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.
While there are no border controls between the sides and countries, youll still see signs posted across the island welcoming you each time you cross. Cross from the Dutch side north and youll have a chance to practice your French. Youll 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.
Grab A Johnny Cake At Hilmas 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 spiritand her johnny cakes.
Although a separate section below is devoted to recommended dining and island eats, we include Hilmas 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 shes 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.
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. Hes eaten everything here. The advice he gave me was to not change, that I should stay true to my roots.
How to do it: You can find Hilmas 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.
Snorkeling And Scuba Diving
Snorkeling and scuba diving are definitely some of the most exciting and adventurous activities to participate in while visiting St. Maarten. St. Maarten is one of the best snorkeling and scuba diving spots in the entire Caribbean and is known for clear water, calm seas, and its vibrant coral reef teeming with sea life, all of which are ideal conditions for snorkeling and scuba diving. What makes this area unique is that the government protects the waters surrounding St. Maarten which are populated by schools of brilliantly colored fish, so when in Saint Martin you get the most natural snorkeling and/or scuba diving experience possible.
The tropical weather in St. Maarten is also very optimal for snorkeling and diving throughout the year because the temperature on the island ranges between 72 to 89 F . The surrounding waters are pleasantly warm, and the temperatures range from 75 to 85 F .
The cost of snorkeling in St. Martin varies depending on how you decide to acquire the gear needed. Purchasing snorkel gear normally costs between $40 to $110 per person, renting snorkel equipment for the week can cost from $18 to $42 per person, and renting snorkel gear for a half-day snorkel tour can cost $38 to $160 per person. Snorkel gear is available to rent on most hotels and beaches throughout St. Martin. The best beaches for snorkeling in Saint Martin are listed below.
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Divi Little Bay Resort
Divi Little Bay Resort is nestled between two bays, Little Bay and Great Bay, on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten not too far from Philipsburg. Also severly damaged in Hurricane Irma, the St. Maarten resort resort rebuilt and re-opened in 2018 with quite a few upgrades. You can choose from an all-inclusive package or you can choose room only.
The resorts guest rooms and suites all got a freshening up. All suites have fully equipped kitchens, though the all-inclusive packages include all meals in the resorts three restaurants.
New amenities on the resort include a brand new pool, a brand new pool bar, and a new restaurant called The Shack. The Shack features barbecue and jerk dishes. The main restaurant, Seabreeze, also got an entirely new menu during the renovations.
In addition, the resort added an all-new full service spa and a water sports center. Theres also an on-resort dive center and some of the most popular St. Maarten diving sites are located just off of Little Bay Beach and in Great Bay just in front of the resort.
With all-inclusive non-motorized water sports like kayaks and catamarans, three pools and family plans where kids under 5 years of age stay and eat free, Divi Little Bary Resort is one of the best places to stay in St. Maarten for families.
Snorkeling & Catamaran Tour
This catamaran tour is a great all-inclusive option for your day. It includes an open bar, snorkeling, a local BBQ lunch, a sail along the coast, and a beach break. Its the perfect combination of adventure and relaxation. One of the best parts of this tour is that you will have a packed agenda without having to do any planning yourself.
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Hope Estate Archeological Site
The Hope Estate Archeological Site is a historical site that is located in the town of Grand Case, Saint Martin. The Hope Estate Archeological Site is the perfect place to learn about the history of the island of St. Maarten. The Hope Estate Archeological Site is the remains of an Arawak village that is situated on a 1-acre plot of land that overlooks the Grand Case Plain.
The Hope Estate Archeological Site tells the story of the natives who arrived at St. Maarten from South America in the year 550 BC and established a village that they occupied until the year 450 AD. The Arawaks left many artifacts such as pottery items, petroglyphs, and more that can be seen at this historical site.
The Hope Estate Archeological Site is located 7.6 miles from Princess Juliana International Airport and is free for tourists and locals to enter. The Hope Estate Archeological Site is the perfect place for families, couples, and anyone who is interested in the rich history of St. Maarten.
Guided Tour Around The Island
As we had the little one in tow, we decided that a group tour was not the best option for us. So instead we hired a taxi driver to show us around the island for a few hours. We saw some wonderful parts of the island such as Orient Beach, Grand Case and Marigot. Each had beautiful beaches, naturally, and its own unique shops and restaurants.
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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 youll quickly understand why. The photo below pretty much says it all. It looks Photoshopped, but its not.
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 .
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.
Check Out The Naked People At Orient Bay
After a week on an island filled with nude beaches, even the most bashful person gets curious So what better way to stir up romance than to go where clothing isnt necessary. This was my first experience at a clothing-optional beach. As an American raised in the conservative south, clothing-optional beaches werent a thing where I grew up. In fact, as a teenager, I got in trouble if I even attempted to bare a mid-drift, so walking along a beach with a bunch of strangers who were bearing it all was a bit eye-opening.
I wish I could tell you that our newlywed selves stripped down and joined the crowd, but we werent that uninhibited. We visited the clothing-optional beach at Orient Bay but kept our swimsuits on. Not everyone on the beach is naked, either. Its a clothing optional beach, so youll find plenty of other people who will ultimately leave the island with tan lines, too.
