Small but beautiful and perfectly formed, this Caribbean gem is actually the world’s smallest area of land divided into two nations – one half is French (Saint Martin) and the other is Dutch (St Maarten). The result is something truly unique and this is an idyllic island paradise where 120 different nationalities mix alongside each other and where some of the finest cuisines in the Caribbean can be found. Add to that some gorgeous white sandy beaches, tranquil hidden bays, some lively beach bars and nightlife, excellent shopping and some great options for water sports and hiking and you had a pretty fabulous vacation destination. Here are the best and most beautiful places to visit in Saint Martin and Sint Maarten…
1. Marigot Bay Port – this cosmopolitan spot is one of the best places to visit in Saint Martin
The Marigot Bay Port is one of the most picturesque places on the island. Marigot is the capital of the French side of Saint Martin, built near the bay of the same name. The port is the center of life on the tiny island and one of the most exciting places for visitors.
Stop by the port to get pictures of the beautiful local houses, typical of the gingerbread-like architecture of the Caribbean. You can also get excellent views of Fort St. Louis and go on an excursion up to the fort if you’re feeling adventurous. The port is also home to bistros and a biweekly market for when you work up an appetite.
2. Maho Beach – the beach famous for its low-lying flights!
One of the great things to do in St Maarten is to explore its beautiful beaches. Saint Martin or St Maarten is split between the French side and the Dutch side. Maho Beach is a picturesque stretch of coastline on the Dutch side. Visitors can bask in the sandy shores and warm waters of the Caribbean.
However, Maho Beach’s main attraction is not in the sand or sea but the air. The beach is right next to Princess Juliana International Airport. There are few other airports in the world where visitors can get right up to an aircraft’s final approach and see them land on the runway. Whether you’re a seasoned plane spotter or just in search of a unique beach experience, Maho Beach is the place to be!
3. Front Street and Old Street, Philipsburg – two must-see destinations on the island
Philipsburg is the main town on the Dutch side of the island (which is why the island is sometimes called Sint Maarten). The town is nestled between Great Bay and the Great Salt Pond, offering great views of the water.
Front Street is the town’s main shopping district. Visitors can get excellent deals on jewelry, China, and even local liquor at the Guavaberry Emporium. Front Street is also home to the Coliseum Princess Casino.
For a quainter, less bustling shopping experience, head to Old Street. Old Street is a picturesque district with historic buildings that hosts small shops, bistros, and plenty of photo opportunities including an iconic yellow car beloved by tourists.
4. Orient Bay Beach – the most famous and stunning beach in St Maarten
Orient Bay Beach is one of the nicest (and the busiest!) beaches on the French side of St. Martin. It has excellent turquoise waters and sand, just like almost any other beach on St. Martin. However, what sets Orient Bay apart from other beaches is its lively nature.
Orient Bay has plenty of bars, restaurants, and shops lining the beach. Relax on the shore and enjoy the bohemian vibe.
5. Anse Marcel – one of the most beautiful beaches on Saint Martin
For a luxurious travel experience on St. Martin, head to Anse Marcel one of the most beautiful places to visit on the island. Anse Marcel is a secluded cove with calm swimming waters on the north of the island. The bay protects the waters from the worst waves, so it is a choice destination for families.
Anse Marcel is also home to a luxury resort and hotels, making it the perfect getaway for travelers looking for a little rest and relaxation.
6. Grand Case Beach – a gorgeous and quiet beach on St. Martin
Many of the best places to visit in Saint Martin are beaches. Even among this wealth of sandy expanse, Grand Case Beach stands out from the competition. The beach is a mile-long expanse of sand located on the French side of the island. Like Anse Marcel, it boasts calm waters with barely any waves, making it a popular destination for families.
Many hotels line Grand Case Beach, and they have lounge chairs and umbrellas for guests. However, many restaurants have their own lounge chairs that they are happy to rent out to day-trippers as long as they also have a delicious lunch.
7. Pinel Island – a stunning beauty spot located off St. Martin’s main island
This small island off of St. Martin’s northern coast is one of the most special gems in the Caribbean. The island is protected by the French Marine Reserve, so it is mostly undeveloped. Visitors can hike, swim, snorkel, or go on kayaking excursions. The island is also home to almost tame iguanas that love to come up to humans for feeding – talk about a unique experience!
Besides unspoiled nature, Pinel Island also offers regular amenities you would expect from any beach destination. Have lunch at one of the restaurants or relax with a tiki cocktail. To get there, take a ferry from the town of Cul-de-Sac or go on a kayak or charter boat excursion.
8. Miguel’s Hot Beach Spot – a fun and stunning spot to spend the day
Miguel is a character that many visitors remember long after their trip to St. Martin. His beach, conveniently located right by the port, is a favorite among visitors. Of course, the beautiful blue waters and sand are part of the draw, but what sets this beach apart from the others is the service.
The beach organizes drink services and food deliveries right on the beach, but for many people, the main draw is meeting Miguel, the friendly owner. Plus, the beach stands out from other private beach operators thanks to its vibrant orange umbrellas.
