Visiting the island of Saint Martin: what are the best things to do and see on the Franco-Dutch island of the West Indies?
Destination: Caribbean! Frequented for its climate and many sandy beaches, Saint-Martin is still considered today the rare pearl of the West Indies.
Located 250 km north of Guadeloupe and 240 km east of Puerto Rico, the island is shared by a symbolic border between two sovereign nations, the French and Dutch.
This island with a dual personality has Marigot as the capital for the French and Philipsburg as the capital for the Dutch.
Once inhabited by the Arawak Indians (also called Taino), it is the smallest in the Caribbean Sea and was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and then colonized by Europeans.
The Dutch side is quite festive, with many clubs to the west, unlike the French side, more famous for its lazy and relaxing atmosphere with its many beaches.
What to do in Saint-Martin? In addition to its postcard décor, this island of 75,000 souls is worth a visit, and you will see for yourself with this list of 10 fun things to visit in Saint-Martin!
The 10 Fun Things To Do in Saint-Martin – French Territory
1. Marigot- Capital of the French part
The village of Marigot owes its name to the many swamps, the marigots, once found on this site. Walking the streets of the city center, you will have the pleasure of admiring the old Creole huts that have been restored and now house many luxury shops.
The island is known for its “free tax,” so take the opportunity to do some shopping! Don’t forget to visit Fort Louis. Built in 1789, it overlooks Marigot Bay, facing Anguilla.
Fancy colors and local atmosphere? Take a trip to the Marigot market! It is the largest open-air market in the Caribbean.
Also to visit Marigot: the Catholic Church, built on the road to Fort Saint Louis, the tomb of François-Auguste Perrinon, the bridge of Durat, and the rue de la République.
Walk along Front Street and Back Street, Phillipsburg’s two main streets, to enjoy the many tax-free products they offer. Front Street (or Great Bay Voorstraat) is also lined with bars and casinos.
You can also visit The Courthouse, which is located on this same street. It is one of the major historical monuments of the Dutch part of Saint Martin.
Another must-see in Philipsburg is the Sint-Maarten Museum, which exhibits, among other things, objects of the Arawak people and where you can discover the history of the island.
Also worth visiting in Philipsburg: the ruins of Fort Amsterdam and Fort Willem I, which offer a superb view.
3. Large box
Grand Case is located north-northeast of Marigot. This village is worth visiting with its reputation as the capital of West Indies gastronomy, beaches, and colorful houses!
There is, among others, the beach of Anse heureux (Happy bay). Paradise and uncrowded compared to the other beaches of the island, you must stop there.
A short visit to the Creole Rock is also a must. This nature reserve is protected, and you can only access it by boat.
An ideal outing for lovers of marine fauna, it will make you enjoy the seabed, natural habitat of fish, rays, and turtles! Renowned for being the most beautiful spot on the island, Grand Case is a trendy place for diving/snorkeling or paddle sessions.
If you go to Grand-Case between January and April, do not miss the Tuesdays Harmony Nights, a festive market where music and gastronomy offer you a frantic evening!
Also worth visiting in Grand Case: The Tijon perfumery and Hope Estate, a protected archaeological site.
Planted in a paradisiacal setting, the island of Saint Martin has 37 beaches, more beautiful than the others, for 70 km of coastline!
From the quietest (Mullet Bay and Baie Rouge), through the most sporty, ideal for a surf session (Baie de l’Embouchure, Petites Cayes, Le Galion …), not to mention the wild (Baie aux Prunes or Grandes Cayes) and the paradise (Ile Tintammare and Happy Bay), Saint Martin has something to satisfy everyone…!
There are other famous beaches on the island that might make you hesitate…
– Grand Case: Bay protected from the swell, the sea is calm, and diving enthusiasts can approach the Creole Rock.
– The Baie Orientale, also nicknamed “The Saint-Tropez of the Caribbean.”
– Little Bay, known to be a paradise for birds.
