Orient Bay.

On our first night in St. Maarten we asked our waitress, Samantha, which beach on the island was her favorite. Her quick response: “Orient Bay. I didn’t realize how lucky we are to have this beach until I left the island and visited other places. I love it.”

St. Maarten Beaches, Orient Bay

Located on the French side of the island east, the beach at Orient Bay is long, wide and lined with restaurants and cafes that offer beach chairs and umbrellas. It’s more of a place to “be seen” than Mullet Bay, but it’s not too over-the-top. It also features beach segments that are clothing optional, so if nude bathing is your thing, this is the place to be…or to be seen.

15. Enjoy scenes of local life in Grand Case.

Grand Case is on the French side of the island and has more of a local feel to it than some of the other areas of the island that have been built up for tourism. It's a good place to park your car and wander the streets and pier for these glimpses of local life…like school kids jumping off the pier or playing in the surf along the beach.

There is something so light and innocent about the scene. Listen to the giggles and feel the energy. An inimitable local sight and memory.

Grand Case Beach, St. Martin

How to do it: Park your car in the public parking lot on the north end of the main street in Grand Case. Walk out by the pier behind the cluster of outdoor grill restaurants. Plenty of food options here, too, from the informal grills at the beach side to more formal French restaurant options along what is known as “Restaurant Row.”

16. Kayak through the mega yacht harbor to the mangroves.

St. Maarten is one of THE places in the Caribbean for yachts and boats of the “mega” variety to be docked. So it’s a fun juxtaposition – not to mention great perspective — to paddle through the nautical playground of the rich and famous before coming back down to earth with the jellyfish and sea cucumbers in the mangroves.

St. Maarten Kayaking

How to do it: Tri-Sport usually offers a lagoon kayak tour a couple of times a day. We recommend choosing either the early morning or late afternoon option to avoid the heat of the midday sun. Chris, one of the guides, is a St. Maarten local so he can advise you on anything you might want to know about the island, including local food. Cost: $-$$ Disclosure: This experience was provided to us as media.

Grab a Johnny Cake at Hilma’s and ask her about Anthony Bourdain and her 40+ years on the island.

Update: Hilma's Windsor Castle was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017. We are keeping the entry below in honor of Hilma, her spirit…and her johnny cakes.

Although a separate section below is devoted to recommended dining and island eats, we include Hilma’s (technically, Hilma’s Windsor Castle) because eating at one of the four stools is an experience well beyond the food. Hilma has been operating from a converted trailer on the same spot in Simpson Bay for 22 years, and she’s lived on the island for more than 40. She purposely keeps operations deliberately small and personal for manageability. She has so many stories to tell, so plan some time for a conversation or two.

St. Maarten, People You Meet

“I was all by myself when I first started here. None of this was here,” Hilma told us as she looked out over the road now filled to the brim on both sides with restaurants and shops. When we asked her about Anthony Bourdain, she confirmed, “Yes, he used to come here often. He vacationed here before he became really famous. He’s eaten everything here. The advice he gave me was to not change, that I should stay true to my roots.”

Sage advice.

How to do it: You can find Hilma’s Windsor Castle on the lot between the RBC Bank and Jerusalem / The Palms restaurants on Airport Road in Simpson Bay. Hilma is open Monday to Saturday from 7:30AM – 2:00PM.

17. Hike the northern coastline at Sentier des Froussards.

This hike and the northern coastline of St. Martin falls under the “hidden” and “I had no idea something like this existed on the island” categories. We woke up early to do the trek Sentier de Froussards hike (from Anse Marcel to Eastern Point and back) during our last morning on the island. A rather ideal way to end our travels in St. Maartin / St. Martin.

The hike consists of a surprisingly beautiful and secluded 3-mile footpath out along the northern coast of the island and features a couple of bathing-worthy beaches, rugged coastline and fabulous windswept landscape.

St. Martin Northern Coast Hike

How to do it: Big thanks to Joost from TriSport for recommending this trek to us. Drive towards Anse Marcel and after coming over the big hill (and before entering the marina and resort area) turn to the right where you see a small trekking sign and parking lot.

You’ll walk a ways on a dirt road before reaching the trailhead on the right. Go very early (arrive around 7:30AM) to avoid the traffic and heat. En route to Anse Marcel from the south, fetch yourself a pain au chocolat or croissant from the boulangerie on the right side of the N7 main road in Grand Case.

18. Throw open the curtains at sunrise…and realize how fortunate you are.

This began my morning routine. I noticed it most on that final day, perhaps because it marked the final time I would feel it this trip.

It was the combination of the sound of the curtains moving on their track along with the reveal of the morning, the water, the horizon, the sun, a new day. The sensory combination of sight and sound of our morning routine foreshadowed the day to come and offered a moment to reflect on what we have, here and now.

This is a lesson for life. One reaffirmed on the island.

Day Trips and Excursions in St. Maartin / St. Martin

Our partners, Get Your Guide and Viator , offer many St. Maarten tours, day trips and tickets for attractions. They guarantee lowest prices with no booking fees or hidden charges, as well as information on Covid hygiene and safety precautions. In addition to confirming your place and avoiding lines by pre-booking, you can cancel up to 24 hours before in case your plans change.

Although we've made quite a few recommendations above for activities, excursions and tay trips, we also wanted to share some other interesting St. Maarten tours and day trips.

  • Day tour around St. Martin / St. Maarten with a local guide : This 5-hour tour around both the French and Dutch sides of the island with a local guide sounds quite interesting as it focuses on topics related to the history and resilience of the island and its people, especially as the island was badly destroyed recently during Hurricaine Irma. It stops in several places on the French side like Grand Case, Marigot, and Fort St. Louis, as well as Maho Bay and Philipsburg on the Dutch side.
  • Sailing and Snorkeling Trip Along St. Martin's Coast (5 hours): If you want to maximize your time on the water and see St. Martin / St. Maarten from the sea, this sailing day trip on a trimaran (i.e., it has three hulls vs. two as in a catamaran) is a good option. The journey will take you up the southwestern coast of St. Martin and up the Anguilla Channel, and you'll stop along the way for swimming and snorkeling. Departs from Nowhere Special Restaurant right next to the St. Maarten Yacht Club. Lunch included.
  • St. Maarten hiking and snorkeling nature tour (4 hours): This nature tour combines a couple of our recommendations above – going up to Pic Paradis for panoramic views, taking a hike or nature walk, and snorkeling in the clear waters below — in a nice half-day time period. With your local guide you'll have a chance to learn a bit more about the island's biodiversity and the different species of animals above and below water. A good and active introduction to the island's nature if you are on an excursion or only have a short time.

Where to Stay in St. Maarten / St. Martin

For the ten days we visited St. Maarten, our home was the Morgan Resort (previously, the Alegria Boutique Hotel) in Maho Bay, just walking distance from the famous beach where airplanes fly overhead to land at the Princess Juliana airport (See #4 above).

When we stayed here as the Alegria Boutique Hotel the rooms were more like small apartments or studios, outfitted to facilitate comfortable longer stays (e.g., full kitchen, washing machine) with a balcony and separate bedroom. This is why, during our visit, we referred to Alegria as our “home base.”

When we returned to the hotel after a full day of experiences, we unwound in comfort and space to reflect on the day and plot our path for the next. Although, what was very different from home is that we did all this with a balcony view over the Caribbean Sea, often with a sailboat or catamaran tracking across the horizon at sunset. Or, there was always the option to relax in the saltwater pool.

St. Maarten Hotel, Morgan Resort

From what we can tell on the Morgan Resort website, the rooms have been renovated and upgraded considerably, into more of a luxury stay. There are still some suites available if you want a bit more room. Book a room at Morgan Resort Spa and Village .

St. Maarten Hotels and Apartments

Whether you are traveling to St. Maarten as a standalone vacation or starting your cruise from there, you may want to stay on the Dutch side of the island for a few days. The St. Maarten hotels and apartments below are conveniently located and in quieter, less developed areas. We think of them as good places to base yourself to explore the island.

Hotels in Maho Bay – Cupecoy Bay – Simpson Bay

These locations are all pretty close to the airport. We enjoyed staying in Maho Bay as it was a bit removed from a lot of the more built up areas and we had easy access to Mullet Bay and Cupecoy Bay beaches. Plus, we could always pop down to one of the nearby bars to see the planes land overhead at the airport. Not many activities start in Maho Bay, so t means that you'll need to add in driving or transfer time at the beginning and end of the day. Some of the activities and tours above start in or near Simpson Bay so it is a bit closer.

  • El Zafiro Boutique Hotel : This is very close to where we stayed in St. Maarten and is located right on the beach so you'll have good views of both the coast and mountains from your room. Convenient for watching planes land at SXM airport.
  • Adonis Cupecoy Hotel : Located in a good position not far from Cupecoy Bay (see #2 above), Maho Bay (see #4) and Simpson Bay with some restaurants and shopping nearby, but it's still a quieter, less developed part of St. Maarten.
  • The Horny Toad Guest House : If you want your own apartment or studio with a kitchenette, seating area and terrace, then this is a good option right on Simpson Bay Beach. Close to the airport and you are walking distance from local restaurants.

Hotels in Philipsburg and Eastern St. Maarten

The little town of Philipsburg might be a fun place to base yourself as it has some historic areas, a beach and nearby restaurants and shops you can walk to. Plus, you're not too far from Guana Bay Beach (see #3 above) and can explore Fort Amsterdam easily. If you're coming to St. Maarten early for a cruise, Philipsburg is conveniently located near the cruise terminal and port.

  • Alicia Inn: A good budget option right in the middle of Philipsburg so close to the restaurants, shops and beach. Public transport is also located nearby if you don't have a car and want to explore by local bus.
  • Bay View Apartment: A little outside of town in the hills with views over Great Bay and the Atlantic Ocean below. This is a full apartment so you have everything you need to feel at home on the island. A good place if you want a bit of quiet and privacy.

St. Martin Hotels and Apartments: Staying on the French Side

Next time we visit the island we might stay on the French side for a change of pace as there is less tourism development and fewer big resorts.

  • Sunshine Studios, Grand Case : Although our time in Grand Case was short, we really liked the feel of the place as it had more of a local lived in vibe than many of the other more tourism oriented places on the island. And, it's near “Restaurant Row” if you want to enjoy some French cuisine on your visit to St. Martin. The studios here also include kitchens so you can also enjoy self-catering and eating on your balcony.
  • Happy Residence, Orient Bay: Located on Orient Bay Beach, one of our favorite beaches on the island. The apartment has a kitchen and everything you need, but it is also located walking distance to other restaurants and shops.
  • Tiko Lodge, Oyster Pond: In the eastern side of the island close to Babit Point Natural Reserve, which is good for hiking, and not far from Orient Bay. The lodge offers rooms or apartments, and views over the water. Although quiet and remote, there are still restaurants nearby that are walking distance.

Where to Eat in St. Maarten

As we stayed in St. Maarten, the Dutch side of the island, we took all of our meals there. Much of the food in this part of the island is international, a reflection of both the people who now call this island home and the demographic of the tourists that visit it.

If you are interested in traditional French cuisine, however, then head up to “Restaurant Row” in Grand Case on the northwestern side of the island in St. Martin. We didn’t have the opportunity to eat there during this trip as were often there too early for dinner, but the menus posted outside were very similar to what you might see in France.