9. Tintamarre Island – a very scenic uninhabited island which is a must-see attraction
Tintamarre Island is a small isle less than a square mile large that is just off the coast of the St. Martin mainland. Tintamarre is so small that it has no permanent residents, particularly not since the Compagnie Aerienne Antillaise closed down shop.
However, Tintamarre is home to some very important winged residents. The island is a designated Important Bird Area that supports species such as green-throated caribs, red-billed tropicbirds, and other species. Visitors can also snorkel and see sea turtles in their natural habitat. The island is one of the best and unspoiled nature reserves in the Caribbean and an excellent opportunity to see animals as they are meant to be seen – in the wild.
10. Great Bay Beach – a beautiful white-sand beach and boardwalk
Great Bay Beach is one of the pearls in the crown of St. Martin’s Dutch side. It is conveniently located near Philipsburg for cruise ship tourists and visitors based in the main town. Thanks to its location, the beach is very lively with plenty of bars, shops, and restaurants, to keep visitors busy and fulfill their every need.
That doesn’t mean that Great Bay Beach is lacking in natural attractions. The sandy expanse and calm, clear waters are perfect for swimming and lounging about in the sun.
11. Paradise Peak – the highest point on the island offering great views
Paradise Peak, also known as Pic Paradis, is the highest point on the island of St. Martin. The peak is only 434 meters tall, so it is not exactly a challenging climb, even for amateurs. The gentle climb is worth it to get spectacular views of all of St. Martin and even neighboring islands. Besides the panorama, visitors can also enjoy the lush flora lining the path and Loterie Farm, a historic sugar mill-turned-getaway located at the foot of the hill.
There are roads leading to Paradise Peak, so it is possible to get to the top by car. However, the hike is short enough that even beginner hikers can go up on foot. Those who want a longer journey can use the peak as a starting point for some of the longer trails, including The Northeast Ridge and Eden Well.
12. Little Bay Beach – sandy beach featuring palm trees, boating and snorkeling
Little Bay Beach is on the Dutch side of the island, located right by the Divi resort and is a stunning destination to explore. Visitors get the best of both worlds – the beach is public, but it has amenities that compete with the best that resort beaches have to offer. Unlike most of the island’s beaches, Little Bay Beach is rocky in some places for those looking for a different beach experience.
Visitors can swim and relax on the shore. Those looking for a little bit more adventure can go snorkeling. There are plenty of tropical fish and even coral. It is popular among locals and visitors with families that are drawn to the calm waters.
13. Mullet Beach – a beautiful white sand beach with calm crystal clear water
Mullet Beach, sometimes called Mullet Bay Beach, is a quieter getaway on the Dutch side of St. Martin. It is only a 30-minute drive from the cruise terminal so it does get busy on cruise days, but the crowds are less intense than at Maho Bay or Orient Bay.
Mullet Beach’s primary draw is its natural beauty. Relax next to clear waters on pristine white sand, or go snorkeling in the calm waters.
14. Fort Louis – a great historical attraction to visit in the country
When the French conquered St. Martin, they built Fort Louis on a hill overlooking the port of Marigot. Although the French are still in charge of the island, the fort has long since been abandoned. Visitors can wander the historic fortifications and get excellent views of the island.
Visitors can drive to the base of the fort and complete the rest of the short walk on foot. The walk is steep, but you are rewarded with excellent views at the end.
15. Kim Sha Beach – a fun and gorgeous beach which plays host to some great events
Kim Sha Beach is near Simpson Bay on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten It offers beautiful sandy shores and clear waters for swimming.
One of Kim Sha Beach’s biggest draws is its proximity to Simpson Bay. Visitors can watch the boats coming in and out of the bay and take photos of the sunset over the docked boats. The beach has plenty of amenities, including beach chairs and lively bars. It’s also famous for hosting the annual Heineken Regatta party and its beach bar offers beach movies. There’s also jet skiing and other water activities on offer as well as plenty of restaurants and bars.
16. Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit – one of the best museums to visit in St Maarten
If none of the above appeal to you (impossible not to!) and you don’t know what to do in St Maarten, why not explore the Yoda guy movie exhibit.
Since 2012, it has been ranked a number one activity to do St Maarten. Recommended for children and adults this museum has a private collection from Nick Maley who is an international make-up artist on special effects that has contributed to the creation of Yoda in the Star Wars series.
The visit will last an hour where you will be able to see the holograms from many movies, replicas and props. You will also learn a bit about the film industry and Nick Maley’s background. One of the most amazing things available to you is that you can buy relics autographed by the stars or even speak to Nick Maley himself.
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Gary is an award winning full time professional photographer and videographer with too much wanderlust for his own good. Fuelled by strong coffee, you’ll often find him wandering well off hiking trails in search of interesting photographic subjects or scenery to video. Self taught and with the use of pioneering digital techniques, he quickly built up a strong client base and has worked with many prestigious organisations, including GQ, BBC, London Fashion Week, Grazia, Sky, Metro, Vogue Italia. He specialising in evocative images of people, places and cinematic videography and his goal is to make the viewer look twice and engage. As well as a penchant for good design, the ketogenic diet and Hungarian Vizslas, he also has a huge affection for Chicago, Bucharest, Scandinavia, Croatia and absolutely everywhere in Italy. Find him on Instagram @garynansome and Twitter @garynansome