– Maho Beach: A natural attraction for tourists because it is located at the end of the runway of Juliana Airport – Dawn Beach, located near the Oyster Pond Marina.
5. A boat ride
If you are passing through the pretty island of Saint-Martin, there is an essential way to visit the island… By taking a boat ride!
Indeed, boat rental in Saint-Martin will allow you to discover the Caribbean as you would never have imagined.
Moreover, during your walk, you will discover many wonders. Whether it’s its paradisiacal beaches, its transparent waters revealing the marine fauna, or the view of its sublime mountains, your pupils will not come back!
6. The Butterfly Farm
This must-see is for all the curious, young and old. Under its sphere of 900m², the butterfly farmhouses are the most beautiful specimens of butterflies globally, transits the world, and participate in safeguarding endangered species.
7. The Nature Reserve of Saint Martin
Saint Martin’s nature reserve is one of its treasures that must be explored. Created more than 20 years ago, it covers 3,060 hectares in the northeastern part of France.
It preserves the five main ecosystems of the island, namely mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs, coastal forests, and ponds.
There are essential and diverse marine and terrestrial fauna and flora at the site, among which several species are protected. Many marine mammals such as bottlenose dolphins or humpback whales frequent the waters of this nature reserve. There are also more than 90 species of birds.
8. The Pic Paradis
Are you still wondering what to do in Saint Martin? So climb the highest peak on the island, Pic Paradis!
From the top of its 424 meters of altitude, it is the highest point of Saint Martin, and its access offers you a splendid view of the Caribbean Sea and Marigot.
For the more sporty and nature lovers, you can opt for a 3-hour hike from the bottom of the Pic. This alternative is worth a visit because you can see butterflies, monkeys and, also iguanas.
The site is also accessible by car. Still, plan a good quarter of an hour of walking!
9. Farm Lottery
The Lottery Farm is a 54-hectare nature reserve located at the top of Pic Paradis. It is a place steeped in history that offers breathtaking landscapes!
Formerly called the “Plantation Lottery,” it was initially a sugar cane plantation whose activity ceased following the abolition of slavery.
The site, only accessible by car, offers different activities adapted to everyone: hiking, tree climbing, swimming, catering … Enough to have a good time!
10. To visit also Saint Martin
● The Spring Sugar Factory
● The Saint-Jean plantation
● The Obelisk of the Border
● Marcel Cove
● Soualiga Destinations Boat Tours
How to get to Saint Martin?
There are two ways to get to Saint Martin: by plane and by boat.
● By plane
Flights from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Princess Juliana SXM International Airport are mostly direct with AirFrance. With another company, you can have a stopover at New York John F Kennedy Airport.
From Orly to SXM airport, flights with Air Caraïbes are direct but many transit through Guadeloupe or Dominica depending on the company. For example, Air France now passes its passengers through Pointe à Pitre.
To land at SFG St Martin Esperance airport (located in Grand Case), flights are all indirect from Paris with a stopover through Pointe à Pitre. Allow at least 9 hours of flight to reach the island.
● By boat
Don’t hesitate to include a crossing by boat in your planned trip if you want to make it part of the experience. This means of transport keeps gaining new followers each year.
The cargo crossing lasts between 10 and 12 days and is only to Guadeloupe or Martinique. Its price, higher than the plane, includes accommodation and catering. To reach Saint Martin, you will then just have to take a plane.
Where to stay in Saint Martin?
Saint Martin offers multiple accommodation possibilities: hotels, guest-houses, villas, holiday residences, rentals … There is something for everyone!
The north of the island, with Anse Marcel, Cul de Sac, Grand Case, and Orient Bay, tourists generally prefer to sleep in Saint Martin.
Finding a holiday rental in St-Martin at attractive prices is possible, especially if you come out of season. More and more individuals are also renting out their homes when they go on vacation themselves.
To find a hotel at the best price, do not hesitate to look at the hotel comparator’s site. And if you opt for a more atypical accommodation, you can turn to the Airbnb rental platform.