Things to do
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Go ziplining and hiking at Loterie Farm (St. Martin)
This 60-hectare site on the slopes of Paradise Peak (Pic du Paradis), the island’s highest point, is a magnet for outdoorsy types. A one-hour hiking loop (US$7) along steep, rocky trails brings you through stands of banana, mango and mahogany trees to a scenic lookout called Chewbacca Rock.
Thrill-seekers should try a zipline course or a combined zipline-extreme adventure course. Kids ages five to seven can tackle their own “Ti-Tarzan” obstacle course. Courses take from 45 minutes to two hours to complete and start at US$28. The farm also has an excellent restaurant and lounge. Loterie Farm is closed on Mondays.
Browse through the Marigot Market (St. Martin)
The waterfront food market in Marigot is open seven days a week, but on Wednesdays and Saturdays, clothing and souvenir sellers join the mix. Many offer a selection of brightly hued sundresses, beach shirts, fridge magnets and beaded jewelry.
There are a few unique items, such as original watercolours, lurking among the standard fare. Count on spending about 30 minutes to an hour enjoying the spectacle. Parking can be tight so try the lot in front of the tourism office, just east of the market, if you’re having trouble.
Watch a parade on Harmony Nights in Grand Case (St. Martin)
On Tuesday nights from early January through mid-April, the main road through Grand Case transforms itself into a temporary carnival. The street is closed to vehicles for the evening and filled with visitors and locals. You’ll see children playing while adults wander into shops selling French beachwear.
For about US$10 a person, you can try crepes, skewers of barbecued chicken or homemade squares sold from roadside stands. The high point is a small, but lively parade that starts around 8 p.m. A marching calypso band provides the music for a troupe of elaborately costumed dancers.
Blend your own custom perfume in Grand Case (St. Martin)
Ever dreamed of blending your own personal Chanel No. 5? You can at Tijon, a unique perfume shop in Grand Case. American expats John and Cyndi Berglund opened the boutique in 2008 to sell their custom-made fragrances and to teach visitors about the art of making perfume.
Classes (starting at US$82) are one to three hours long. Choose from 300 essential oils on the “perfume organ” (a multi-tiered shelf), then head to the glass-fronted lab to test your combinations and to bottle your favourite. Make sure to reserve a spot in this class well in advance.
Learn to sail and race a yacht (St. Maarten)
The St. Maarten “America’s Cup” 12 Metre Challenge is two-and-a-half-hour excursion where you sail on one of several 12-metre racing yachts that once competed in the America’s Cup.
Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with sailing – the skilled three-person crew does most of the work. On the dock, the crew shares entertaining stories about the boats’ history. On board, every passenger has a simple job, such as trimming a sail, spinning a winch or serving as the ever-popular bartender.
Your team races against other boats. At the end of the race, winners and losers celebrate their victory (or drown their sorrows) with rum punch. The excursion starts at US$75.
Watch aircraft fly overhead (St. Maarten)
The Sunset Bar & Grill is located on a beach directly below the main approach to Princess Juliana International Airport. Make the most of its location – when you hear the whine of an approaching aircraft, grab your camera and catch a photo of the underbelly of a Boeing 737 as it flies low overhead! It touches down on the runway across the street. Drop in between noon and 4 p.m. on weekends for the best aircraft spotting.
The bar has a surfboard that displays the arrival times of the day’s flights. The menu – complete with jet logos – features pizzas named after various airlines, burgers, seafood and snacks.
Shop along Front Street in Philipsburg (St. Maarten)
St. Maarten is one of the Caribbean’s top duty-free shopping destinations. You’ll find most of these boutiques grouped along narrow Front Street. Merchants sell everything from loose diamonds, luxury watches and elegant jewelry to linens, cameras, fragrances, liquor and designer fashions.
Check the newspaper to find out how many cruise ships are in port that day. The crowds are smaller if only one or two ships are in town. (The cruise ship terminal can accommodate up to six vessels.)
Spend the day and night in Simpson Bay and Maho Beach(and Maho Beach is located on St. Maarten)
Simpson Bay is on the east side of Princess Juliana International Airport. The area has countless shops and restaurants including burger joints, ice cream stands, T-shirt shops and karaoke bars.
