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St Maarten/ St Martin Complete Travel Guide

St. Maarten & St. Martin Complete Travel Guide

Discover the enchanting island where two cultures converge in the heart of the Caribbean: St. Maarten and St. Martin. This guide will lead you through the unique blend of Dutch vibrancy and French elegance that defines this dual-nation paradise. From idyllic beaches to gourmet dining, and vibrant culture to tranquil retreats, we’ll explore the best of both sides. Whether you’re seeking adventure or relaxation, this comprehensive guide ensures a journey filled with unforgettable experiences. I’ve spent over 6 months exploring every inch of this incredible island. Join me as we discover everything this amazing island has to offer!

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The Complete St. Maarten & St. Martin Travel Guide

St. Maarten vs. St. Martin: What’s the Difference?

St. Maarten and St. Martin share the same island yet offer distinct experiences. They are seamlessly united by open borders that require no visa or immigration checkpoints to cross.

The Dutch side, St. Maarten, pulses with development, showcasing bigger brands and a vibrant nightlife that draws visitors into its lively embrace. In contrast, the French side, St. Martin, revels in a more laid-back vibe, with less development and a focus on preserving its tranquil, natural beauty. Here, the pace slows, and the charm of quaint cafes, picturesque beaches, and artisan markets invites a deeper connection with the island’s serene side.

Together, these halves create a rich tapestry of culture and convenience, offering travelers the best of both worlds in one idyllic Caribbean destination.

Why Visit?

After over six months exploring every corner, I can confidently say that this is one of my favorite islands in the Caribbean.

While it has its challenges, the island is a treasure trove of incredible beaches, engaging experiences, and a rich cultural tapestry. Beyond its allure, it stands out in the Caribbean for its affordability. Islands in the Caribbean are notoriously expensive to visit. This island comparatively is more affordable.

Whether you’re sunbathing on its pristine shores or diving into local traditions, this island promises an unforgettable adventure that’s both enriching and accessible.

Best Things to Do on the Island

The island’s dual sides are brimming with diverse activities and attractions, seamlessly accessible within its compact size. You can effortlessly journey from one end to the other in a single day. This makes every adventure on this list of top things to do in St. Maarten/St. Martin easily achievable. This convenient proximity means you’re never far from the next memorable experience. Whether you’re soaking up the sun on a serene beach or exploring the vibrant local culture.

The Best Things to Do in St. Maarten(Dutch Side)

  1. Watch Planes Fly Overhead at Maho Beach: Experience the thrilling spectacle of airplanes descending astonishingly close to Maho Beach. This unique beach offers not just sun, sea, and sand but also an unforgettable adrenaline rush as aircrafts make their approach to the nearby airport.
  2. Visit Fort Amsterdam: Delve into history at Fort Amsterdam, the island’s first fort built in the 17th century. Located at the entrance to Great Bay, it offers panoramic views and a glimpse into St. Maarten’s colonial past.
  3. Explore Downtown Philipsburg: Wander the vibrant streets of Philipsburg, the heart of St. Maarten. With its charming boardwalk, bustling Front Street, and array of shops and eateries, it’s a perfect blend of culture, shopping, and local flavor.
  4. Visit Mullet Bay Beach: Renowned for its crystal-clear waters and soft, white sands, Mullet Bay Beach is a slice of paradise for beach lovers. It’s ideal for swimming, sunbathing, and simply unwinding in picturesque surroundings.
  5. Topper’s Rhum Distillery: Indulge in a taste of the Caribbean at Topper’s Rhum Distillery. Learn about rum production and sample some of the finest rum blends, a true treat for the senses.
  6. Zipline at Rainforest Adventures St Maarten: Thrill-seekers can soar above the treetops at Rainforest Adventures. Offering spectacular views and an exhilarating experience, the zipline adventure is a must-do for adventure enthusiasts.
  7. Visit Cupecoy Beach: Set against dramatic limestone cliffs, Cupecoy Beach is known for its stunning sunsets and secluded coves. Its striking natural beauty makes it a perfect spot for a peaceful day by the sea.

