One of the most culturally diverse and buzzing places in the Caribbean, St. Maarten/Martin has something for everyone. From its world class French and Creole cuisine in Grand Case, the pristine white sands of Orient Bay and the New Orleans vibe of Marigot on the French side of the Island, to the Casinos, watersports and booze-cruising of Philipsburg and 5-star pampering in the Dutch south, you'll be more than spoilt for choice.
Though the Dutch-French border is open for all transit, the differences are quite stark between each side. While the Dutch south has the full holiday resort feel, with activities, (junk)food and casinos to keep the beachgoer entertained, we thoroughly recommend the French north for a more laid-back and classy vibe, and especially for its markets and mouth-watering cuisine. You are likely to find more affordable accommodation here, though the Euro prices for commodities make day to day expenses somewhat more than in the Dollar-driven south.
On Tuesday nights, the fishing village of Grand Case enters carnival atmosphere with authentic Caribbean street food, local artwork and the restaurants open 'till late. French wine and delicacy lovers may find premium offerings here that are available perhaps nowhere else in the Caribbean. Marigot, the capital of the French side, plays host to a large market on Wednesdays and Saturdays as well as offering a selection of nice restaurants to spend the evening.
On the Dutch side, Philipsburg is worthy of mention for its downtown jewellery and liquor stores, selling among other things the famous regional Guavaberry rum. It also has a vibrant and well-kept seafront promenade that draws the cruise ship crowds during the day but unfortunately offers little in terms of nightlife.
With colourful and unadulterated Anguilla just a stone's throw away you can also get a feel for the colonial British vibe, swim with Dolphins or play Golf at the designer CuisinArt course. Not to be missed if you're visiting SXM. Just take one of our quick speedboat services over the channel, keeping your eyes peeled for dolphins and seasonal whales!
A little further off to the south, using one of our high speed ferry services, you can bask in the glamour of French Riviera on St. Barthélemy. This gorgeous millionaire island is well worth at least a day trip, but to truly enjoy its lavish splendour a few nights' stay are a must. For the adventurous, off to the west you'll find the volcanic outcrop that is Saba Island, offering an isolated retreat on steep tropical slopes. This terrain continues underwater for some of the most spectacular and diverse diving in the Caribbean. You can book ferry services online using our homepage search box.
BEST PLACES TO VISIT ON ST. MARTIN/MAARTEN
Grand Case - Every Tuesday night, this small coastal fishing village on the Northwest of St. Martin dons carnival atmosphere with great street food, entertainment and local arts & crafts. Grand Case also plays host to some of the finest dining on the Island, and we personally recommend the superb world class French cuisine at L'Auberge Gourmande - by far our highest rated place to dine in the region, serving mouth-watering dishes exploding with flavour and cooked to absolute perfection.
Great, affordable local Creole food can be enjoyed a short walk further up the street in Scooby's restaurant. For excellent lunches on the beach, head to Calmos Café a few doors up from Scooby's. Grand Case also has a picturesque beach with crystal clear water, just in front of the main promenade. Diving and watersports can be accessed and enjoyed with local establishments such as Octopus Diving, right in the village.
Marigot - The capital of the French side of the island, this small town boasts a hill fort and charming architecture reminiscent of New Orleans as well as large frequent markets and a classy marina. Marigot is one of the few places on the Island that has a healthy nightlife, as the Cruise Ship port is far away so the locals and tourists congregate here to enjoy the evening in French style.
From Marigot, you can catch one of our modern fast ferries to sail just over an hour to the glamorous neighbouring island of St. Barthélemy, which offers the exclusive allure of very best of Rrench Riviera in the Caribbean.
Orient Bay - The most famous and pristine beach on the French side of the Island, Orient bay stretches on for kilometres and offers great water and wind sports right off the beach, as well as lush accommodation, bars and a naturist resort. Orient Bay is a clothing optional beach towards its northern stretch.