Maho is located on the west side of the island. This is the island’s glitziest area with upscale restaurants, numerous bars and several entertainment clubs that keep visitors out late into the night. Look for valet parking at Casino Royale and bottle service at Tantra nightclub.
Go diving at the Man of War Shoal Marine Park (St. Maarten)
St. Maarten isn’t as famed for its dive sites as nearby Saba and Anguilla, but the Dutch side’s new national marine park (designated in late 2010) may change that. It’s centred on the Proselyte Reef, named for the coral-encrusted 1801 wreck HMS Proselyte. The marine park is home to whales, sharks, dolphins, sea turtles and stingrays. On your dive, you might spot schools of parrotfish, French grunts, angelfish and other tropical species.
Boulevard de France (Marigot)
On Wednesday and Saturday morning, check out the markets in Marigot, set up along the wharves on the Boulevard de France. It’s free to browse and the vendors are famous for their wide variety of produce, fish, seasonings and arts and crafts. Find high-end fashion and jewelry in a cluster of stores at the Marina Port la Royale all week long.
Cigar Emporium (Philipsburg)
If you’re looking for cigars, stop by the Cigar Emporium on Philipsburg's Front Street. The Dutch side of St. Maarten paved the path in tobacco production but there are farms across the entire island and tobacco still plays a major role in the local culture. Pick up a case of chocolate-flavoured cigars from this store. They’re hand-rolled nearby.
Ruby Bute (Philipsburg)
Ruby Bute is a poet, a painter, a storyteller and the sole proprietor of a flourishing shop that sell prints, books, customized greeting cards and other creations. Her art studio is a little out of the way in St. Martin, but the trek to get there is worth it.
Get a print from Ruby Bute’s store. Not only are they affordable, but each print has a story Bute is happy to share, if you ask. The gallery sits on her overgrown property in St. Martin. When you arrive, there’s a gate that is opened only by request.
Ma Doudou (Cul de Sac)
Rum on the island is legendary and infused with folklore. Distilling dates back to the 1800s when private homes produced it from plentiful sugar cane by-products.
Ma Doudou is a hard-to-find shop in the town of Cul de Sac in St. Martin that’s worth hunting down. The bottles are hand-painted and there are smooth flavours including banana vanilla.
Guavaberry Emporium (Philipsburg)
Anything made from guavaberry is a great souvenir from the island. The Guavaberry Emporium in Philipsburg is the place to go to find everything from guavaberry barbecue sauce to guavaberry liqueurs. Or pick up a bottle of guavaberry hot sauce.
Sky’s the Limit (Grand Case, St. Martin) (Barbecue, $)
At Sky’s the Limit, one of the best lolos (outdoor barbecue stands) in Grand Case, you can dine well for less than US$10. Try the moist barbecue chicken with rice and peas, fried plantains or salad. Eat it outdoors at a picnic table and enjoy the sea breezes under a wooden roof. You can also tip back a cold beer here while you eat and people-watch.
L’Estaminet (Grand Case, St. Martin) (French, $$$-$$$$)
When Normandy native Carole Dutil and chef Ina Urfalino opened L’Estaminet on the Grand Case strip in October 2006, they knew they had to be different to succeed. Every dish is imaginative and as a result, you may dine on quinoa risotto with shrimp in an Earl Grey bouillon, accompanied by cumin-scented bread and truffle-flavoured butter.
Save room for the chocolate ball, a chocolate shell filled with cilantro-scented mango cream. The service here is polished and warm and Dutil likes to chat with the customers. Romantics should request a table at the back, far from the busy street.
Le Tastevin (Grand Case, St. Martin) (French, $$$$)
This airy waterfront restaurant in Grand Case serves classic French cuisine. The food is complemented by a wine list of more than 200 vintages – mainly French, but also Italian, Spanish and New World wines.
Favourites here include rack of lamb in a spiced Moroccan sauce, followed by vanilla profiteroles with warm chocolate sauce. Wine lovers should try the four-course tasting menu, which has two appetizers, one main course and one dessert, along with a different wine for each dish (US$113). Reservations are recommended.
