St. Martin probably isn’t the first destination that comes to mind when you think of the Caribbean. Although this tiny island is a popular port of call for cruise lines, it still seems to get overshadowed by more well-known places like the Dominican Republic or Jamaica. St. Martin has been shared by France and the Netherlands for more than 300 years, with an open border connecting the two sides. Here’s a short introduction to what you can expect from this beautiful little island.
What to Do
Friar’s Bay Beach – There are tons of beaches to choose from in St. Martin, but Friar’s Bay (also known as Anse des Pères) is one of my favorites. Quieter than most of the island’s other beaches, this wide stretch of sand is a great spot for swimming, snorkeling, and strolling. There are a couple of excellent beach bars, plus pretty views of Anguilla.
Marigot Market – This waterfront market runs every day in the French capital of Marigot, but it’s largest on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The stalls sell a mix of produce, as well as souvenirs like jewelry and clothing. Shopping here is a nice alternative to the crowded stores in the Dutch capital, Philipsburg.
Fort Louis – Only the ruins of this 18th-century fort built to protect the island from pirates remain today, but its hilltop setting offers spectacular views over St. Martin, Simpson Bay lagoon, and the nearby island of Anguilla.
Maho Beach – Located at the end of Princess Juliana Airport’s runway, this beach is an infamous place for plane spotting. Jumbo jets fly unnervingly low over the sands en route to/from the airport. This unusual sight draws big crowds, so it’s definitely not the best beach for just chilling out; however, it’s one of those attractions you can’t help but want to check off your bucket list.
What to Eat
Although St. Martin is small in size, it’s a heavy-hitter in the culinary department. The local cuisine is an intriguing blend of indigenous Arawak, African, French, and East Indian influences, and there are also plenty of American, Italian, Japanese, and Vietnamese restaurants. While there are certainly fast food chains and bland “international” restaurants here and there, for the most part, St. Martin’s restaurants are remarkably high quality.
St. Martin’s one can’t-miss dining experience, in my opinion, are its lolos. Lolos are simple, roadside BBQ stands that serve Creole cuisine – think mac n’ cheese, rice and peas, johnnycakes, plantains, stewed conch, and barbecued ribs. Lolos are as casual as it gets with picnic tables, paper plates, and plastic utensils. They’re dotted all over the island, but the highest concentration is found in the town of Grand Case – as well as two of the most famous: Talk of the Town and Sky’s the Limit, which are located side by side. Both have great views of the ocean, and live music is often featured on weekends. Lolos are also relatively affordable (at least by St. Martin’s standards), considering the massive portion sizes you can expect.
Where to Stay
I stayed in pretty much every area of the island at some point during my trip, and I significantly preferred the French side to the Dutch side. For the most part, the Dutch side felt crowded and commercial, with lots of casinos, touristy shops, and big resorts. The French side, on the other hand, is more low-key and laid-back, with a distinctive mix of European and local influences.
On the French side of the island, Grand Case is by far my favorite spot. There are the aforementioned of lolos, of course, plus Grand Case is known for being the culinary center of the island in general. You could easily be eating with a plastic fork at a lolo one night, and then dining at a fine French restaurant the next. Aside from food, Grand Case has a lovely beach and its main thoroughfare, Boulevard de Grand Case, is lined with lots of browse-worthy boutiques. Plus, the town basically consists of a single mile-long street, so it’s easy to explore on foot
Ready to Explore St. Martin? Why not book one of these places to stay:
Finding comfortable budget accommodation close to the ocean can be tough in the Caribbean but Hevea Hotel in Grand Case is the perfect option in St. Martin. This charming hotel is located just steps away from the beach and offers comfortable accommodation in a renovated Creole house.
Hotel La Plantation is just a quick walk to gorgeous Oriental Bay and the surrounding islands and is in the heart of Oyster Bay Village. This warm hotel offers rooms studios and one bedrooms suites with an island feel to relax in and when you need a break from the beach you can always relax at the hotel’s freshwater swimming pool and deck.
With an outdoor pool, terrace, tropical garden, and views of the lake Hotel Sol e Luna is a wonderful place to stay in Grand Case. Relax at their private beach on the free beach chairs or book one of their private suites with a pool. Hotel Sol e Luna is the luxury hotel you are looking for in Grand Case.
Have you ever been to St. Martin? Anything else we should do on the island?