The Island Of Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin: A Gateway To The Caribbean

The Island Of Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin: A Gateway To The Caribbean

Published April 23, 2022

I recently spent a few nights on a unique Caribbean island: Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin! Its name suggests its most defining feature: that the island is divided into two countries! With a French side on the northern half and a Dutch side on the southern half, Saint Martin is the smallest inhabited land mass divided between two nations.

So what brought me to Saint Martin? Well, my friend Ismael and I actually wanted to spend about a week in neighboring Anguilla, an island directly to the north. After reviewing our flight options, it made the most sense to fly in and out of Princess Juliana International Airport on Sint Maarten and then travel to Anguilla by boat.

In fact, Saint Martin serves as a travel hub to a number of nearby islands, including Anguilla, Saint Barthélemy, and Saba. But if I’m going to be completely honest, Saint Martin was a little underwhelming as a destination on its own. After seeing two different islands in the region over the course of about ten days, I can tell you with certainty that I’d recommend Anguilla over Saint Martin for a weeklong getaway.

Rendezvous Bay, Anguilla

I’m not saying that Saint Martin was bad. There were some interesting beaches and other attractions we saw on our first and final nights of our trip. But a sense that the island is overdeveloped and too commercialized takes away from its natural beauty. This post will highlight what I liked about Saint Martin, then discuss the things that I wasn’t impressed with.

Some Cool Spots to Check Out on Saint Martin

Maho Beach, Sint Maarten

This little beach next to Princess Juliana International Airport was my favorite attraction in Sint Maarten. In addition to having some of the prettiest light blue water on the island, Maho Beach is famous for being an excellent place to watch planes fly in.

Small planes come in every fifteen minutes or so, but if you want to capture a photo or video of a large plane coming in, you might have to check the arrivals schedule online or hang out for a while. It really is an exhilarating experience to see planes flying directly overhead at such a low altitude!

Watching planes take off from Maho Beach is cool as well, although it’s harder to get good footage or photos of it. It’s more about hearing (and feeling) the roar of the jet engine moments before the plane starts accelerating down the runway.

Sandy Ground, Saint-Martin

This little village is where we stayed before heading to Anguilla. Our Airbnb was right on the water and offered a great view of a quiet, tranquil beach.

Sandy Ground is right next to Marigot, the capital of the French side of the island. I honestly didn’t think Marigot was super quaint, but if you need to grab a meal, go to an ATM, or do some shopping, it’s just a five-minute drive eastward.

Baie Orientale, Saint-Martin

Orient Bay Beach is considered the island’s most famous beach. On the last day of our trip, we stayed in an Airbnb overlooking it. We were too exhausted to venture down and spend a bunch of time in the sun, but the panoramic view of Baie Orientale from our balcony was stunning.

Things I Didn't Love About Saint Martin

As you can see, Saint Martin has some beautiful beaches that you should check out. Despite these, I don’t have a strong desire to spend a future vacation here (although I’m sure I’ll pass through again someday on the way to St. Barths or Saba). Below are some things that prevented Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin from being one of my favorite Caribbean islands.

Overdevelopment

My biggest issue with Saint Martin is that the entire island feels like a massive airport or cruise terminal. It’s pretty crowded. There’s lots of commotion. Big billboards advertising rum or adult entertainment venues are everywhere. Casinos dominate many of the commercial areas, especially near Simpson Bay.

Both sides of the island have this issue, but Sint Maarten feels even more commercialized than Saint-Martin. This makes sense as the island’s cruise port is located in Philipsburg (the capital of the Dutch side). Our trip didn’t coincide with any cruise ship stops, but people we met there said the island becomes even crazier when cruises are docked for the day.

Traffic

Even though there weren’t cruise passengers on Saint Martin while we were there, traffic was still a bit of an issue. Since there is only one main road that goes around the island, you’re bound to run into stop-and-go traffic, especially in Marigot and anywhere near Princess Juliana International Airport.

The Food

Caribbean food is one of my favorite cuisines, which is why the underwhelming meals we had on Saint Martin were a bit of a letdown. Especially compared to Anguilla, where many of the restaurants offer world-class dining and some of the best lobster you’ve ever tasted, Saint Martin’s dining scene was good but not great.

The good news is that restaurants are a little more affordable on Saint Martin than on Anguilla. I guess you get what you pay for.

One of the biggest disappointments in Saint-Martin was the conch. I tried this delicacy for the first time in the Bahamas, and Bahamian conch is one of my all-time favorite seafoods. It’s soft, white, and chewy (but not too tough). Conch in the Bahamas is great as a fried treat, in a conch salad, or served as a burger. In contrast, the conch here was grayish-brown, spongy, and didn’t really absorb the sauce it was served in.

Conch from a restaurant in Saint-Martin

Saint Martin: Fine For a Night or Two

Am I glad I got to visit Sint Maarten and Saint-Martin? Absolutely! It was exciting to visit three separate countries on one ten-day trip and see the unique open border on this island. Saint Martin is also a multicultural destination where you’ll hear numerous languages, be able to use three different currencies, and technically be on EU soil despite being thousands of miles from the European continent.

A demarcation point of the open border between Sint Maarten and Saint-Martin

With that said, a couple of nights on Saint Martin was honestly enough for me. I would enthusiastically recommend Anguilla as a destination to any and all travelers, but I can’t necessarily say the same for this island split between two countries directly to the south.