Long-time European residents confirmed the quality of the restaurants in Grand Case is also top notch and recommended: Auberge Gourmande, Bistro Caribe, Sol e Luna, Ocean 82 and Tastevin. Our quick look at the Auberge Gourmande menu told us this is the place we’d likely visit, but we might be swayed by what is fresh and the plat du jour elsewhere.

Top Carrot, Simpson Bay

Vegetarians and vegans delight. If salads, vegetables, juices and healthy eating are your thing then this is your place. The focus at Top Carrot : fresh ingredients, either grown on the island (when possible) or just off the boat from nearby Dominica. Specials change daily.

After each meal, not only were we truly satisfied, but we also left feeling as though we’d done our bodies a favor. The French co-owner, Lydia, is usually there and has some great stories from living on the island for 20+ years. She’s exceedingly kind, too.

St. Maarten Restaurants, Top Carrot

Recommended dishes: Baked goat cheese (St Marcellin) salad, veggie wrap and mahi mahi with passion fruit sauce and caramelized onions (daily special, was terrific). Where to find Top Carrot Restaurant: 3200 W South Airport Rd (near Simpson Bay Marina), Simpson Bay.

The Palms, Simpson Bay

What happens when a Canadian Trinidadian opens restaurant in St Maarten? You get Caribbean favorites like drunken ribs and Trinidadian bites served in a Canadian (and Torontonian) paraphernalia flair. You get The Palms . Greg, the owner, and his mother change the menu daily based on what’s fresh. He's also a great resource for other restaurant recommendations and tips for the island.

Recommended dishes: Drunken ribs and pholourie , spiced split pea flour puff fritters with house special cumin-tamarind sauce. Rib portions are large, so consider splitting one between two people or pair with an appetizer instead of a 2nd main dish.

Where to find The Palms restaurant: 25 Airport Road in Simpson Bay (near RBC Bank).

Sunset Bar, Maho Bay

Sunset Bar features a prime location next to Maho Bay beach, making it the viewing lounge of choice for oglers of airplanes landing at SXM airport (see #4 above). It’s also good for sunset gazing with a drink in hand.

Recommended dishes: Most people come here to drink rather than eat, but we found the seared tuna atop salad greens to be really abundant, nicely-cooked and fresh. Consider asking for the dressing on the side.

Where to find it: Maho Bay, just behind the runway for the airport. Disclosure: Our first meal here was provided to us.

Driftwood Boat Bar, Maho Bay

If you’re looking for a tasty, cheap eats on St. Maarten, we can vouch for the chicken schwarma sandwich at Driftwood Boat Bar . A healthy chunk of grilled, spiced chicken covered with lots of vegetables and dressing.

The location also offers another venue to watch the planes land at the airport in case the Sunset Bar on the other end of Maho Bay is packed. Where to find the Driftwood Boat Bar: Maho Bay, west side, just behind the runway.

Planning a Trip to St. Maarten / St. Martin

One island, two countries, no border.

While the island is divided into two countries, there are no border controls between them. The Dutch side is home to the major international airport (SXM, Princess Juliana) and cruise ship port, so it services most of the visitors coming to the island. However, there is a smaller airport, SFG (L’Esperance Airport Grand-Case) on the French side. To understand one difference, as residents tell us, “The Dutch side takes more influence from the United States. Anything goes here.”

The French side is technically part of France, so it adheres to E.U. requirements. This means that building and development is more regulated; you'll often find fewer crowds.

Renting a car in St. Maarten

St. Maarten is a relatively small island (34 square miles), but if you’re interested in doing a variety of activities as we did, a rental car is essential. There's plenty of rental car competition on the island, so prices are decent, starting from around $30-$40/day for the economy cars. Gas/petrol prices are currently pretty reasonable, particularly by European standards.

One caveat: traffic on the island can be bad and stressful, and parking can be equally challenging. Ask locals about traffic patterns, timing and rush hours up front so you can plan your route and schedule your outings to minimize irritation.

Disclosure: Our rental car was provided by Empress Rental Car just near the Princess Juliana airport. We had a simple rental car that got us around the island with no problems.

Note: We also find that Skyscanner offers good rental car prices for St. Maarten / St. Martin .

Public Transportation and Taxis on St. Maarten

If you don’t plan to explore the island much (i.e., you're focused on a nearby beach or all of your activities include a pickup or transfer), then consider taking the occasional taxi or flagging down one of the public transport minivans making their way around the island. There are plenty of both.

You can also easily book a shared airport transfer or private airport transfer from Princess Juliana airport (SXM) to your hotel so that you have someone waiting for you at the airport when you arrive.

Money in St. Maarten / St. Martin

The official currency of the French side is the Euro(€) while on the Dutch side it's the Netherlands Antillean Florin (NAF). Don’t bother taking out NAF from the ATM as all prices on the Dutch side are posted in $USD and every place accepts dollars. Most places on the French side will also accept $USD (often on a 1:1 basis with the Euro).

SIM card and mobile data on St. Maarten

We purchased a TelCell SIM card on the Dutch side for $15 and bought 500MB of data for an additional $10. However, mobile data does not work when you cross over to the French side. Although we have no experience with the UTS/Chippie, they are another option for SIM cards, calls and mobile data on the island.

When to visit St. Maarten / St. Martin

Our visit to St. Maarten/St. Martin was in mid-December. We found it just about perfect, as our timing was right before high season, which runs from just before Christmas (Dec. 22-ish) to the beginning of April. The weather during our visit was excellent – sunny and warm during the day, beautiful water temperatures, and breezy and temperate at night – and came with the added bonus of fewer crowds and reduced traffic.

We were told that August-October us usually incredibly hot and at the tail end of the hurricane season, so probably best to avoid that period. One long-time resident told us that his favorite season is April to June as it’s not too hot and high season crowds have begun to dissipate.

How to Travel to St. Maarten / St. Martin

Visiting st. maarten / st. martin on a cruise.

Many people visit the island as a day trip or excursion from a longer Caribbean cruise. This will provide you a taste of the island in a short period of time. In fact, many of the activities and tours recommended above are scheduled for cruise excursions so they pick you up at the port in morning and return you with plenty of time in the afternoon.

Traveling to St. Martin / St. Maarten as a Vacation

As you might have guessed from this article, we suggest visiting for longer than just a day trip as there is quite a lot to do and see in St. Maarten / St. Martin. You could do what we did and visit as a standalone vacation for 5-10 days, with side day trips to Anguilla and Saba islands. Or, you could combine a visit to St. Martin with other nearby Caribbean destinations for a multi-destination vacation.

Flying to St. Maarten

If you are flying to St. Maarten from Europe, there are usually direct connections from KLM and Air France. Coming from the United States there are quite a few airlines that fly into SXM airport like Jet Blue and American Airlines. You can check out flights to St. Maarten , including a comparison of airlines, prices and times of year, on Skyscanner .

St. Maarten Covid Entry Requirements

As of November 2022, St. Maarten / St. Martin island is open to travelers with no restrictions or Covid-19 entry requirements. However, be sure to check the official Saint Maarten Covid Travel Requirements website before your trip for the latest information and updates. Most of the international entry points to the island are on the Dutch side so it’s mostly likely that you will arrive on the island in St. Maarten and will need to follow these Covid entry requirements.

St. Martin Covid Entry Requirements

As Saint Martin is technically part of France, it has some similar Covid travel requirements. Although most international arrivals will be on the Dutch side (see above for St. Maarten), if you happen to arrive on the French side at St. Martin’s small airport (Grand Case Esperance SFG Airport) or a ferry port, you should check out the official St. Martin Covid travel requirements website for specifics and the most updated details.

We would also like to thank Karen Hana, General Manager of the Alegria Boutique Hotel, for sharing with us her 20+ years of experience living on the island and for her suggestions on experiences across the island. As always, the thoughts contained herein — the what, the why, and the how — are entirely our own.

About Audrey Scott

10 thoughts on “travel to st. maarten: 18 unusual things to do”.

Wow, there’s plenty to do in St. Maarten … comprehensive post … great job guys!

No shortage of things to do at SXM. Thank you!

I remember being there as it was yesterday… It’s such a beautiful island! And those planes – crazy! 😉 But it’s surely one of the most wonderful places in the world. I must say I love your photos – maybe you need a professional space for them? 😉 Cheers!

Great overview on SXM. Did you guys check out Little Jerusalem, next to Windsor Castle? They have the best falafel there – service takes awhile, but that’s because the falafels are made fresh!

We did see Little Jerusalem, but have to admit that we didn’t stop in as we eat lots of falafel in Berlin. So, we were looking for different types of food in St. Maarten that we might not be able to find as easily in Berlin. There was always a line there, so it must have been good!

This is exactly what I needed. We are only stopping here on a cruise, but now I want to come for a whole week!

Glad this post was helpful for your upcoming trip! And yes, there’s more to St. Maarten than first meets the eye. Hope you get to enjoy more of it next visit.

Some great tips here, thank you. We are spending a month in St Martin in May, so will definitely try some of these things out!

Wow, a whole month in St. Martin – sounds great!! If you like hiking and outdoors activities, we’ve been told that it’s possible to extend the two treks we did above and also to rent mountain bikes to go into the hills. Have a great time!

We’ll be staying in Sint-Maarten for about 3 weeks in January, so your post will definitely come in handy while planning that trip, thanks! Especially looking forward to the diving/swimming with turtles and the delicious food. 😉 We’ll try our best to wake up early one day to have the beach at Cupecoy Bay (or another) to ourselves.

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Sint-Maarten.net

Things to Know Before Going to Sint Maarten

What to Know about St. Maarten

Saint Martin is located between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and spans an area of 34 miles (88 square km). The island has white sandy beaches, fascinating sea life, friendly locals, superb culinary cuisine, and numerous choices of entertaining activities that offer all travelers an amazing Caribbean experience.

The key to the uniqueness of Saint Martin is that the island has two countries in one. One side is owned by France, the other is owned by the Netherlands. The population of Saint Martin is 39,421 on the French side of the island and 40,733 on the Dutch side of the island. Dutch Sint Maarten is known for being very lively while French Saint Martin is known for being more laid back. Although each side has its own traditions and character, each side of the island adds to the vibrant spirit of the entire island.

The island of Saint Martin has a lot to offer to all kinds of travelers. The things all travelers should know before visiting the island are addressed in this article.

Table of Contents

What are the travel requirements of Sint Maarten?

Are there border crossings in st. maarten between the dutch and french side, what are the best months to visit sint maarten, how is the climate in sint maarten, is traveling to sint maarten safe, what is the time difference between st. maarten and the usa, what is the time difference between st. maarten and european countries, what is the time difference between st. maarten and asian countries, what is the time difference between st. maarten and african countries, what is the time difference between st. maarten and australia, what should you know about the culture of sint maarten, what languages are spoken in sint maarten, what should you wear in sint maarten, what is the currency in sint maarten, where should you stay in sint maarten, what should you eat in sint maarten, what are the best tours in sint maarten, what should you know about the best beaches in sint maarten, what are the best museums in sint maarten, where is the airport in sint maarten, what are the best things to do in sint maarten, how to i get around the island of sint maarten, is traveling with pets allowed in sint maarten, how many days do you need for sightseeing in st. maarten, is sint maarten walkable, what is needed to enter st. maarten, is sint maarten safe for tourists, are there any snakes in saint martin, have there been any shark attacks on saint martin, why should you go to sint maarten.