The Best Things to Do in St. Martin(French Side)

  1. Visit Orient Beach: My personal favorite, Orient Beach, stands as the jewel of St. Martin’s coastline. Known for its vibrant watersports scene and lively beach bars, it’s a paradise for those seeking both relaxation and adventure.
  2. Visit Pinel Island: A favorite day trip destination. Pinel Island offers pristine beaches, excellent snorkeling, and an escape into serene beauty. Accessible by a short boat ride, it’s a perfect retreat for nature lovers and those looking to unwind.
  3. Explore Grand Case Town and Beach: Grand Case, a charming blend of culture and cuisine, is famous for its gourmet restaurants and stunning beach. Stroll through the town, savor Creole delicacies, and soak up the laid-back atmosphere.
  4. Spend the Day at Loterie Farm and Hike: Immerse yourself in the lush landscapes of Loterie Farm. This private nature reserve offers hiking trails through tropical forests, zip-lining adventures, and a fun poolside experience.
  5. Hike Anse Marcel: For those seeking a blend of adventure and tranquility, hiking to Anse Marcel reveals breathtaking views and a secluded beach. It’s a rewarding journey to one of the island’s hidden gems.
  6. Explore Marigot: Dive into the heart of French culture in Marigot, the capital of St. Martin. With its fashionable boutiques, open-air markets, and waterfront cafes, Marigot offers a taste of France in the Caribbean.
  7. Try Some Watersports at Orient Beach: From windsurfing to jet skiing, Orient Beach is the ultimate playground for watersports enthusiasts. The beach’s clear waters and steady winds make it an ideal spot for an adrenaline-fueled day out.

Where to Stay on the Island

Best Areas to Stay in St. Maarten(Dutch Side)

St. Maarten
  1. Mullet Bay Area: Renowned for hosting some of the best beaches on the island. Mullet Bay Area is perfect for beach lovers and golf enthusiasts alike. Here, you’ll find nice accommodations surrounded by scenic beauty. However, note that dining options are somewhat limited in this tranquil retreat.
  2. Maho Beach: Ideal for those who want to stay close to the airport and enjoy the vibrant scene of St. Maarten. Maho Beach is surrounded by a variety of all-inclusive resorts. This area is also home to the famous airplane landing view at Maho Beach but can get quite crowded.
  3. Philipsburg: A hub for those who love to be in the midst of all the action. Philipsburg offers a plethora of restaurants, shops, and a beach. While it boasts a lively atmosphere, it’s considered very touristy, perfect for travelers who enjoy exploring bustling town centers.

Best Areas to Stay in St. Martin(French Side)

  1. Orient Beach: Known for having some of the best hotels, restaurants, and arguably the best beach on the island. Orient Beach is the epitome of a luxurious Caribbean getaway. The only downside is that its high quality comes with a higher price tag, making it the most expensive area to stay.
  2. Grand Case: For foodies and those who appreciate a good cocktail, Grand Case is a dream. With its fantastic array of restaurants and bars, along with high-end hotels and a calm, beautiful beach, it offers a sophisticated yet laid-back experience. Like Orient Beach, it can be pricey, but the experience is well worth it.
  3. Cul-de-Sac: Offering easy access to Pinel Island, Cul-de-Sac is ideal for travelers looking to explore the natural beauty of St. Martin. The area features a selection of high-end hotels. However, dining options are limited within Cul-de-Sac itself.
  4. Anse Marcel: Perfect for those seeking seclusion. Anse Marcel is a hidden gem with a few nice all-inclusive hotels nestled in its serene environment. While it may feel a bit isolated, its tranquility and beauty make Anse Marcel a unique and peaceful retreat on the island.

Top Resorts & Hotels on the Island

Best Resorts & Hotels in St. Maarten(Dutch Side)

  1. Sonesta Ocean Point Resort – An adults-only, all-inclusive resort known for its luxury, stunning ocean views, and proximity to Maho Beach.
  2. Divi Little Bay Beach Resort – Offers a private peninsula, beautiful beaches, and is family-friendly, with a range of activities for all ages.
  3. The Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa – Known for its spacious rooms, excellent service, and location on one of St. Maarten’s most beautiful beaches.
  4. Oyster Bay Beach Resort – A favorite for its scenic location on a coral reef overlooking Oyster Pond, offering a peaceful retreat with excellent amenities.

These are just a few of the many options you have for hotels on the Dutch side of St. Maarten.

