This is our 3rd time visiting the island of Sint Maarten and first since the devastating hurricane Irma struck this beautiful island. I must say, the island is slowly but surely making a come back. We saw construction happening daily on both the Dutch and French sides. To clarify, the French side is referred to as Saint-Martin and the Dutch side is referred to as Sint Maarten.
Through our travels, we talked to many locals and saw for ourselves that the Dutch side is coming together a bit faster than the French side. The French side still has some damage, but there is progress. Overall, all of the people are still in high spirits, after all it is called the “friendly island” and they sure do live up to the name. Everyone is helpful and willing to tell you what to do and where to go daily. Continue reading for a guide of some of our favorite spots and activities.
Tip: Make sure you bring sunblock! The sun is pretty strong and before you know it you went from tanning to burning. A good moisturizer with SPF 46 for your face, we use and recommend is this one here. It is TSA approved for your carry-on bag.
How To Get Here
Visitors will fly into Sint Maarteen, airport code SXM (the Dutch side). From New York City the flight is a short 4 hours. U.S citizens must have a valid passport, no Visa is required. Visitors must also have a valid return ticket. Travelers must also have proof of accommodations (be able to tell/show them where you are staying). Tourists may stay in Sint Maarteen for up to 30 days. For additional entry requirements click here.
Where To Stay
On our first trip to Sint Maarten, we stayed at the Alegria resort, which is located near Maho Beach (we’ll talk about Maho shortly).
Unfortunately, upon our most recent trip we discovered that this is one of the resorts that was ruined by the hurricane. In fact, most of the resorts and shopping places that made Maho one of our favorite night time spots are gone, but the people of the island are feverishly working and building it back up daily. There are still a few local shops operating during daytime hours (like 3 Amigos and Hole in the Wall, as well as the local pharmacy and grocery store), but do not expect much at night.
The Casino on Maho has made a lot of progress, even in our 6 day stay, we saw the difference from day 1 until day 6. One of the more famous resorts on Maho, the Sonesta, one of the all inclusive resorts on the island, was completely ravaged by the storm. You can see the skeleton of what used to be. However, it is being rebuilt and worked on daily. Parts of the resort are still open for occupancy, but none of its restaurants or casino are operational. The shopping on the Maho strip is also mostly gone.
During our second stay in Sint Maarten, we stayed at the Flamingo Beach Resort located on Simpson bay. This was one of our favorite resorts, as it had a private pool, parking and a private beach.
Unfortunately, this too was destroyed by Irma. We hope they are able to rebuild and open their doors soon.
While searching for resorts for this trip, it was important for me to see what was available for occupancy and what was still being worked on. We landed on booking the Simpson Bay Resort and Marina, it did not disappoint. This resort has about 4-5 different buildings that house guests, with pools and swim up bars as part of the facilities. The rooms are suites with full kitchens and utensils. Wi-Fi is also provided to all guests, gym access comes with a daily $6 fee, so i suggest you skip that and run on the beach or swim some laps in the pool instead. The hotel lobby has a concierge desk that can help you with activities throughout the island, as well as a coffee shop which we frequented everyday for our iced coffee fix (iced coffee is rare to find on this island, I don’t know why). Overall, the hotel stay was amazing! Room service was superb, you also get 2 beach/pool towels that you can exchange daily. I’d highly recommend this resort.
We rented a 4-5 person car from Fox Car Rental for about $135 for the week. Super cheap! If you are going in a small group, say 2-3 people, id recommend renting a smaller car. On our second trip we rented a car for only $120 for a week. How to get 15% off your next rental on the card below:
You can also use AutoSlash to get a free quote, the website locates the lowest price available to you including any discounts you may qualify for. If you choose to use taxi service, the hotel lobbies can usually help you set it up. I’d suggest getting your own car to explore the island on your own time, especially if you will be here for 4+ days.
What To Do
By far our favorite beach on the island is Mulletbay Beach. It is about a 10 minute drive from the resort we stayed at (about a 5 minute drive from Maho beach). This beach is BEAUTIFUL! It is untouched raw-beauty, with crystal clear blue waters, clean sand, and views galore. Most of the snorkeling excursions bring their customers to this beach, but if you have a car and bring your own gear, you can get the same experience for free99! The locals rent chairs and umbrellas on the beach. You can get 2 chairs and 1 umbrella for $15 to use from 10am-4:30pm. There’s also 2 locally operated BBQ huts on the beach. You can get a tasty burger for just $4. They also serve some island adult beverages like Rum Runners and a local favorite; Guavaberry Colada for $4 each. We started our mornings here and then made our way to other beaches.It is good to note that the beach is pretty busy with locals on weekends, empty on Monday’s and can get a bit busy with tourists on Tuesday’s, depending on cruise ships and excursions that dock near the beach. However, these do not take away from the beauty of this beach.
Tip: Stop at your local grocery store in Maho on the way to the beach and bring your own drinks.