Saint Martin is a beautiful island brimming with culture, delicious and picturesque scenery, this alone is already a good reason to visit Saint Martin . But St. Maarten also possesses so many unique qualities that draw many tourists back to the island year after year. The reasons why you should visit Saint Martin are listed below.

  • Gorgeous Beaches : Saint Martin has 37 gorgeous beaches lining 70 km of coastline. Each one of these beaches has a unique beauty, from the remote beaches to beaches that are tourist hotspots. All the beaches on the island are known for their soft sands and crystal-clear water.
  • It’s a Dual Owned Island : Saint Martin is split into two, French Saint Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten. Visiting this island is like getting two European vacations in one trip. Since there is no physical border, it is easy to cross from one side to the other. This is the only border that France and the Netherlands share in the entire world.
  • Underwater Marine Life : The marine life and colorful reefs of St. Maarten draw people in from all over the world. Snorkeling is available on the many reefs around the island. Saint Martin is also a diverse paradise. There are 55 different dive sights on the island teeming with vibrant coral and fish.
  • Water Sports : St. Maarten is the perfect destination for adventurous tourists. There are many different activities available to tourists who love water sports such as jet-skiing, parasailing, banana boating, paddleboarding, and more. These sports are available on most of St. Maarten’s beaches.
  • Delicious Cuisine : Saint Martin provides an excellent culinary experience for all travelers with its vast array of different cuisines, ranging from local Caribbean cuisine to French delicacies. The island has over 300 restaurants that have gained influence from at least 100 different nationalities. This is something that truly sets St. Maarten apart from its other neighbors in the Caribbean.
  • Nightlife : The entertainment in St. Maarten lasts long after the sun goes down. St. Maarten has a vast array of bars, casinos, and clubs that create a vibrant atmosphere that lasts well into the evening. The island is known for its indoor and outdoor venues that host events and have live music and dancing.
  • Carnivals and Festivals : St. Maarten has some of the most spectacular celebrations in the world. The island is well known for the St. Maarten carnival, the SXM festival, and the Grand Parade in Phillipsburg, usually occurring in Dutch Saint Martin. These festivals attract international attention. At these festivals, tourists can see bright costumes, hear exciting bands play music, and have tasty food and drink.
  • Beautiful Landscape : St. Maarten has a stunning natural landscape with clear waters and golden sunsets framed by lush green mountains. All the beaches have amazing views and a variety of plant and animal life.
  • Duty-Free Shopping : St. Maarten is known around the world for its duty-free shopping status and incredible shopping centers. The entire island is duty-free. This makes St. Martin a go-to destination where you can buy luxury goods at low prices.

The travel requirements of entry into the island of St. Maarten are a valid passport from your country of citizenship and proof of return for onward travel. Naturalized citizens must present their original naturalization certificate and photo ID to enter St. Maarten. Tourists traveling from the United States, Canada, Australia, the EU, and Britain do not require a visa upon entry into Saint Martin unless they plan to stay more than 90 days.

In addition to a valid passport and proof of return from St. Maarten, travelers arriving from countries outside of the United States, Canada, Australia, and the EU are required to have a visa prior to entry into the country, regardless of the length of their stay. This visa should be obtained before departing from their country of residence by contacting the local French embassy in their country. Because of COVID-19 different travel requirements for St. Maarten might be in place, please visit your local/national government information website for the current restrictions.

No, there are no border crossing restrictions between the French side of St. Martin and the Dutch side of St. Maarten. Since there is no physical border division in Saint Martin between the French and Dutch sides of the island, people can move about freely through both the French and Dutch sides.

The best time of year to visit St. Maarten is between the months of January and June. During this time the climate is dry and there is not as much rain as there is during the rainy season. It would be better to avoid traveling to St. Maarten during the months of July to December to avoid hurricane season.

The climate of Saint Martin is tropical all year round. The weather is hot and sunny with a daily average temperature of 77 F (25 C) between the months of January to March and 82 F (28 C) from June to October.  At night the temperature rarely drops below 68F (20 C). The annual amount of rain is 40 inches per year. February and March are the months with the least rain and the months with the most rain are from August to November.

Yes, Saint Martin is generally considered a safe island to visit . The crime rate is relatively low compared to other countries. Most crimes are petty theft crimes that occur due to valuables being left out. As when traveling to any other tourist destination, safety precautions should be taken such as being aware of your surroundings, traveling in groups, and traveling around the island with a minimum amount of jewelry, cash, and other valuables.

In Saint Martin, one of the biggest crimes is passport theft, so be sure to bring your original driver’s license with you as well as a photocopy of your passport. If you are renting a car, It may also be wise to purchase rental car insurance, as rental cars are sometimes broken into on the island. Along with purchasing insurance, be sure to not leave any valuables on the seats of the car.

What time zone is St. Maarten in?

St. Maarten is located in the Atlantic Standard time zone (AST). St. Maarten is a small island located between the Caribbean and the Atlantic sea. St. Maarten is located south of the island of Anguilla, east of the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands, and north of the Leeward Islands. Find more information about the time zone in St. Martin in this article.

Are vacationers in St. Maarten affected by the time zone?

Yes, it is very possible for travelers to be affected by jet lag when visiting Saint Martin and traveling in general. “Jet Lag” is a temporary sleep problem that can affect anyone who travels quickly across multiple time zones. The severity of the Jet Lag can vary depending on which of the 24 time zones you are coming from and the number of hours that differ.

There is a time difference of 1 to 6 hours between St. Maarten and the USA. There are 6 different time zones in the USA including Eastern Standard Time (EST), Central Standard Time (CST), Mountain Standard Time (MST), Pacific Standard Time (PST), Alaska Standard Time, and Hawaii-Aleutian Standard Time. All of these time zones have a 1 to 6 hour difference between the Atlantic Standard time zone in St. Maarten. Most travelers coming from the USA will not normally be heavily affected by jet lag when traveling to St. Maarten.

There is a time difference of 4 to 6 hours between St. Maarten and Europe. There are 3 different time zones in Europe including Western European Time (GMT), Central European Time (CET), and Eastern European Time (EET). All of these time zones have a 4 to 6 hour difference between the Atlantic Standard time zone in St. Maarten. Most travelers coming from countries in Europe such as France, England, the Netherlands, etc. can be mildly affected by jet lag when traveling to St. Maarten.

There is a time difference of 7 to 13 hours between St. Maarten and countries in Asia. There are 11 different time zones in Asia some of which include Japan Standard time (JST), Korean Standard Time (KST), China Standard Time (CST), Western Indonesia Standard Time (WIST), Indochina Time (ICT), Bangladesh Standard Time (BST), India Standard Time (IST), etc. All of these time zones have a 7 to 13 hour difference between the Atlantic Standard time zone in St. Maarten. Most travelers coming from countries in Asia such as China, Japan, India, etc can be greatly affected by jet lag when traveling to St. Maarten.

There is a time difference of 5 to 8 hours between St. Maarten and countries in Africa. There are 6 different time zones in Africa including West Africa Standard Time (WAT), East Africa Time (EAT), Central European Standard Time (CET), South Africa Standard Time (SAST), and Central Africa Time (CAT). All of these time zones have a 5 to 8 hour difference between the Atlantic Standard time zone in St. Maarten. Most travelers coming from countries in Africa such as Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, etc can be greatly affected by jet lag when traveling to St. Maarten.

There is a time difference of 12 to 16 hours between St. Maarten and Australia. There are 3 different time zones in Australia including Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), Australian Central Standard Time (ACST), and Australian Western Standard Time (AWST). All of these time zones have a 12 to 16 hour difference between the Atlantic Standard time zone in St. Maarten. Most travelers coming from Australia can be greatly affected by jet lag when traveling to St. Maarten.

The culture of Saint Martin is generally very friendly, the locals are known to be happy and helpful to tourists. For this reason, St. Maarten is often called “The Friendly Island”. The French side of the island is known for its peaceful laid-back nature and the Dutch side of the island is known for its more lively and vibrant nature.

There are currently 120 different nationalities on the island of St. Maarten, but there have been many influences from the past that have contributed to the vast culture of the people of Saint Martin. The culture of the island stems from Dutch, French, British, and African heritage.

The languages spoken on the island of St. Martin are English, French, Dutch, Spanish, Creole, and Papiamento. English is widely spoken in both French Saint Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten, as it is the official language of both sides of St. Maarten.

The standard of dress in St. Maarten is generally informal. With the warm climate, it is best to wear lightweight clothes with cotton fabric. Some commonly worn items are sports clothes for the beach, jeans, polos, shorts, dresses, sandals, and boat shoes. Swimwear is common for the beach, but it is not considered proper in town, so it’s best to bring a cover-up.

The official currency in St. Martin depends on which side of the island you are on. In French Saint Martin the currency is the Euro and it Dutch Sint Maarten the currency is the Netherlands Antilles Florin, also known as the Guilder. The US Dollar is commonly used all over St. Maarten and there are many currency exchange locations on the island. Saint Martin has a tourist-based economy, the restaurants, hotels, and other tourism-related places account for a large share of the island’s income.

There are marvelous beachfront hotels on both the French and Dutch sides of St. Maarten that cater to all sorts of vacationers. The best Saint Martin hotels are listed below.

  • Hotel L’Esplanade : Located in Grand Case, St. Martin on the French side of the island. This is a family-owned hotel that was established in 1992. The hotel has 24 spacious studios, lofts, and suites that contain private terraces with fully equipped kitchens. The hotel also has a spa and a yoga studio. Several beaches as well as ferry access to Pinel Island are located nearby.
  • Hommage Hotel : Located in Baie Rouge on the French side of the island near Terres-basses. This waterfront hotel has 147 luxury rooms and suites with terraces that have a lovely view. The hotel has an aqua spa as well as artwork spanning across the entire property from international artists in the hotel’s museum garden.
  • Holland House Beach Hotel : Located in the heart of Phillipsburg, directly on the beach this hotel offers its guests a private beach experience. Attendants on the beach offer you drinks and meals while you lounge in the sun. The hotel has 55 rooms and suites and balconies and terraces with ocean views. This is a family-friendly hotel with interconnecting rooms. There is a lot of shopping nearby in Wathey Square and historical sites such as Fort Amsterdam and the museum of Saint Maarten are nearby.
  • Hotel La Plantation : This hotel is located on the north Atlantic coast of Saint Martin near Orient Bay. The hotel has 52 rooms, a freshwater swimming pool, and a lounge area. Water sports can also be enjoyed nearby, and you can rent kayaks, surfboards, and snorkel equipment from the hotel.
  • Belmond La Samanna : Located in French Saint Martin, Belmond la Samanna is a stunning beachside resort that offers a luxurious stay for its guests. There are 83 rooms, suites, villas, and cottages. There is a private infinity pool as well as snorkeling and kayaking gear that is available for guests to rent. The hotel also offers a champagne sunset cruise.
  • La Playa Orient Bay : This seaside hotel in Orient Bay is directly on the beach. There are 56 rooms with furnished patios and kitchenettes. An onsite water sports center provides access to equipment for parasailing, jet skiing, and banana boating.

