St. Martin/ Sint Maarten

DSC02445So far, St. Martin is my very favorite island in the Caribbean. There is just so much variety in terms of adventures and things to do. And, it’s home to the prettiest beach that I’ve ever seen, Long Baie!

So far I’ve spent 6 days in St. Martin and I still feel like there is more to see and do and would happily go back for another 6!

Unique to St. Martin:

  • Watch the planes at Maho Beach
  • See sea turtles at the uninhabited Tintamarre Island,
  • Eat lunch at Pinel Island which is only accessible by boat
  • Climb to the highest point on the island, Pic Paradis
  • Go shopping at Marigot Market & climb to the top of Fort Louis
  • Go snorkeling at Creole Rock
  • Try your luck at the Casinos
  • Try a Guavaberry Sunrise drink

Adventures: 

Robinson’s Speed Boat Tour – If you are only in St. Martin for 1 day (ex. a cruise ship passenger), then I cannot speak more highly of Robinson’s Speed Boat Tour (Visit their Website here!). It’s the best way to see as much as you can of the island in a 6-7 hour time frame. I also recommend it for people who are staying on the island. I’ve done this tour twice, once with Brian and the second time we had enough people in our party to fill the entire boat. Either way, it was awesome and a great way to cross many of the best spots in St. Martin off of your list!

Speed Boat Itinerary:

  • Meet at the Marina in Phillipsburg behind Chesterfields Restaurant & Bar.
  • Depending on the weather, you either head east & get to see the entire island counter-clockwise. Or if the Atlantic is too choppy that day, then your boat heads west and goes through the Simpson Bay Lagoon. Either way is scenic.
  • Your first stop is Tintamarre Island to snorkel and see the sea turtles. Tintamarre is a beautiful uninhabited island. The boat docks about 30 yards off the beach and you can swim for shore, float with some pool noodles, or head out towards the ocean to look for turtles. If you try hard and it’s the right season, I would expect to maybe see a couple and if you’re lucky the best way to see them up close is when the turtles come up for air. If the turtles stay on the bottom of the ocean, they’re pretty far away. There were a ton of boats at Tintamarre with tourists, so if you do some research, I’m sure you can find a tour that will take you.  DSC03647
  • Second stop is Pinel Island for a nice lunch at the Yellow Beach Restaurant (rumor is that they don’t stop here anymore, I would ask when you make the reservation). I loved how they park the boat in the water next to Pinel and you get to wade to shore. The massive iguanas are really neat, although a little unnerving since they seem to be very comfortable around people and walk right up to your table. We obviously didn’t try it, but based on my research of the internet, you can supposedly rent kayaks from Orient Beach and paddle yourself to Pinel.
  • Next is Snorkeling at Creole Rock. Tons of fish. Lots of rocks. Not a lot of variety and color in terms of fish or coral. Awesome for beginner snorkeler but well-traveled snorkelers will be underwhelmed. Wear water socks or fins, some of the rocks are not very far below the surface. I didn’t mind that our speed boat stopped here, but I wouldn’t pay for an excursion just to Creole Rock, not worth it, in my opinion.
  • Beautiful boat ride along the North coast. Anguilla on your right in the distance. St. Martin on the left. You’ll pass pretty sights like Grand Case, Marigot, Baie Rouge, and Donald Trump’s huge vacation house all of which will be pointed out by your driver.
  • Finally, your boat will arrive at Long Baie for a swim. The most beautiful, bluest water in the entire world. I cannot explain how much I love this beach. The water is so pretty, so clear, and the beach is not crowded at all. Also, there are thousand-dollar/night villas on the cliffs above you – so it makes you feel kinda fancy. I’m told that all the beaches in St. Martin are public, so you should be able to get there by land as well as by boat. DSC03820
  • Finally on the way back to Phillipsburg, the speed boat passes Maho Beach and if the timing is right, then you’ll get to see the planes land right over the top of the boat. Really neat! Unfortunately, due to the local laws, the boats can’t drop people off at Maho Beach so time permitting, you should also visit Maho Beach so you can see foot on the sand.

