This past November, my partner, Matthijs, and I embarked on a 10-day Caribbean cruise. After releasing my book, moving, and doing a month-long Midwest book tour, we felt a vacation was in order! The seas were calling, so we set sail on the Celebrity Equinox. One of the stops our ship made was in Philipsburg, Sint Maarten. We visited Sint Maarten once before, also while sailing with Celebrity Cruises, but previously we just walked around town. This time, we knew we wanted to spread our wings.
One Island, Two Countries
Did you know that Sint Maarten-Saint Martin is the smallest landmass in the world to be shared by two different nations? The Dutch govern the south side, called St. Maarten, while the French control St. Martin (different spelling) in the north. People can travel freely between the two, however, providing both locals and visitors alike the best of both worlds.
Both sides of the island boast white sand beaches, sparkling clear blue water, and lush green mountains, so no matter how – or where – you want to spend your time, there’s an activity for everyone.
Sand, Sea, and Sun
Beach time is pretty much a prerequisite when visiting the Caribbean, and St. Maarten – St. Martin is no exception. The island is home to amazing beaches. Ever heard of the beach where airplanes takeoff and land so close that you can almost touch it? That’s Maho beach. Not the most relaxing of experiences with airplanes roaring overhead, but cool nonetheless.
If you don’t want to stray too far from the cruise port, check out Great Bay. It will be busy, as it’s one of the main tourist areas, but the boardwalk provides ample shopping opportunities and a beach for swimming. You can take the water taxi over from the cruise port (about $7 round trip) or walk about 30 minutes one way if you feel like stretching your legs and getting some exercise.
In terms of other recommendations: we didn’t get a chance to visit these beaches, but here are a few others I researched. Pinel Island, off the beaten path on the French side near the Cul-de-Sac, supposedly boasts great snorkeling. You can rent a kayak and paddle around the island or take a ferryboat over. Mullet Bay is apparently known for its fantastic wildlife, while Simpson Bay is home to a shipwreck. Other great snorkeling spots include Little Bay (also a good sunset spot) and Dawn Beach (sunrise central). Word of warning: some beaches on the French side are nude, like Orient Beach, so don’t be too surprised if you come across a few bare bottoms.
The St. Martin Natural Reserve on the north side of the island is protected and home to amazing flora and fauna! We parked in a small lot near Anse Marcel and hiked about one hour to reach a hidden remote beach called Petite Cayes. The nature reserve trail also picks up from Grand Cayes. The hike is strenuous, steep and rocky in places, but completely worth it. Make sure you have good (hiking) shoes on, and pack sunscreen! En route, we passed giant cactuses, pineapple, and green vegetation, all while birds sang sweetly around us.
We were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the ocean, as we made our way down the mountainside to the pristine shoreline. No one was there, and we had our own private beach! The waves rolled in over the soft white sand as we soaked in the sun and swam in the clear blue water. Boats were not able to reach the inlet either, due to the rocky shore and the waves, and because of its secluded location, we only encountered three other people while there. Petite Cayes is the definition of paradise.
There are plenty of other hiking trails on the island. Although we didn’t have a chance to drive up, we heard good things about Paradise Pic, the island’s highest point, and Loterie Farm. Fort Louis, which we hear requires climbing stairs, offers a panoramic view of the island.
Thank you to Benji Ho for all the recommendations. He provided me with some great tips for St. Maarten – St. Martin when I was doing all my research prior to leaving. Be sure to check out the rest of his tips. Sint Maarten – St. Martin has much to see and explore!
Note: We rented a car from one of the company’s next to the cruise port. Please go through a reputable car agency, like Hertz, if you decide to rent on your own! We cannot emphasize this enough.
Have you been to St. Maarten – St. Martin before? Please share your favorite activities (and beaches) in the comments below! If you haven’t been yet, would you like to go? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you!