St Maarten Travel Diary
For someone who is terrified of flying, I seem to travel quite a bit. Look forward to weekly Travel Diary posts about destinations from Europe, to the Caribbean, and everywhere in between. Here is my St Maarten Travel Diary to help you get a sense of what my trip was like, and perhaps score some intel on what to do (or what to avoid).
Saint Martin is a teensy Caribbean island (88 square km) that has a split personality. Half is French (Satin Martin, taking Euro, speaking French), half is Dutch (Sint Maarten, taking USD or Guilder, speaking everything else). You can literally drive across a little marked border on the island and have one foot in either “parent country.”
One of the things that made me fall in love with this place is its proximity to a lot of other islands. I was able to day trip to Anguilla and St. Barth’s in a jiff. Though, Maya+boats are not really a good combination (a whole other story I’ll cover when I review Martinique).
The Dutch side is known for its nightlife while the French side is known for its dining and markets (and nude beaches if you’re down for that). I stayed on the Dutch side of the island right by Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) at Maho Beach. Chances are you’ve seen photos or videos of airplanes taking off and landing just a few feet above beach goers. Here’s one just in case:
Where I Stayed
The most recent resorts I had stayed at were Sandals properties in the Caribbean (you’ll soon get to read about St. Lucia and Bahamas). But to visit this neat little island, we booked ourselves at a new adults-only, all-inclusive luxury resort called The Sonesta Ocean Point. “New” is the key word here because when we arrived, the resort was still unfinished. Key amenities like the infinity pool, certain restaurants, or the premium rooms were not complete, so there was not a whole lot that could be offered to offset for the chaotic construction environment.
The Sonesta chain originates in the US and has 66 properties in 9 countries. But what I found is that it lacked a certain white glove touch that is found with other hotel chains. Granted, our experience was likely full of kinks and learning experiences as the hotel struggled to get itself operational…so my hope is that this luxury property is now sorted out. Things like confirming a car service from Canada was much more challenging than it should have been. Granted, we could have walked from the airport, but when traveling to a new country, I always try to take precautions until I get used to my surroundings.
The ocean view room we booked had a prime view of a curved roof instead, which was pretty “wtf” (the availability of other rooms was pretty limited but we were able to eventually move). The rooms at the Ocean Point were all nice, clean, and with modern fixtures. The main disappointment was Maho Beach itself. Red and yellow flags warned against the tide as airplanes scorched in overhead. Early on, I was sitting on a beach chair against the back wall barrier of the hotel beach when a sudden onset of massive waves slammed us (and swept away everyone else’s belongings). Suffice it to say, being beach people, we found other beaches to hang out at.
The Sonesta Ocean Point is located adjacent to a family resort (The Sonesta Maho Beach) that is more dated with that ripe smell of humidity absorbed right in. There is a third property located on the island (The Sonesta Great Bay), but I didn’t venture in to it. The staff at our resort was mostly great, but most exceptional was the restaurant team and the hospitable security guards. One key attraction is Casino Royale, where My Man and I did spend some time playing games (though our allergies to cigarette smoke limited the time we could spend).
When I Went
This trip took place in January, and the weather was pretty good in the day with temps around 25-27 Celsius. We only had a little bit of rain and it breezed by ever so quicky.
Who I Traveled With
I traveled with My Man during this trip (as I have for many others recently). We’ve been to a few Sandals properties together, so that was really our comparison point in terms of the “adults-only” and “all-inclusive” aspects of this trip. He has a preference for wavy beaches to frolic in the sea, whereas I have a preference for reading on a recliner…so once we found spots that fit both needs, we were all set.
What I Did
With Maho Beach not really fitting the bill for relaxation and beautiful scenery, we ended up exploring a few other options.
- Anguilla: This short 15-minute boat ride is a pretty inexpensive way to get to visit some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Just remember to take your passport! We hung out at Shoal Bay for a day by renting beach chairs from a beachfront restaurant. Tip: Walk up and down the beach to pick exactly what spot you want to rent from – some have specials where the rental cost goes toward a food credit.
- Mullet Bay: This way My Man’s favourite spot – a perfect little beach five minutes walking distance from the hotel. We ended up packing up our towels and heading here for most of the trip. There’s a little BBQ spot on the beach where I stuffed myself full of impeccable jerk chicken.
- Barthelemy (St. Barths): We took a day trip here and did a short microbus tour of the island before grabbing lunch and then hitting up Shell Beach. The beach is literally a bed of shells. Aside from everything being super expensive (St. Barths has not agricultural infrastructure so everything is imported), we found some cute shops with my favourite being La Case Piment Vert. Again, you need to take your passport.
- Pinel: This was my favourite spot on St. Martin. A short 5-minute boat skip (approx. ~10 EUR) to a pretty secluded island where you can grab a beach chair and eat delicious food. We rented our chairs for ~10 EUR and ate at Karibuni.
Other activities we explored:
- Night Market: Tuesdays in the Grand Case area of French St. Martin is when a parade takes over the main street with food and vendors creating a night market. I believe this runs from January-April and is definitely worth a visit. The dilemma will be whether you feast on street food or grab a seat at one of the open-air restaurants serving seafood and ribs. The restaurants have pretty aggressive people at the front trying to bring you in, so don’t be miffed by all the attention – just move along if you don’t want to be bothered.
- Front Street (Phillipsburg): This was our least favourite experience. Phillipsburg is the top duty-free shopping destination for cruise ships day docking, and as such, it becomes desolate at about 4pm. We got stuck here for a bit unable to find a taxi, and wishing we had international roaming to call a driver.
- Maho Beach: It can be interesting to stop by the beach and experience a 747 fly right over your head (or get tumbled in to the sand by a private jet’s engines). I opted to hang back here while My Man frolicked with the airplanes. Once you’ve seen it once or twice, you’ll be over it. This didn’t interrupt our hotel experience much at all. The approach path for planes landing cuts right in front of the main pool at the Ocean Point, but you learn to tune out the noise (and secure hats and belongings from flying away).
How I Got Around
We traveled down with our fave destination airline, WestJet (YYZ à SXM). No major issues on that front. As far as on-island, we managed to have a car service pick us up on arrival – but it is safe enough you could grab a taxi from the airport. If you like your driver, grab his business card so you can make arrangements for transport as needed. We hadn’t activated international roaming, so we ended up catching taxis on the spot. But if you go to the night market or to catch a boat for Pinel, you may be outta luck if you don’t coordinate transport for yourself!
Food – On Resort: B+
Food – Off Resort: A
Best Beach: A+ for Shoal Bay (Anguilla), Mullet Bay (St. Maarten, Dutch side) and Pinel (Saint Martin, French side)
Official Tourism Board Links