Casino Royale – St. Martin is known for their Casinos; however, we only visited the one, Casino Royale, for a couple of hours to celebrate Brian’s birthday. Basically the same as any casino back in the states. It’s easy to find (near the airport) & has free valet parking.

Maho Beach – Amazing! Make Maho Beach one of your stops when visiting St. Martin. The planes landing right overhead are really, really neat. Just be sure and either 1.) visit in tDSC01954he middle of the day, or 2.) check a flight schedule so that you get to see planes and aren’t disappointed. Make sure you stand in the sand directly behind one taking off to feel the jet blast! Fair warning, standing on the beach is close enough. You will get pelted with stinging sand. There’s no need to hang on the fence. 🙂 (Picture: me being photobombed!)

Pic Paradis – Everything that I read before we left made it sound like Pic Paradis was much more difficult than it actually was. I’m so glad that we decided to try it anyways. To get to Pic Paradis, just follow the road signs between Grand Case & Marigot. As you get closer to theDSC02445 top of the mountain you will eventually reach a large gate (where this picture was taken). At the gate you should park your car (don’t leave anything visible in it) and head up to the top of the mountain on foot. The hardest part is the first 100 yards which is about a 45 degree incline and covered with tree roots. However, once you’re through that part, the ground becomes less steep, and the paths are mowed. Near the top there are short paths in several directions so that you can view the island from multiple sides. You’ll end up right at the base of the radio tower if you take the path to the left. Again, if you’re worried about it being too difficult, I did it in flip flops. 🙂

Shopping in Phillipsburg – A nice place to walk around, but basically just like shopping in any Caribbean port. Rumor is that they have nice jewelry stores although I cannot confirm that.

Marigot Market – Based on my research, Wednesday is the best day to visit the Marigot market and that’s the day we went. Overall the market is very similar to most souvenir and craft stands that you see throughout the Caribbean. We had fun, but I’d cut this stop if yoDSC02408u’re short on time.

Fort Louis in Marigot – While we were in Marigot, we decided to go ahead and climb the steps to the top of Fort Louis. The steps are a bit tricky to find. They’re basically behind some of the shops. And wow, it’s a lot of stairs and it gets really hot at the top without a lot of shade. Take water, but the views are worth the quick stop. (My cannon enthusiast loved it!)

Orient Bay – Orient Bay is the most famous nude beach in St. Martin. So we had to stop by, just to say that we’d been. Honestly though, I don’t really understand the hype. When we were there the water was covered with seaweed and there was a lot of waves. I think there are several other better beaches on the island. Although if you are looking to rent a boat or do some watersports, they had tons of rental locations.

Cupecoy Beach – The first beach we visited on the island. Cupecoy is a beautiful beach lined with cliffs. We were also shocked to find out that people tend to go nude on this beach, even though it’s on the dutch side of the island. Just be prepared.

Baie Rouge – Overall, a nice beach. There are some rocks as you try to enter the water. Some people were snorkeling but I’m not sure that there was anything to really see.

There are also lots of other adventures that didn’t get a chance to do. They’re on my list for next time though! Would love to hear what people thought about them!

  • Sunset Catamaran
  • Ferry Day Trip to Anguilla
  • Hiking to the Devil’s Cupper Tide Pools
  • Loterie Farm

Transportation:

Fly into Princess Juliana Airport (SXM) – A little bit of a back-up at immigration, but that was probably because we flew in late at night and there only appeared to be two workers. Once we got through that it was smooth sailing. Just be patient and allow an hour or so to get through the airport after you land.

Rent your own car – If visiting St. Martin, I highly recommend renting your own car. Car rentals are very reasonably priced – far less expensive than taxis, and more reliable and offer more options than the public transportation on the island. It’s very easy to find your way around the island (the main road makes a complete circle around the island) and we never had an issue finding parking at any of the places that we wanted to go.

