PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten – Visitors will undoubtedly be amazed by St. Maarten’s breathtaking landscape, turquoise waters and white sand beaches. But after the beach, a wide variety of day and nighttime diversions, including land and sea excursions, are available for visitors of all ages and activity levels.
Those who would like to get back to nature can hike the numerous trails scattered throughout the island, ride through sun-swept beaches on horseback, or snorkel from a 60-foot catamaran.
For the true adventure seekers, try your hand at parasailing and skydiving, or tour the island by motorcycle, ATV or scooter. Strap yourself into the captain’s chair for some deep-sea fishing or descend the depths and explore historic wrecks and lost cannons from times past. Other pursuits include golf, tennis, walking tours and, of course, beach combing on any of the 37 beaches island-wide.
Nighttime comes alive with St. Maarten’s many clubs, bars and casinos. Hot spots abound in Maho, Simpson Bay, Cupecoy and Philipsburg. If your late night turns into an early morning, point your sandals to Dawn Beach and greet the new day’s sun as it emerges from the Atlantic.
While there is never a loss for activities on St. Maarten, following are several options that have proved to be island favorites among visitors.
Pic du Paradis is the highest summit on the island offering views more breathtaking than one might imagine. From Friar’s Bay Beach, a bumpy, tree-canopied road leads inland to this peak. At 1,492 feet, it is the island’s highest point. Featuring two observation areas, visitors will see spectacular sites.
Located just off the main road to Pic du Paradis is Loterie Farm, a nature-lover’s delight and one of the highlights of a visit to the island. Once a sugar estate, Loterie Farm is now a 150-acre working farm where the owners have carved eco-trails that visitors are free to wander. The trails head into the “hidden forest” and offer splendid views towards the Caribbean Sea, Marigot and the island of Anguilla. Discover giant silk cotton trees as well as groves of mango and palm fed by quiet streams. Alternatively “fly the trees” on a canopy tour and swing from tree to tree via safety-harnessed zip lines. The higher and more challenging tour is for adults, while the lower, easier tour is for children.
One of the most popular St. Maarten attractions is The Butterfly Farm which features hundreds of rare and exotic butterflies in a beautifully landscaped, quiet garden with a waterfall, ponds, Japanese fish and mystical music. At any given time, some 40 species of butterflies, numbering as many as 600, flutter inside the garden under a tented net. The farm displays each stage of metamorphosis starting from eggs hatching into caterpillars and growing into butterflies in the “Butterfly Sphere,” complete with waterfalls and coy ponds. The farm offers informative guided tours, and is great fun for children of all ages.
St. Maarten Zoological and Botanical Garden is at the top of the list of child-friendly activities in St. Maarten. Discover over 80 indigenous species of exotic mammals, reptiles and birds (including the largest display of exotic parrots in the Caribbean), featured in a garden setting of tropical flowers and beautiful orchids. It is the largest park of its kind in the Caribbean, and includes a large playground for kids. It boasts some 200 animals, all of them exclusively from the tropics and a number of them very rare.
The Plantation Mont Vernon features tropical plants and shows the historical and economical development tied to these plants, such as coffee, cotton, indigo and sugar. The well-designed area includes new and historical buildings embedded in a lush park. Easy walking paths make this an enjoyable excursion.
Captain Alan’s Boat Charters offers a “Three Island Snorkeling Excursion” that takes travelers away from the crowds to the lesser visited islands of Tintamarre, Pinel Key and Green Key. On these three stops, participants will find incredible snorkeling, beautiful beaches and a very special volcanic mud bath. The trip runs on high quality 30-foot offshore powerboats with twin 225/250 horsepower engines. The boats can also be rented at Captain Alan’s for private charters (up to 14 people per boat).
If a “pirate’s life’s for you” embark on Lord Sheffield Tall Ship Adventures and experience a traditional, 72-foot-tall pirate ship, complete with three black powder cannons. Spend the day traveling the high seas before anchoring close to the beach for snorkeling amongst historic ship wrecks and exploring aquatic life in the crystal clear Caribbean Sea.
For a view and a taste of history, visitors can climb Mount Concordia, which rises along the border in the center of the island. In 1648, the treaty that divided the island between the Dutch and French was signed here, and Mount Concordia continues to serve as a proud symbol of St. Maarten’s more than 350-year history of peaceful co-existence between the two cultures.
Cole Bay Hill, just west of Philipsburg, has an observation platform at the top. A stop here is highly recommended for views of surrounding islands including Anguilla, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts and Nevis.
Eagle Tours provides families with a variety of boating itineraries. The three hour “Around the Island” excursion gives visitors a chance to experience the beautiful sights of St. Maarten as well as learn the island’s history from the captain. The “Mullet Bay Beach Break” is a three-and-a-half-hour tour down the South coast of St. Maarten which visits Mullet Bay Beach, a perfect location to relax on the beach and enjoy a local bar or restaurant. Eagle Tours’ four-hour “Snorkel, Shop & Beach” package combines snorkeling on the South coast, sightseeing through Simpson Bay Lagoon (the largest salt water lagoon in the Caribbean), exploring Marigot from Marina Royale and relaxing on the beach.