St. Maarten is one of the culinary capitals of the Caribbean. Full of local eateries and fine dining establishments. Immigrants from all over the world have helped the island to cultivate a rich culinary experience. Some of the most popular foods in St. Martin are listed below.

  • Conch and Dumplings : A spicy dish made from a large sea snail that is seasoned with herbs and spices and cooked in a pressure cooker. This dish is usually paired with fluffy dumplings and topped with gravy.
  • Callaloo : A Caribbean staple, a hearty soup made with fresh kale, spinach, and callaloo (which is a spinach-like vegetable). This thick soup is seasoned with thyme, pepper, and local hot peppers.
  • Johnny Cakes : Similar to American pancakes, except they are made with cornmeal. They are very popular with the locals on St. Maarten and are often served with breakfast. They are smaller than American pancakes and fried in corn oil and served with honey butter, syrup, or jam.
  • Codfish Fritters : Also known as salt fish, the fish is sauteed with onions, green pepper, thyme, tomato, celery, and local hot sauce.  It’s blended with flour, milk, and eggs and deep-fried in corn oil.
  • St. Maarten Spareribs : Found at many of the local “lolos” on the island and cooked on the grill and tossed in spicy and savory barbecue sauce. This traditional recipe is passed down for centuries and is unique to the island. Each island in the Caribbean island has its own take on it.
  • Locri : A simple and delicious meal made of rice chicken and a medley of vegetables and seasonings. Cooked together in one pot while the flavors mix into one another. It is an enjoyable dish and a staple of St. Maarten cuisine. Some think of it as a Saint Martin-style Spanish paella.
  • Crabmeat-Stuffed Shells (Crab Backs) : This meal features freshly cooked crab meat sauteed with onions seasonings, tomato, and Worcestershire sauce. The mixture is placed back into the original crab shells and sprinkled with breadcrumbs.
  • Guavaberry Liqueur : A cold and refreshing beverage that is unique to St. Maarten. It’s the national drink on both the French and Dutch sides of the island. Made from small guavaberry fruits that grow locally, this is used in a variety of drinks and cocktails on the island.

Some of the best tours on the island of St. Maarten are listed below.

  • The Best Catamaran Day Sail in St. Maarten : This is a family-friendly 5-hour yacht excursion from Simpson Bay. You will go to both the French and the Dutch sides of the island visiting several famous beaches. You can go snorkeling, paddle boarding, and swing from a tarzan swing. The tour provides a locally made lunch from the bar and costs $119 U.S. Dollars per person.
  • The Original Eco Tour Full-Day Around the Island of Sint Maarten : You will take a full-day cruise around St. Maarten with stops at Grand Case, Creole Rock, and Tintamarre Island. Explore the lovely natural beauty of Tintamarre, enjoy an open bar and see the island’s lovely sights. The price of this tour is $133.00 U.S Dollars per person.
  • Captain Bob Most Popular Speed Boat, Snorkeling, and Beach Tour with Lunch : This is a 6-hour speed boat tour. Visiting both the French and Dutch sides of Saint Martin. On this tour, you can go snorkeling, relax on the beach, sip drinks, and have unlimited snacks all for $129 US Dollars per person.
  • Sky Explorer Flying Dutchman Schooner Ride and Sentry Hill Zip Line : This tour involves going to Saint Martin’s highest point and seeing the excellent views of the island from the zipline. Two zipline rides are included, all costing $139 US Dollars per person.
  • St. Maarten Luxury Catamaran Full-Day Group Charter SXM Tour : Spend a full day cruising on a luxury catamaran visiting different shores. Taking in the views and swimming and snorkeling. See the planes take off at Maho Beach. Go fishing and kayaking and enjoy lunch on board mid-day. There is an open bar with unlimited snacks and refreshments. This costs $186 US Dollars per person.
  • 3 Island Adventure with a stop at Tintamarre to swim with Turtles : Explore the coast of St. Maarten on this full-day cruise. There is a lot of equipment offered for use on the tour such as paddleboards, snorkeling gear, and floatation devices. There is a barbeque for lunch and signature cocktails are served. Lunch and snacks are provided. The tour costs $136 US dollars per person.

Where in Sint Maarten should you visit?

Some of the top places to visit in Saint Martin are listed below.

  • Cupecoy beach
  • Loterie Farm
  • Pic Paradis
  • Front Street
  • GuavaBerry Emporium
  • Mullet Bay Beach
  • Simpson Bay
  • Phillipsburg

Some of the top beaches in St. Martin are listed below.

  • Great Bay Beach : One of the most popular tourist destinations on St. Maarten. Great Bay Beach has a mile-long boardwalk, shopping centers, numerous bars, restaurants, and casinos.
  • Little Bay Beach : This destination is known to be one of the safest beaches for kids on the island since the waters are current-free and there are a lot of aquatic and kid-friendly activities available.
  • Orient Bay Beach : This beach is known for the many beach clubs, bars, hotels, and restaurants that line the beach. It’s a great spot for tourists looking for a fun and action-packed day or night out.
  • Maho Beach : This famous beach is located right at the end of the Princess Julianna airport runway. A vantage point that makes it possible to see airplanes flying and landing directly overhead. An incredible sight to see.
  • Mullet Bay : A quieter and less crowded beach situated near the popular Mullet Bay golf course and resort area. This beach is a great place to enjoy all types of water sports such as jet-skiing, parasailing, and surfing.
  • Kim Sha Beach : This beach Is known for its vibrant nightlife and is a perfect spot for party-goers.
  • Happy Bay Beach : A secluded cove with a rugged and natural beauty that is typically uncrowded.
  • Grand Case Beach : Located in the culinary capital of the island, Grand Case Beach is home to many gourmet restaurants, beachfront bars and is known among tourists for its fantastic nightlife.
  • Baie Rouge : This beach gets its name from the reddish-pink color of the sand. The pretty pink sand gets its color from the crushed coral pieces that wash up onto the shore. This beach is often referred to as the “Pink Beach”.
  • Tintamarre Island : A secluded and uninhabited island lying off the coast of French St. Maarten. This small island has rugged red cliffs and sparkling blue waters teeming with colorful marine life and is a prime spot for snorkeling and hiking.

Some of the best museums in Sint Maarten are listed below.

  • Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit
  • St. Maarten Museum
  • Roland Richardson Art Gallery
  • Tropismes Gallery
  • Artcraftcafe Gallery
  • Amuseum Naturalis

How is the transportation in Sint Maarten?

The transportation conditions are generally good on the island of St. Maarten. The best way to travel throughout Saint Martin is to rent a car. The conditions for traveling throughout Saint Martin are relatively good. Roads are paved and vehicles do not normally require 4-wheel drive. There are no toll roads on St. Maarten. There is traffic at times during certain hours in the tourist frequented locations.

For those deciding not to rent a car when on the island, there are other options such as buses and taxis that are readily available all throughout Saint Martin. Uber and Lyft are not available in Saint Martin.

Princess Juliana International Airport is located on Airport Rd in Simpson Bay on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten. This is the main airport in St. Martin.

When departing from Saint Maarten you can arrive at Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) , by renting a car, taking a taxi, or a minibus. Princess Juliana International Airport is located 10 minutes away from Marigot, 25 minutes away from Phillipsburg, and 30 minutes from the town of French Cul-de-Sac. The price to rent a car is upwards of $35 US Dollars per day, the price for traveling by taxi to the airport usually ranges from $10-$30 US dollars depending on where you’re coming from, and the fare for a minibus ride is $2 per person.

The best activities to do on Saint Martin are listed below.

  • Sailing, Yachting or Boat Tours
  • Hiking in Guana Bay
  • Topper’s Rum Distillery Tour
  • Visiting one of 37 beaches
  • Loterie Farms
  • Parasailing
  • Watch the planes at Maho Beach
  • Shopping at the duty-free shops
  • Visiting historical sites like Fort Amsterdam
  • Island Hopping on nearby islands like Saba or Tintamarre Island
  • Scuba diving at Saba island with sea turtles and coral reef

The best ways to navigate Saint Martin are listed below.

  • Car : The best way is by rental car. This will allow you greater mobility. You can rent a car for as low as $35 per day. Rental kiosks are located right outside the airport. There are often traffic jams in busy tourist areas. Driving is on the right side of the road. You can navigate on the island by GPS or by purchasing a map from one of the shops on the island.
  • Scooters : This is an exciting and efficient way to navigate travel on the island. This method is only advised you’ve had experience maneuvering one before. You can rent a scooter for $60 for a full day.
  • Bus : This is the most affordable way to get around. Unfortunately, the minibusses aren’t very efficient and there are no schedules to follow.  It costs somewhere between $1 and $1.50 for a one-way trip.
  • Taxi : Taxis are a great option later in the evening when minibusses are less likely to run. They’re unmetered, so you must agree on a fare before entering the cab.  Some taxis, especially those on the Dutch side, only accept U.S. dollars

Yes, traveling with pets is permitted if the animal is at least 3 months old, has a recent letter of good health for the veterinarian, and has up-to-date vaccinations. The airline must be consulted about the requirements of animal transport.

Three days is the minimum number of days needed to see and experience the best things St. Martin has to offer. This gives enough time to experience the island’s diversity, see both the French and Dutch sides, and participate in fun activities and experiences.

Yes, most of the roads in Saint Martin are suitable for walking. Saint Martin’s roads are paved very well. However, it is not recommended to walk in areas outside of Simpson Bay, Grand Case, Maho, or Orient bay or far away from your resort. Some of the terrain in  Saint Martin is quite hilly with a narrow sidewalk. Renting a car or public transportation is the best way to navigate the island.

All travelers must have a valid passport from their country of residence to enter Saint Martin, as well as a return ticket for departure from the island.

In addition to a passport and a return ticket, travelers arriving from countries outside of the United States, Canada, and Europe will also be required to have a visa prior to entry into the country. This visa should be obtained before departing from their country of residence by contacting the local French embassy in their country.

All travelers will be presented with an immigration card on the airplane upon arrival at Princess Juliana Airport in Dutch Sint Maarten. It is important to know the address that you will be staying on the island to be able to present to immigration at the airport.

Yes, Saint Martin is generally considered a safe island for tourists to visit. The crime rate in St. Martin is low compared to other countries. As when traveling to any other tourist destination, safety precautions should be taken such as being aware of your surroundings, traveling in groups, and traveling around the island with a minimum amount of jewelry, cash, and other valuables.

One of the biggest crimes on the island is passport theft, so be sure to bring your original driver’s license with you as well as a photocopy of your passport. If you are renting a car, it may also be wise to purchase rental car insurance, as rental cars are sometimes broken into on the island. Along with purchasing insurance, be sure to not leave any valuables on the seats of the car.

No, snakes are not known to frequent the island of St. Martin. Fortunately, there are very few harmful animals located on the island. While swimming in the water it is advisable to watch out for sea urchins and jellyfish and sharp coral. However, there are very few reports of tourists being injured due to animals on Saint Martin.