One of the island’s main attraction is Maho Beach! Though this is a pretty small beach, it is usually the busiest on the island, in part because of the crystal clear waters. The show stopper are the breathtaking plane landings and take offs you can see here. People come here to see a plane fly just over 30 feet above you. Highly recommended! If you are not an avid swimmer I’d recommend not getting into the water as there is a big dip once you step in and the waves are a bit aggressive. Also pay attention to the signs, warning you where to keep off during plane take offs and landings. There’s been casualties due to people ignoring the signs and getting too close to the gates.
This is one of Saint Martin’s gems. It requires you to drive to the port and then take a ferry, which operates between mainland and Pinel on the hour. It will cost you $12 per person round trip and you can get to the island by 9am, when it opens, and leave anytime between then and 5:30PM when the last ferry leaves the island. Once on Pinel, you will find Yellow Beach restaurant. You can rent 2 chairs and an umbrella here for $20 or just use your own towels on the sand. This is another beautiful beach with crystal clear waters and stunning views of the mountainous mainland. Food here is a bit pricey, drinks are about $8 each, but it is mostly about the experience. The island is also home to many iguanas so do not be alarmed if they visit your beach chairs. On our second visit we were able to get some souvenirs from this island, but that shop is not open yet due to the effects of Irma. Locals tell us it will be operational soon. This is on the French side of the island so don’t mind the occasional topless sunbathers. Make sure you bring your snorkel gear! You’ll get to see some beautiful wildlife in the water you won’t want to miss!
Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, the French side of the island seems to have been hit harder than the Dutch side by Irma. We drove there expecting to spend our day at Bikini beach, which we loved from our previous trips, only to find that all of the local bars and shops were totaled by the storm. The beach is still accessible, but when we visited, there was too much seaweed on the water for our liking so we went to another beach (Mulletbay). There is ample construction happening, and I expect this area to be back and operational shortly.
Day trips to Anguilla or St Barth’s
This was our first time taking a day trip to another neighboring island. We opted for Anguilla based on recommendations from locals and friends. A friendly reminder to bring your passport when you are booking any of these 2 excursions, as they are required for exit and reentry from/to Saint Martin (who doesn’t love more stamps on their passport, right?). The trip to Anguilla costs us $5 tax fee at the port, and $20 on the ferry to go there. To return it was a $8 tax at Anguilla and $20 on ferry back. Once in Anguilla, we went to Randevouz because it was the closest to the port and we arrived a bit late. At the port, we booked a local taxi for 4 people, it costs $48 round trip to/from the beach. The taxi driver dropped us off at the beach and set a time to pick us up. This was a cool experience, but we will be returning to try some of the “better” beaches that the locals recommended. Randevouz was not bad, but we don’t believe it was worth the price, but since we arrived late we made the best of it. There is also only 1 restaurant on this beach and it is quite pricey. The beach itself was beautiful and only had about 10 people, so we pretty much had the beach to ourselves. The restaurant had a live band playing some great island remixes of well known songs so we had a blast. PS: when you dock on the island, there is a really strong smell of seaweed.
Philipsburg was definitely an “it” spot to go on our last 2 visits. A short walk on the boardwalk adjacent to the beach will lead you to restaurants offering cuisine from all parts of the world and locals offering your drink specials with beach chair rentals.
On this visit, we came on a day when there was no cruise ship docked, and it was a dead zone. I would suggest finding out when cruise ships will dock, and plan to visit then. On our last day, 3 cruise ships docked and this place came to life again! Though many of the local restaurants were destroyed by Irma, you can still find plenty to eat now when tourists are in town.
You will also find a Hardrock Cafe here. There are plenty of water activities to choose from on busy days, from jet skis to water trampolines and banana boats. If you go one street over from the boardwalk, you will find the shopping area. There are so many souvenirs shops; from duty free alcohol and perfumes, to shot glasses and local rum. The Guavaberry shop is located here as well and I highly recommend you get the hot sauces and BBQ sauce for yourself. Make sure you try the Guavaberry Colada while you shop. I will suggest you bring cash, as you can definitely talk down the price with locals. We were able to buy 3 bottles of white Hennessy for only $96, which would have normally been $120. There is also the local courthouse and the Star Wars museum for those of your fans out there.
We usually visit our friend Ravi at G&N jewelers (formally J&N in Maho, moved to Philipsburg due to property damage) and he gives us some amazing deals on jewelry. Tell him Nelson and Chris from New York sent you! We’ve purchased some pieces that we have gotten appraised for about 4-5x their price here in the states.
Where To Eat
Here are some of our favorite spots on the island to eat at:
Overall our stay in the friendly island was fantastic. We were able to introduce this beautiful gem to 2 of our closest friends who immediately fell in love with it. We will definitely be returning next year to this amazing island. Be sure to put Sint Maarten as one of your must visit islands on the Caribbean! With very reasonable bundled deals through Expedia you will definitely have a fantastic time. Our vacation for 6 days was $650/per person which included our hotel stay and our flight.
This will be a memorable trip you’ll continue talking about for months after you leave. We can’t wait to see this magical island return to its shinning glory as soon as possible. Don’t forget to tag us on Instagram!