Philipsburg - The capital of the Dutch side of the island and largest settlement by far, this town is at its most vibrant during the day while the Cruise ships are moored in port. A lovely touristic promenade dotted with good eateries, bars and shops look out onto azure waters and a bright, palm studded beach.
The best Guavaberry rum in the Caribbean can be tasted and purchased from the Sint Maarten Guavaberry Company in Philipsburg town centre. Helmet diving can be experienced from Bobby's marina with Sea Trek St. Maarten, or you could try your hand at yacht racing with the 12 metre challenge. On the outskirts of town you will find casinos and spas, along with local amenities such as fast food restaurants and supermarkets.
Pic Paradis - The highest point on the island, this lush mountain offers breathtaking views of St. Maarten/Martin, the surrounding sea and islands. Our favourite spot on the slopes of Mt. Paradis is Loterie Farm which offers a trendy place to relax in the tropical canopy while enjoying perfect cocktails, book a poolside day hut or for the thrilseekers - go ziplining!
BEST THINGS TO DO ON ST. MARTIN/MAARTEN
Explore great cuisine - St Martin is renowned as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, boasting an excellent range of foods and cooking styles to enjoy during your visit to the Island, from superb French restaurants to honest local Creole grub - and almost every possible fusion in between.
As with most other islands in the Caribbean, street food is ubiquitous and well worth the hygiene risk if you dare. Great coal fire grills at the side of the road offer BBQ'd meats and corn on the cob, often garnished with homemade coleslaw and traditional peas and rice. Especially in the south, there are also plenty of American fast food chains to satisfy any post-drinks munchies.
But by far the greatest culinary delights are to be found on the French side of the island, more specifically in Grand Case. World class kitchens can be found there, Michelin star worthy if they didn't refuse to create smaller portions!
Diving & Snorkeling - There is some good beginner to intermediate diving to be had around Sint Maarten. The waters are relatively shallow, and tend to remain clear and warm throughout the year. A number of wreck dives provide slightly more challenging options for experienced divers and a wide range of marine life can be seen, from Sharks, Turtles and Dolphins to colourful tropical fish and areas of coral.
St. Martin is also great place to learn to dive and get your licence. From there you can hop across to Saba using one of our fast ferries to dive one of the most spectacular sites in the Caribbean, where the underwater rock wall supports a plethora of vibrant life. Get discounts on diving when you book a ferry with us!
For non-divers, both the French and Dutch sides of the island offer some great snorkeling opportunities, with access to many fabulous spots right from some of the island's most popular beaches. Check out our recommended St Martin snorkeling spots for more information on where to go and what to see.
Try your luck at a Casino - On the Dutch side of the island you will find several casinos, most of which are quite small and limited in variety of games offered. The biggest and most representative establishment is the Royale, located at Maho Beach Plaza. To celebrate or cheer up afterwards (depending on the outcome), you may be inclined to visit the adult entertainment club next door.
Relax in a Spa - Also located at Maho Plaza, The Good Life Spa is the largest and most well-equipped Spa facility on Sint Maarten. Nearer to Philipsburg, you'll find Indulgence by the Sea with its great views and quiet setting. Be pampered by the many different treatments on offer and enjoy exclusive discounts at either (or both) establishments as a StMartinbookings customer.
Loterie Farm Nature Reserve - A hidden gem in the heart of the island (French side), this gorgeous retreat on the lush slopes of Pic Paradis offers both adventure and classy comfort in one location. Whether it's Ziplining through the tropical heights, relaxing by the pool or simply lounging at the bar for cocktails and lunch, there's something for everyone. Individual cabanas are available for day rent and there are regular events including parties with popular DJ's providing entertainment.
Sea Trek Sint Maarten - Helmet diving/reef walking is a great way to experience the underwater world without any need for diving experience or training. Simply don the helmet and follow your guide into the clear blue waters.
You'll experience near zero gravity conditions, with the helmet keeping your feet on solid ground and providing you with normal breathing air from the surface a few metres above your head. Experience the seabed like never before, with colourful fish swimming within reach, spectacular views of the soft coral and possibly even the privilege of a sea turtle sighting. Special rates for StMartinbookings customers!
