At once French and Dutch, this 37-square-mile island has a unique mix of cultures that can be found nowhere else in the Caribbean.
The Dutch side (St. Maarten) is in the south and the French side (St. Martin) is in the north but traveling between them is easy, which means a whole lot more to see and do for visitors. Here are some of the best things to do in St. Martin and St. Maarten.
Hit the beach
With beaches being one of the main attractions on the island, and with so many different options to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. Maho Bay Beach in St. Maarten is probably the most famous of all the island’s beaches, on account of its location at the end of the end of the airport runway. It’s a great spot for swimming and windsurfing however the main highlight is the sight of huge aeroplanes flying in and out just overhead.
Mullet Bay Beach also pulls in its share of tourists and is as beautiful as you’d imagine a Caribbean beach could be, with swaying palms and white, powdery sands lapped by clear, calm sea. In St. Martin, head to Baie Rouge Beach which is named after its reddish-colored sands.
The huge boulders and rock formations at either end of the beach afford sunbathers some privacy, and the snorkeling here is some of the best on the island. Orient Beach is another top spot with a protected lagoon and plenty of nearby shops, restaurants, and bars. This beach is also clothing-optional and is home to Club Orient, a family-friendly naturist resort popular with locals and visitors alike.
Shop ’til you drop
As the only 100% duty-free island in the Caribbean, it’s no wonder that shopping is as popular as sunbathing on the sunny beaches. With prices significantly lower than in the United States and the UK, the island offers deals on everything from liquor and cigars to designer clothes, jewelry, and electrical goods.
The island is a free port with no local sales taxes or VAT, so the price you see is the price you pay – and it’s always guaranteed to be a bargain. Front Street in Philipsburg is known for its abundance of jewelry shops and has a good selection of stores that sell china, crystalware, and perfumes. A beach boardwalk stretches along the street offering the perfect place to relax and refuel. Other places to look out for are the island’s shopping malls and art galleries, as well as the smaller souvenir shops where you can purchase local handicrafts and locally produced food and drink.
Visit an ancient fort
Built in 1631 as the Caribbean’s first-ever Dutch bastion, Fort Amsterdam is one of St. Maarten’s oldest historic sites. Situated on a southern peninsula between Great Bay and Little Bay, the fort was later seized by the Spanish who made it one of their most important garrisons before abandoning it in 1648. Only its ruins and rusted cannons remain, but it’s a great place to visit for anyone interested in the island’s military history. The site is home to an array of local wildlife and boasts stunning views of Philipsburg and the surrounding islands. You can walk to it easily via the Divi Little Bay beach resort on Little Bay Road.
Sample the nightlife
Both St. Martin and St. Maarten are equally famous for their vibrant dining and nightlife scenes. There are hundreds of restaurants on the island serving almost every kind of food, plus an almost unlimited array of beach bars, cocktail lounges, and nightclubs. On the Dutch side, the main areas for dining and nightlife are Philipsburg, Simpson Bay, Maho, and Cupecoy. On the French side, most of the best restaurants are in Marigot and Grand Case (known as the ‘Gourmet Capital’ of the Caribbean). There are some great restaurants and beach bars in the Orient Bay, Oyster Pond and Nettle Bay areas too – these have a more casual beachside vibe.
Hike to the island’s highest point
At 424 meters high, Pic Paradis in St. Martin is the highest point on the island. The summit offers sweeping panoramic views over the entire island, and out to the neighboring islands too.
Pic Paradis is a popular starting point for many organized tours and it can be accessed easily by foot or by car. Nature lovers will relish the walking trails which showcase the island’s rich tropical landscape and some fascinating historic sites.
You can see the abandoned hamlet of Petit-Fond, as well as Concordia Hill, where the Treaty of Concordia between the French and the Dutch was signed in 1648. The area is home to the Hope Estate Archaeological Site where you can explore the remains of an Arawak village, and the Loterie Farm Reserve which operates hiking and zip-lining excursions and has a swimming pool, restaurant, and cocktail lounge.
Have a clay bath
Located just 2 miles off the northeast coast of St. Martin, lies the flat 80-acre island of Tintamarre. This protected nature reserve is home to a gorgeous beach and several private sandy coves perfect for swimming and snorkeling.
In addition to beaches, there is an abandoned airstrip and rail track, along with a derelict cotton plantation. Tintamarre’s main attraction though is its clay mud baths. These therapeutic mud baths are renowned for their skin-soothing effects and are the only clothing-optional mud baths in the entire Caribbean.
Tintamarre is just a short boat ride away from St. Martin, and it’s easy to book a charter for a half or full day to enjoy the beaches, baths, and local wildlife.
Try the island’s favorite tipple
Guavaberries grow in abundance on the island and are used to produce St. Maarten’s national drink, Guavaberry liqueur. It was first made centuries ago in private homes, today it is produced at the Sint Maarten Guavaberry Company and is an integral part of local culture and tradition.
Bottles of Guavaberry liqueur are traditionally drunk at Christmas in the region, and guavaberry-based cocktails are available in almost every restaurant and bar in St. Maarten.
The Guavaberry Company is located in Philipsburg and is open for shopping and rum sampling – visitors can also buy refreshing Guavaberry coladas to take away.
Go butterfly spotting
The Butterfly Farm in St. Martin is home to some 40 species of butterflies, and as many as 600 insects that live in the lush tropical reserve. It’s a great place for a day trip and tickets, which include a guided tour, are reusable for a return visit.
The farm has a great shop selling a large selection of butterfly-related souvenirs, and refreshments are available in the shaded cafés outside.
Check out famous movie memorabilia
Located among the bric-a-brac stores on St. Maarten’s Front Street, the Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit is one of the Caribbean’s most popular and unusual tourist attractions. This fascinating enterprise boasts an unprecedented showcase of movie memorabilia from some of the biggest blockbusters of all time.
The exhibit is the brainchild of Nick Maley, an international artist famous for creating Yoda and other Star Wars creatures. Nicknamed ‘That Yoda Guy’, the special effects wizard shares his artistic endeavors through the exhibit’s collection of life casts, film relics, and behind-the-scenes mementos.
There is an on-site shop selling souvenirs, and the ‘Yoda Guy’ is usually happy to give autographs and pose for photos.
Kick back in a luxury villa
The island is home to some of the finest villas in the entire Caribbean, so you may just want to kick back and relax in complete comfort and privacy. Homes are located at top spots across the island and offer excellent amenities including private swimming pools with hot tubs, spacious indoor/outdoor living areas and gorgeous ocean views.
There are so many things to do in St. Martin/ St. Maarten that it would be impossible to include them all in this article, but if you do need any more information then our friendly team is here to help. Additionally, our dedicated concierge team can arrange any added extras you need such as great-value car hire.