Travel with Terri to St. Maarten — The Friendly Island

There are countless gorgeous tropical islands in the Caribbean Ocean and I have traveled to most of them. So…what’s so special and unique about St. Maarten also known as SXM? Here are a few of the fun facts: this island is the smallest land mass in the world to be shared by two different nations. It’s only 37 square miles and is governed by France and the Netherlands. There is no real border, just modest monuments and signs. Sint Maarten or Saint Martin provides vacationers the opportunity to enjoy not 2 but 3 distinct cultures. There’s the Dutch on one side, the French on the other, and the blending of both with the native islanders.  There are endless beaches, lagoons, a mountain range, luxury hotels, elegant villas, and over 300 restaurants with chefs from around the world.  Shopping on the island is duty free and casinos, discos and night clubs stay open till dawn. International jumbo jets land here and you can take a charter flight to the smaller Leeward Islands.

We stayed at Simpson Bay Lagoon, which is very centrally located. It’s the Caribbean’s largest lagoon and is landlocked with the exception of two narrow channels with draw bridges. St. Maarten has become the yachting center of the Caribbean, home port to some of the world’s most outrageous mega-yachts which are mostly in Simpson Bay.

In this area there is the infamous drawbridge that spans over a short channel connecting the Lagoon with the open waters of the Caribbean Sea and opens six times per day to allow yachts to enter and leave the Lagoon. These openings block traffic on one of the island’s most vital roads and one is to the International Airport. So, if you have to catch a plane around the expected bridge openings, allow for extra travel time.

On another travel note – we rented a car for the week and all went well. But know when riding around the island you will see many affluent areas, but also there is a sprinkling of non-tourist, poverty looking communities. Of course, this is typical of most Caribbean Islands.

For shopping, Philipsburg is where you need to go. There are two main roads:

Front and Back Street. Front Street, is the main thoroughfare and has duty-free shops offering everything. Visitors will also find traditional West Indian architecture, including characteristic pastel-colored houses. Front Street’s most prominent landmark is the eye-catching Courthouse, built in 1793.

Nearby are the Cruise Ship Terminal and the Sint Maarten Museum, which has artifacts on display from the island’s original inhabitants, plus cargo salvaged from a British ship which sank off the coast in 1801.

Also, check out a historic fort built in 1631. It bears witness to Philipsburg’s strategic importance. Fort Amsterdam is built on a peninsula and was the first Dutch military outpost in the Caribbean. It sits high upon a hill and has endless views of the ocean and island.

My favorite beaches: Cupecoy Beach on Mullet Bay has to be one of the most scenic regions on the entire island where the water is beyond turquoise and crystal clear, possibly the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The Dutch’s Mullet Bay is the quintessential Caribbean beach, popular with both visitors and island residents and runs along the island’s only 18-hole golf course.

Orient Beach has long had the reputation as the most famous beach, for many reasons. It’s on the French side and is a fun experience. It’s clothing optional and has a variety of upscale beach restaurants. This stretch of beach has been compared to St. Tropez and is to be enjoyed unencumbered by clothing. Here you will also see wind/kite-surfers and many other sporting activities…and yes, the participants are fully clothed.

Maho Beach is one of the area’s most famous attractions and is literally at the end of the SXM Airport runway. Nowhere else in the world can you witness take-off and landings of jumbo-jets as closely, all while sipping on a tropical cocktail, swimming or just standing on the beach and hanging on for dear life. No wonder aviation fans from around the world go here for the very exciting ‘Maho Beach Airplane Experience!’ We loved it.

Other recommended fun experiences: At Seaside Nature Park we took a breathtaking horseback ride. We experienced amazing viewpoints as we rode on rugged cliff-lined trails. Our guide informed us about the island’s history, unique flora and fauna. The ride ended with us riding down to the beach where our horses went for a little swim to cool off, with us still in the saddle! Something I’ll never forget.

And the highlight of our trip was Pyratz Gourmet Sailing. It was the ultimate catamaran experience! This is a gourmet day cruise that offers intimate catamaran day cruises to the islands of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten and Anguilla. Here we explored wonderful sites, enjoyed a gourmet 4-course custom lunch aboard, fine wine and craft cocktails from their open bar. The crew was extremely professional and made our last day in paradise very special and unique with service on board that was beyond our expectations.

This is the biggest small island in the world. Without visiting, it’s impossible to imagine the variety of landscape, cultures, activities and entertainment. Coupled with the excellent dining and spectacular beaches, it’s a perfect island vacation destination!

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