Hidden Forest Café (Loterie Farm, St. Martin) (Global/International, $$-$$$)
Hidden Forest Café is a located in a zipline station at the base of a forested mountain in Loterie Farm. It’s not the kind of place you first think of for fine cuisine, but this open-air spot serves tasty tropical dishes.
Eat your meal surrounded by towering palm trees. The curry chicken salad is simple but memorable. Piled high with succulent chicken and crispy greens, it’s garnished with raisins, shredded coconut, mango chutney and sliced bananas.
Don’t miss the signature frozen drink, Sex in the Tree, a blend of vodka, strawberries, fresh ginger and lime. You can also get drinks late into the night at the attached Tree Lounge bar.
Up on the Key (Pinel Island, St. Martin) (Barbecue, $-$$)
This thatched-roof beach bar is a laid back spot on Pinel Island, a five-minute boat ride from the village of Cul de Sac. Relax with a frosty bottle of Carib beer at the bar supported by wooden barrels, or have it served to you on the adjacent lounge chairs on the beach. Out on the sand, you can get a spot with a beach umbrella, two lounge chairs and two drinks for US$21.
Families will enjoy sitting at the covered picnic tables while munching on chicken fingers, coconut shrimp, ribs and burgers. Watch for the hopeful iguanas cruising the wooden floor looking for crumbs.
The Greenhouse (Philipsburg, St. Maarten) (Pub, $$-$$$)
This casual eatery at Bobby’s Marina in Philipsburg is a great place to kick back with a group of friends. Order from a selection of burgers and nachos, or opt for the lobster or Angus beef. Wash your meal down with a frozen strawberry daiquiri, and sing along to the classic 1970s tunes playing in the background.
Enjoy two-for-one drinks (alcoholic or not) during happy hour from 4:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Challenge your fellow diners to a game of pool, or check your email as there’s free Wi-Fi inside. A second location opened in Simpson Bay in 2010.
Bamboo Bernies (Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Maho, St. Maarten) (Asian, $$$)
If you can’t last a week without your sushi fix, check out this trendy spot in busy Maho Plaza. You’ll find a variety of sushi, sashimi, rolls and ceviche on the menu here. Or try the Asian specialties like green papaya salad, pork dumplings, Shanghai noodles and tempura vegetables, along with good old-fashioned steak and ribs.
Coloured spotlights, bamboo curtains and lounge music help set a cosmopolitan tone. If you’re coming for late-night drinks and eats, retreat to the Buddha Lounge next door for sake, cocktails and small plates.
Ernest & Fidel Cafe (Porto Cupecoy, Cupecoy Bay, St. Maarten) (South American, $$)
Colombian expat Felipe Gomez opened this charming Latin American cafe in July 2010 in the Porto Cupecoy condo complex. When you arrive, settle into a huge red leather club chair under a lazily spinning ceiling fan. Order an arepa (corn tortilla) and Gomez will serve them in one of two ways. Try it Colombian-style (with the meat and veggies on top, like a small pizza), or Venezuelan-style (split open like a pita and stuffed).
The Cajun chicken arepa with chorizo, red onion and Parmesan is a good choice. There are also soups, salads, quiches and wraps, as well as a full breakfast menu and free Wi-Fi. As of June 2011, the restaurant serves breakfast and lunch only, but plans to open for dinner were in the works.
SkipJack’s Seafood Grill, Bar & Fish Market (Simpson Bay, St. Maarten) (Seafood, $$-$$$)
Fishing nets on the ceiling and life preservers on the walls make this waterfront restaurant look like other nautical-themed eateries around the world, but the food really sets it apart.
The grouper pan-fried in Parmesan breadcrumbs, served with pineapple salsa and Creole sauce, is sweetly delicious. The attached fish market – with its selection of fresh lobster, mahi mahi, mussels, salmon and more – is popular with the yacht crowd that moor their craft in the nearby marina.
