St. Martin/St. Maarten is a small and charming island in the Caribbean Paradise that is so easy to fall in love with.
Since the 17th century, the island has been shared by the Netherlands and France. However, there is no official border between the two sides and you do not need a passport to get from one side to another.
The French calls the island Saint Martin. This side of the island is well known for its lovely landscapes, fine dining, pristine beaches, and an appreciation of all pleasures in life.
The Dutch calls the island Sint Maarten. And this side is well known for its festive nightlife, sandy beaches, casinos, and jewelry shopping.
But the nickname “SXM” united both sides with the slogan ‘the friendly island”. The whole island is a melting pot of cultures, history, food, and activities.
After visiting this Caribbean Paradise for a week, I came up with a list of my favorite things to do in St. Martin.
The Dutch side of the island
Philipsburg is the Dutch capital of the island and is located with a stunning view of the Great Bay beach.
If you like to shop, Philipsburg is the ideal location. Front Street is lined with high-end boutiques and jewelry stores. You will find plenty of fine jewelry, watches, designer clothes, electronics, and more. It is duty-free heaven for shoppers!
Even though plenty of stores got closed during the covid-19 pandemic, many are back and reopened for business.
I like the Boardwalk. It is the most popular place in town and has many options for lunch and dinner. You can go for a swim in the blue waters of the Great Bay, lounge on the beach, and then come back to the Boardwalk for a tropical cocktail.
Many beachfront restaurants are serving the fresh catch of the day – Caribbean lobster, grilled snapper, and conch fritters.
However, when a few cruise ships are docked, the Boardwalk and Front Street can be overcrowded with tourists.
Mullet Bay Beach
Mullet Bay beach was one of my favorite spots on the island.
The moon-shaped Mullet Bay is a beautiful beach with perfect soft white sand and bright turquoise waters. Thanks to its protected coves the water is calm most of the time with just a few occasional waves. This is a perfect spot to spend the whole day.
We booked beach chairs in advance and brought our own food so we could have a picnic on the beach. But there are two small beach restaurants if you need food and drinks. Beach chairs and umbrellas are available for rent but bring cash.
The French side of the island
Orient Bay Beach
St. Martin island is blessed with 37 gorgeous beaches. But Orient Bay beach is probably one of the most famous in the entire Caribbean and is often called “St Tropez of the Caribbean”.
This 2-mile-long, white powdered sand beach is truly beautiful. It is protected from the Atlantic waves by a reef so, the snorkeling here is just incredible. But be warned! Because one part of this beach is famous for its nudity.
Many bars and restaurants are directly located on the beach. But when Hurricane Irma hit the island in 2017 it left a trail of devastation on Orient Bay. All beach bars were wiped out and all vegetation and many coconut trees were swept away.
Luckily, the vegetation is growing back quickly, and the beach still has soft white sand, and the colors of the sea are still spectacular.
I am glad that most of the beachfront bars and restaurants have reopened for business.
We made reservations at the charming Coco Beach restaurant. It lies towards the northern end of Orient beach. After delicious lunch with a view, we spent the rest of the day swimming in clear tropical waters and lounging on comfortable beach chairs with matching umbrellas.
Grand Case village
Grand Case is a charming town facing Grand Case Bay. There is only one major road in Grand Case – Boulevard de Grande Case and it is lined up with restaurants, bars, and clothing boutiques.
Grand Case is a small town, and you may want to park yourself at one of the beachfront restaurants for the whole day. The most popular ones Captain Frenchy’s and Rainbow Café are right next to one another at the end of the main strip of restaurants on Boulevard de Grande Case.
Also, this small town is often called a “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean”. Many top chefs of the world opened their restaurants here. You can find an interesting mix of French Caribbean and Creole cuisines.
If you want to splurge on a gourmet feast via European style, you should make reservations at famous restaurants such as Ocean 82, Le Temps de Cerise or Villa Royale. These restaurants have full bars with great wine selection. Your dinner will be pricey but worth every bit of it.
But if you want to get a taste of less expensive food, I recommend eating at the local Lolos.
