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The Caribbean island of Sint Maarten is a popular cruise port and beach destination. Located in the West Indies the island is one of the most unique places to visit in the Caribbean. The island is divided in half, with the northern half being a French Collectivity and the southern half being a constituent country of the Netherlands. Whether you are seeking a beach holiday, an adventurous vacation, or culture, you’ll find a good mix of fun things to do in St. Maarten for couples, families, adventure-seekers, and those looking to relax and unwind.
This guide to what to do in St. Maarten includes where to stay on the island and 6 romantic things to do in Sint Maarten and Saint Martin for couples. But, don’t worry, if you are traveling with children, several of these St. Maarten experiences are great for kids, too!
Our experience in Sint Maarten and Saint Martin
Every couple needs a romantic getaway now and again. If you have kids, chances are you are long overdue for one. My husband and I haven’t taken a trip without our daughter since she was born years ago. With both our families living in other states, it’s difficult to get away sans kid, so we bring her with us wherever we go. With that said, we often need an adults-only vacation. While there are plenty of romantic places worth visiting in the world, if you live in the United States, one of the best destinations for couples is just a short flight away to the tiny island known as Sint Maarten or Saint Martin.
We visited this beautiful country when we first got married. While we have traveled all over the planet, St. Maarten remains one of the most romantic vacations we’ve ever taken. It could be the nostalgia and sentimental feelings I get when I think of St. Maarten because we honeymooned there, but it truly is a beautiful and romantic island.
About St. Maarten-Saint Martin
The dual-nation island is broken up into two sides: the Dutch country of Sint Maarten on the south and the French collectivity of Saint Martin on the north. Many simply refer to these two territories as either the Dutch side and the French side. The language, currency, and overall feel of the two sides are completely different.
On the Dutch side, they speak English and Dutch and use the Netherlands Antillean guilder and the American dollar. On the French side, they speak French, use the Euro, and sunbath nude on the beaches. You’ll also find some pretty amazing crepes and other French foods! Travel between the two sides is easy and chances are you’ll barely realize you’re in a new country when you cross over the border. You do not have to go through customs, show a passport, or pay any type of entrance fee. It’s as easy as driving from one US state to another.
History of the island of Saint Martin and its two sides
The island has a long history that dates back to one of the early founders of the Americas, Christopher Columbus. On his second voyage to the Americas it is said that he discovered and anchored on the small island. The Dutch later took control of the island from the Spaniards, and in 1648, the Dutch signed an agreement with France to divide the island. It has remained that way for nearly 350 years.
Recent history of St. Maarten and St. Martin
In 2017 the island was devastated by Hurricane Irma, which caused widespread destruction across the island, shut down the airports, and damaged 95% of structures on the French side and 70% of the infrastructure on the Dutch side. It took a year for cruise ship passengers and tourism to return to the island, only to be halted again due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the island is still recovering from the recent setbacks, it is a destination that caters to tourism, and promises visitors a wonderful time.
How to get to St. Maarten
International travelers can fly into Princess Juliana Airport, the only international airport on the island. Cruise ships dock frequently in the Dutch capital of Philipsburg, so it is also possible to arrive by cruise ship.
Additionally, for those who are taking small planes between islands there is a small, regional airport on the French side called Grand Case-Esperance Airport, which services flights to Saint Barthelemy, Anguilla, and the Guadeloupe archipelago.
Where to stay in St. Maarten
We stayed on the Dutch side of the island at the charming Divi Little Bay Beach Resort. The resort is well maintained and right on the water. It was incredibly peaceful and romantic to go to sleep and wake up each day to the sound of the ocean right outside our door.
Situated in on idyllic semi-private peninsula and the Little Bay, the resort has 3 swimming pools, a children’s activity center and some of the best snorkeling spots on the island right outside your hotel room
The staff is friendly, there are a couple of restaurants within the resort, and it is within walking distance to the town of Philipsburg. They also have entertainment during the evening and a resident parrot that speaks and will curiously perch himself on the guests that he likes.
Things to do in St. Maarten / Things to do in Saint Martin
The tiny island surprisingly has a lot to do. We were able to keep ourselves entertained for a week, and we left wanting to stay longer. Here were some of the best things to do in St. Maarten and Saint Martin.
Explore Life Under the Ocean on a Snorkeling or Scuba Diving Adventure
The most popular activities in St. Maarten all involve the beach and the ocean. There are 37 beaches on the island, and the beaches in St. Martin and St. Marteen are beautiful. The water is clear and calm, and there is great snorkeling in the bays.
Snorkeling, scuba diving, jet skiing, and other beach activities are among the most popular things to do in St. Maarten.
In fact, several snorkeling tour operators on the island take their guests to Little Bay for snorkeling, so if you’re staying at Divi Little Bay Beach Resort, use the snorkeling gear provided, or buy your own, and save yourself the cost of a snorkeling excursion.
Other popular snorkeling and diving spots on the island include Simpson Bay and Mullet Bay which also have equally beautiful beaches close to the airport.
Never snorkeled before? Don’t worry! It’s easy to learn how to snorkel.