Jimbo’s Rock & Blues Café (Simpson Bay, St. Maarten) (Southwest, $$-$$$)
Jimbo’s Rock & Blues Café launched in 1988 as a lolo (outdoor barbecue stand) on the French side. It later relocated to Simpson Bay and expanded into a larger space in 2003. A series of dining areas are connected by wooden bridges over water. You can also choose to sit at the half-submerged bar.
Tasty and filling Tex-Mex dishes such as enchiladas and burritos come with rice, beans, cornbread and salad. There’s also a US$9 kids menu. The signature dessert is a sizzling brownie sundae, served on a hot plate. Service is prompt and friendly.
Golf and spa
La Samanna Spa (La Samanna Resort and Spa, Terres Basses, St. Martin) ($$$$)
This small, charming spa is located in Terres Basses on the French side of the island. Inside, the dark wood and Asian statues contrast nicely with eye-popping orange accents. The wide array of treatments includes Swedish, hot stone, Thai and Ayurvedic massages. You can also get anti-aging facials and teeth whitening. There’s even a special menu for children ages five to 12. The spa is very popular, so try to book your treatment before you get here.
Le Spa (Radisson Blu Resort Marina & Spa, Anse Marcel, St. Martin) ($$$$)
The drive to the posh Radisson Blu hotel is an exciting journey along a steep, narrow road. The reward at the end is Le Spa, a six-room hideaway where you can request coloured lighting in your treatment room to match your mood. Get a massage outdoors or try intriguing treatments such as a salt, green tea and ginger body scrub and a massage with shea butter, frangipani and lotus flower oils.
Le Temple du Soin (Cripple Gate, St. Martin) ($$)
If your time, budget and interest don’t extend to a whole day at the spa, try an a la carte treatment at Le Temple du Soin in Cripple Gate (between Marigot and Friar’s Bay). Services include manicures, pedicures, massages, facials, hairstyling, waxing and makeup application. Children under 16 get a 25 per cent discount. Reasonably priced half-day packages are also available.
Mullet Bay Golf Course
As the only golf game on the island, Mullet Bay Golf Course offers visitors golfers a chance to swing the sticks in the Caribbean sun. At its best, when the rains have helped green the fairways and soften the turf (there is no irrigation system on the course), Mullet Bay offers you a fun and unpretentious golf experience.
At 6,200 yards, this par-71 course plays around and alongside the Mullet Bay Lagoon. The easiest way to arrange to play the course is through the island’s St. Maarten Golf Association, which is made up of volunteers who largely look after the course.
Mullet Bay was once the crowning achievement of golf on St. Maarten. However, the attached 600-room resort and casino was closed indefinitely following the destruction caused by Hurricane Luis in September of 1995. The golf course was reopened and has been running off and on ever since.
There are exciting water-carrying shots, like on the 12th hole. As of June 2011, green fees were US$45 per round and an additional US$45 for a golf cart.
Take a day trip to Pinel Island (St. Martin) (all ages)
Pinel Island is a tiny island to the east side of St. Martin. It’s a 10-minute boat ride from the village of Cul de Sac and a popular day trip for families.
The shallow, sandy-bottomed beach is one of the safest beaches in the area for small children, and older kids may enjoy the island’s gentle hiking trails. Three beach bars serve family-friendly fare. Small boats shuttle back and forth from the island all day between about 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. and cost around US$7 per person.
Learn more about butterflies at The Butterfly Farm (St. Martin) (all ages)
The Butterfly Farm (Ferme des Papillons) is a tranquil spot that fascinates wildlife lovers of all ages, although some teens may find it a bit tame. Step into the mesh enclosure and be dazzled by orange monarchs, startling blue morphos, delicate swallowtails and more. There are about 30 varieties and about 500 butterflies in total.
Take one of the fun and educational tours. Visit in the morning, when the butterflies are the most active. To attract them, wear perfume and bright clothing. Your entry ticket is good for your entire vacation, so you can come back multiple times. The Butterfly Farm is open every day from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and the last tour starts at 3 p.m.
