Article by Jean-Philippe Tastet, originally published in Atmosphere, Air Transat’s inflight magazine. Check out the latest edition here!
Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, St. Maarten (also known as St. Martin) has been particularly blessed by nature. With miles of idyllic beaches, dreamy turquoise waters and temperatures averaging 27 °C all year long, this little island is a study in perfection. Its impressive cultural diversity only adds to St. Maarten’s appeal, offering visitors the best of the Caribbean, infused with a European lifestyle: French in the north and Dutch in the south. Here, we share with you some of the best things to do in St. Maarten.
Tasting Unique Caribbean Flavours of the Island
This former fishing village is especially charming in the evening. Its narrow main street is lined with restaurants offering fish, rock lobster and shellfish, along with more unexpected items such as high- quality and masterfully prepared meat. Note: From January to April, every Tuesday evening, the village celebrates gastronomy, music and local crafts.
Exploration and Excursions in St. Maarten
The geography of St. Martin makes it easy to revel in the island’s natural attractions. You can start with a 360° viewing of the island and surrounding islands from Pic Paradis, the island’s highest vista at 424 metres. On the way back, make sure to visit Loterie Farm, a nature reserve and a haven for animals that spans 54 hectares. It boasts trees with names that are as evocative – mahogany, soursop and guavaberry – as they are appetizing – papaya, banana and mango. You’ll also see exotic animals such as monkeys, iguanas, parrots and hummingbirds.
In Philipsburg, the island’s capital, you can visit the Sint Maarten Park zoo, a game reserve where around a hundred and fifty animals, mostly from the Amazon Rainforest, are able to roam freely within the zoo’s generous confines. If you are an early riser, a walk through the beautiful garden of the Butterfly Farm is a wonderful way to start your day, and a chance to marvel at the sight of hundreds of butterflies flitting around you. And if you arrive really early, you might just witness butterflies emerging from their chrysalis and taking flight.
St. Martin holds a few cultural surprises. In Marigot, the largest city on the French part of the island, you can enjoy an interesting tour of 18th century Fort Louis. If you go later in the day, you will be able to admire the sunset during the short walk. On the road to the Orleans quarter, you can learn all about the great Caribbean rum adventure at The Old House, a former sugar plantation.
Relax in the Perfect Setting
If it’s really the beach that calls to you, you are in the right place. St. Martin’s 70 km of coastline offers nearly 40 beaches, each one more beautiful than the next. Most beaches are tranquil places that favour complete relaxation, but there is plenty of entertainment on some of the more popular ones like Maho Bay, where plane spotters gather to watch large aircraft take off and land. Surfers tend to congregate on Burgeaux Beach, while some vacationers prefer long, lazy strolls along the famous beaches of Orient Bay and Cupacoy.
For some, window-shopping in charming Philipsburg can be a fun way to unwind. The city is a duty-free zone and offers an impressive array of shops offering brand name clothing, jewellery, perfume and more.