Featured Destination: What to do in St. Martin
Saint Martin may be a small island, but it is one of the world’s most diverse and unique tropical destinations. Since I moved here a year ago, I have fallen in love with this delightful place and explored every corner. Saint Martin is divided into two nationalities, French Saint-Martin and Dutch Sint Maarten, and has strong cultural influences from Africa, North America, South America, and Europe. The result is a fantastic cultural composition, located in a gorgeous destination with 60 square kilometres of adventure to explore.
Places to Go:
There are many diverse points of interest to explore on Saint Martin. Whether you love touristy activities or adventuring off the beaten path, you’ll find something to fit your taste.
- Fort Louis. This is one of the oldest structures on Saint Martin, and definitely a must-do activity for your itinerary. The fort was commissioned by the last king of France, and was used to defend the island against Dutch and Spanish invaders. You’ll find the fort on a hill overlooking Marigot, the capitol of French Saint-Martin.
- Fort Amsterdam. This is Fort Louis’ Dutch counterpart. This fort is not as well-preserved as Louis, although it has more structures to explore. It was used as a fort, a radio tower, a private home, and now as a tourist attraction and historic landmark.
- The Butterfly Farm. See, touch, and hold hundreds of rare and exotic butterflies in the island’s only butterfly enclosure! Make sure you wear fruit-scented body spray when you go so that the butterflies will be attracted to you.
- The Guavaberry Emporium. Guavaberry Rum is currently Saint Martin’s only major export. If you visit the Emporium on Front Street, you can sample different flavours and buy a bottle to take home.
- The Philipsburg Boardwalk. Walk along Dutch Sint Maarten’s biggest beach and commercial center. Do some duty-free shopping, or just hang out on the beach. This strip of land has been the island’s biggest source of revenue for centuries. Long ago, settlers sold salt harvested by slaves from the salt pond and exported sugar cane grown by slaves on the plantations. Since that terrible chapter of history closed, tourism has been Philipsburg’s main focus. Thousands of visitors stream daily off cruise ships to explore the district and soak up the sun.
- Pinel Island. This small island off the French coast is a haven for nature lovers. You can hang out on the pristine little beach, or you can take a nature walk or snorkel in the island’s best-preserved reef.
- Roland Richardson’s Art Gallery. There are a lot of galleries on Saint Martin, but this one is the most prominent, and for good reason. Sir Roland is a world-famous painter, descended from builders of Fort Louis and one of the island’s leading families. His gallery is in a 200-year-old house in Marigot, and the French soldier’s old barracks make up his garage behind the garden. If you go on a Thursday, you’ll catch him at work, painting portraits upstairs.
Things to Do:
There is plenty to do on the island! I’ve been exploring for a year and I still find new things to enjoy all the time. Here are the best things I’ve found so far.
- Hike Pic Paradis. The tallest mountain on the island offers an incredible view of the blue disk of the surrounding sea as well as nearby Saint Barth’s, Anguilla, and Saba. Along the path, find remnants of an old sugar plantation and maybe even wild monkeys! You can zip line down the mountain, if you’re up for it.
- Watersports at Orient Bay Beach. Orient Bay boasts the island’s longest strip of beach, and dozens of shops on the sand rent kayaks, paddle boards, and snorkel equipment to beachgoers. My suggestion is to paddle board from the beach to Green Cay. Along the way, keep your eyes out for rays and turtles in the water below!
- Scuba Dive. I haven’t done this yet, but I hear it’s fantastic. My diving friends particularly enjoy the shark dives. The snorkeling on the island is pretty great, too, and it a cheaper alternative to diving.
- Take day trip to St. Barth’s. You can take a quick day trip to other nearby islands, like St. Barth’s, Anguilla, and Saba. St. Martin is the gateway island to all these locations.
- Learn to surf. SXM Surf Club offers lessons at Galion Bay Beach. This beach is where I learned to surf. It’s a safe, exciting place for beginners to learn and pros to practice.
Where to Eat:
Where do I even begin? There are so many great places to try! It’s tough to choose, but here are some great restaurants to start.
- Sarafina’s. This French pastry shop in Marigot is the most famous on the island. Try the chocolate croissant and you’ll be ruined for doughnuts for life.
- Little Jerusalem. This is where we go to eat 75% of the time we eat out. If you like shwarma, you’ll love this! The restaurant is a recycled shipping container, where the owner and his wife make everyone feel at home with their warm hospitality.
- Bar Code. Speaking of warm hospitality, this bar and restaurant in Cupecoy makes you feel like part of the family. Plus, their food is delightfully unique.
- Kelty’s Kitch’n. You’ll find this place in Philipsburg, where the employees cook out of an old van. It’s a taste of authentic Caribbean food, which you have to try at least once while you’re on the island. The chicken and johnnie cakes are my favorite.
- Skip Jack. Eat fresh seafood at the edge of the lagoon! This place is a little pricey, but it’s worth it.
If you’re considering a Caribbean holidays, Saint Martin is the place to go. Come to our island and experience our unique culture, food, and activities! We’d love to have you visit.
Breana is an American expat living in the Dutch Caribbean. Graphic Designer and writer from sunny Arizona, she has travelled around the Caribbean, Mexico, Tanzania, Burundi, Kenya and most of the U.S. You can also follow Breana and her adventures together with her husband, at 3rdculturewife.com.