Go parasailing in Philipsburg (St. Maarten) (all ages)
As soon as your kids see people suspended from parachutes behind a speedboat, they may be asking you if they can try parasailing. Fortunately, whether they’re toddlers or teens, there are no age restrictions for parasailing trips from Bobby’s Marina in Philipsburg with Size Matters Adventures.
The only rules are that young children must fly tandem with a parent and the combined weight must be between 90 and 400 lbs. The experience includes a one-hour boat ride and eight to 10 minutes in the air. Prices start at US$38 and vary depending on the length of the rope (which determines how high you go). Bobby’s Marina is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, with early-bird specials before 9 a.m.
Try a sweet, delicious dessert at Carousel Gelateria and Bar (St. Maarten) (all ages)
After a day in the tropical sun, a milkshake, a sundae or a dish of gelato from Carousel Gelateria and Bar will definitely hit the spot. You can also dig into warm crepes and waffles here. This spacious ice cream shop in Cole Bay also has a glittery Italian carousel at the back of the shop that overlooks the water. It’s open from 2 p.m. to midnight.
View the animals at the St. Maarten Zoo (St. Maarten) (age 10 and under)
St. Maarten Zoo is located a few minutes’ drive from downtown Philipsburg, on the opposite side of The Great Salt Pond. It’s the biggest zoo in the Caribbean and has well-maintained enclosures of parrots, monkeys, reptiles and other small creatures (as well as a few ostriches). It’s mostly geared towards families with younger children.
Buy a couple of paper bags of peanuts at the entrance. The parrots will become your new best friends. Near the exit, there’s a playground that includes a pirate ship complete with nets and slides for your kids to climb into. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Entry costs US$10 for adults and US$5 for kids age three to 11.
Zip along the Philipsburg boardwalk on a Segway (St. Maarten) (age 10 and up)
For the tweens and teens who don’t want to just simply walk anywhere, Caribbean Segway Tours offer short 30- to 60-minute Segway rides along the busy Philipsburg boardwalk.
After a short instructional and safety talk, put on your helmet and you’re your balance on a Segway, an electric vehicle that’s an odd mix of unicycle and scooter. You’ll turn heads and have a blast. Tours begin and end at the Holland House Hotel.
Go fly a kite along the beach (St. Maarten)
In January 2010, Texans Jonathon and Kim Davis opened Caribbean Kites. Your kids can choose from a huge range of kites – stunt kites, box kites, flat kites, parafoils and more – as well as classic toys like boomerangs, rubber balls and yo-yos.
Kite flyers should head to the beaches along the island’s eastern (windward) side, such as Le Galion Beach, Orient Beach and Dawn Beach.
Le Shore (Grand Case, St. Martin) (Bar, $$$)
This Moroccan-style bar and restaurant overlooking Grand Case Beach is open every night, but Mojito Mondays are the highlight. Reserve or arrive before 9 p.m. to get a low-slung table at the water’s edge. Listen to the surf and the cool club music the DJs spin on the other side of the floodlit pool.
At Le Shore, snack on chicken satay, shrimp kebabs and other tapas while sipping large, mint-stuffed mojitos. The action heats up and the music gets louder as the night progresses.
Kali’s Beach Bar (Friar’s Bay Beach, St. Martin) (Bar, $$)
Hours at this casual bar on Friar’s Bay Beach (Anse des Pères) are irregular but its worth a visit. If it’s open, there’s a good chance you may catch some live music. Once a month, Kali’s hosts a full moon party that’s legendary for its reggae bands, bonfire and late-night activities.
Lord Sheffield (Philipsburg, St. Maarten) (Bar, $$$)
Start your night with a floating cocktail party aboard the tall ship known as the Lord Sheffield. Tuesday through Friday, tour operator Lord Sheffield Tall Ship Adventures offers a Sunset Soiree cruise. It features a full open bar, appetizers and barbecued chicken and ribs. The fun starts at the Dock Maarten marina in Philipsburg with a pre-cruise cocktail party at 4:30 p.m. Then the Lord Sheffield sets sail until 7:30 p.m.