There are several species of sharks located in the waters surrounding St. Maarten. Experts say that they are generally not a threat and that they most commonly are located offshore in deeper waters and are rarely located close to shore. Shark attacks are so rare on the island, there has only been one non-fatal shark attack reported in St. Maarten, and it was in the year 2005.

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Saint Martin

saint martin travel guide

  • 2 Understand
  • 4.1 Entry requirements
  • 4.2 By plane
  • 4.3.1 Traveling between St Martin and St Barthélémy
  • 4.3.2 Traveling between St Martin and Anguilla
  • 4.3.3 Traveling between St Martin and Saba
  • 5.2 By motorcycle
  • 5.3 By taxi
  • 5.4 By minivan
  • 5.5 By foot
  • 8.2 Shopping
  • 9.1 Saving money, etc.
  • 11.1.1 Budget
  • 11.1.2 Mid-range
  • 11.1.3 Splurge
  • 11.2.1 Budget
  • 11.2.2 Mid-range
  • 11.2.3 Splurge
  • 12 Stay safe
  • 13 Stay healthy

saint martin travel guide

Saint Martin is an island in the Caribbean that is split between the French collectivity of Saint-Martin and the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten . Beauty abounds on the island, with bluffs overlooking pretty harbors, sandy-cliffed beaches and tranquil rocky coves where fish provide the beauty.

Cities [ edit ]

  • 18.101111 -63.051944 1 Grand Case is on the French side and has excellent restaurants.
  • 18.066667 -63.084722 2 Marigot is the largest town and capital of the French side.
  • 18.024167 -63.043333 3 Philipsburg is the capital of the Dutch side. This is where most cruise ships dock.

Understand [ edit ]

The northern, French side of the island is known as Saint-Martin , and is 54 km 2 (21 sq mi). The southern, "Dutch side" of the island is known as Sint Maarten , and is 41 km 2 (16 sq mi). The Dutch side has its own government and legal system, with its relations with the "French side" to remain unchanged. To avoid confusion between the three variations on the name, the two regions are commonly referred to as "the French side" and "the Dutch side".

Although this island is controlled by two different countries, there is no real border. There are only monuments and signs that delineate the border. Over 350 years ago the two countries decided that residents of either country could travel across both sides of the border without worrying about any trouble. The two countries live peacefully without difficulties, which helps tourism considerably. Any separation is more from separate and dissimilar utilities systems, e.g., power on French side is 250 V 50 Hz, while the Netherlands side is 110/120 60 Hz. In addition, take care when dialling from the French to Dutch or Dutch to French side as it is, in effect, an international call and requires special dialling instructions. These instructions are typically posted at hotels and tourist locations.

saint martin travel guide

The Dutch side, Sint Maarten, has become a leading destination in the property market with more and more developments being constructed. There are high-rise flats and waterfront communities, all of which are popular to buyers, especially Americans. Tourists on the streets are frequently approached by time-share offers for them. The language on this side of the island is Dutch, but almost everyone speaks English.

On the Dutch side, grocery stores and other businesses may have prices expressed in Netherlands Antilles florins (NAF) which is the local currency also called guilders, but the US dollar and the euro will be accepted at these establishments. The florin is officially pegged to the USD, with a fixed rate of 1 USD = 1.79 NAF. Many large resorts have been built and on many days cruise ships flood Philipsburg with their passengers. Philipsburg is one of the Caribbean's best shopping towns. If shopping's not your thing, you can sit out back on Philipsburg's harbour beach and have a drink. Or play at one of the casinos just down the street. There are nine on this side. When it all gets too mellow, go rip it up with a 4x4 excursion around the island. Visit the Maho and Cupecoy area for some of the best nightlife on the island and some of the best beaches.

The French side, Saint-Martin, consists of the northern two-thirds of the island. It is governed by the neighbouring island of Guadeloupe , and is more European than the Dutch. The native language is French and has the same laws as France. There are no casinos on the French side. It is less developed than the Dutch side, but contains more of the island's natural wonders. The French side is popularly known for clothing-optional Orient Beach and the adjacent nudist resort, Club Orient (the clothing optional portion of the beach lies at the far southern end, and can be easily recognised by the large bright yellow beach umbrellas; while the Club Orient does own its beach area, it is open to the public, so you will see both clothed and unclothed people on this particular stretch. However the towns of Marigot and Grand Case provide some of the best gourmet meals anywhere and plenty of interesting shops.

Talk [ edit ]

Dutch and French are the official languages on their respective sides of the island. English is an official language of the Dutch side as well and is widely spoken on both sides, especially in tourist areas. Children on both sides of the island are educated in French, Dutch, English and Spanish . Language is typically not a barrier when visiting the island.

Get in [ edit ]

saint martin travel guide

Entry requirements [ edit ]

Countries eligible for a visa-free entry to the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten are shown in cyan on image to the right.

Other countries require obtaining a visa , which is valid for Aruba , Curaçao , Sint Maarten and the Caribbean Netherlands and allows multiple entry for a maximum period of 90 days within 180 days. The maximum uninterrupted stay in one of the individual countries is 30 days. The visa is not valid for the European part of the Netherlands.

By plane [ edit ]

saint martin travel guide

  • 18.1013 -63.0481 2 Grand Case-Espérance Airport ( SFG  IATA ). The other airport is near Grand Case to the north, and primarily serves inter-island flights, commercial and private. ( updated Jun 2018 )

When leaving St. Martin by plane, travelers pay an exit tax at the Phillipsburg airport. Travelers departing on international flights pay US$30. Exempt are passengers flying with certain airlines, transit passengers and children under two. This tax is included in some airfares but for others travelers must pay at the airport. The exit tax to the other Netherlands Antilles Islands such as Saba and St. Eustatius is only US$10. The exit tax does not apply to in transit travelers.

By boat [ edit ]

On a typical day, thousands of people visit the island by cruise ship, landing mostly in Philipsburg on the Dutch side. Four very large cruise ships, or 6-8 others can dock at once. Very occasionally in high-season, a few ships must moor or anchor off-shore.

In high-season, passengers from those ships make the city of Philipsburg the busiest city on the island, offloading perhaps 18,000 or more passengers. In low season, one occasional ship is more common. You can find usually-accurate schedules for this and many ports and dates at [1] [dead link] .

These docks are approximately a 1.6-km walk to the east end of Front Street leading into the main shopping area. However, a short walk from the cruise ship docks you'll find:

  • A fleet of taxis (and cars/guides) for hire as noted under "Get around" below.
  • Both stops offer ready access to a large beach and Front Street shopping. Several boats run while multiple cruise ships are there.
  • You can buy single-trip wristbands at modest cost, or wrist-bands for unlimited travel all day for slightly more.
  • You'll see long lines when many cruise ships are docked, but the number of water taxis employed rises to meet demand, so you'll rarely have a long wait.

Marigot port on the French side is limited to hosting one small cruise ship at a time, but is also served by attractive marinas supporting many yachts of all sizes. Most inter-island ferry service also arrives/departs at Marigot.

It is possible to travel to/from the neighboring islands: Saint Barthelemy, Anguilla, Saba, Sint Eustatius, and St. Kitts.

Traveling between St Martin and St Barthélémy [ edit ]

  • Voyager company offers crossings every day, except on Sundays and on public holidays. The boat leaves from Marigot or Oyster Pond (Saint Martin) and arrives in Gustavia (Saint Barthelemy). A return ticket costs arount €90 and €140 (2021), depending on the type of seat selected.
  • Great Bay Express offers daily crossings as well. The boat departs from Bobby's Marina in Philipsburg (Saint Martin) and arrived in Gustavia (Saint Barthelemy). A return ticket costs between €95 and €115 (2021).

Traveling between St Martin and Anguilla [ edit ]

Funtime Charters offers daily crossings. The boat departs from St Maarten-Anguilla Doc, Airport Road (Saint Martin) and arrives at Blowing Point (Anguilla). A return ticket costs around €116. The price includes transfer from Princess Juliana Airport (SXM). The crossing takes about 20 minutes.

Calypso Charters offers several crossings per day. A return ticket costs around €108 (2021). The boat departs from St Maarten-Anguilla Doc, Airport Road (Saint Martin) and arrives at Blowing Point (Anguilla).

Traveling between St Martin and Saba [ edit ]

Dawn II offers crossings on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The boat departs from Dock Maarten Marina in Philipsburg (Saint Martin) and arrives at Fort Bay (Saba). The crossing takes about 90 minutes. A return ticket costs around €91 (2021).

The Edge offers crossings on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. The boat departs from Simpson Bay Police Station Dock (Saint Martin) and arrives at Fort Bay (Saba). A return ticket costs around €91 (2021).

Makana Ferry offers crossings on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The boat departs from Bobby's Marina in Philipsburg (Sint Maarten) and arrives at Fort Bay (Saba). Round trip tickets cost $110 (2023).

Traveling between St Martin and Sint Eustatius

Makana Ferry offers crossings on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Saturday. The boat departs from Bobby's Marina in Philipsburg (Sint Maarten) and arrives at Gallows Bay (Sint Eustatius). Round trip tickets cost $106 (2023). However, you will have to stop in Saba on the way to get your passport stamped.

Traveling between St Martin and St Kitts

Makana Ferry offers crossings on Monday and Friday. The boat departs from Bobby's Marina in Philipsburg (Sint Maarten) and arrives at Port Zante Marina, Basseterre (St. Kitts). Round trip tickets cost $199 (2023).

It is possible to book your tickets between Saint Martin, Saint Barthelemy, Anguilla and Saba on StMartinbookings.com .

Get around [ edit ]

saint martin travel guide

By car [ edit ]

Rental cars are available at Princess Juliana International Airport at a dedicated area outside of the airport. You'll find most of the major rental car companies available at the airport. The roads are narrow, sometimes quite bad on both sides of the island, and often very crowded between Philipsburg and Marigot. See also "Stay Safe" below.

If you are driving ( especially on the French side ) expect a lot of scooters and motorcycles to speed around you on both sides of the road. This can be startling to drivers not used to two wheeled traffic as it can create a dangerous situation. If you stay in your lane and don't waver you can trust most of the time that the cyclists will pass you safely. It's better to just let them pass you at a steady pace then try and slow down, pull to the side, etc.

By motorcycle [ edit ]

Motorcycles, quads and scooters are also available for rent, however it is advisable that you have some experience on these vehicles before venturing into St. Maarten's sometimes very hectic traffic.

By taxi [ edit ]

Taxi cabs are usually vans, which are geared towards servicing the cruise ship traffic. To go completely around the island will cost about US$25 per person. Most drivers are quite willing and able to hire-out as tour guides. Most charge US$45-50 per hour, and can offer a custom experience for 3-4 people that can be less expensive and more versatile and satisfying than large bus tours offered by cruise ships or hotels.

By minivan [ edit ]

Saint Martin has a bus system using small minivans. You can get most anywhere on the island for just a few dollars, usually US$2/persons, during the day between cities. A short trip will cost you $0.50. They run frequently between Philipsburg and Marigot. Ask a local where the bus stops are, and look for license plates that say (oddly enough) "bus". It is possible to flag them elsewhere and they may stop if safe.

By foot [ edit ]

Once you reach Philipsburg, Marigot or Grand Case, you can get around nicely on foot. The distances in each are not long. Take some care in Philipsburg and Marigot with heavy traffic, narrow, sometimes missing sidewalks, and the midday sun.

