Have you ever wanted to travel to a place that is truly unique and special? A place where you can find stunning beaches, delicious food, and friendly people? If so, then Saint Martin should be at the top of your travel list.
There are plenty of reasons to visit St Martin – from stunning white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters to duty-free shopping, vibrant nightlife and diverse cultures. Plus, as a dual-nation island with two different cultures and two different vibes, you get a two-for-the-price-of-one Caribbean island vacation. What can beat that?
Where is St. Martin?
Known as “The Friendly Island,” St. Martin island is an idyllic paradise in the Leeward Islands. Since 1648 the island has been peacefully divided since between France (Saint Martin) and the Netherlands (Sint Maarten), making Saint Martin island one of the smallest landmasses in the world shared by two sovereign states (37 square miles). There are no border patrols, regulations, or barriers between the two autonomously administered zones, and they exist in relative harmony.
The two sides of the island claim to be pals, but after nearly 360 years of being neighbors, they have developed a bit of a friendly rivalry. Both the French and the Dutch firmly believe that they have the best places to explore in St Martin. Both St Martin tourism bureaus claim their respective parts of the island offer the finest holiday destinations, the best places to live, and the best places to relax. You won’t find McDonald’s and soulless holiday homes here.
What is French Saint Martin like?
Francophone Saint Martin, on the French side of the island, epitomizes the island lifestyle: fine dining, lovely landscapes, pristine and secluded beaches, and an appreciation for the more pleasurable things in life.
When you visit St.Martin, it will be like the south of France spiced with a dash of Caribbean flavor. Think small market towns, cafes with Parisian-quality pastries, French Caribbean seafood, and a laid-back, boho-chic attitude that’s perfect for a quiet, relaxing holiday.
The two largest towns on the French side of St-Martin are Grand-Case and Marigot.
What is Sint Maarten like?
Philipsburg, the capital of St. Maarten, is the largest town on the island. The shipping port, the airport, and most of the island’s beautiful architecture and companies are all located on St Maarten.
The Dutch capital boasts a charming boardwalk, upscale eateries, casinos, and nightclubs, and its residents emphasize etiquette. Some of the architecture also has a definite Dutch Caribbean vibe.
ⓘ TIP: Front Street is home to a number of high-class jewelry stores. It can get quite crowded when ships are in port. Cruise passengers come to Philipsburg to do their duty-free shopping.
Whether you find yourself on the French side or the Dutch side, the beautiful island of Saint Martin is sure to captivate your attention. Here are a few places to add to your vacation experience.
Why visit St Martin? The beaches
One of the reasons St. Martin (Sint Maarten) is such a prime Caribbean vacation destination is because of its many picturesque beaches. With 37 to choose from, it might seem a bit daunting.
Here are three popular beaches you’ll enjoy.
1. Red Bay / Baie Rouge
Lying on the French side of the island, this beach gets its name from the color of the rocks and cliffs surrounding the beach. It is known to be one of the most beautiful and popular beaches on St. Martin island.
The beach is bordered by beautiful villas. You can rent an umbrella and beach chairs, then enjoy the sun and a great view of Anguilla (Flat island).
There is a parking space just above the beach. It fills up very quickly on the weekends, so make sure you arrive early!
2. Orient Bay / La Baie Orientale
Nicknamed the “Saint Tropez of the Caribbean,” Orient Bay beach, on St. Martin’s northeastern coast, is one of the biggest and most popular beaches on the island.
Orient Bay is one of them island’s prime spots for snorkeling and water sports opportunities. There are plenty jet skis on rent allowing the visitors to zoom into the rustling waters, or you might also enjoy a catamaran ride and experience the thrill as you float in the crystal waters while the boat drags you.
Along with watersports, Orient Bay also offers a full range of tourist amenities, from hotels to beach restaurants and shops. This is highly recommended as a great honeymoon spot and a perfect choice for romantic getaways. (There is also a nude beach at the westernmost end, if you’re into that.)
3. Maho Beach
Maybe you’ve never heard of Maho Beach, but odds are you’ve probably seen the souvenir postcards that show airplanes flying directly over the heads of beachgoers.
Maho Beach is a dream destination for people who enjoy plane watching, because the beach is right next to the airport runway. They head here to get an up-close and personal view of aircraft on final approach. It’s an especially bit hit with the kids.
In addition to watching the aircraft, you can also enjoy other recreational activities like snorkeling, water sports, diving, and hiking here.
Note that the planes fly so close to the beach that you’ll have to keep an eye on your belongings, because many items lying on the beach are blown into the water as the planes pass overhead.
ⓘ TIP: To see both Maho Beach and Orient Beach in one go, consider this half-day tour.
Visit St Martin for the hiking trails
Sun and sand are all well and good, but tn addition to the island’s many beaches, this lovely vacation spot also has many hiking trails that shouldn’t be missed.
There’s a reason the coastal hikes and walking trails are extremely popular among those who enjoy wandering. It is one of the best ways to explore the island’s wilderness areas. As you spend your time enjoying the flora and fauna, you’ll find endless places for memorable photographs. Be sure to climb to the top of the hills too; the views from the peaks give phenomenal panoramic views of the landscape.