Ocean Lounge Bar and Restaurant (Holland House Beach Hotel, Philipsburg, St. Maarten) (Lounge, $$)
On Philipsburg’s busy boardwalk, the Ocean Lounge Restaurant and Bar at the Holland House Beach Hotel is a serene retreat. Settle onto a cushioned rattan couch, shaded by a huge cream-coloured umbrella, and unwind to the sounds of jazz, reggae or Euro-lounge music.
Take in the superb view of Great Bay Beach as you sip a martini, frozen mango colada or a glass of wine. The tapas choices here are inventive. Don’t miss the crostini with brie, honey and walnut tapenade. Prices are reasonable.
Topper’s (Simpson Bay and Pelican Key, St. Maarten) (Karaoke, $$)
If you want to sing along to “Margaritaville” or “Sweet Caroline”, join the enthusiastic crowds at Topper’s in Simpson Bay for karaoke night on Thursdays.
You can also visit Topper’s by the Sea at the Flamingo Beach Resort in Pelican Key on Fridays. The Pelican Key location also has a Caribbean show on Mondays, and a lively Broadway cabaret on Thursdays. At both locations, try a free sample of the bar’s rum liqueurs with flavours such as apple pie and banana vanilla cinnamon.
Casino Royale (Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Maho, St. Maarten) (Casino, $-$$$$)
The Dutch side is home to a dozen casinos. The Casino Royale at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort has valet parking, 20 gaming tables, a poker room, a high-stakes section and 450 slot machines. If you play, you get free drinks and a free late-night buffet.
Privé (Simpson Bay, St. Maarten) (Lounge, $$)
This hookah and music lounge overlooking Simpson Bay attracts a diverse crowd of visitors and locals, from 20-somethings to boomers. The bar frequently hosts product launch parties and other special events. There’s no cover charge.
Bliss (The Caravanserai Beach Resort, St. Maarten) (Dance Club, $$$)
With its velvet ropes, steely-eyed bouncers, bottle service and celebrity guest DJs, Bliss is as close as St. Maarten gets to Manhattan. The open-air beachfront club has poolside cabanas for you to relax in. It’s open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 p.m. until very late. There’s a cover charge on weekends.
Sky Beach Rooftop Beach and Lounge (Maho, St. Maarten) (Lounge, $$)
If you didn’t get enough sand during the day, then head to this rooftop club in Maho at night. At Sky Beach, you can play beach volleyball or curl up in a four-poster bed with your entourage. Watch out for the floor-level tiki torches. It’s open Wednesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. After 1 a.m., the action moves indoors and downstairs to the metallic-walled bar.
Tantra (Maho, St. Maarten) (Dance club, $$$)
Tantra is a sprawling club with an Asian vibe. It is run by the same company that owns the St. Maarten sushi restaurant Bamboo Bernies. Look for a giant Chinese dragon twisting down the middle of the spiral staircase, and huge replicas of terra cotta warriors. Catch house music upstairs and hip-hop, dance, Top 40 and more downstairs, all spun by different DJs.
Sail around the island of St. Maarten on a catamaran
If sun, sand and snorkelling are on your vacation checklist, slather on the sunscreen and take the daylong “Friday Farewell Party” sailing trip with the Too Rhum Punch tour with Eagle Tours.
At one beach, the crew even lowers a “floating bar” – a tray on a modified life preserver – into the water, so guests can sip and swim. The round-the-island itinerary starts at 9 a.m. from Bobby’s Marina in Philipsburg and can vary from there, depending on the weather. You will probably stop to swim at uninhabited Tintamarre Island and take a snorkel break near Creole Rock.
After a three-course lunch at the beachside Calmos Cafe in Grand Case (no need to change out of your bathing suit), you move on to a final swimming stop at Long Bay (Baie Longue) or Red Bay (Baie Rouge). Listen to the music of the Eagles and Bob Marley as the boat sails back to Philipsburg.
The sailing trip costs US$104 per person and includes a round-trip hotel shuttle. Fruity rum drinks (as well as beer and non-alcoholic beverages) flow freely on this eight-hour trip.