See [ edit ]

  • Butterfly Farm , ☏ +1 721 587 3121 , +590 590 873121 . Rte. de Le Galion, Quartier d'Orléans. Daily 9AM-3PM. Stroll through hundreds of colorful butterflies under a tented mesh. A fun outing. US$12 (good for your stay on the island).  
  • Pic du Paradis , Route de Pic du Paradis from Friars Bay Beach . Pic du Paradis is the highest point on the island (1400 ft/427 m) with two viewing areas that provide great views. The road is steep and isolated and four wheel drive is required. This is also an isolated area and is safest seen as part of an excursion or tour.

Do [ edit ]

saint martin travel guide

Beaches are a main attraction on the island of Saint Martin. It has 37 beaches, with hotels holding property on most of them. Beach bars and cafés are very popular attractions on the island. Many offer unusually good dishes with European and Caribbean inspiration. Frozen cocktails are also a trendy treat to keep down the heat.

  • Orient Bay, for example, has an underwater marine reserve where snorkeling and other water sports are available.

All beaches of Saint Martin are fine for swimming and sun bathing, though the west half of the good beach at Philipsburg has better water. The island caters to all, with beaches of fun things to do as well as secluded and more private ones.

Clothing optional beaches . As a European island, topless sun bathing is frequently seen. Some tourists come to Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin because there are clothing optional beaches & resorts on the island. Not every beach is clothing optional.

  • On the Dutch side , there is Cupecoy Beach in the far western tip of the Dutch jurisdiction. The beach is not clothing optional, but the local administration does look the other way on nude sunbathing on the far western edge of the beach (Cupecoy is a very small beach located at the base of a cliff face). No other beaches on the Dutch side tolerate it, and you will be fined by the Sint Maarten Police for indecent exposure and/or lewd behavior.
  • On the French side , nudity is permitted at the Club Orient beach (Papagayo Beach), and topless sunbathing for women is accepted throughout the French jurisdiction. Nude sunbathing is "tolerated" at some of the smaller, less touristy beaches (the southern ends of Prune and Rouge Beaches) generally on weekdays when there are fewer beach patrons. As long as beach guests do not make spectacles of themselves, French gendarmes (police) may overlook your lack of clothing.

One particularly famous beach is Maho Bay beach on the Dutch side. The beach is situated at the end of the airport's runway, so landing large aircraft fly just feet over the beach. Some people attempt to hold on to the fence on airport premises as aircraft depart. This is not recommended due to flying gravel and debris. People have been injured, a very few killed doing this. However, the spectacular view of airplanes landing so close is one that you might find stunning. The greatest number of large aircraft arrive and depart in the early-mid-morning and mid-late afternoon.

Just beyond Maho Bay is Mullet Bay ; some say it has the nicest beach on the island, with food and drink vendors and beach lounger rentals but few facilities. Virtually all beaches are described in web sites for the island. A full complement of tours and excursions are also available as well as water sports and para-sailing.

saint martin travel guide

Casinos are also a popular attraction on the island, but only on the Dutch side. Some of them are in the Cupecoy, Maho, Cole Bay areas, while in Philipsburg you'll find five.

  • [formerly dead link] Kid Connect , ☏ +1 721 526-6152 . An activity center for kids open daily form 9AM until 7PM and until 11PM on Friday and Saturday. Kid Connect is on the Dutch side across the street from Caribbean Cinemas and not too far from both Paradise Plaza Casino and Tropicana Casino.  

Loterie Farm , Rte. de Pic du Paradis, ☏ +590 87-86-16 or ☏ +590 57-28-55 . Location features an excellent restaurant, a lounge with tapas, hikes and ecotours on a 150-acre preserve, and "The Fly Zone" a fun zip line experience with rope zips and an obstacle course high up in the trees. Also has a "Ti' Tarzan" zip course for the kids and "The Fly Zone Extreme" a new Zip that goes up over 30 m/100 ft. On the French side but patronized by many American tourists, prices are shown in euros and dollars. You should call in advance for prices and to check whether a cruise ship shore tour is visiting, as it is pretty packed on those days. If you're going on the zip lines, wear closed shoes: flip flops are a no-no. The activities are open only during the day, but the restaurant and lounge are open in the evenings as well. Try the Curry Chicken.

  • Harley Davidson , Cole Bay , ☏ +1 721 544-2704 . Don't hop on a bus and get herded around. If you're an experienced biker, ride a hog and enjoy the views, the right way. Rent a Harley Davidson Fat Boy, or another super bike for the day or for your whole trip. There are special Harley Cruises that let the riders travel with their bikes and then head out with locals for a ride that hits all the hot spots. Go to their website and view a short video that includes footage of one of the rides. The Caribbean Eagles have their monthly ride on the first Saturday of every month, or just climb onto one of the most famous of all motorcycles and go your own way.  
  • [dead link] Harley Motorcycles Tour , Cole Bay . Enjoy the freedom of the road and the intoxicating sights, smells and sounds of Saint-Martin - St Maarten sitting on the saddle of a classic Harley. The tour takes you along roads where you are overlooking beaches with white sand and turquoise sea, passing lush, green hills and colourful meadows.On the tour you will be escorted by two experienced guides who know the island well. With one guide leading the way riding a Harley and the second driving the back up jeep. It also secures the side roads and protects the rear. Check some photos on their website.  

Buy [ edit ]

Money [ edit ].

US dollars and euros are commonly accepted on both sides of the island, as are credit cards. However there are many places that do not accept cards, so you should ask. Always have some cash on you in small denominations for small purchases and for transport. Expect change in local currency for lesser cash transactions.

Shopping [ edit ]

The island has a deserved reputation as an excellent place to shop, rivaling Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands for price, but with somewhat fewer stores. Some shoppers report better prices for some items than the USVI. Both sides of the island offer a wide range of quality, and shopping is duty free on both, with no tax or duty paid directly by buyers. Merchants on the Dutch side do pay a five percent "turnover tax" on all items they sell. A few sellers may try to add it as a separate cost item on sales slips, despite instructions from the tax authority not to do so.

saint martin travel guide

The French side has fewer retailers, and their goods (e.g., clothing, perfumes, wine) tend to be premium, European brand-name or designer items, at fairly competitive prices. Items are often priced in euros, so some are or appear to be more expensive (after currency conversion) than on the Dutch side or elsewhere in the Caribbean. Many stores on the French side close between noon and 3PM.

  • Unique items (e.g., souvenirs, spices) particularly at the water-front open-air market (large and growing) in Marigot are very reasonable, and the banter among vendors is worth the visit, especially mornings on Wednesday and Saturday.
  • French wine and delicacy lovers may find premium offerings that are available perhaps nowhere else in the Caribbean.
  • Rum « island cane » the French rum made and bottled on the French side, awarded a silver medal in 2018 at the famous general agricultural competition in Paris , concours général agricole.
  • If you are shopping on Sunday, forget the French side : the only places open will likely be restaurants and some food stores.

Dutch side . Front Street in Philipsburg is the center of shopping on the Dutch side. Numerous stores offer jewelry, liquor, cosmetics, cameras, electronics and tobacco, with souvenirs everywhere. You'll find a small open-air bazaar behind the courthouse.

  • Those looking for well-priced beachwear and souvenirs might try the few places on Back Street, one block farther from the beach than Front Street and parallel to it.
  • Grand Marché and Sangs supermarkets (the latter beyond the east end of Front Street) both offer a wide range of grocer's items, e.g., mild Dutch Gouda "wheels" are popular buys.
  • Shops are generally open from 8 or 9AM until noon, and then again from 2 until 6PM. If one or more cruise ships are visiting, many stores remain open during the "lunch" period and on Sundays.

Warranties : Any electronics (including cameras and lenses) purchased here may have an international warranty, or are grey-market with no warranty. You should clearly understand what "protection" any such product includes, e.g., what's necessary to obtain service at home .

Store recommendations by cruise ship port shopping "advisers" are usually reliable, but recommended stores pay very large fees for those "endorsements". They're ultimately paid by you. Virtually all recommendations apply to stores on the Dutch side. Recommended by advisers or not, large or small, most stores are reliable and will rectify any problem truly their responsibility. Still, you're wise to thoroughly examine an item before purchase & obtain a warranty, or formal appraisal for pricey gems and jewelry.

Most merchants touted by those "advisers" are near or east of the courthouse on Front Street. Those stores and others offer excellent selections. The center and easterly parts offer pleasant walking despite heavy vehicle traffic and sometimes crowded sidewalks. (If more than a very few cruise ships are in port, nearly all of Front Street may be "pedestrianized".) Many liquor stores there box bottles and may deliver to your hotel or ship if purchased early enough. West of the courthouse, you'll find a few smaller stores offering aggressively discounted liquor, often cash-only, boxes only for multi-bottle purchases, usually no delivery (so you'll need a sturdy bag and padding to safely carry bottles). (See Saint Thomas#Returning home for tips on returning home with such purchases.)

Whenever considering a significant purchase, negotiate amiably; you may well save a bit.

Anyone on the streets touting "freebies" or "cash" will likely lead you incrementally and smoothly to a distant, on-site sales pitch for resort condos or timeshares . Once there, you'll encounter high-pressure tactics over an extended time, with "freebies" governed by willingness to buy. If you have only a day for your visit, it may be essentially consumed at the sales pitch.

saint martin travel guide

Duty Issues :

  • St Martin is a duty-free port, so merchants pay no up-front duty or tax as they price merchandise. They must, however, pay the above 5% turnover tax (TOT), and those funds come from somewhere (you).
  • It offers no special customs duty advantages over other Caribbean islands, and for U.S. citizens a slight disadvantage compared to the U.S. Virgin Islands. But, don't allow yourself to be dissuaded from a purchase here just for fear of customs duties, which may be modest even if you exceed your limit. You may find well-priced items here that you won't find elsewhere, and prices on commodity items (e.g., some premium liquors, wines) may be better than the USVI.
  • Take care when calculating cost per liter for liquor and wine purchases, and when declaring total liters purchased for Customs as you return home; bottle sizes can vary. (See Saint Thomas#Customs and Duty for U.S. Customs details .)

Eat [ edit ]

The island has some 300 restaurants with a wide variety of offerings available to tourists and locals. Tuesday evenings in Grand Case are not to be missed. The main street dons carnival atmosphere and opens up to street vendors. The excellent local restaurants are open 'till late. Restaurant L'Auberge Gourmande is one of the region's culinary highlights with exceptional French dining.

The French cuisine and local creole fare is an exciting experience to most, but if you are apprehensive about trying new things, there are other restaurants. The island has restaurants that are American, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, vegetarian and more. If self-catering, you'll find large modern supermarkets with excellent selections of American, European and other products as well, all imported.

If you are not feeling adventurous, the Dutch Side has several American fast food franchises. In Philipsburg, you'll find a McDonald's a block west on Front Street - convenient for a cold soft drink (even a beer) during your "hot" shopping.

If you want to save some cash, eat where the locals eat on the cheap, both the French and Dutch sides of the island feature many Chinese restaurants, but the Dutch Side is the hands down winner with over 40 of them. In addition to the regular far eastern fare, these inexpensive eateries feature many local dishes, and "Caribbeanized" Chinese food.

saint martin travel guide

Want to try something really different? Stop at one of the roadside food trucks for some take-away, one of these trucks located in Phillipsburg serves some of the best Suriname food on the island. Try the Chicken Sate with Bami or go light with a Soato Soup.