For more detailed information on trails and distances, visit this web page.
1. Pic Paradis (Paradise Peak)
At 424 meters (1391 feet), Pic Paradis is the highest spot on the island. Those who visit are rewarded with views of both St Martins, as well as the nearby islands of Anguilla, Saba and St. Eustatius.
The hiking trail is easy to moderate, and you can reach the peak in two ways: Either park at Loterie Farm at the base of the mountain (for a fee) 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).
2. The Sentier des Froussards hiking trail from Marcel to Cul-de-Sac
Anse Marcel to Baie des Petites Cayes is another easy trail on the island. This one takes about 2.5 hours to complete. It starts from the French Cul-de-Sac. Enjoy panoramic views while you walk and take some great photos of the captivating wildlife and plants.
3. Bellevue Border Crossing hike
Furthermore, Bellevue Border Crossing Hike lies on the Dutch side and can be reached from Marigot. If you arrive by car, park at the Bebe n’ Kids store. It is a lovely trail surrounded by tall trees and hills, it is also a favorite among mountain bikers.
ⓘ TIP: If seeing more of the island is on your agenda, this tour will take you to both the French and Dutch sides and includes a variety of fun local experiences.
Is St Martin safe?
St. Maarten is one of the safest places to visit in the Caribbean, but as with any tourist destination you need to take the normal safety precautions and exercise common sense. Lock expensive items (phone, computer, camera, etc.) in a safe when you’re not using them, leave valuable jewelry at home, and avoid flashing any cash you’re carrying.
If you choose to watch planes land and depart from Maho Bay, blasts of sand can be very powerful. And as usual, wear a hat and use plenty of sunscreen to avoid sunburn.
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Best months to visit St Martin
Most tourists visit St. Martin and Sint Maarten from December through April when temperatures are warm and the risk of rain is low. Hotel rates tend to drop in mid- to late April.
The cheapest time to travel to Saint-Martin is either in May/June or November through mid-December, as these are the times when hotels promote best rates. Many hotels close in the summer and autumn, as this is hurricane season
During the winter months the island has pleasant weather and rain showers are unlikely. St Maarten trips are more expensive at this time of year.
Try to avoid September thru November, which statistically has the highest risk for hurricanes.
Where to stay in St. Martin
The best St Maarten resorts Dutch side are:
- Sonesta Ocean Point Resort All Inclusive. This Adults Only resort is a 5-minute walk from the beach. It offers an outdoor swimming pool, a restaurant, and a fitness center. Other facilities offered at the property include entertainment staff, a ticket service and a tour desk.
- Simpson Bay Resort Marina & Spa is set on the shores of Simpson Bay Beach. It offers 6 outdoor swimming pools, sun terrace, spa, casino and the on-site water sport facility Aqua Mania Adventures. The resort also features 5 different restaurants, a coffee shop, a snack bar and deli, 3 bars, one located in the beach, and 3 swim-up bars for guests to enjoy. Paradise Plaza, the Casino Royale and Mullet beach, all important spots at Simpson Bay, are located less than 2.2 mi away.
The best St. Martin island resorts on the French side are:
- Hotel La Plantation, a 4-minute walk from sandy Orient Bay Beach, has an outdoor freshwater swimming pool with a sun deck. Free public on-site parking is available. The poolside Café La Plantation serves a tropical breakfast buffet each morning and a selection of fine gourmet cuisine in the evening.
- Les Balcons d’Oyster Pond has an outdoor swimming pool, free private parking, a garden and barbecue facilities. Featuring family rooms, this property also provides guests with a sun terrace. All rooms include a balcony with sea views and free WiFi.
How to get around St. Martin – St. Maarten
St Maarten does not have Uber or any other rideshare options. If you plan to navigate between the French and Dutch sides of the island, you’ll have to walk, use public transport, take a taxi, or rent a car.
Island bus services are relatively inexpensive. But change your expectations, because buses on St Martin are more like a multi-passenger van! You can learn more about public transport on St Martin in this article.
The most convenient way to travel around St. Martin and St. Maarten is by renting an automobile. You’ll pick up your car at Princess Juliana Airport (SXM) in St Maarten. Unfortunately traffic on either side can prove extremely heinous.
Do I need a visa for St Maarten?
For stays of 90 days or less, US, Canadian, and EU citizens do not need a visa to enter St Martin. Indian citizens can get a 90 day stamp if they have a valid Schengen, US, or Canadian visa stamped in their passport. For people from most other countries, a visa is most likely required.
Once you clear immigration, you may freely travel between French and Dutch sides of the island.
The St Maarten Travel and Visa Guide has information on entry requirements and visa procedures. Download it here.
Final thoughts about why you should visit St Martin
When it comes to the Caribbean’s prettiest tourist spots, Saint Martin and Sint Maarten both deserve top rankings. No matter which sider you visit, there are almost endless beautiful beaches, lagoons, and cottages for tourists to experience.
Below the sun-drenched Caribbean sky, the island’s turquoise, crystal seas sparkle, making Saint Martin the ultimate location for stunning scenery, vistas, and peaceful getaways. Are you ready to visit?