The best things to do in Saint-Martin on vacation

People may come to St. Maarten for the beaches, but it’s the delicious cuisine that sets this Caribbean destination apart. This is partly due to the fresh fish, the French influence and the abundance of Creole spices. Together, this all results in tantalizing festivals and fantastic restaurants stuck in the sand or popping up on tiny surrounding islands.

The scenery is not to be overlooked either, when it comes to reasons to go there. Think long white sand beaches with secret coves and sheltered bays. Walk along these shores and you will find coconut trees and pure relaxation. And all around, colorful buildings cascade through green hills to the sea.

Saint Martin is on an island where the Netherlands has claimed the southern side and France has claimed the northern side. Today, Saint-Martin, of French origin, is known as “the friendly island” and is less touristy than its Dutch counterpart. While the Caribbean is never a bad idea at any time of year, the best time to visit is now, during the shoulder season, from mid-May to mid-July, when the crowds are gone, prices are down and cruise ships have set sail. Here are the beaches, boats and restaurants to be found there.

Whole cooked fish retains all the juices. | Royal Villa Restaurant

Eat Johnny cakes and whole fish

Many consider Saint Martin to be the Caribbean’s premier gastronomic destination. In fact, 2022 has been dubbed “the year of food” – a nod to the booming food scene and a sign of finally bouncing back from the devastating effects of 2017’s Hurricane Irma and COVID-19. . Highly respected Saint Martin Gastronomy Festival– which showcases local chefs, restaurants and emerging talent – ​​is also helping to put the country on the map and should be a major draw for visitors this fall.

In the local open-air restaurants, or “lolos”, you will find crispy cod fritters or a plate of fresh fish with Creole spices. Other local delicacies include the many pain au chocolat options at the bakeries and the melt-in-your-mouth fresh mangoes.

Head to Sandy’s for hot johnny cakes, a big plate of salt fish and scrambled eggs for breakfast. While Royal Villaa Creole restaurant in Grande Case, the goat curry and fried fish are worth the wait.

You will also find many French restaurants due to the history here. In fact, the waiters and most customers at Les Galets speak French between puffs of cigarettes. Outdoor tables overlook a deep blue pool lit at night for a romantic setting, and you can select a cheese platter from a trolley brought to your table. At the French restaurant The cicada, you can dine on the beach in the sand, facing the water, champagne in hand. You can eat a perfectly cooked piece of meat there for half the price you would find in New York.

Saint-Martin Beach
The sand of Saint Martin is almost as white as the crashing waves. | Saint-Martin – French part

Go to the beach, then maybe a nudist beach

The crystal clear turquoise water of Saint Martin is the kind you always imagine for the Caribbean and perfect for the gram. The island has 37 picturesque beaches to choose from. Honestly, there are no bad choices, but Suzanne Scantlebery, a local who works for the St. Maarten tourist office, recommends Grand Case Beach, Happy Bay, Friars Bay and Mullet Bay Beach.

Grand Case Beach is a particularly lively option. The long stretch of sand is lined with lolos, as well as French and Creole restaurants. Happy Bay is a little harder to reach, as it’s a short 10-minute hike from Friar’s Bay. But the payoff is well worth it, as this stretch of soft sand is lined with coconut palms and has an azure blue lagoon. While Friar’s Bay is popular on weekends, due to its accessibility and calm, shallow waters. In addition, once a month, he organizes a full moon party.

Orient Bay Beach is known as “The St. Tropez of the Caribbean” for its European beach clubs. It is also known as a popular nudist beach. Stroll the shore or reserve a lounge chair at the Coco Beach Club, where there’s always a crowd for the excellent food. This beach tends to be windy, making it a popular choice for kites and windsurfers.

rum cocktails
It’s like a guava berry and rum colada. | Guava Colombier Tradition

Drink the local flavors of Saint Martin

In Saint-Martin, whether you are on the beach, in a restaurant, during the day or in the evening, it is perfectly acceptable to have a drink in hand at almost any time, well, except perhaps a early breakfast. It’s the kind of place you can always find a bottle of champagne at beach clubs and French restaurants, but locals prefer cocktails that are usually made with rum, or “rum.”

Another traditional drink is guavaberry rum. First made in people’s homes centuries ago as a Christmas drink, today you can find this local punch all over the island. It is made from cane sugar, wild guava berries from the central hilly region of the island, spices and of course rum. Visit the Distillery Guavaberry Colombier Tradition for free tastings and see how the magic happens.

Also be sure to go to Hotspot, the lolo of bartender Daryl Brooks in Marigot, for his award-winning tamarind martini. It’s also the bee’s knees to talk to.

Boat St. Martin
Why settle for a motor boat when you can sail in these winds? | Gino Santa Maria/Shutterstock

Take a boat trip to Tintamarre, Creole Rock and Pinel Island

If you haven’t boarded a boat in Saint Martin, have you really been there? Here’s the game plan for going out on your own watercraft: Go early in the morning and pack water, sunscreen, a bathing suit, and a hat. The first stop is Creole Rock, where you can jump off the side of your boat and snorkel with schools of striped fish and admire the coral reef.

Next, head east to Tintamarre, which translates to “flat island,” as its soft, powdery beach stretches across the tranquil island. A short boat ride from Orient Bay, people come here for the shallow, warm waters that are great for swimming and the relative calm. Don’t be surprised if you see a yacht anchored next to your speedboat.

At the heart of the nature reserve and a short boat ride away is Pinel Island, a perfect spot for lunch at the few restaurants ashore, including options for grilled lobster. To Yellow Beach Restaurant you can have an afternoon cocktail at one of the tables set directly in the water. Also, watch out for iguanas near the gift shop.

Fort Louis
Anyone got a really big game? | Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Climb Fort Louis for breathtaking views

Outside of Marigot town, a short drive leads to Fort Louis and a bit of island history. There, 120 steps will take you to the top of this French military fort built in the 18th century to defend this side of the island from enemy attacks. At the very top, you’ll find stunning panoramic views of Marigot Bay and the marina.

Hotel St. Martin
Now these are work abroad views. | Karibuni Sxm

Where to stay in Saint-Martin

Most of the best accommodations in St. Maarten are either boutique hotels or Airbnb rentals in the Cul-de-sac area. Some favorites include The Esplanade Hotel, which pulls design touches from Spain, Mexico and Morocco, such as tiles and lanterns. Located on a hill above the village of Grand Case, it is surrounded by gardens and offers stunning ocean views.

Other notable points include Oriental Beach Hotel, where each bedroom has its own terrace and you can step out directly onto the beach. This experience becomes even more private Hotel Grand Case Beach, as this resort has its own private beaches. You can waterski, wakeboard, and snorkel right from the property, or arrange for nearby ziplining, kite surfing, and horseback riding, in addition to island hopping. Or you can rent spacious suites at Karibuni, which each come with their own private pools. From the hotel, kayak to Pinel Island just across the bay.

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Jennifer Mattson writes for Thrillist and is a longtime journalist. Follow his travels @jennifermattson.

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