Take a Stroll through the Town of Philipsburg
St. Maarten is a popular Caribbean cruise port. The ships dock in the main city on the Dutch side, Philipsburg. The town can be quite busy when a ship comes in, but on days when there are no cruise ships, you will feel like you have the town to yourself.
We were fortunate enough to visit the island during low season, and the town was basically empty. There are lots of little gift shops and restaurants that line the beach and main streets. It is a popular place to shop for and find great bargains on high end jewelry, as well.
Go Plane Spotting at Maho Beach
Maho Beach is probably one of the most unique things to do on St. Maarten. It is the island’s number one claim to fame. The famous beach which borders Princess Juliana Airport is considered one of the world’s most extreme beaches. There is no other place in the world where you can sit on a beach while massive commercial jets fly dangerously low overhead as they come in for a landing. It truly is a cool experience.
You can feel the strong gust as the jets depart and arrive at the small Princess Juliana International Airport on the island. It will blow your towel, your belongings, and possibly even you across the beach.
There are even warning signs on the fence separating the runway from the beach alerting travelers of potential harm. It is not your typical relaxing day at the beach. This is a bit more action-packed. But if you are looking for something more low-key, there are dozens of other beaches where you can relax and enjoy the calming ocean views.
Check Out the Naked People at Orient Bay (or Join Them!)
After a week on an island filled with nude beaches, even the most bashful person gets curious… So what better way to stir up romance than to go where clothing isn’t necessary. 🙂 This was my first experience at a clothing-optional beach. As an American raised in the conservative south, clothing-optional beaches weren’t a thing where I grew up. In fact, as a teenager, I got in trouble if I even attempted to bare a mid-drift, so walking along a beach with a bunch of strangers who were bearing it all was a bit… eye-opening.
I wish I could tell you that our newlywed selves stripped down and joined the crowd, but we weren’t that uninhibited. We visited the clothing-optional beach at Orient Bay but kept our swimsuits on. Not everyone on the beach is naked, either. It’s a clothing optional beach, so you’ll find plenty of other people who will ultimately leave the island with tan lines, too.
Out of respect for the naked people, I did not take any pictures at this beach. 🙂
If you want to check out Orient Bay Beach without having to see a bunch of naked strangers, there is a side of the beach that is more family-friendly (aka clothed). It is one of the more popular beaches on the French side of the island, so it can become rather crowded, particularly when a cruise ship is at port.
Visit the French Town of Marigot
The capital city of Saint Martin, Marigot, is a great place to spend a day shopping, exploring, and savoring some yummy French food. It’s just a short drive from the Dutch side and is a lovely town. It definitely has more of a foreign, cultural feel than Philipsburg, where businesses accept US dollars and the people speak English.
In Marigot, French is widely spoken. Although most everyone can also speak enough English to help tourists in Marigot, French is a great language to learn for travel. We found a lovely open air cafe that had a wide variety of French pastries, crepes, desserts and breads. It was a great place to sit, relax, and people watch.
Have a Guavaberry Rum and Relax
Speaking of relaxing, when you’re on an island, you should be on island time! That means relax, take things slow, don’t over plan your day, and just enjoy the cool vibes, good food, and tropical drinks.
One of the most romanticthings to do in St. Maarten is simply relaxing with a tropical drink called a Guavaberry Rum Colada. It is a frozen pink drink that probably has a million calories, and it is worth every one of them! It is the tastiest frozen drink I’ve ever had. Just thinking of that calorie filled concoction makes me want to hop on a plane tomorrow and head back to St. Maarten.
In the town of Philipsburg you can sample Guavaberry at the Guavaberry Emporium and buy their products to take home with you from your trip.
Other St. Maarten Things to Do
For those looking for more adventurous activities to get your adrenaline pumping, there are several fun places on St. Maarten where you can go ziplining, including Loterie Farm on the French side and Rainforest Adventures Sint Maarten on the Dutch side.
From Loterie Farm, you can also hike up Pic Paradis, the highest peak in St. Martin offers beautiful, panoramic views of the island.
And for those who want to feel connected with nature without the adrenaline, take a ferry out to Pinel Island or kayak out to the island and snorkel in the shallow, calm waters and see if you can spot sea turtles!You can also take a ferry to the island of St Barts, or to Saba, or the island of Anguilla for a lovely day trip from St. Maarten.
Is St. Maarten worth visiting?
St. Maarten is definitely worth visiting for a long weekend or even a full week. It has been a few years since we visited this wonderful paradise, and we hope to go back someday soon. Perhaps we will take our daughter… or perhaps we won’t. As I mentioned earlier, we are long overdue for an adults-only vacation, and traveling as a couple is one of the best bonding experiences!
If you are looking for things to do inSt. Maarten and St. Martin with kids, the entire island is very family friendly. Although we were there without children, we saw plenty of families enjoying their holiday time together on the island.
Have a question or comment about things to do in St. Maarten or things to do on the French side, Saint Martin? We’d love to hear from you. Leave your thoughts or add your favorite things to do in St. Maarten in the comments below.
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This guide to the best things to do in St Maarten was first published in February 2017 and was updated in June 2022 for accuracy and current information.