Head out to St. Barts on a high-speed ferry
Feel as if you’re a part of the international jet set with a daytrip to St. Barts. Take a 40-minute high-speed ferry ride with Great Bay Express from Bobby’s Marina in Philipsburg. It leaves first thing in the morning and runs daily.
In Gustavia, the capital of St. Barts, window-shop at the boutiques with luxury goods from well-known names like Hermès and Cartier. Indulge in a brioche and cafe au lait, but don’t miss the last ferry back to St. Maarten at 6:30 p.m. The cost is US$76 per adult, US$56 per child.
Learn about local history in Marigot and Philipsburg
St. Maarten has a fascinating history that you can discover at the local museums.
In Marigot, the displays at the St. Martin Museum (US$5 per person) cover the period before European contact, the island’s geology and flora, the first European settlements and later history.
In Philipsburg, visit the Sint Maarten National Heritage Foundation & Museum (admission is free but donations are encouraged). The museum’s founder is Elsje Bosch, who immigrated to the island from the Netherlands in 1977. The history on the Dutch side of the island is covered here.
Both museums are open Monday to Friday with limited hours on Saturdays and closed Sundays. Make sure to set aside 30 minutes to an hour for each.
Ride your bike from Cole Bay to Marigot
See both sides of the island on a three-hour cycling tour from Cole Bay to Marigot and back with Tri-Sport. Mountain bikers can tackle a network of old cattle paths, but less-adventurous riders are welcome to stick to the road.
The tour includes a short hike to Fort Louis in Marigot, which offers spectacular views of the town, the harbour and Anguilla in the distance. The fee (US$46 per person) includes your rental bike and helmet. Tours are available all week except for Sunday.
Enjoy a meal with a view of Orient Bay
Make the 15-minute drive from Grand Case and bring your camera to capture the vista at the aptly named Paradise View restaurant. The simple menu features salads, crepes, sandwiches and burgers (from US$7).
If you’re only here for the million-dollar view of Orient Beach, with the hills of St. Barts in the distance, you don’t have to sit down and eat. The photographic opportunities from the parking lot are already outstanding.
Nearby, vendors sell postcards, beach wraps and T-shirts to the steady stream of travellers who come to take photos. The restaurant is open six days a week for breakfast and lunch, and Friday through Sunday for dinner. It’s closed Tuesdays.
Relax on the almost-deserted Sandy Island
For true peace and quiet, visit Sandy Island, just off the coast of Anguilla. It’s so small, you can probably stroll around the island in about 11 minutes. There’s little to do here beyond eating, drinking, swimming and sleeping – which is exactly the way the patrons like it.
The easiest way to get there is an all-day trip by private boat charter. The water sports desk at the Grand Case Beach Club on the French side offers day trips on Fridays (US$126 per person, plus US$14 tax).
If you’re looking for a similar but slightly larger destination, try Prickly Pear Island. Bluebeard Charters and Aqua Mania Adventures both run daytrips from Simpson Bay (US$80 per adult and $38 per child, plus US$11 departure tax per person).
Given its partly French heritage, it’s not a surprise that St. Maarten is an island where food is celebrated. Just about everywhere you turn, you’ll find plenty of choices for dining and shopping for food. There are plenty of restaurants on St. Maarten but for a true taste of this cosmopolitan island, follow the locals and visit the island’s markets, grocery stores and barbecue shacks.
Browse St. Maarten’s food markets
The waterfront food market in Marigot is open seven days a week. It’s a great spot to pick up produce, fish and more. Come before 11 a.m. for the best selection and check out the Kalina stall for local spices and bottles of organic vanilla and pineapple hot sauce.
If you’re looking for a special bottle of wine, several shops stock thousands of bottles from around the world. In Marigot, try Le Goût du Vin or Vinissimo (which has a sister shop, Vini’s Vino, on the Dutch side in Simpson Bay). Or pick up a bottle of the island’s famed guavaberry liqueur at the Guavaberry Emporium in Philipsburg.
Try local delicacies at St. Maarten’s outdoor barbecue stands
When you’re in St. Maarten, don’t miss the opportunity to try inexpensive local specialties at the outdoor barbecue stands known as lolos. You’ll find them on roadsides and beaches throughout the island, but they’re particularly widespread on the French side. Some of the menu items can be unfamiliar until you know the lingo, which blends French, Creole, Dutch and other languages.
