This is the second time I’ve been to St. Martin/St. Maarten and both times have been on cruises, so unfortunately I’ve never had more than a day there. St. Martin (I’m going to use this spelling most because the Dutch language confuses me) is an island owned by two different nations, half Dutch and half French. Each side has its own personality and there is certainly much to explore. It would be great to be able to spend at least a weekend and really get in there, but here are a few things you can see on both sides of the Island in a day.
The Dutch side of the island, part of the lesser Netherlands Antilles, is where the cruise port is located and where most cruise passengers spend their time. Like any cruise port (that I’ve been to at least), you’re immediately bombarded with people trying to sell you over priced tours and taxi rides and women offering to braid your hair for money. I’m still confused as to why anyone says yes to this! However, if you trudge on you’ll find the charming town of Philipsburg. If lazing on the beach is your thing this is a great port because a gorgeous beach is walkable from the port and right in town.
I live in Florida and have plenty of beach access, so I’d rather see cultural attractions while at port, but I get it if you live somewhere where lounging on the beach in February is the ultimate. Look no further. Of course, I was also on a Disney Cruise and knew I would be stopping at Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay, in a few days where there would be nothing to do but have beach time.
Instead we chose to walk to Fort Amsterdam. I won’t lie, it is a bit of a hike, especially for someone full of cruise food, but it’s worth it for the view from the top. It offers and excellent view of the port and the turquoise waters. You also may meet some feathered friends.
Seeing what is sort of two countries in only a few hours leaves little time to linger, so it was on to the French side!
We took a cab from Fort Amsterdam to Marigot, the capital of the French side of the island. Beware, the cab drivers thrive on the ignorance of tourist, you have to play a little hard ball. They also charge per person in the car, which seems a bit ridiculous. I’m glad we made it over to Marigot however. I think the French side of the island is my favorite.
I can’t leave a location without trying the local cuisine, so we stopped by Rosemary’s for lunch. One of many “lolos” near the ferry port at Marigot clamoring for our business. Perhaps they were the most aggressive, perhaps we were impressed by the Anthony Bordain endorsement on the menu, but I think the most likely reason we landed on Rosemary’s is that none of us could play the “I don’t know. What do you want?” game anymore.
Anyway, we settled on Rosemary’s where they promptly hustled another guest out, offering him a plastic cup to carry is half full glass of wine because they needed the table. Rosemary herself also came by the introduce herself and offer us a free round of drinks for our wait. So the service was great! (For us, not for that guy with the wine.) The drink left a little to be desired, but the food was great. Reasonably priced and huge portions. Most of the people in my party ordered a conch creole since they had never had conch. I had a goat curry as that was billed as a “local specialty” and I live in Florida so I’m up to my eyeballs in conch.
The flavor was good, but the goat was a bit fatty. Still glad I did it and it felt like a very local experience. It’s also pretty cool that the owner still works there and interacts with the guests.
After our bellies were full we wandered around town for a bit and headed to the Bikini Beach (I was out-voted). Bikini Beach was lovely though. I sat and enjoyed some beachy cocktails while others swam like it wasn’t February. It was a picturesque beach to walk around and take pictures and just a short hike to the nude beach next door if you’re so inclined.
On the way back to the ship we stopped by some of the more touristy cruise port stuff. St. Maarten features all of the usual; Jewelry, stuff that changes colors in the sun, duty free liquor, but there are a few uniquely St. Maarten/Martin things you’ll find too. Because of the island’s French and Dutch culture, you’ll also find fine Belgian chocolates, macarons, and tasty gouda. St. Martin/Maarten is also known for the guavaberry, which you will find in many things, but most notably rum/liquor. It’s a bit sweet for my taste, but many love it so it’s worth checking out. It also has a folksy old man in a top hat on it. So it has that going for it.
As you can see, there is plenty to discover on Saint Martin and Sint Maarten. I’m sure I just scratched the surface. Are there any amazing St. Martin/St. Maarten experiences I missed?