The open-air barbeque stands are called “Lolo” by locals. These are a good place for a well-seasoned rack of ribs, chicken, or grilled red snapper served with rice, beans, and coleslaw. I would highly recommend dining here at least once.
The full platter costs from $10 to $20 and is a real bargain on pricey St. Martin. We paid $100 for the four of us for big plates of grilled snapper with vegetables, salads, and drinks. Just remember to bring cash, there is a sign “no credit cards”.
Besides the 5-star restaurants and local barbeque Lolos, you must visit the beach.
Grand Case Bay beach has stunning turquoise waters and golden sand. There are plenty of beach chairs and umbrellas for rent.
Trip to Pinel Island
Pinel Island is located on the Northeast side of St. Martin and is set in the heart of the French Marine Park. This place is popular with locals and tourists so you should come early to find a parking spot.
One day we decided to visit this little treasure in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. We drove to the Cul de Sac on the French side and took a small ferry for a ten-minute ride. The first ferry arrives around 9:30 a.m. and operates every half hour until 5 p.m. Expect to pay $12 per person for a round trip and $25 for the chairs. Bring cash!
Yes, Pinel Island is a bit expensive to visit but well worth it.
The first thing you see is picture-perfect scenery – the turquoise water and the white sand of the beach surrounded by coconut trees.
There are two cute French restaurants with full facilities and a souvenir shack at the back of the main beach. The two main restaurants are Yellow Beach and Karibuni. We prefer Karibuni. But both places serve fresh lobster and seafood, and you should expect to spend around $150 for lunch with drinks for two people.
We had so much fun laying out under our umbrellas, drinking frozen mojitos, and taking dips in the crystal-clear Caribbean water.
Hiking or driving to Pic Paradis
You cannot miss the adventure of hiking or drive to Pic Paradis.
Pic Paradis is the highest point of the island at a height of 1,391 feet. It rises from the center of St. Martin on the French side and is not far from the village Colombier.
If you are ready to explore St. Martin wilderness, you should go hiking or rent a car and drive to the top of the mountain. There are plenty of hiking trails leading to the observation decks. A view from the deck over the island and the rainforest below is spectacular. If you are lucky, you will see wild monkeys eating peacefully in the shade of big trees.
The coastal hikes and walking trails are also very popular. Make sure to climb to the top of the hills because the views from the peaks give breathtaking panoramic views of the island. You can find many places for incredible photos.
Where did we stay in St. Martin?
When it comes to where to stay, it depends on what you are looking for. The island offers a wide range of accommodation, from the five-star resorts to charming boutique hotels. In addition to that, there is a big variety of timeshare and condo rental options.
Regardless of whether you choose to stay on the Dutch or French side, everything is relatively close and easy to access with a rental car.
We stayed at Divi Little Bay Beach Resort. Divi is a timeshare resort with 235 rooms, three pools, four restaurants, a mini-mart, and a gift shop. You can choose from an all-inclusive package (a rare option on this island) or room only.
The resort is located on a peninsula within walking distance of Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the island. The best part that is located on its private beach facing Little Bay waters. I believe it has a perfect location for a relaxing stay on a tropical island.
I would recommend renting a car if you are planning to explore other sides of the island.
The resort has a full-service spa, gym, water-sports center, and several shops. There are two swimming pools located at Seabreeze bar and a new infinity pool on the hilly side of the resort. The bars and restaurants provide a great mix of fine dining and casual poolside snack options.
Divi hotel value
We stayed at Divi hotel for seven days and paid $2,600 for a junior suite. I believe that on this island where hotels are quite expensive, this was a good value for our money.
Our room was spacious and comfortable with a scenic view of Little Bay beach. The room had an open concept of sleeping and sitting areas with a kitchenette and a bathroom with a jacuzzi and a large-size shower room.
There are many great reasons to visit the island – history, culture, beaches, food, fun, and shopping. We did not have time to take in all the sights of this beautiful island.
But we were happy to explore and experience a small piece of this paradise that is a little Dutch and a little French.
Have you traveled to St. Martin? What is your favorite things to do in the Caribbean?