Pretty much all of the major car rental companies are there and I recommend comparing prices and choosing the cheapest of the majors. We went with Thrifty anDSC01893d I have no complaints. I read a lot of reviews online that caused me to steer away from the local companies. Again allow a little extra time, car rental offices are close by the airport, but you have to take a shuttle to get to it.

We decided to splurge a little bit for our anniversary and rented a Mustang Convertible. We had the best time zipping around the island with the top down admiring the beautiful scenery. If your budget allows, I say go for it!


Lodging:

Grand Case Beach Club – I cannot say enough to recommend Grand Case Beach Club! We stayed in a beautiful 1 bedroom loft that we rented through CheapCaribbean. The resort is a gated condo community, which offers room rentals that are reasonably priced, clean, and all with a beautiful ocean view (see picture of view from our balcony!). There are two beaches on site, although we only visited the one beach due to posted signs about sea urchins at the other beach. No loss though because the one beach was very nice and we never even bothered to try the pool.

In our opinion, the best thing about the resort is it was that it was Not an all-inclusive! I’m not against all-inclusive by any means, but in St. Martin, I recommend staying at a resoDSC01877rt that is not. St. Martin is an island that is known for their food and it would have been a waste to eat resort food when there are all these amazing restaurants close by in the city of Grand Case! Note, that Grand Case Beach Club is also one of the few hotels that are actually located so closely to the town of Grand Case. All of the other hotels would require you to drive to dinner.


Restaurants/ Meals & Drinks:

One of my favorite things about our trip was every night we’d dress up and walk into the town of Grand Case for dinner. It’s probably about a ½ mile walk from the resort gate to the edge of town. Not going to lie, it’s probably not a walk that I would do myself, but with two of us, I felt perfectly safe. Once you reach the town, there’s really just the one main road to wander down. Every night we found a new restaurant to try and then after eating we’d continue walking, wandering into the different souvenir shops that are open just for the evening dinner crowd. We tried several restaurants on the island, so many that I’m just going to mention my favorites/the most noteworthy. See map below on navigating around Grand Case.

L’ Auberge Gourmande – This restaurant is a little bit trickier to get in and it’s definitely the most pricey in Grand Case. But I recommend going at least once. We used Brian’s birthday as our excuse to splurge a little bit. We went early and were able to get in right away without a reservation. But I highly recommend stopping by on one of your first evenings and making a reservation since it’s so small and doesn’t have a lot of tables. We sat at one of the two tables on the front porch and had so much fun people watching while we dined! Brian absolutely loved his steak filet and still talks about it being one of the best steaks he’s ever eaten. Just a warning – they do charge you for refills of your drink – even if it’s just iced tea. So don’t be surprised when your bill comes back higher than you were expecting! ***See map below – Google Maps does not tag the correct location of this restaurant. Restaurant Review

Il Nettuno – My other favorite restaurant in Grand Case. It’s a very nice Italian restaurant with tables that look out over the water. We tried a couple of different pasta dishes, both of which were very good. And we were so stuffed that day that we actually came back a different night just to try the dessert! Restaurant Review

La Crepe en Rose (The Crepe Stand) – The crepe stand is this adorable little stand along the street in Grand Case where they sell every type of sweet and savory crepe that there is. Prices range from about $3-6 for a crepe and we sampled many different flavors over our 5-day trip. It’s worth stopping at least once, if not more times! (Notice the smile on Brian’s face just because we’re visiting the Crepe Stand!) Restaurant Review

Lolo’s/Sky’s the Limit – For a less expensive option in Grand Case for dinner, I recommend Lolo’s. They give you a plate heaping with chicken, rice, and other sides that you choose. The food wasn’t quite the high quality of the other restaurants, but it was good. Plus there was something fun about the setting, where you eat dinner right along the side of the street.