Out of respect for the naked people, I did not take any pictures at this beach.
If you want to check out Orient Bay Beach without having to see a bunch of naked strangers, there is a side of the beach that is more family-friendly . It is one of the more popular beaches on the French side of the island, so it can become rather crowded, particularly when a cruise ship is at port.
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Things To Do In St Maarten / St Martin
We fell in love with this tiny dual-nation island in the Caribbean over a decade ago. St. Maarten / St. Martin is just 37 square miles and weve regularly circumnavigated multiple times on our annual week-long trips there. But despite its small size, weve never been bored or had to look too hard for something to do. Weve had countless conversations with cruise ship passengers who only get a teeny glimpse into all the adventures that are to be had and ask why we stay an entire week and return again and again, so weve put together our favorite things to do in Sint Maarten in this guide.
This St. Maarten / St. Martin guide includes the following recommendations for what to do in St. Maarten, St. Maarten shore excursions, hotels in Sint Maarten and where to eat in St. Maarten. You can jump to a specific site, activity or restaurant by clicking the links in the table of contents below.
What to Do in St. Martin:
Map courtesy of Wanderlog travel planner
Relaxing At Loterie Farm St Martin
Loterie Farm is a private nature reserve located on the hillside of Pic Paradis in French Saint Martin. Loterie Farms is 100 acres of lush greenery and is a serene nature sanctuary that attracts many tourists who are looking to have a relaxing day surrounded by swaying palm trees and multiple turquoise pools.
Loterie Farm is a spot for all types, whether you prefer to relax and lounge by the pool or take an exciting and vigorous hike. There is an activity here for everyone. There are many different cabanas for lounging in the sun, many different pools and jacuzzis throughout the premises, ziplining courses, hiking trails, and obstacle courses, as well as many poolside restaurants and bars. Many tourists from all ages and backgrounds come to Loterie Farm to enjoy the beautifully relaxing nature, scenery, and wildlife.
Loterie Farm is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 am to 3:30 pm. Prices for the different activities can vary. Access to the hiking trails cost around $6 per person or $30 per person with a guide. Ziplining courses normally cost around $46 per person. There are options to rent Cabanas for couples for $98 or up to 10 people for $256 . No matter what you decide to do at Loterie Farm, it will no doubt be an unforgettable experience during your trip to St. Maarten.
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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.
Its also the endgame of many a wonderful hike through the St. Martin backcountry.
Some of the best trails to the top go via the Careta Ravine and the banks of pretty Hope Lake, while others range over the Northeast Ridges to the ghost village of Petit-Fond.
Dont forget the camera!
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.
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 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.
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#6 Shop In St Maarten
A shopping excursion in the capitals famous Front Street center is the perfect place for tourists to buy souvenirs and shop for jewelry, check out the locals designer clothes, t-shirt shops, as well as visit liquor stores for samples and top it off with some yogurt walking back to your hotel along the beach.
Ziplining Down The Steepest Zipline In The World
Saint Martin is home to the steepest zipline in the entire world. Located in Rockland Estate Eco-Park in southern Dutch Sint Maarten is the Flying Dutchman Zipline. This zipline is unlike any other ziplining experience in the world. This is an experience that many travelers who are looking for an exciting and action-packed vacation journey from all around the world to St. Maarten to enjoy.
This zipline is more than 1,000 ft high and is more than 2,800 ft of cable. From this zipline, you can see spectacular and panoramic views of the island of St. Martin. The ride lasts for about 45 seconds and the price is $114 per person. This is an exhilarating experience for those who are looking for an action-packed getaway and definitely something that you have to experience while youre in Saint Martin.
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Other St Maarten Things To Do
For those looking for more adventurous activities to get your adrenaline pumping, there are several fun places on St. Maarten where you can go ziplining, including Loterie Farm on the French side and Rainforest Adventures Sint Maarten on the Dutch side.
From Loterie Farm, you can also hike up Pic Paradis, the highest peak in St. Martin offers beautiful, panoramic views of the island.
And for those who want to feel connected with nature without the adrenaline, take a ferry out to Pinel Island or kayak out to the island and snorkel in the shallow, calm waters and see if you can spot sea turtles!You can also take a ferry to the island of St Barts, or to Saba, or the island of Anguilla for a lovely day trip from St. Maarten.
Kayak To Pinel Island
Pinel Island is a little slice of paradise with fantastic snorkeling just a short kayak ride away from the Cul de Sac on the French side of St. Martin. Little ferry boats take people across the small channel, but even with the small amount of tourists that visit, Pinel Island is usually pretty deserted. With your own kayak rental, you can paddle around the island and explore the most secluded beaches on it.
Kayaks can be rented for $15 per kayak. Book online and pick up daily at 9:30am.
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#9 Day Trip To Tintamarre Island
You wont regret it. Tintamarre is a remote island off the coast of St. Martin. There arent any hotels, restaurants, or shops on this island, but it is the ideal day trip! It is only two miles away from the St. Martins coastline and visitors can snorkel, explore the red rock cliffs, and enjoy a day at the beach. So pack a daypack full of sunscreen, and food, as there is no place to buy that kind of stuff. But you will have the best serene environment there is!