Sunset Cruise - Head over to Simpson Bay for a daily sunset cruise on the sleek Lambada, a catamaran kitted-out with a bar and sound system. Sailing into the deep orange sunset, enjoy the great atmosphere on board as you indulge in unlimited complementary drinks and take in the spectacular views of the Island. The perfect way to start a romantic evening or night on the town. Book this trip using the search box on our homepage or contact us for more details.
BEST PLACES TO EAT & DRINK ON ST. MARTIN/MAARTEN
L'Auberge Gourmande - Located in Grand Case on the French side of the island, this is by far our highest recommended restaurant in the region, and one of our all-time favourites anywhere. The food here is the stuff of dreams, bursting with flavour, cooked to perfection, the delicacies of France and the Caribbean artfully fused in one kitchen to create cuisine that cannot be praised enough. The prices are not extortionate, the wine list is excellent and the portions satisfyingly large. In short - any visit to St Martin would be incomplete without a visit to this fantastic establishment. Enjoy a free glass of champagne as a StMartinbookings customer. If it's the only thing you do on St. Martin, please for the sake of your taste buds, go!
Calmos Café - On the beach in Grand Case, this trendy shack serves up tasty and well prepared lunches and offers seating right on the beach with the clear, calm, tropical waters lapping at the shore and views of Anguilla in the distance. Calmos is also a great place to enjoy drinks, from local and imported beers to classic Caribbean cocktails.
Scooby's - Situated on the main street and beach of Grand Case, this local Creole restaurant provides good honest Caribbean grub at very affordable prices. Typical meals include fresh grilled meat or fish, Peas & Rice, Plantain and Hot sauces.
Buccaneer Bar - Located on the beach at the east end of Simpson Bay Sint Maarten, this Pirate themed bar also serves great big burgers, freshly made on a coal grill with all the trimmings. For hearty American-style food look no further. Tasty vegetarian burgers are also available on the menu.
Sunset Bar & Grill - Perhaps the most popular single location on the island, looking out onto Sunset Beach and the famed views of landing aircraft at SXM airport. Jets thunder just a few feet overhead on their approach, kicking up a sandstorm and drawing hundreds of spectators. A range of drinks and fast food is served.
NIGHTLIFE ON ST. MARTIN/MAARTEN
Tuesday night at Grand Case - This northern seaside village lights up well into the night on Tuesday evenings. The restaurants are open late; there is street food, local art and a carnival atmosphere. Plenty of bars to cruise and different cuisine to try, from high class French restaurants to local Creole BBQ's. Chill out on the quiet, pristine beach under a star studded sky, right in front of the main street.
Marigot Nightlife - Probably the most vibrant regular nightlife on the island is concentrated here. Party in one of the plentiful bars and restaurants in the town centre, mixing with islanders and tourists alike. Enjoy the distinctly French vibe and crash afterwards at some of the most affordable accommodation on St. Martin.
Maho Bay - Enjoy the various modern facilities at the resort hub at Maho Bay, Sint Maarten. Like a mini Las Vegas, you can try your luck at the Casino Royale, get your groove on at the live music bars or visit the adult entertainment club, Red Diamond.
Sunset Beach Bar - Known for its eyebrow-raising location at the unique intersection of airport runway and beach that makes SXM famous, and the fact that topless ladies are rewarded with free drinks, this bar restaurant gets very popular and busy. Sunset bar gets the party started early in the day and continues into the after-dinner hours, though not deep into the night.
Dirty Sanchez Crew Bar - This cool little beachside bar in Philipsburg is a great way to end any afternoon in the capital, watching the deep orange of a tropical sunset while sipping on an ice cold margarita. The Cocktails are made to perfection and the staff will often challenge you to complementary shots between rounds. Enjoy an extra happy hour deal when you book a ferry with us to any of the region's other islands.