Christophene is a mild-tasting gourd often prepared like potatoes. Callaloo is a leafy green vegetable, a bit like spinach; it’s often served in a thick, spicy soup with okra and pork.
Seafood is popular throughout St. Maarten, so lolos often serve accras (salt cod fritters), lambi (conch), langouste (lobster) and gambas (prawns).
If you’re ordering boudin (sausages), make sure you know the difference between the two main types: boudin blanc is made from conch meat, while boudin noir is a pork blood sausage.
On the Dutch side, you may encounter bitterballen (fried meat croquettes served with mustard) and pumpkin flapjacks. And all over St. Maarten you’ll see patties (hot meat turnovers) and rotis (soft Indian-style wraps with spicy fillings like curried chicken or goat).
Johnnycakes are also common, but Canadians may not immediately recognize them. Unlike the traditional New England cornmeal griddlecakes, the St. Maarten versions are made with wheat flour and fried.
Discover St. Martin’s food scene
On the French side of the island, you can find the big US Market supermarket just outside Grand Case and the smaller branch in the Sandy Ground area of Marigot. Both offer a selection of French food at reasonable prices.
Quench your thirst with bottled waters like Evian, Perrier, Vichy and Vittel. Or choose from French cheeses including boxes of Vache qui rit (Laughing Cow), big chunks of Bleu de Bresse and wheels of creamy Reblochon de Savoie. A couple of fresh baguettes make the perfect accompaniment. For dessert, pick up a bag of imported madeleines.
Both stores have a great selection of French and international wines and the Marigot location has its own bar. After you finish picking up your groceries, sit down at a marble-topped table at the Galerie Dupont with a cafe au lait or a digestif and a copy of the daily newspaper.
Go gourmet food shopping in St. Maarten
When you visit the Dutch side of the island, go to Le Grand Marche. The large branch on Bush Road in Philipsburg carries a wide variety of international food. You’ll find everything from English mincemeat, French mustard and Danish cookies to Italian pesto, Greek tapenade, and green sauce from Guyana.
Look for packaged goods from the Netherlands and imported Canadian durum atta flour (for making chapatti, roti and other South Asian breads). Even the small branches called Le Gourmet Marche have a great selection of imported goods.
Calendar of events
Heineken Regatta (March)
This is the biggest regatta in the Caribbean. It is held between Philipsburg and Marigot over three days in early March and has been going strong for more than 30 years. It draws competitors from all over the world, including the U.K., the Netherlands, Lithuania, Turkey and Argentina. Sailors come here to compete, of course, but everyone else comes for the non-stop concerts and parties on shore.
St. Maarten Carnival (April)
St. Martin – St. Maarten actually has two Carnivals. Festivities on the French side take place on the five days before Ash Wednesday, while the Dutch-side celebration takes over the other side of the island for the last 17 days of April. Both weeks feature concerts ranging from reggae to soca (a style of music from Trinidad and Tobago), plus parades and a “jump-up” – a long, late party of musicians and masked dancers that ends with the ceremonial burning of an effigy of the Carnival king.
Fish Day (May)
On the first Sunday in May, thousands of visitors come to the small village of Cul de Sac on the French side to celebrate fishermen and their catches. Highlights include dozens of lolos (outdoor barbecue restaurants) cooking up fresh seafood, a boat race from Grand Case to Cul de Sac and concerts by local musicians.
Captain Oliver’s Regatta (May)
Smaller and less busy than the big Heineken Regatta, this race takes place over the third weekend in May. It is centred on Captain Oliver’s Resort, which straddles the French-Dutch border at Oyster Pond. The nightly buffet gives locals and visitors a chance to munch and mingle.
Bastille Day (July)
Like the rest of France, the French side of St. Martin marks this national holiday on July 14. It’s a lively event with plenty of dancers dressed up in sparkly costumes and live music. Everyone strolls the streets and joins in the fun. A parade gets the party started with the singing of the French national anthem and marching bands.