Lush with hibiscus, orange-yellow sage (the national flower) and sprawling white sand beaches, St. Maarten has all the trappings of the perfect getaway. At 37 square miles, it’s the smallest island divided into two countries. Based on a 1648 agreement still in use called the Treaty of Concordia, France inhabits the north side and the Netherlands the south. But people move freely between, earning the island’s reputation as the “Friendly Island.” Make the most of your visit.
St. Maarten’s Dutch side is more fast-paced than the laid-back luxe French side. For those who elect the Dutch side, they can land at Princess Juliana International and in 30 minutes they’re on the beach. Sonesta Ocean Point is a 129-room, all-inclusive adults-only pick five minutes from the airport. It features rambling ocean views, Molten Brown products, three pools and swim-out suites. There is also a beautiful Edge Pool and mini manmade “beach” overlooking Great Bay. The rooftop lounge’s cushy seating and 360-degree views make it the perfect place to watch the sunset. The adjacent oceanside restaurant Azul dishes up appetizing island fare like red snapper with veggies, curried mushroom soup and mango-topped cheesecake. At night visit Maho Village, St. Maarten’s downtown, where Three Amigos (an open-air bar) attracts an eclectic mix of locals and visitors. The Soprano’s Piano Bar offers live music, and Cheri’s Café gets adventurous with late-night amateur drag shows.
On the French side, less than 30 minutes from the airport, try beachside bohemian-chic Le Temps des Cerises. It boasts nine suites and a restaurant and bar set on tranquil Grand Case, one of the island’s beach gems. Those really into their vinos can head to Sol e Luna. The six-suite creole-style hotel and restaurant offers over 100 different French wines, just 10 minutes from Orient Bay (another beach on the island’s east coast).
Of the island’s 37 beaches, no St. Maarten visit is complete without a look-see of Majo Beach. The small strip of white sand just yards from the island’s Princess Juliana International Airport landing strip is a must-visit for up-close airplane views without leaving the beach towel. Want a little more peace and quiet? Try sequestered Mullet Bay Beach, where a resort of the same name was destroyed by a hurricane in 1995. But the beach is still idyllic with its white sand and moderate waves. The island’s southern end is home to Great Bay, a well-manicured beach perfect for a dip. Those hoping to dig their toes in the sand for an extended period of time can splurge on a day-pass at LaLa’s. It comes complete with umbrellas, beach chairs and unlimited food and drinks.
Venture to the French side to Orient Bay. It is known as the “Saint Tropez of the Caribbean,” where the water is so blue it’s neon. Friars’ Bay Beach is a family-friendly spot with concerts and full-moon parties.
Nothing is more than an hour away on St. Maarten, allowing visitors to take in all the adventure they can. Spend a day at Kokao Beach, where watersports like parasailing, jet skiing and surfing are on tap. Scuba and snorkel lovers can swim with dolphins and eagle rays, and check out shipwrecks with Octopus Diving. For more of a workout, hike to the highest point on the island (Pic Paradis or Paradise Peak) or zipline through mango and mahogany trees at Loterie Farm. Their pool and cabana area, surrounded by lush forest and a waterfall, is well worth the cost.