- St. Maarten/St. Martin, Caribbean
5 THINGS TO SEE AND DO HERE:
- Grab a drink or lunch at Sunset Beach Bar while you wait to watch the jets take off and land over Maho Beach.
- Take a circle island tour and see both the Dutch and the French sides of the island. (If you collect foreign coins like I do, this island has two different types of currency so be sure to get both- the Euro and the Netherlands Antillean guilder.)
- Hike up to Fort Louis on the French side of the island to take in the stunning views of Marigot Bay
- Rent a boat and get a different perspective of the island
- Visit Orient Bay Beach
WHERE WE STAYED:
- N/A- We stopped here for the day on a cruise
LODGING COST (PER NIGHT):
- N/A- We stopped here for the day on a cruise
OUR RECOMMENDATIONS FOR DOING THIS TRIP:
- This island is INSANELY busy! Multiple cruise ships are usually docked here which means tens of thousands of tourists pouring off of the ships each day looking to see and do all of the same things you will be wanting to. Give yourself plenty of time to account for traffic when getting from A to B and book things ahead of time if you can.
- If you only have the day like we did, going on a circle island tour is a good way to see both sides of the island and its highlights. Don’t be scared away by the prices of these taxi tours! If you only have 1 or 2 people in your group, no worries-they will pair you with another group until they fill the taxi van. The cost goes down significantly per person when the van is filled 🙂 However, I would recommend trying to find a tour in either an open air vehicle, or one with large windows. We were in a large extended van and felt really cramped! At times, it was hard to see the sights out of the windows. But the driver let us out at all of the main attractions and overlooks to take photos or hang out for awhile depending on the particular stop, so it was still a really great way to get the most out of your time on the island.
THE FULL STORY:
St. Maarten has the bluest water I have ever seen. I’m talking postcard-picturesque turquoise blue water with white sandy beaches!
Before arriving, I didn’t know much about the island. All I had ever heard about this place was that there were two ways to spell its name, which was confusing to me, and there were nude beaches. Not being one who has ever cared to witness the beached whales or wrinkly old men that usually frequent nude beaches (sorry, but you know it’s true), the island had never been high on my bucket list. However, upon arriving, I found out just how wrong I had been about the place! There was so much more to the island and it was stunningly beautiful from almost every angle!
We only had 8 hours on the island so we decided to take a circle island tour in one of the local taxis so that we could see the whole island and decide which area we might like to visit again in the future when we go back. The taxi stands were located just outside of the cruise ship terminal. Our hearts sunk a little when we saw the tour prices: $120-$200 for 2 people! Ouch! Knowing we couldn’t afford that, we started talking to other tourists to see if they would be interested in sharing the taxi with us. The price dropped down to $45 when the group included more people. We finally found a nice couple that agreed to split with us because they were having the same predicament. However, we found out later that we could’ve just asked the taxi company to place us with another group and saved ourselves all the hassle 🙂 But either way, it ended up working out! We were all 4 placed with a German family in a 12 person taxi van.
The van was not ideal for taking photos as the windows were short and tinted, however, the driver stopped at several key locations and let us out for 10-20 minutes at each stop to look around and take photos, and we spent an hour on the French side and another hour at Orient Bay Beach.
Our first stop was at a pair of scenic overlooks- the first with a great view of the Philipsburg harbor and the Great Bay where our ship was docked and the second on the way to Maho Beach.
From the second stop we were able to watch the sailing regatta that was taking place. There were TONS of people on the island for this and the band UB40 was even there to play for the sailors after the regatta! We were kind of sad that we weren’t going to be around to hear them play and join in the festivities later that evening!
Our next stop was the famous Maho Beach.
This particular beach is very well known because the Princess Juliana International Airport is situated just opposite the street from it. When planes take off and land, it is quite an event! The blast from the jets taking off create a momentary sandstorm on the beach and nearly knock spectators off their feet!
The planes that are landing look like they might just brush the top of your head as they are coming in because the runway is literally on the other side of the road from the beach. There is a bar on the beach there called the Sunset Bar and Grill. They have screens throughout the place just like when you are in an airport that show arrivals and departures so tourists know when to expect the next airplane.
Our taxi driver let us out here for a 20 minute stop. We saw a couple of small planes landing but nothing taking off. We waited until the very last second of our 20 minutes hoping to experience a plane take off. Our entire tour group had already walked back to the taxi punctually like good little tourists, but Dustin and I pushed our luck and stayed back because we finally saw some activity on the runway and we really wanted to see one take off! We weren’t about to go all the way to Maho Beach and miss seeing a plane take off! Finally, a large jet was preparing for departure! We stood directly behind the plane on the beach side of the road.
When the jets started up, a wave of heat hit us and an insane amount of wind shook us to the core! I was video recording everything and I could barely hold my arms still to steady the camera! After seeing how much sand blew around when the plane took off, I was surprised that there was any left on the beach! We had sand everywhere after that! In our hair, in our mouth, in our nose! But it was so worth it! Such a neat one-of-a-kind experience!
After finally seeing something take off, we bolted back to the taxi where our group was waiting for us. We felt a little bad for keeping them waiting but not really because we were the only ones in the group that were fortunate enough to see a plane take off and couldn’t believe they didn’t hang around to see it!
Next, we headed to the French side of the island. Our driver took us down the main street and parked at the foot of Fort Louis near the shops/marinas and let us out for an hour to explore at our leisure.
Dustin and I aren’t big shoppers so we opted to hike to the top of the fort to check out the views. There are paved steps all the way to the top so when I say “hike”, I am using the term loosely! This was not a strenuous hike by any means!
The view of Marigot Bay was magnificent! There were tons of sailboats and catamarans dotting the teal blue harbor.
The ruins of the fort were neat to check out as well! The landscape there looked similar to photos I’ve seen of old Irish castles and countryside, but with the beautiful Caribbean sea in the backdrop.
We found this little guy sunbathing with a view!
After our free time was over, we met back up with our group and made our way to Orient Bay Beach. Knowing this was a clothing optional beach, we didn’t have much interest in spending a lot of time there because that’s not really our cup of tea. But this was another hour long stop on the tour so we made the most of it and decided to grab a piña colada at a beach bar and have a laugh at the people passing by.
There was one old man in particular who thought he was hot stuff! He was standing on a row of rocks and posing in his birthday suit for tourist to take photos. Not sure if he was a little off his rocker or if he was just very proud, but it was hilarious! Of course we snapped a couple photos as a humorous memento from our time there.
The last stop that our tour guide made was in the capitol city of the Dutch side, Philipsburg. Most everyone else got off here, but Dustin and I rode the rest of the way back to the ship with our tour guide so that we wouldn’t have to pay another taxi fare to get back later on. We went through a few of the shops when we got back near the port to get some souvenirs and found a vendor to exchange some money with us so we could add some Netherlands Antillean guilders to our coin collection.
Both sides of the island definitely had their own perks. We really enjoyed both and it was neat to see the different cultural influences throughout the different parts of the island. This island seemed cleaner than most overall and I would definitely like to return someday and spend more time here, exploring the island in depth and being able to relax a little more. Cruises are a great way to see a little of a lot of places but I felt really rushed in each place because I was never ready to leave when we had to! All the islands were so beautiful!
Once we got back onto the ship that evening, the sky was glowing from a gorgeous sunset. Dustin and I said farewell to this beautiful paradise from the bow of our cruise ship as it left port in St. Maarten, destined for Puerto Rico.