Best Resorts & Hotels in St. Martin(French Side)

  1. Orient Beach Hotel – Situated directly on the famous Orient Bay, this hotel offers easy beach access and comfortable accommodations. Perfect for those looking to enjoy one of the island’s best beaches.
  2. La Playa Orient Bay – Just steps from the water’s edge, La Playa Orient Bay features private beach access, a beachfront bar, and spacious rooms, making it ideal for a relaxing beach getaway.
  3. Le Temps des Cerises Hotel Beach – Located in Grand Case, this boutique hotel combines modern luxury with stunning sea views, right on the beach, offering a unique and intimate experience.
  4. Secrets St. Martin Anse Marcel – Nestled in the secluded Anse Marcel bay, this resort is known for its upscale amenities, spectacular views, and serene atmosphere, providing an exclusive retreat for guests.

Each of these hotels offers a unique experience, capturing the essence of St. Martin’s French side with their locations, amenities, and hospitality.

How to Get Around & Rental Car Tips

Rental Car Tips for Visiting St Maarten/ St Martin

If your plan is to fully explore the beauty and diversity of St. Maarten/St. Martin, renting a car is indispensable, especially for stays longer than a few days. Rental car prices are generally reasonable, fluctuating with the season, making it an accessible option for many travelers.

For those whose itinerary revolves around the convenience of an all-inclusive hotel, additional transportation might not be necessary. However, to truly experience everything the island has to offer—from hidden beaches to gourmet restaurants off the beaten path—a rental car becomes essential.

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Driving on the island is relatively straightforward, with clear signage and manageable roads. Visitors will find a wide selection of rental options, from well-known international brands to local companies offering competitive rates. While smaller brands might present a more economical choice, it’s worth noting that their fleets may consist of older, less reliable vehicles. Opting for a reputable rental company might cost a bit more, but it ensures a smoother and more dependable driving experience as you discover the unique charm of both the Dutch and French sides of the island.

Best Time of Year to Visit

St. Maarten
  • Fall/Spring (Shoulder Season): These seasons offer great weather and more moderate prices, presenting an attractive balance for visitors. However, it’s important to note that fall coincides with hurricane season, posing a potential risk for tropical storms.
  • Winter (Peak Season): Boasting fantastic weather, winter attracts the largest crowds and commands the highest prices. If the bustling atmosphere and premium costs aren’t deterrents, winter is unequivocally the best time to experience the island in its full glory.
  • Summer (Off-Season): Characterized by very hot and humid conditions, summer sees a significant drop in tourism, making it a quieter period to visit. This season offers the advantage of lower prices, appealing to budget-conscious travelers and those who don’t mind the heat.

Tips for Visiting St. Maarten & St. Martin

St. Maarten
  1. Bring Your Own Sunscreen: Sunscreen is surprisingly expensive on the island, so it’s wise to pack enough for your stay to avoid overpaying.
  2. Try the Local Cuisine: Don’t miss out on the rich and diverse flavors of the island. From French croissants to Caribbean jerk chicken, the culinary scene is a highlight.
  3. Visit Ital Restaurants: For a taste of authentic Rastafarian (Ital) cuisine, which emphasizes fresh, vegetarian dishes, seek out local Ital restaurants. It’s a healthy and unique dining experience.
  4. Embrace the Slow Island Life: Adjust your pace to “island time” and savor the relaxed, unhurried atmosphere that defines the Caribbean lifestyle.
  5. Carry Cash: While many places accept credit cards, you’ll find that cash is king in smaller establishments and for certain services, so it’s convenient to have some on hand.
  6. Get Connected with Airalo e-SIMS: Use e-SIMS by Airalo for reliable, affordable cell phone data plans while visiting St. Maarten/Martin.
  7. Explore Beyond the Tourist Areas: Venture off the beaten path to discover secluded beaches, local neighborhoods, and unique attractions that capture the true essence of the island.
  8. Stay Hydrated: The Caribbean sun can be intense, especially for those not used to tropical climates. Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated.
  9. Use Sun Protection and Mosquito Repellent: In addition to sunscreen, wearing hats and light cover-ups can protect your skin, and mosquito repellent will keep you comfortable during evenings outdoors.

By following these tips, you’re set to enjoy a more authentic, enjoyable, and responsible visit to St. Maarten/St. Martin, making the most of what this beautiful island has to offer.


St. Maarten

In closing, St. Maarten/St. Martin offers a unique and fulfilling travel experience, regardless of which side you choose to explore. This island blends cultural richness, natural beauty, and a variety of activities, making it an appealing destination for any traveler. Whether you’re attracted to the lively atmosphere of St. Maarten or the tranquil charm of St. Martin, you’re guaranteed to find something that resonates with your travel style. It stands as a testament to the diverse experiences the Caribbean has to offer, making it a worthwhile visit for those seeking to explore the region.

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