The beautiful island of St Maarten is 37 square miles and is divided into two nations – the Dutch side and the French side. The capital of the island is Philipsburg and its port is one of the busiest ports in the Caribbean.
The Dutch side of the island is busier and better developed and is known as Sint Maarten. The French side is bigger yet more understated and is referred to as St. Martin – confusing or what! Whatever side of the island you are on you will be greeted by stunning sandy beaches, lush green mountainous hills and Europe style towns.
In September 2017 the island of St Maarten was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma. Much of the devastation caused by the hurricane can still be seen, however, it is still a delight for cruise ship passengers to visit.
Philipsburg, St Maarten Key facts :
Population: 1894 (as of 2017).
Airport: St Maarten’s airport is called St Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport. There are no direct flights from the UK to St Maartens, making it a great island to explore when cruising. Indirect flights to St Maartens airport can be sought by going via Paris or Amsterdam.
Currency: The official currency in St Maarten is the Antillean Guilder and the Euro depending on which side you are on. However, due to the number of cruise visitors, US dollars are widely accepted.
Best time to visit: As with most Caribbean islands the best time to visit is between the months of November to March as this is when the weather is the driest. However, of course, this is when there are most cruise liners docking and so more people.
Up to six cruise liners can dock at the same time at this port so that’s potentially a lot of cruise passengers descending on the small island at one time! The port of Philipsburg is located on the Dutch side of the island.
The cruise ship port is approximately a mile away from the centre of Philipsburg and takes about 20 minutes to walk from the end of the cruise port pier. Taxis can be picked up from the port too if you don’t fancy the walk and prices are standardised by the government so you should know what you are getting. Alternatively, there are water taxi services which run from the cruise port pier to Captain Hodge Wharf and Bobby’s Marina which are in good locations for reaching the beach and the town centre.
Don’t leave the island without trying the infamous guavaberry liqueur which is the national drink of St Maarten. This tasty drink is made from rum and guava berries and sounds delicious. There are various places you can buy it too if you fancy taking some home to enjoy!
Things to See:
St Maarten Museum
For a chance to learn more about the island and its culture then head to the St Maarten Museum. Here visitors will learn about shipwrecks, slavery, salt panning and the 2017 hurricane Irma. Entry is a tiny $1, is free for children and is open Monday to Friday 10am – 4pm.
Great Bay Beach
This is the first beach you will come across when leaving the port. It is easily accessible from the boardwalk form the Philipsburg. It’s 2 miles long, full of powdery white sand and features all you need for a relaxing beach day including umbrellas, sun loungers, beach bars, restaurants and bathrooms. It looks like the perfect place for a dip in the sea and a sunny sunbathe! Great Bay Beach is only a 20-minute walk from the port.
That Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit
For something a bit different head to That Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit – a unique museum of all things Star Wars. The collection includes film scripts, memorabilia from the films and head casts of famous characters.
Now Maho Beach is a beach you are likely to have heard of or seen on TV before. The beach is famous for being located under the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport and providing ample opportunities to see low flying planes overhead before they land on the runway. If you visit look out for the surfboard at one of the bars that list the landing times. It can be busy here so you might not want to stay for the whole day. If that’s the case then you might like to head over to Mullet Bay Beach which is next to Maho Beach.
Over on the French side of the island, you will find Orient Beach, one of St Maarten’s most popular spots. Full of soft sand and crystal blue waters it is simply stunning. There are lots of watersports to try out if you’re feeling adventurous; if not simply sit back and take in this Caribbean beauty.
Some passengers docking in St Maarten might like to head on a cruise to Prickly Pear – a small uninhabited island west of Anguilla. It’s known to be a great snorkelling spot so take your flippers!
Also over on the French side of the island is Marigot, a pretty and popular mountainous town. It’s famous for its fashion and there are certainly plenty of shops and fashion boutiques here. There is an open market with fresh food and plenty of French souvenirs. Whilst in Marigot it is worth climbing Fort Louis – a hill not far from the city centre which offers incredible views from the top!
