Posted on December 17 2018
Sparkling in the eastern waters of the warm Caribbean Sea, St. Maarten is one of the world's most stunning islands.
Thousands of tourists return to the island year after year, basking in the bright Caribbean sun and clear turquoise waters. St. Maarten is a true tropical paradise, combining vibrant island culture with elegant European charm.
There are endless reasons why St. Maarten is one of the top Caribbean islands. In this guide, we've narrowed them down to the top nine, ranging from world-renowned beaches to sumptuous culinary offerings.
A Brief History of St. Maarten
Before we explore the unique characteristics that make St. Maarten one of the top Caribbean destinations, let's take a brief look at its rich and diverse history.
Roughly 200 miles east of Puerto Rico and just south of Anguilla, the small island of St. Maarten lies in the eastern region of the Caribbean. The island is divided into two parts — Saint Martin and Sint Maarten. While Saint Martin is a French collectivity, Sint Maarten is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Christopher Columbus claimed the island for Spain on his second voyage to the Americas. He landed on St. Martin's day, so he named the island in honor of the saint. But Spain wouldn't hold onto the island for long. In the following centuries, France and the Netherlands would both claim the island as theirs. The result is a divided island, and while both sides share similarities, each half of the island has its own distinct culture.
The two nations have peacefully shared the small island since 1648, and a popular legend explains how they agreed on the boundary line between them. According to local folklore, a representative from each country decided to define their nation's property by a walking contest. Each man started at the same location. They set out walking in opposite directions along the shore, and wherever they met, a line would be drawn from that point to the starting location to mark the border. As the legend goes, the representative of the Netherlands enjoyed some gin on his walk, and his slower pace meant the French representative covered more ground — and thus, the Dutch side of the island is smaller than the French.
Today, the island houses roughly 75,000 inhabitants, and locals and internationals alike call it "the friendly island."
1. Pristine Beaches
Although it is a compact island, St. Maarten boasts an incredible array of beaches. Ranging from remote stretches of sand to resort-bordering shoreline, each of the 37 beaches is unique and beautiful. Below are five of the most popular spots to experience the beachside beauty of St. Maarten first hand.
- Grand-Case Beach: Lying in the center of a quaint fishing village, this beach is long and close to many gourmet and local restaurants. Sheltered and calm, Grand-Case is perfect for a relaxing swim, and scuba divers flock to the nearby Creole Rock.
- Anse Marcel Beach: Simultaneously well-developed and sheltered, this beach borders a protected bay. With peaceful water and full amenities, Anse Marcel is especially popular with families.
- Orient Bay: One of St. Maarten's largest and most popular beaches, Orient Bay provides a wide range of amenities, from beachside restaurants and hotels to local shops and stalls.
- Little Bay: For a beach that is rich with wildlife, spend a day at Little Bay. A haven for wildlife, this beach is protected from the main bay, a little quieter and perfect for a relaxing and nature-filled excursion.
- Mullet Bay: Beloved by both tourists and locals, Mullet Bay has fine sands and glorious views. Offshore, north winds create wonderful conditions for surfing.
Another popular beach is Maho Beach. But be prepared — if you spend an afternoon at the Maho Beach, you'll witness an additional spectacle. Because the beach is located just meters away from Princess Juliana Airport, landing and departing planes fly just over the beach — so close that it feels like you could reach up and touch them.
With white, soft sands and warm, gentle water, you can find a St. Maarten beach perfect for families and children, honeymooners, watersport enthusiasts or those just wanting an afternoon to relax in the sun.
2. The Beauty of Two Nations
When you visit St. Maarten, you visit two European nations — the Kingdom of the Netherlands and France. In just one vacation, you can experience both the French and Dutch cultures, all in the context of a tropical paradise and local Caribbean charm.
While there is overlap between the two sides of the island, each has its own distinct customs and heritage. In St. Maarten, the currency used is the Netherlands Antilles Guilder. The capital is Philipsburg, and the official languages are English and Dutch. Various leading cultural artists call St. Maarten home, including Nicole de Weever, a Broadway star. If you can, try to see the annual St. Maarten Carnival — lasting from April to May, the celebration is known for bright colors, costumes and parades.
In French St. Martin, the euro is the official currency, and the capital city is lovely Marigot. Less developed than the Dutch side, St. Martin has a slightly more peaceful, sleepier atmosphere. The official language is French, but English is still widely spoken. Both sides of the island retain an individual but united identity, creating a truly unique island culture. Collectively, the island is known in shorthand as SXM, symbolizing the unity of the two nations.
With an area of only 33.59 square miles, St. Maarten is one of the smallest Caribbean islands, but don't let its size fool you. The cosmopolitan island brims with culture and charm, and it is a delightful and colorful combination of European and Caribbean cultures — all in all, over 110 different nationalities call St. Maarten home.
3. Under the Water
The attraction of St. Maarten isn't limited to its white sands.
Wade into the gentle waves and explore a marine landscape that draws visitors from around the world. Snorkel over one of the many reefs that surround the island. For a fascinating swim, slip on your fins and venture off the beautiful beach at Mullet Bay — large sunken units have created interesting reefs. Off the shore of Grand Case beach is the impressive Creole Rock, which shelters a wide range of marine life.
Even more than snorkeling, St. Maarten is known as a diving paradise. Over 55 distinct dive sites surround the island, including cave dives, reef dives and wreck dives. One of the most popular wrecks is the 1770 British warship HMS Proselyte, which sank offshore in 1801. Carib Cargo is another wreck popular with southern stingrays, coral and other marine life, making it one of the most spectacular around St. Maarten.
