On your next Caribbean vacation, hop on over to the petite island of St. Maarten or St. Martin, depending on which side you are on. It is also known as “The Friendly Island”. The famous explorer, Christopher Columbus, who sailed the ocean blue in 1492 made the discovery of St. Maarten in 1493 during his second voyage to the Americas. This island is named St. Maarten (also known as San Martin, Sint Maarten, and Saint Martin) because the original date of his arrival to the island was on the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours, November 11.
Most of the settlers on the island during Columbus’ arrival were Carib Amerindians, who unfortunately slowly perished throughout the years due to the constant warfare between nations. The French and Dutch people were always caught in intense battles with one another over the land until 1648 when the Treaty of Concordia was signed. This allowed both nations to divide the island into two parts. So, whether you like Dutch cuisine, French art or both, head on over to St. Maarten (St. Martin) and enjoy the extraordinary things to do on the island. And just for clarification, St. Martin is on the French side and St. Maarten is the Dutch side.
St Maarten – But Where Should I Stay when I get there?
Divi Little Bay Beach Resort, of course!
Although the half-island of St. Maarten may be small, there are numerous hotels and resorts to stay at. One of the recently upgraded resorts after the hurricane on the Dutch side of St. Maarten is the Divi Little Bay Beach Resort. This resort was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and has recently been refurbished and reopened. I recently had a chance to stay in one of their new and improved upgraded studio apartments with a full kitchen, living area, and bedroom that was beachfront.
Honestly, for the money, it was spectacular for location along a swimmable beach and ability to get around. The hotel also has motorized watersports, a spa, the Seabreeze pool with a restaurant and a few scattered restaurants and bars around the property. The grand opening of their latest massive swimming pool just happened and is spectacular. They can even give you as a guest the chance to learn to cook with the executive chef Octavio Verhelst at Gizmo’s Bar & Grill!
Where is St Maarten and how big is the island?
The island of St. Maarten (St. Martin) is located in the Caribbean Sea, not too far from Puerto Rico. This dazzling island lies in the northeast section of the Caribbean. This island is owned by two distinct countries in Europe, France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. You might be asking yourself, how is this possible? The answer is simple! The entire island is close to 34 square miles, and France owns 20 square miles of the land while the Netherlands owns the other 14 square miles. While it may seem unfair to have divided up the islands in uneven proportions, the population size for each island nation is similar.
What’s the weather like and when should I go?
The climate of St. Maarten (St. Martin) is best described as a tropical monsoon. The wet season begins in August and ends in December. January to April has a drier season with temperatures ranging in the low 80’s Fahrenheit. The best season to visit this island is between May and June and November to December. During this time, the island is less crowded, the weather is perfect and the hotel’s rates are compellingly low.
Things to do in St Maarten:
The Dutch Side
✦ Drink in St Maarten
There many things to do in St Maarten’s Dutch side. The first place to visit while on the Dutch side is the Topper’s Rum Factory. A tour of this distillery is the only way you can see how the worlds’ best rum is made (according to them, and if I do say so myself, their flavored liquors were absolutely delicious!).
If rum is one of your favorite liquors, then head on over to the Guavaberry Emporium on Front Street in Phillipsburg to taste the free samples of different flavors of rum. Then buy a few bottles to bring some rum back home with you, as well. Guavaberry liquor is made from the local rum, cane sugar, and guava berries that are found growing on the island.
✦ Shop in St Maarten
A shopping excursion in the capitals famous Front Street center is the perfect place for tourists to buy souvenirs, jewelry shop, check out local designer clothes, t-shirt shops, as well as visit liquor stores for samples and top it off with some yogurt walking along the beach.
✦ Zipline in St Maarten
And if you need a little adventure in your life, the world’s steepest zip line is here on St Maarten just for a thrill! It is pure adrenaline at 56 miles per hour in a drop! It is located at an eco-adventure park called Rockland Estate and the park is known as Rainforest Adventures. And honestly, it may be high up on the mountain, but it really was a fun ride down. Known as the Flying Dutchman, this zip-line drops 1050 feet over 2800 feet of cable. And not only do they have a zip line, but they also have canopy zips and tubing.
✦ Swim with airplanes in St Maarten!
Maho Beach is the place to be when the massive jets come flying in for a landing at the international airport.
✦ Gamble in St Maarten
Only on the Dutch side of St. Maarten will you be able to find over 20 casinos to enjoy a game of blackjack or roulette. Casinos such as Casino Royale, Jump-Up Casino, and Tropicana offer an amazing adventure for tourists and residents alike who are into gambling.
✦ Sail in St Maarten
A trip to the island’s Dutch capital of Philipsburg is also a great place to head out on a sunset sailing cruise with a partner.
In my opinion, the Dutch side of the island appears to be more of the party type of atmosphere with an adventure island, whereas the French side appears to be more laid back with a bit more culture.
Day Trip to Tintamarre Island!
You won’t regret it. Tintamarre is a remote island off the coast of St. Martin. There aren’t any hotels, restaurants, or shops on this island, but it is the ideal day trip! It is only two miles away from the St. Martin’s 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!