Wild Guava Liquor Emporium
Located on the Dutch side of the island is the Wild Guava Liquor Emporium – the place to try the islands national drink. A visit here will delight passengers with ancient stories of how rum was made on the island and give you a chance to try the guava berry liqueurs.
Parrott Ville Bird Sanctuary
For bird lovers, there is the Parrott Ville Bird Sanctuary on the island. This lovely sanctuary cares for many species of colourful and vibrant parrots. Visitors to the sanctuary can hear all about the residents form the guides and get a chance to feed the parrots also. The sanctuary is on the way to Orient Beach and so could be a nice stop on place en route. A nice trip for the family maybe. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for children.
St Martin’s Nature Reserve
To immerse yourselves in local nature a trip to St Martin’s Nature Reserve will do the trick. Here there’s birds, marine life and lush vegetation to explore. For more information do check out their website.
Sea Horseback Ride
For horse lovers out there what could be better than hopping on a horse and riding along the lush countryside and islands coastline. There are various stables on the island and many of which offer horseback riding tours. Many cruise lines will also offer this as one of their shore excursions.
For Adrenaline Seekers:
Loterie Farm is a resort popular with tourists and offers a swimming pool and fancy cabanas to chill in. Daybeds cost $20 per person and the Jungleroom welcomes visitors for food and drink. There are also some activities on offer here including a Treetop Adventure Tour. This forest canopy tour includes zip lines, elevated bridges and boardwalks through the incredible ecosystem. The course takes about an hour to complete and costs $40 per person. For the more adventurous there is a longer and harder course which is $60 per person and takes about 2 hours.
Rainforest Adventures at Rockland Estate
Located in the Rockland Estate are various thrill-seeking adventures to be had. First, there’s the Soualiga Sky Explorer – a chair lift that takes you up the mountain to 1125 feet for panoramic views and a chance to visit the Emilio Wilson Museum.
At the top visitors can then get strapped into a seated harness and descend the 1050ft Flying Dutchman zipline down the mountain – not for the faint-hearted I am sure!
Alternatively, visitors might choose to take the chairlift to the midpoint station and take the Sentry Hill Zip Line down. This is a 1600ft set of 4 zip lines down the mountain ridge.
As if this isn’t enough, visitors might choose to do the schooner ride from the chair lift midpoint station. This involves surfing down 40-inch tubes of curves and fast straights sliding down the mountain. Sounds fun or what!
The schooner ride and flying dutchman experiences will cost you $99 individually, with the Sky Epoer chair lift tickets being $52.To experience all three rides a package can be purchased for $139 per person. If all that appeals to you then check your cruise line excursion list for one to the Rockland Estate. A cruise line excursion will set you back about £90.
Tours and Excursions:
There are plenty of sighting tours on offer so do shop around. Most will include seeing the main sights on the french and Dutch sides of the island including Orient Beach, Cole Bay Hill and Maho Beach. Prices average around £30 – £40 for a 4-hour tour. As with most Caribbean islands taxi drivers double as tour guides and so you can be assured that if you choose to get a taxi then you are basically getting a private tour of the island!
If you fancy seeing the island in style then you might like the 3 hour guided ATV tour of the island’s highlights. This tour takes in the popular beaches of Maho Beach, Mullet Bay, Marigot and more. There’s also an hours stop to relax at Great Bay and tickets cost £75 per person.
As with most Caribbean islands, St Maarten is ideal for snorkelling and scuba diving. Most cruise lines will offer boat trips allowing for this and there’s plenty of tour operators locally offering snorkelling cruises too. Shipwreck snorkelling tours are also available to pre-book and the one we like the sound of heads out to a shipwreck site in Little Bay. This tour lasts 2 hours and is priced at £41.
For beach trips and transfers to Maho and Orient beaches, there will be many tour operators and taxis offering pick ups and drop offs with returns to the ship. A 5-hour tour with stops at both these popular beaches costs £26 which seems like a pretty good price.
How do you like the sound of St Maarten then? We love the sound of this beautiful island and the uniqueness of it having two nations. It seems like there is lots to do and a real mix of natural beauty and fun adrenaline activities on offer so the choice is yours! Let us know in the comments below what you would plan to do if you cruised here!