Sunset Café – The Sunset Café onsite at the Grand Case Beach Club serves an amazing breakfast. Pastries and juice are complimentary with your room rental, but it’s very inexpensive and I highly recommend spending the $4-5 for French toast and the egg sandwich! And the view of ocean and Creole Rock while you dine is beautiful. Even if you’re not staying at the resort, you can still dine at the restaurant. Restaurant Review

Sarafina’s – St. Martin was the closest that I had ever been to being in France, so we decided that we had to stop for breakfast at a French bakery at least once. It just worked out that Sarafina’s was very close to the Marigot market. They had huge cases just full of all types of pastries. Overall, I thought the pastries were just okay, but the setting was everything that I would expect a French bakery to look like. Restaurant Review

Guavaberry Sunrise – Before I went to St. Martin all of my research told me that the drink to try is the Guavaberry Sunrise made with the guavaberry liquor from the island. So, when we were at the Sunset Café on Maho Beach – we decided to see what it was all about. And now I know that I personally am not a big fan of guavaberry liquor. I think it tastes kind of medicine-y – like one of those liquid antibiotics that they give you when you are a kid. Anyways, I’m glad we tried it but there was no need to order a second one!

Sunset Cafe in Maho Beach – The hamburgers at the Sunset Café in Maho Beach were fine, but nothing special – I’d probably skip eating there knowing there are better choices around. If anything, the setting right on Maho Beach was really fun.

Yellow Beach Restaurant & Bar on Pinel Island – The Yellow Beach is the restaurant stop for Robinson’s boat tour. It’s only accessible by boat or kayak, but it’s a fun destination. You eat dinner outside under tiki huts and eat simple foods like chicken and ribs with french fries or ratatouille. They also have water tables where you can sip tropical drinks while relaxing on the beach. Restaurant Review

There are a lot of other restaurants in Grand Case that we did not get to try (Spiga,Bistrot Caraibes, Rainbow Café, etc). Would love to hear what other people thought of them for our next visit!


Tips/ Things to Know:

  • Crime – Do Not, I repeat Do Not keep anything in your car. The island has a reputation for people breaking into cars and stealing things. Do not leave anything in your car, it will tempt thieves. That being said, we never left anything unattended in our car and didn’t have any issues.
  • Same money, pay cash! All of the places on the French side of St. Martin take Euros. But, if you pay cash, many offer a 1:1 exchange rate. Since Euros are currently worth more than dollars, American travelers are wise to take cash and pay cash. Credit cards are subject to the normal exchange rate.
  • Google Maps is still trying to figure out St. Martin. Many restaurants in Grand Case are either not on Google Maps or they are in the wrong location. See map below for more information.

My Time Spent on the Island:

  • 5 day trip in May 2015, booked via www.CheapCaribbean.com
  • 1 day cruise port in February 2016, on the Carnival Breeze

Maps: 

Grand Case can be a bit tricky to navigate with its narrow one-way streets – but once you have your bearings, it’s pretty easy. All of the restaurants are along the Boulevard de Grande Case which is a two way street to the east of Calmos Café and a one-way street to the west of Calmos Café. Many of the restaurants are mislabeled or omitted by Google Maps, but this website does a great job mapping their locations. https://www.grandcase.com/restaurants.html

From N7 (the main ring road of St. Martin), you have 2 choices to get into the main part of Grand Case.

  • Rue des Ecoles is a very narrow road right though the city of Grand Case. The important trick if you take this route is to make sure you turn right on Allee des Lambis. If you miss this turn and make it all the way to the Boulevard de Grande Case, then you will be in the one-way section of Boulevard de Grande Case and you will have to turn left. If your destination was to the East, then you have to do the whole circle over again.
  • Route de l’Esperance is a much wider road on the outskirts of Grand Case that goes past the airport. To get to this road you go all the way past the airport and basically double back to get into the city. It’s a longer route, but you don’t have to deal with the narrow one-way streets and you can go a lot faster to make up for the longer route.

MapofGrandCase

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope you find our travel guide helpful!

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