Saint Martin (or Sint Maarten) wasn’t on our bucket list. But since we were going to explore Caribbean Leeward Islands and the Princess Juliana International airport on Saint Martin is the gateway to these islands, it was the logical thing to do.
Some people told us Saint Martin is all about partying and shopping. Others really liked it and were boasting its nature and beaches. We were just happy to go, no matter what. This was going to be our first time in the Caribbean, so what’s not to like? And of course: Saint Martin is known as the ‘friendly island’. We were curious if the island would really live up to its reputation.
Where/what is Saint Martin/Sint-Maarten?
Saint Martin is an island in the northeast Caribbean, about 300 kilometers east of Puerto Rico. The island is part of the Lesser Antilles and the Leeward Islands.
Saint Martin is only 87 km 2 big and it’s one of the smallest island in the world ever that’s been divided between two nations. There’s Saint Martin, the French side in the north, and Sint Maarten, the Dutch side in the south. The main cities are Marigot (French) and Philipsburg (Dutch).
One islands, two countries
Both sides have a different look and feel, which makes it a destination for both the people who want to celebrate their holiday with plenty of parties and nightlife entertainment (the Dutch side) and those who seek tranquility and nature (French side).
We stayed at the Le Beach Hotel in Marigot, the capital of the French side. We stayed there just before it got renovated and the weather was changing – so the picture below doesn’t do it justice, check out their website – but we already really loved it.
It’s a quiet hotel, rooms are clean and spacious, staff is friendly, there’s a nice beach and pier, location is great (in walking distance of the center of Marigot, ferries and the marina), WiFi works fine (even on the beach) and nothing beats having breakfast with a sea view and the island Anguilla in the distance. Rates are very good, so it’s excellent value.
Pick a beach
Our hotel had its own beach (great for night swimming!) but with 37 beaches to choose from, there’s one for everyone.
There’s Orient Bay for the jet-setter (in the north-east), Great Bay Beach if you fancy bars and restaurants (in Philipsburg), the stunning idyllic Happy Bay (on the French side) and everything in between.
If you’re looking for the ‘Robinson Crusoe-alone on the beach’-feel, then visit one of the very small inhabited little island nearby: paradise perfect!
Another must see is Maho Beach, famous for watching aircrafts flying in and out. You can read more about it here. Ow, don’t feel surprised if you see people sunbathing totally naked as some of the beaches are ‘clothes optional’.
Caribbean rum, Dutch cheese and Belgian chocolate
Warning for shopaholic: temptation is everywhere in Saint-Martin. As a tax-free island, there are no custom duties, VAT or other indirect taxes to pay.
Marigot offers luxury and high-end fashion boutiques, and Philipsburg is your shopping hotspot if you are looking for alcohol, electronics, watches or jewelry.
The thing that really caught our eye though was not the bling bling, but the… Dutch cheese. I mean: Holland is just around the corner from where we live (Belgium). Did we really traveled half way around the world to buy Dutch cheese?
Another big surprise was the charming little chocolate shop we stumbled on, called The Belgian Chocolate Box by Beatrice. Now there’s a challenge! We Belgians take chocolate very seriously, it’s in our DNA (our hometown is Bruges, and we all know Bruges is he chocolate capital of the world, no?) so trust us: we are chocolate-fanatics. The verdict on Caribbean/Belgian chocolate? We have to be honest: it tasted (almost) just like home.
Would we go back?
Our stay was way too short to experience all the things Saint Martin has to offer, but yes, we definitely would go back.
Some people may find it too crowded or less charming than other Caribbean islands, but we feel Saint Martin has plenty to offer. And yes, we feel that Saint Martin does live up to its reputation as the ‘friendly island’.
We felt right at home. Maybe the cheese and chocolate had something to do with it.