The Fish Bowl is aptly named — teeming with vibrant coral and fish, this reef is a thrilling and favorite dive spot. Swim through a natural arch, and keep an eye out for larger sea life such as barracuda and reef sharks.
4. Over the Water
For watersport enthusiasts, St. Maarten is a perfect destination.
To spend a day on the waves, rent a jet ski and fly over the sea, feeling sea spray and the ocean breeze whip through your hair. Stand-up paddleboarding is another popular sport, and it allows you to experience the beauty of the sea with your friends and family.
For the truly adventurous, you can even try flyboarding. Essentially, a flyboard is a type of water hoverboard. Attached to your watercraft, jet-propulsion boots send you high into the air. Easy to learn and adrenaline-pumping, a few hours of flyboarding over the calm St. Maarten waters will be an experience you won't soon forget.
5. Culinary Expertise
In many ways, what sets St. Maarten apart from its neighbors is its incredible cuisine.
Known by many as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, the island of St. Maarten boasts over 300 restaurants. Over 100 nationalities are represented in the vast array of food, and on a visit, you can taste everything from French-influenced cuisine to Mediterranean-style eateries.
For true local flavor, try one of the small shops and restaurants that dot the island. Lolos, roadside barbecue pits, are a must-try — bursting with scents of chicken, seafood and ribs, lolos pair well-seasoned meat with sides of rice, beans, fried plantains and macaroni salad. Locals advocate a Carib beer to finish the affordable and flavorful meal.
Many restaurants line the beaches, so you don't have to walk far for a high-quality meal. If you want a luxury dining experience, reserve a seat at one of Philipsburg's many gourmet restaurants. European patisseries offer delicate and delicious desserts, and local wine distributors provide excellent drinks and superb food.
Whatever way you prefer your food, St. Maarten will deliver — from local barbecue and fresh seafood to European delicacies, St. Maarten has a perfect culinary experience for everyone.
6. Colorful Festivals
From Carnival to the SXM Festival, St. Maarten erupts with colorful and lively celebrations.
The St. Maarten Carnival celebration is one of the most spectacular in the Caribbean. The Grand Parade winds its way through Philipsburg, surrounded by big and bright costumes, headlining bands and tasty food and drink.
The Caribbean's newest dance music festival has made its home in St. Maarten. SXM Festival draws over 2,000 partygoers and features an all-star line up of 75 DJs. During the festival, daytime beach parties transition into a vibrant night scene with tropically decorated stages, impressive visuals and state-of-the-art sound systems.
The festivals of St. Maarten are attracting international attention, and they are a perfect destination for travelers who love lush visuals and a fun, celebratory atmosphere.
7. Breathtaking Landscapes
Beyond its clear water, St. Maarten is known for golden sun and soft mountains.
While you're staying on St. Maarten, make sure you venture to the beach for at least one sunset — while all Caribbean sunsets are breathtaking, something about the natural beauty of St. Maarten makes them even more stunning.
A gorgeous variety of plant and animal life fills the volcanic landscape. Tall coconut trees, twisty sea grapes, and lazy palms line the beaches, and the island is a birdwatcher's haven. The mangrove forests, rocky islets, and dense wetlands harbor an incredible variety of bird species.
St. Maarten has exceptional weather. January to March is the high tourist season, with maximum temperatures reaching 84 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (29-32 Celsius). May to October is the island's wet season, but you can still expect to see plenty of sun on your trip, as most rain showers end soon after they begin.
When you visit St. Maarten, expect to marvel at lush forested mountains, bright and whimsical hummingbirds and even a sea turtle or two.
8. Thriving Nightlife
In St. Maarten, the entertainment doesn't stop when the sun goes down. Known across the Caribbean for its vibrant nightlife, St. Maarten offers a wide range of after-dark bars, casinos, pubs and clubs that keep the festive atmosphere going well into the night.
Because of the island's comfortable climate, visitors can choose from indoor and open-air venues filled with local music, dancing and entertainment. St. Maarten houses all 13 of the island's casinos, most of them located in luxurious hotels.
If you prefer a slightly more peaceful evening, spend a few hours sipping local drinks at one of the island's lounge bars featuring live music. Some even have rotating live pianists, adding a touch of class to your night.
For a truly Caribbean evening, go on an after-dark boat charter. Enjoy a private night on the water with your friends and family, and relax under the stars with your favorite drink in hand.
9. World-Renowned Shopping
St. Maarten is known for many things, but one of its many attractions is its incredible shopping centers.
The entire island is duty-free, which means you can shop without worrying about customs fees. This makes St. Maarten a go-to destination for luxury goods at duty-free prices, which can significantly reduce their costs.
Around the island, you can find shops offering premier products including cosmetics, electronics, fashion and even food and spirits. Browse one of the many local art galleries to find a unique and lovely souvenir. St. Maarten provides a world-renowned selection of luxury and designer jewelry, and Little Switzerland offers some of the best.
With an extensive collection of top brands and designers, Little Switzerland stands apart as St. Maarten's premier luxury jewelry retailer. Select from the top names in the jewelry industry, including Omega, Tiffany & Co., and Breitling. Whether you've been searching for the perfect watch, a gem-studded bracelet or a diamond necklace, you'll find what you're looking for at Little Switzerland.
Find the Finest Jewelry in St. Maarten
St. Maarten is a vibrant and stunning island, brimming with diverse cultures, incredible cuisine and pristine beaches. For the island's best selection of jewelry, visit Little Switzerland.
Since 1954, Little Switzerland has been the Caribbean's most trusted provider of luxury jewelry and watches, and we offer superior quality in both our collection and our service. We offer preferred, no-interest financing plans with up to 36-months to pay, and our selection is available both online and in-store.