Things to do in St Martin
The French Side
Just like the Dutch side, there are plenty of things for you to do on the French side of the island. If you are looking to add a little adventure and excitement to your stay at the French side of St. Martin then look no further.
✦ Relax in St Martin
One of the best things to do in St. Martin is to visit Loterie Farm. The name of this awesome place may be deceiving because it is NOT a FARM, but more like a unique BEACH-style club with a cascading swimming pool and private treehouses and huts for lounging and relaxing. It is more like a chic casual hangout place that serves drinks and provides a place for friends to relax.
✦ Eat the BEST Food in St Martin
Another cool place to visit on the French side is the town of Grand Case. This town was home to many restaurants (restaurant row) before the hurricane hit the island in November of 2017. Restaurants such as Le Soleil, Ocean 82, Piazza Pascal and Auberge Gourmande. Slowly, more and more restaurants are returning back to Restaurant Row in Grand Case. I had a chance to have cocktails and eat at this fabulous French-owned restaurant called Barranco. It was super-French chic with a little African thrown in via the interior design and the beachside setting was simply gorgeous. Of course, it is the perfect spot for a sunset dinner.
✦ Shop in St Martin
There is even a little shop right across the street that l had my eye on for local retail, but unfortunately only had time to go into the store for a few moments. So there is always a reason to return.
✦ Smell Scents in St Martin
Also, not too far away is Tijon Perfumerie where you can make your own personal fragrance, which I found intriguing. There is even a whole class given by the owner on a regular basis that teaches you everything you need to know about scents and how to choose your base scent and then build your personal perfume from there.
✦ Swim Naked or Not in St Martin!
While visiting the French side, don’t forget to go for a swim at Orient Beach while wearing your “birthday suit” if you want! As this area of the beach is known for its nudity and it is not illegal to strip down to nothing! Ha! Of course, there are other non-naked beaches, such as Le Galion, Red Bay Beach, or Friar’s Bay Beach,
✦ Water Sports in St Martin or Just Relax on the Beach
Surfing and snorkeling are great things to do in St. Martin as well, especially at beaches on the French side such as Le Galion and Lle Pinel (Pinel Island). You can take a ferry boat ride across the channel to Pinel Island to this tiny slice of paradise. Honestly, it will be one of the best things you can do because it is limited to the number of people on the island. Another plus is that it’s secluded and you DO NOT have vendors pushing to sell you something. It is nice and relaxing!
✦ Get an Amazing View in St Martin at Fort Louis
For anyone who is a history buff, a trip to Marigot Bay to overlook Fort St. Louis is a must-do activity on the French side as well. It is St. Maarten’s largest historical monument located high above Marigot. It was built in 1767 to defend the Bay. You can climb to the top for amazing panoramic views of the island. You can get to Fort St Louis by parking at the sous préfecture” car park.
✦ More Things to do in St Maarten
St Maarten Beaches
It would not be a true vacation in the Caribbean without any fun in the sun at a splendid beach in St. Maarten. There are plenty of St. Maarten beaches for everyone to enjoy, regardless of which side you are visiting. Here is a list of the must-see St. Maarten beaches.
- Maho Beach– Situated on the Dutch side of the island, Maho Beach is famously known for being within feet of the Princess Juliana International Airport. The Maho Beach has gotten a reputation for being known as the beach where the airplanes fly extremely low.
- Mullet Bay Beach – Next to Maho Beach, it is a better place to be than when the airplanes come flying in, as it is not as crowded, but nearby Maho with powder soft sand and calm waters.
- Great Bay Beach– Smack dab in the middle of the island’s Dutch capital, Philipsburg, lies an amazing beach that is lined with fun activities and amazing places to visit.
- Red Bay Beach– Baie Rouge is on the French side of the island. The name of this beach derives from the sparkling light red color of the sand found on the island. Guests can enjoy dining at small restaurants while overlooking the turquoise waves splashing against the colored sand.
- Nettle Bay– If you are looking for a beach that is jam-packed with hotels, resorts, and stunning trees, then you have found the perfect spot at Nettle Bay.
- Friar’s Bay Beach– Fun under the island sun also means that families traveling with children need a safe place to enjoy together. This beach is on the French side and is a lovely place to spend a day with family.
- Le Galion– This beach is also located on the French side and is known as Galion Beach. Tourists can engage in water activities such as windsurfing, kayaking, and snorkeling.
Now, that you have finished reading how many amazing things there are to do on both sides of St. Maarten or St Martin, which side would you start exploring? Hop on over to St. Maarten or St. Martin and explore new cultures, exciting adventures, and spectacular beaches. There are endless things to do in both St. Martin and St. Maarten, so pick up your suitcase and start packing to see what both sides of the island have to offer.
Disclosure: As is common in the travel industry, I was provided with accommodations, meals and other compensation for the purposes of review by Divi Little Bay Beach Resort and its PR agency. While it has not influenced my review, PointsandTravel.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. All Photos were taken by the author/or were given permission from the photographer. Affiliate links may be located in this article.