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If you’re in the mood for a tropical vacation, visit St Martin / Sint Maarten, part of the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean Sea. Saint Martin is known as “The Friendly Island,” an idyllic paradise that has been peacefully divided since 1648 between the French (Saint Martin) and the Dutch (Sint Maarten). 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. They 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.
So why visit St Martin and Sint Maarten? With two different cultures and two different vibes, you will have a two-for-the-price-of-one Caribbean island vacation. What can beat that?
The French perspective
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 visiit Saint 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 are Grand-Case and Marigot.
The Dutch perspective
Philipsburg, the capital of Sint 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 Sint 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 and can get quite crowded when ships are in port. Cruise passengers come to Philipsburg to do their duty-free shopping.
ⓘ TIP: St Martin COVID information can be found here.
Whichever side you find yourself on, 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.
The beach is bordered by beautiful villas and offers a great view of Anguilla (Flat island). You can rent an umbrella and beach chairs, then enjoy local BBQ style dishes from one of the beachside restaurants.
There is a parking space just above the beach but 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 Princess Juliana Airport. They head here to get an up-close and personal view of aircraft on final approach to the airport. 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.
Why visit St Martin? 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 all of St. Martin/St. Maarten, 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 and 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.
Best times 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.
Avoid September thru November, which statistically has the highest risk for hurricanes.
Where to stay in St. Martin
Splurge – Anse Marcel Beach Resort
Mid-range – Divi Little Bay Beach Resort
Budget – Rue de Millrum
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?