Saint Martin is the smallest island in the world to be governed separately by two countries. By visiting, you will get a taste of both the Dutch and French cultures in the setting of a gorgeous Caribbean island. The island is upscale without any pretension. As I often choose to do when I first visit an island, we found a taxi driver to show us the highlights. Here is a little taste of how we experienced our St. Maarten cruise port day.
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What to do on your day at the St. Maarten Cruise Port
St. Maarten Basics
- Traveling between the countries: Saint Martin is the French side of the island, and the Dutch govern St. Maarten. Although the island is divided geographically, you can pass freely between both sides.
- Money: On the French side of the island, the Euro is the official currency. The Netherlands Antilles Guilder is used on the Dutch side. Very few places take credit cards, and if they do, there is a hefty surcharge. Every place I visited accepted US dollars.
- Driving: You can see everything I discuss along an easily followed route, so driving is a good option. Although I always love the local perspective from a taxi driver and think to rent a car is often more of a hassle than it is worth during a cruise stop, here, I would feel very comfortable renting a car next time I visit. A trip around the island would take around 1 1/2 hours without traffic. Most people travel clockwise as I did for the reason of ending up at Maho Beach when the big planes land. Therefore if you are not going to Maho Beach, heading counterclockwise should make your drive have less traffic.
- Sundays in St. Martin: Like many Christian countries, much of St. Martin takes Sunday off. So be aware that many vendors or shops may be closed. We could not find any snorkeling open since we visited on a Sunday.
All the ship’s crew members recommended Philipsburg as the cheapest place to buy what you need in the southern Caribbean. Traveling the Caribbean in winter, we needed to get a few new summer essentials, so we took advantage of the bargains.
The dock is near Philipsburg in Sint Maarten. As soon as you get off the ship on the left, there is a stand where you can spend a few dollars to catch a water taxi to the shopping area located along a beach.
You can spend your time meandering the shops, or you can pay a couple of dollars to a willing local looking to escort you to exactly where and for what you need. The shop owners are more than willing to bargain, and we bought some great things at a reasonable price. They really had everything you can think of, even when my son was insisting on his favorite brand-name sandals.
Alternatively, you could also just rent an umbrella and spend the day here as it is very convenient, with a view of the cruise ships. As you will see, however, you would be missing out on the real beauty that lies around this island.
There is a scenic overlook where you can stop and view this stunning bay. If you are staying on the island, be sure to explore staying in this stunning location at The Oyster Bay Resort.
Feed some Wild Iguanas
When you come up the hill after Oyster Bay, you find a man relaxing in a beach chair selling things on the side of the road. For a small donation, he will provide greens. When you hold the greens out, hordes of wild iguanas will come running out of the jungle. We all enjoyed feeding them.
Rotary Lookout Point
Rotary Lookout Point is near Cul-de-Sac. Parking is free. Rotary Lookout Point is a cool place, and when I return to St. Martin, I plan to spend a whole day here. There is a wooden lookout tower with a stunning view and a very shallow bay with expansive tide pools. You can even wade through them to explore a small island. Be sure to wear water shoes as the water is full of spiky sea urchins.
Although some people go to Orient Beach for the clothing-optional beach, we set off to the white sand beaches for snorkeling, parasailing, and jet skiing. It is the busiest of St. Martin’s beaches.
We stopped in Grand Case for lunch at Rainbow Cafe. French food is my favorite, so I knew I had to eat on this side of the island, and this restaurant lived up to my expectations. Not only that, but it is on a beautiful beach where you can snorkel and rent umbrellas. And even though it is a beachside bar that you can visit in beach clothes, its food is surprisingly not casual. The restaurant also has free wifi for the kids (or better yet, they can play on the beach while you are waiting for your food and catching up on your social media). We especially loved the pomme frits. They also have Lemonada, a delicious not-too-sweet French soft drink that my sons loved mixed with iced tea.
If you are staying in St. Martin, check out the Grand Case Beach Club.
Maho Beach for the ✈️
The planes at Maho Beach were my kids’ favorite part of St. Martin, and I thought it was pretty amazing, too. Read on for the whole scoop on Airport Beach.
This island was hit hard by Hurricane Irma, but is now largely open for visitors. So many islands are dependent on tourism dollars, so visiting helps with their recovery.
Have you been to St. Martin? What was your favorite part? Be sure to let me know in the comments.
For more Caribbean fun, explore Puerto Rico with me.