Horseback riding is another unique way to enjoy the sights of St. Maarten. Lucky Stables is one of the most well-known riding facilities on the island and is located on a 30-acre nature park in Cay Bay. The stable provides trails for horseback riding as well as horse and carriage rides, while its ideal beachfront location is perfect for taking a mid-day swim. For first time riders, the stable offers riding lessons.
For those looking to explore the island on their own, renting bicycles is a great way to discover the breathtaking coastlines and exquisite mountain tops of St. Maarten. The island is full of trails, on and off the beaten path, however the most popular route is the 15-mile, two-country trip starting from Simpson Bay Lagoon, visiting Mullet Bay Beach, Plum Bay Beach and Marigot, where you can climb to the top of Fort St. Louis.
For many visitors, the island’s 14 casinos are a major attraction. The gaming is subdued and sophisticated, and open to everyone from high-rollers to beginners. Staff members are always ready to help first-timers through the basics.
Diving and snorkeling enthusiasts will enjoy the crystalline waters surrounding St. Maarten that allow for clear visibility up to 200 feet. Outstanding water clarity allows excellent views of colorful fish and coral, while the warm water welcomes swimmers year-round. Coral reefs are teaming with marine life, providing more than 40 excellent dive sites off St. Maarten’s coast. Some of the reefs are located close to shore making them accessible to snorkelers as well. Certified scuba divers can rent tanks and equipment at watersports shops around the island.
Surf enthusiasts should know that winter waves reach the North and West coasts of St. Maarten from November through March. The East coast comes alive with the passing of tropical systems from July through November. Some of the most popular surf spots include Guana Bay, Le Galion, Mullet Bay and Orient Bay. Board rentals are available.
Shopping on St. Maarten can easily become a full-time activity. As a completely duty-free port, the island offers international luxury items for as little as one-half of their usual prices. The stores along Front Street in Philipsburg are stocked with high-fashion clothing, elegant jewelry and top-of-the-line electronics.
St. Maarten makes a great jump-off point for Island Hopping and daytrips to nearby islands. Anguilla is a 20 minute ferryboat ride from Dutch St. Maarten and is less than 10 minutes away by air. The island boasts 33 beaches. Highlights include: Shoal Beach, known as one of the finest beaches in the Caribbean, and Rendezvous Bay, known for its two miles of sand dunes which are a great place to see pelicans and other tropical birds.
St. Barths is 45 minutes away from Dutch St. Maarten by ferry. The island is known for its harbor town of Gustavia with French and Creole-style buildings.
Saba is only one hour away from Dutch St. Maarten by ferry and 15 minutes by air. Coined “the Unspoiled Queen,” the island is a lush, five-square-mile volcano known for its charming villages, rainforest and dramatic topography. Visitors divide their time between strolling past frilly gingerbread cottages on beautiful mountainsides and shopping for delicate Saban lace. In recent years, scuba diving in the reefs and underwater cliffs has come to be known as some of the best in the Caribbean.
Equipment rental for land and water activities, day excursions and various tours can be found and arranged throughout the island. Many hotels and resorts can accommodate arrangement requests by directing guests to on-island, independent tour operators.
For more information on activities in St. Maarten, visit the official site of the St. Maarten Tourist Bureau at www.VacationStMaarten.com.
St. Maarten is truly a unique island in several ways. It is the smallest island in the world to be shared by two nations, the Netherlands and France, creating a European-influenced vibe with a Caribbean flair. St. Maarten is also the culinary capital of the Caribbean with an eclectic array of elegantly-perfected culinary fusion that keeps “food lovers” returning each year. And with more than 300 restaurants, the island has something for everyone.
Located at the northern end of the Lesser Antilles, the island has 37 breathtaking beaches and is home to many historical and family-oriented attractions including the vastly abundant treasure of rare animal and plant species at the St. Maarten Zoological and Botanical Garden. The historically-pivotal Fort Amsterdam, the St. Maarten Museum and the picturesque and symbolic Mount Concordia, where a treaty and harmonious peace was forged between the island’s two cultures more then 350 years ago, provide other unique attractions.
The Dutch capital of Philipsburg offers duty-free shopping and a bustling city atmosphere in the heart of the Caribbean, while nightlife activities provide endless entertainment at the island’s 14 casinos and numerous nightclubs. For water enthusiasts scuba diving and snorkeling facilities are located throughout the island, which boasts a wide array of marine biodiversity and unique underwater dive sites such as the H.M.S. Proselyte, a notable British frigate which sank in St. Maarten’s waters in 1801.
Accommodations are varied with many designed to exceed the expectations of even the most discerning traveler and include elegant private villas, family oriented resorts, quaint cottages and luxury spa resorts. Air service is available to Princess Juliana International Airport from a number of U.S. and Canadian cities as well as Europe, South America and the Caribbean.
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