Enjoy lunch, swim on a beautiful beach and watch the airplanes land at Tortuga at Maho.

Saving money, etc. [ edit ]

When dining :

  • Some restaurants on the island will add 15% to your bill and it will be listed as Tax or SC (Service charge). The truth is, the island has no dining tax so the restaurant may be taking advantage of North American tourists used to paying tax. You can consider the 15% your tip, those who aren't aware may pay another 15% to 20% when the "Tax/SC" is really a tip already going to the waiter.
  • If you ask for water in any restaurant they will assume you mean bottled water which can be US$4-5 per bottle depending on the restaurant. Surprisingly this is sometimes more expensive than beer or wine. If you don't want to pay the higher price make sure you specify very clearly that you want tap water.
  • In many countries it is illegal to print the full credit card number on any receipt, on many islands it is not. Therefore, when you are signing a receipt make sure to check if your CC# is on the merchant copy and scribble it out. It's not illegal to do so and it protects your card.

When making an international phone call : Be sure to investigate pre-paid phone cards. The most expensive type of international phone call is to use a credit card. Companies like International Satellite Communications, which handle credit card calls, charge exorbitant connection fees and per-minute rates.

Drink [ edit ]

The drinking age in town is sixteen, but in tourist areas they are not so strict about it. St. Martin's nightlife consists of many bars, nightclubs and casinos where drinking is prevalent. Start out with a happy hour at "Bamboo Bernies" where drinking is free for a half an hour and continues until 7pm with the highest drink price of a dollar! Many of the clubs have ladies' nights and other nightly drink specials. The Dutch side of the island has more night clubs than the French, so if you're up for the party scene, this side is the one where you should stay.

Large wine menus are also usually available at most restaurants.

Privé . Trendy sky bar and lounge, indoor with an open terrace on the top of the Mega Yacht Building and views of Simpson Bay strip and lagoon. Open 6PM - 3AM everyday. On the Simpson Bay strip at the top of the Market Garden Supermarket

Bliss Night Club . At Caravanserai Beach Resort. Not far from the Princess Juliana International Airport Has restaurant, 2 bars, cabana seating around a pool and ocean views.

Tequila . In Palapa Village, next to Rancho in Simpson Bay. 2nd floor bar overlooking the lagoon as well as the streetside. Mexican sports bar. Various tequila-based drinks, sport events shown on big screen. Free Wifi internet. Open 5PM - midnight every day.

Sleep [ edit ]

St. Martin's hotel rooms, almost without exception, rent for US$100 per night and often much more, and generous taxes and service charges are then also applied. High season is from December through April. Accommodations are considerably less the rest of the year. If you are doing last minute travel when you call ahead ask for the "local rate" rather than what you will normally get which is the "walk-in rate", it can save you a considerable amount of money in some situations.

saint martin travel guide

French side [ edit ]

Budget [ edit ].

  • Palm Court, Cap Caribe, La Hoste

Mid-range [ edit ]

  • La Plantation - It is within a 5-minute walk to Orient Beach. It is setup in a bungalow format with stove, microwave, refrigerator and security safe. There is a complimentary breakfast usually consisting of ham, boiled eggs, cereal, different types of bread, juices (orange, guava), tea and coffee. It is on the French side of the island and its coordinates are N18 05 19.97,W63 01 29.64. Also as an additional tip, make sure the hotel you desire takes the credit card you have. All major cards are not accepted by all major hotels.

Splurge [ edit ]

  • Esmeralda, Caribbean Princess
  • Grand Case Beach Club , ☏ +1-800-344-3016 . Grand Case. Secluded beach resort in the city of Grand Case on Saint Martin (French). Each room includes a kitchen and the facilities include a swimming pool and onsite cafe, Sunset Cafe.  
  • Orient Bay has many beautiful hotels and spas on site, and the most popular beach on the island is just steps away. All Orient Bay hotels are far from the main airport, so you will never hear or see an airplane. The ride is only about 15-20 minutes depending on traffic.
  • La Samanna [dead link] , Baie Longue, ☏ +590 87-64-00 or ☏ +800 854-2252 . On 55 acres with an incredible stretch of beach, top notch service, activities and facilities. It's the place to spend your lottery winnings in style.

Dutch Side [ edit ]

  • Beacon Hill Towers , Beacon Hill Road, with access to beaches on Burgeaux Bay and Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten, ☏ +1-800-844-4156 or ☏ +1 702-258-7376 . Suitable for a large family as each unit has 4 bedrooms and students of American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC), rates start at US$700 per week, and up to $2,200 per month for long term rentals.
  • 18.024627 -63.053651 1 The Villas on Great Bay , 211 Front St , ☏ +1 721 542-2898 . Great Bay, Great location, beachfront and a short walk from downtown Phillipsburg. It's a small gated property consisting of twelve 2-bedrooms villa. Features beautiful infinity pool on extensive patio areas, all night security guard and on-site management to provide assistance & recommendations. US$200-300 (up to 4 people).  
  • Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort & Casino , 19 Little Bay Rd , ☏ +1 721 542-2446 , toll-free: +1-800-SONESTA (7663782) . Great location -- beachfront and a short walk from Phillipsburg. Adults only. All-inclusive available. Three restaurants, bars, pools, water sports, tennis court and gym. After 5pm, the beach is in the shadow of the mountain. Free parking.  
  • Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino , 1 Rhine Rd , ☏ +1 721 545-2115 , toll-free: +1-800-SONESTA (7663782) . A "destination within a destination,” featuring a casino, two outdoor pools, a Sonesta Kids Club, three restaurants, a promenade of 40 boutiques and restaurants, four tennis courts, Good Life Spa, fitness center and more than 16,000 square feet of meeting space.  
  • Divi Little Bay Beach Resort , ☏ +1 721 542-2333 . Little Bay Rd., Phillipsburg. A full-service resort close to downtown Phillipsburg. Some dining options, bars and shops are on-site. Dining may be considered mediocre. There is also a historical fort on the grounds. Rooms need some maintenance, but are safe and generally clean. Beach and watersports (snorkeling, jet skiing) on-site. US$180-280.  
  • Tropical Beach Paradise Dawn Beach , 160 Oyster Pond Rd , ☏ +1 721 527-0619 . Dawn Beach, Oyster Pond. 3 pools and a hot tub. Restaurants, casino, bars, grocery in walking distance. Right on the beach in best location of St.Maarten. Best snorkeling beach.  

Stay safe [ edit ]

saint martin travel guide

  • Sun You can burn within a remarkably short time; use sunscreen or block frequently depending on how long you're exposed. Do not fail to reapply it as recommended depending on where you are (e.g., swimming, on boat, beach walking), with special attention to feet and backs of knees and neck. Brimmed hats, umbrellas and light clothing can offer further protection.
  • Crime Though the island is generally a safe place, like everywhere else in the world there is crime, and you should be aware of your surroundings at all times. Obviously you should lock your doors, avoid unpopulated areas and do not flash your money and jewelry around. Remember that this is a foreign country, and act accordingly. Tourists report many instances of parked rental cars being rifled. Organized teams can break in effortlessly. Best advice: Leave nothing of value in them at any time .
  • Drinking Be aware that drinking is practically a national pastime in St. Maarten, and it is relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain alcoholic beverages (US$1.25 ice cold Heinekens are available almost everywhere including McDonalds and gas stations) and therefore extremely easy to over-do it. Driving while impaired on the island is very risky as there are many places where you could end up in the ocean or down the side of a cliff. When in doubt, call a cab.
  • Drugs Like most places, drugs are readily available for those interested, but despite what someone may tell you, marijuana is not legal and certainly is not regulated as in the continental Netherlands.
  • Parking Take care in Philipsburg: There is very little parking and the tow zone areas are very poorly marked. If the spot is free and you think it shouldn't be, then it is probably a tow area.
  • Jet blast If you're on Maho Bay, watch out for approaching and departing planes. Get too close and a jet engine from a plane taking off can blast a lot of air, sand, or water into your face, or worse cause serious injury or death.
  • LGBT travelers If you are LGBT be careful of your surroundings: as with many other Caribbean islands, the local culture doesn't have the same level of acceptance found in other countries. While not a large problem, each year there are reports of attacks based on sexual orientation. Public displays of affection by LGBT individuals ( especially on the Dutch side ) may not be well tolerated, so practice discretion.

Stay healthy [ edit ]

Pharmacies are denoted by a cross symbol, usually in neon, and there are hospitals with ambulance service on both sides of the island.

Tap water comes from desalinization and is drinkable.

Respect [ edit ]

saint martin travel guide

Dress codes are uncommon on St. Martin, but some high-end restaurants and night clubs do have them, so when in doubt, check in advance.

St. Martin has a great deal of cultural diversity, and true locals are far outnumbered by immigrants from poorer and less urbane areas. Dressing too risqué can give the impression that you are looking for a "good time" and attract unwanted attention.

It is illegal to wear a swimsuit except when you're at the beach or pool, and it's also disrespectful and likely to result in poor treatment

Connect [ edit ]

The Dutch part is part of the North American Numbering Plan, so its country code is +1. The French part has country code +590. Phone calls over the border are charged as international calls. People with a cell phone subscription from the European Union are generally charged the same rates to use it in French Saint Martin as in all other parts of the EU. However, in Dutch Sint Maarten, which is not a part of the EU, the costs are higher, as in other parts of the Caribbean.

Go next [ edit ]

Short-hop flights and ferryboats from various points on both the Dutch and French territory, are available to nearby islands such as Saint-Barthélemy , Anguilla , and Saba . Water crossings can occasionally be quite rough, but take only 30 minutes or so to St Barts and Anguilla. There is a comprehensive website for all ferry and boat routes: StMartinbookings.com . Schedules & routes for local carriers such as Voyager (to Saint Barths from Marigot and Oyster Pond), The Edge ferry (to St Barths from Simpson bay and to Saba from Philipsburg), Dawn II (to Saba from Philipsburg), Calypso and Funtime charters (to Anguilla from SXM Airport) are available there or directly via the sites of each individual company.

saint martin travel guide

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  • Saint Martin Travel Guide • Plan Your Trip to Saint Martin

Being part of the Caribbean means sparkling turquoise beaches and golden sunsets melting over the ocean is as standard as electric windows on a sedan. But Saint Martin, “the island of music”, is unique for a few different reasons.

First, it makes up the two smallest island countries in the Caribbean The northern French side is called Saint-Martin and the southern Dutch side is called Sint Maarten, though they’re collectively referred to as Saint Martin. 

In Saint Martin you will find a fusion of cultures, music, and cuisine like nowhere else on earth. The island is a melting pot of French, Dutch and Mediterranean lifestyles. 

This Saint Martin travel guide will help you plan an amazing trip to these charming Caribbean island countries. 

Article Guide

Where is saint martin, when to travel to saint martin, things to know before you visit saint martin, things to do in saint martin, places to visit in saint martin, getting around saint martin, highlights of traveling to saint martin.

