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St Martin Newcomers Guide
The following guide provides information and advice to the first time traveler to St Martin/St Maarten. Our company, St Martin Blue, excels at educating our guests with insight into best locations, beaches, restaurants, and activities/excursions. Our full service offering helps with all the details for your St Martin vacation.
Information about St Martin/St Maarten
St Martin is a highly popular Caribbean destination due to numerous attractive features. The most important are the pristine turquoise waters and the white sand beaches. The island is known for some of the best restaurants in the Caribbean. The European and Caribbean influences yields some of the best food travelers have ever experienced.
St Martin is a 37 square mile island located in the West Indies. A unique feature of the island is that two separate countries control each half of the island. The French side called Saint Martin is located on the northern half while the Dutch side called Sint Maarten controls the southern half. The island does not have a border control between the two halves.
The French side has a stronger European influence. The population speaks primarily French but English is universally understood and spoken. Pricing is in Euros but dollars are accepted everywhere. The French side is not as developed as the Dutch side. The French side is known for their restaurants. The capital of the island is Marigot that is a quaint harbor town. The French side has a smaller airport in Grand Case that is primarily used for local flights but does service some international jet flights.
The Dutch side is more developed and offers a wide array of amenities, shopping, and activities. The main airport (Princess Juliana Airport) is located in the Maho area with direct service to New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Boston, Charlotte and Miami. The airport code is SXM for ticketing purposes. The capital of the Dutch side is Phillipsburg that is a very busy port for cruise ships. Front Street in Phillipsburg is a shopper’s duty free haven. English is primarily spoken on this half and US Dollars are the main currency.
The best beaches on the Dutch side are Mullet Bay beach, Maho Beach and Dawn Beach.
Lastly, St Martin is located between the islands of Anguilla (15 minute ferry), St Barts (40 minute ferry) and the volcanic island of Saba allowing guests to explore neighboring islands.
Where to Stay on St Martin/St Maarten for the first time?
The main locales that travelers tend to stay at are the exclusive Terres Basses area (French Lowlands), Orient Beach, Anse Marcel, Grand Case and up and coming Happy Bay on the French side. Simpson Bay, Maho, Cupecoy and Dawn Beach are the primary tourist areas on the Dutch side.
Our recommendation for first time travelers is to stay in the Cupecoy/Terres Basses area. This area is a highly convenient location for first timers. The area is serene and tranquil but features some of the best beaches such as Mullet Bay, Baie Rouge beach, Baie Longue, and Plum Bay beach. Nightlife and restaurants are nearby. For instance, Maho Plaza located adjacent to the airport features nightlife, gaming, entertainment and restaurants is about 10 minutes away. The area is safe and lacks traffic issues that affect other areas. More importantly, the sunset and ocean views in the area capture the essence of a divine Caribbean vacation. The capital port town of Marigot is about 15 minutes away that features exceptional restaurants, fish market, French bakeries, shopping and several tourist attractions.
The Cupecoy and Terres Basses area feature some of the best accommodations as well. In Cupecoy, the higher end properties are the Shore Pointe and The Cliff at Cupecoy while the more value based accommodations would be Porto Cupecoy, Sapphire Beach Club and the Cupecoy Beach Club.
Terres Basses is strictly a residential area except for the world famous La Samanna hotel. The area is known for large and luxurious villa estates as well as it’s picturesque beaches. Each villa is located on at least 1 acre of land with the average size lot being 2.5 acres. The villas capture a true essence of the Caribbean with magical ocean and sunset views, private pools and grounds as well as tropical gardens.
Another popular option would be the Orient beach area as well. Orient Beach is the most known area on St Martin. The mile long beach is known for it’s stunning vistas, pristine beach, water sports and numerous beach bars. The spirit of St Tropez is captured on this beach. There are numerous villas and hotels to choose from in this area.
Which St Martin beaches should be visited on my first trip?
The top three beaches we would consider as must visit beaches are Orient Beach, Mullet Bay beach, and Baie Rouge beach. Each beach has it’s own character and draw. If you have time, other beaches to visit would be Pinel Island, Plum Bay, Friars Bay, Dawn Beach and Maho Beach for the plane landings. Click here for fuller descriptions of St Martin beaches.
What activities should we do while on St Martin?
Some of our recommendations are the following:
- Rhino Riders
- America’s Cup Yacht racing
- Sailing excursions to Anguilla, Prickly Pear or around the island
- Watching sunsets from Maho Beach, Mullet Beach or Cupecoy.
- Watersports on Orient Beach
- Day Trip to St Barths
- Visit the towns of Marigot and Phillipsburg
Our concierge would be happy to assist with recommendations and island planning.
Where should we eat?
The likelihood of finding a very good restaurant on St Martin is highly probable. The gourmet cuisine and European influences in the casual café environs is sure to please. The dress code is island casual at most places. Dollars are universally accepted.
Here are St Martin Blue’s restaurant recommendations:
- Sol E Luna in Cul de Sac
- Le Cigale in Nettle Bay
- Tropicana and Belle Epoque in Marigot
- Rare and Temptation in Cupecoy
- Bajatzu and Moulin Fou in Maho Plaza
- Tastevin, Le Pressior, Spiga, Hibiscus, Auberge du Gourmand, Le Ti Provencale in Grand Case
- Palm Beach on Orient Beach
- Chez Raymond beach bar on Baie Rouge beach
- For local flavor and great value try Yvettes as well as Mark’s Place. The lolos (Caribbean bbq shacks) in Grand Case and Mullet Bay beach offer very good BBQ platters at attractive prices.
Our best tip and avid recommendation would be a visit to Sarafina’s bakery on the Marigot waterfront for breakfast or lunch. The bakery captures the essence of a delightful Parisian bakery bedecked with tantalizing pastries and sandwiches. Click here for a full list of St Martin restaurant recommendations.
How do we get to St Martin/St Maarten?
The island of St Martin/St Maarten is accessed by Princess Juliana Phillipsburg Airport (Airport code SXM). The flight is about 4 hours from New York City. There are numerous direct flights that originated from the Eastern US seaboard, Canada as well as Europe. The island is easy to get to. Passports are required. For more information please click here.