Saint Martin Travel Guide

Saint Martin is in the northeastern Caribbean, about 300km (190 miles) east of Puerto Rico . 

It lies at the northern end of the Leeward group of the Lesser Antilles. 

The entire island is only 87 square kilometres (34 square miles) but is divided 60:40 between the northern French part and the southern Dutch part, although the two halves have almost the same population.

With very consistent temperatures year round it would appear that any time is a good time to visit Saint Martin, but not quite. 

Summer and early Autumn (June to about October) should be avoided as it’s the rainy season and hurricanes can be expected. 

Many hotels and resorts close during this period, limiting your accommodation options. So, unlike what you would expect from a Caribbean destination, the best time to visit Saint Martin is during the winter.

Be aware, that from mid-December to April the weather is fine but prices are at its highest. In May-June though, you can get great deals; sometimes up to 50% less than normal! 

Weather in Saint Martin

Saint Martin has very consistent temperatures all year round, averaging approximately 28°C (82°F) with fluctuations of only about 2 degrees up or down. 

There is the possibility of hurricanes during Summer and early Autumn, which is its rainy season.

Before you head on your trip to this upscale destination, there are a few things you should be aware of. 

Traveling to Saint Martin

Saint Martin Travel Guide

Getting to either island in the Saint Martin duo is not difficult. Here's what you need to know.

Visa & Passport Requirements 

Bearing in mind that Saint Martin is made up of two different countries, the visa requirements will differ based on which part you want to visit. 

Since the island group is relatively small, you may want to explore the entirety of it, so may want to get visas for both sides. 

Saint Martin (French) 

As with entry into any country, there is always a list of visa exempt nations whose citizens can enter with just their passports. You will need to search for your country on the visa exempt list as we will be dealing with general visa applications in this article. 

If you have a French passport you’re entitled to unlimited stay in Saint Martin. In addition, anyone with a EU passport also gets unlimited stay and visa free entry, along with citizens from these countries: 

  • Liechtenstein
  • Switzerland

Although France is part of the Schengen agreement, Saint Martin is not, so a Schengen visa will not grant you entry into the island. 

If none of the above applies to you, you will have to secure a visa the usual way, by applying through the French embassy. The visa requirements for Saint Martin are fairly relaxed though, so you should have no issues. Of course, your travel agent can get this done for you. 

Sint Maarten (Dutch) 

Anyone holding a USA, Canadian, British, Australian or EU passport does not need a visa and may stay for up to 90 days within a 180-day period. 

You will however need to show proof of a return ticket. There is also a list of more than 80 countries who are visa exempt . 

If your country falls outside this list, you may apply for a short-stay Caribbean visa at the Dutch embassy, which will allow you to stay for up to 90 days within a 180-day period. With this visa you can enter any of the Dutch Caribbean islands. As with the French side, Schengen visas do not grant entry. 

Flights to Saint Martin

Saint Martin Travel Guide

The main airport is Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM), on the Dutch side. 

Most travellers enter through here even if they wish to stay in the northern French part. 

Since the island is small you could drive up north from the airport or take another short flight to the French side.

The French part also has an international airport, Grand Case-Espérance Airport, but it is much smaller in size and very few airlines from an even shorter list of countries fly there. Your best option would be to fly to Juliana International Airport.

Is Saint Martin Safe to Travel To?

Saint Martin is very safe and considered by travellers as one of the safest places to visit outside the US. 

No place in the world is 100% crime free though, so be aware of petty crime; keep jewelry to a minimum and avoid carrying around large amounts of cash. There are 2 main crimes you need to watch out for in Saint Martin:

  • Passport theft is common on the island so it is recommended that you carry around your original driver’s licence and a copy of your passport; leave the original in your hotel safe. 
  • Rental cars being broken into , especially since they have the letter “R” on the licence plate which lets criminals know that a tourist is driving this car. Make sure not to leave your belongings and valuables in the car, especially since, wait for it… rental companies ask that you leave the car unlocked! There is a good reason for this however, as it costs a lot to repair the damage from break-ins. 

What Language is Spoken in Saint Martin?

French is the official language of Saint-Martin (the north), while Dutch and English are the official languages of Sint Maarten (the south). 

Both sides speak a Creole version of English though, which will be sufficient for any English speaker to understand and communicate back. 

You will also hear Spanish and Papiamento spoken across the island. 

Money in Saint Martin

Because you’ll want to know how to pay. 

Saint Martin’s Currency

The Euro is used on the French side while the Dutch side uses the Netherlands Antilles Florin (NAF). The Dollar is accepted in both parts. 

Is Saint Martin Expensive?

Saint Martin Travel Guide

Since “expensive” is a relative term, we’ll let you decide if Saint Martin is expensive or not. Here’s what you can expect to pay on your visit:

  • The price of a room for a single person or couple doesn’t change much, so you can expect to pay between $102 and $148 per night at a 3 star hotel, $159 to $370 at a 4 or 5 star hotel, and budget travellers can get 1 star accommodation for around $65-70 per night.
  • A good dinner can cost around $31 per person, while an evening of fine dining with drinks for 2 can cost you up to $460 per person. 
  • You can eat inexpensively if you prefer; Chinese food is available everywhere for $11-16 per meal.
  • Local foods are less costly; you can get breakfast for $3-9 and beer for $3-5.

As you can see, it all depends on whether you’re a luxury traveler or looking for the average family vacation. 

Tipping Etiquette in Saint Martin

Tipping becomes a little tricky in Saint Martin, especially since there are two sides to the island. 

  • On the Dutch side , 10-15% is the norm for tipping at restaurants, cab drivers etc. At the hotel you should also tip the porter, bellman and chambermaids, which is usually around $2 a day. 
  • The French side is different ; tipping is called “service” and it’s usually included in your hotel fees. At restaurants you won’t find the “tip” included on your bill, instead it will say “service compris” (which is essentially the tip) and is usually 15%. 

This means if you ask the waiter if the tip is included in the bill, he will say no and technically be correct, which could result in you tipping an additional 15%, for a total of 30%! Unless you’re that generous, please remember to use the word “service” instead of “tip” when you’re on the French side of the island.

How to Pay for Things in Saint Martin

The dollar is widely accepted on both sides of the island so you should have no problems for cash. 

ATMs on the Dutch side dispense Dollars while ATMs on the French side give out Euros only.

Both currencies are accepted anywhere in Saint Martin. While foreign cheques are not accepted at most establishments, credit cards are, so you can minimize the amount of cash you carry around. You will need cash at beach bars, for taxis, smaller local restaurants and for tipping. 

Dress & What to Pack for Saint Martin

Shorts, light cotton clothing, t-shirts and sneakers are the order of the day; it is tropical weather after all. 

Dress for the beach, but remember that beachwear around town is frowned upon. 

There isn’t really a dress code at restaurants, even the high end ones, but you can still dress casual and smart at the same time. Shorts are perfectly fine at a restaurant, but try to wear a golf shirt or buttoned shirt. 

While sandals are “allowed”, it’s not ideal for fine dining so we recommend closed shoes. You will rarely find anyone wearing a jacket and tie but if you feel like dressing up for a nice nice out, make sure it’s light cotton or else you may end up very uncomfortable.

Some things you should remember to pack, along with your other essentials, are mosquito repellants, sunblock, a hat that can protect your face from the sun and sunglasses. 

Saint Martin Laws to Know 

  • The legal drinking age on the island is 18.
  • You can bring in a limited amount of liquor and tobacco for personal use (should not exceed 40 ounces).
  • All tourists are required to carry some form of identification on their person at all times. We recommend you carry your driver’s licence and a copy of your passport, but not the original, as passport theft is common in Saint Martin. 
  • You may drive in Saint Martin with a Canadian licence
  • There is no physical border between the French and Dutch sides of the island, so you can move about freely between the two sides, with your goods.
  • Possession of illegal drugs (including cannabis) can result in jail time, or heavy fines.
  • If you use any medication that requires injection you must carry an original prescription from your doctor. 

Saint Martin Travel Guide

Like all Caribbean islands, Saint Martin is famous for its beaches, snorkelling, diving and shopping. Its nightlife however is amongst the best and most famous in the Caribbean. 

Our top pick for things to do in Saint Martin is experiencing the jet blast at Maho beach. What’s that you ask? Well, 

Maho beach just happens to be directly opposite the Princess Juliana International Airport and tourists hold onto the fence as a plane is revving for take off to experience the powerful jet blast. If you’re not that daring, you can enjoy watching the planes fly 30m (100ft) overhead as they descend for landing. 

Let’s start with the French island:

  • Marigot is a cosmopolitan area where you can enjoy the best French restaurants and shopping. You can also catch a ferry from here to nearby islands.
  • Colombier , a quiet village if you enjoy nature.
  • Orient Bay has one of the most popular beaches on the island.
  • Grand Case is the best place for fine dining.
  • Cupecoy is where you’ll find golf courses and casinos.

On the Dutch island of Sint Maarten:

  • Phillipsburg is the capital and has the best nightlife.
  • Maho Village is where you go to party! If you want casinos, nightlife, music and noise, this is the place to be.
  • Simpsons Bay is central to everything and the marina is there. Great restaurants too!
  • Dawn Beach is on the border of the French half and ideal for a quiet beach experience.

The best way to get around is a rental car. They’re fairly cheap (around $35 a day) and will allow you to explore more of the island. 

The traffic can get quite congested so renting a scooter might help with that, and they’re available for roughly the same price as a car. 

Taxis are available but will cost significantly more, especially if you want to see most of the island during your stay. The taxis are unmetered so be sure to agree on a rate before getting in. 

Buses are the cheapest way to get around, but in Saint Martin a bus may not necessarily be an actual bus. Mini vans also operate as buses, and you will recognize them from the number plate; it will say “bus”. They’re not very reliable however as they don’t run at set times, which will make planning your day very difficult. 

We recommend car rental as the best way to travel around. 

Here’s a list of the must-do things and places in Saint Martin as well as some hidden gems awaiting you. 

Under-rated Attraction: Enjoy a panoramic view of the bay from Fort Louis, is one of the highest points on the island.The site itself is a historical one where visitors can soak up the island's rich past. 

Best Cup of Coffee: Croissant Royal was mentioned by travellers as having the best coffee and cappuccino. They also said the size of the cups is huge so you definitely get your money’s worth!

Best Hidden Gem: Loterie Farm is a secret hideaway on the French hillside of Saint Martin. You can hike, climb and zip-line over the treetops to get a stunning view as you glide down. 

Local Favourite Restaurant: La Villa Restaurant is noted by travellers for having the best French and local Caribbean food.

Little-Known Fact: Although Saint Martin is half Dutch and half French owned, it was first discovered by Christopher Columbus on behalf of Spain in 1493.

Don’t Forget to Pack: Mosquito repellant. 

And there you have it! Everything you need to know to plan your perfect Caribbean getaway to the melting pot of culture, Saint Martin.

With no physical border between the French and Dutch halves, there’s no need to pick a side; the entire island is your playground!

saint martin travel guide

Sarah Peterson

Sarah Peterson is the co-founder and head of marketing at FLIGHTFŪD. She's a travel health expert and after having visited 20+ countries as a digital nomad and flying every 4-6 weeks for business, she became passionate about empowering others to protect their bodies on the go.

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