Baie de Grand Case, Saint-Martin

Keep in mind that Saint-Martin and Sint Maarten could be a great fit for other travelers. Depending on your needs, it could even be the perfect destination! What I’ve said in this post is just my opinion and is not intended to disparage or offend. Have you been to this or any other neighboring island? If you have, what did you think? Leave a comment below and let me know!

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This post was published on Apr 23, 2022

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Kristine

    What about Grande Case Beach area?

  2. We have visited Sint Maarten several times and every visit has been a fun discovery. So interesting to read that you would recommend Anguilla over Sint Maarten. Although I would agree with you about it being over-commercialized. I could still spend a few days enjoying the beaches and great waters.

  3. I have never been to Anguilla, and only was in St. Martin for one day, but I loved St. Martin. I love the beautiful colors and the fact that it was two countries. I also loved the long flat beaches!

  4. Roxanne

    I’m staying on Grand Case Beach and I didn’t read anything about that area.
    I plan to take day trips to Anguilla and St Barts.
    If anyone has any restaurant tips for Grand Case beach please respond, I’d love a tip.
    Not fancy either, and I don’t speak French.
    Restaurant with English speaking staff and outdoor tables would be cool.
    St Lucia was awesome for the month long trip I took in 2018.
    Thanks for this topic-

    1. Walter P

      Petite Plage (a Grand Case beach) has become a favorite of ours. Fine dining in GC: Spiga, La Villa, Le Cottage, Le Pressoir, L’Auberge Gourmand, and many more. Local places: Aux Coin des Amis, Sky’s the Limit, Talknofvthe Town, Scooby’s, The Rib Shack.

      1. Roxanne

        Thank you for your recommendations.

  5. Laurie Cote

    Personally, I don’t think you stayed in areas that are indicative of SXM. My husband and I have been coming to the island for nearly 20 years and I think you missed most of the nicest things on SXM. For instance, there are amazing beach bar restaurants that you missed. One is located in Orient Beach called Coco Beach. Here you can have true french food (including real truffles) with the sand between your toes.
    Also you missed the Lolos in Grand Case with great Caribbean food.
    Your report is like going to the city and thinking the entire rest of the state has no trees and only buildings.
    I’ve been to Anguilla and it is BEAUTIFUL. But also very expensive and difficult to get to.
    The people of SXM are some of the friendliest we have ever met!

  6. Roxanne

    Thank you for your positive review.
    I’m jotting down places you mentioned.

  7. Walter P

    I think you missed the whole point of Sint Maarten and St. Martin. I don’t know where you ate, but It is the Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean. World-class restaurants and wonderful family-owned local places. There are a huge variety of beaches, some quiet and private and Orient. If you didn’t go down to the beach or Orient Village for dinner, maybe you should not be blogging your very limited opinion. You also didn’t interact with the people of The Friendly Island which make it very special. The local friends we’ve developed over the years are very special and friendly! I have been to Anguilla many times and the other two neighboring islands also.

  8. Ada

    The beaches certainly look stunning! But considering all the places I’ve never been in the Caribbean, I might wait for a while before I hit up Saint Marten for a visit.

  9. Joanne Schulze

    This is the worst review of the most beautiful island. The people are amazing and they weren’t even mentioned. You missed the heart and soul if the island. 2 days does not give you any idea about the island. Too bad for you. It’s got sooooo much more to offer. You missed the boat on this one.

  10. Chantelle

    Ive only been to St Martin and Sint Maarten one time and I enjoyed it. I do admit that I’m not a fan of all of the casinos on the Dutch side, but I loved the beaches and the people were all so incredibly kind. I had fun visiting an outdoor market on the French side, and practicing my high school French skills. The traffic was indeed awful, which is to be expected when there is only one major road, but they were also working the road, and it was dreadful. I appreciate your honest opinions, not every place will fit every person’s style and likes, and I love reading various opinions. Also, I love conch, and that did not look great in your photo, I would have been super bummed about that, Bahamian Conch has us spoiled 🙂

  11. Himanshu

    I am sure Saint Martin must have been a unique experience for you. Beaches looks clean and beautiful. Commercialization is killing many beautiful spot but we have to live with it and find our own off beat destinations.

  12. Lynn Masse

    I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy your time on what I call my second home. I’ve been traveling to St Maarten since 1988 and I consider this island a wonderful place to stay. Your dining experiences tell me, you didn’t go to the amazing restaurants they have there. The food in many locations is outstanding and by far, the best I’ve experienced in the Caribbean…and I’m considered by many, a food snob AND have traveled to over a dozen of the islands, multiple times. For those of you reading this, please don’t let this article taint your decision to not travel here. St Maarten/St Martin has the friendliest people, beautiful beaches, fantastic food and some really great night life, unlike most of the other islands that roll up their sidewalks at 10 pm. Yes, it can be congested, but that’s because soooo many people go there because it’s a fabulous place to travel!! If it was barren, no one would go! St Maarten is Heaven on earth!! Since Hurricane Irma, this island has come back SO strong and boasts many new locations and some older ones are better than they were prior to that horrific day! These people are strong and so grateful for travelers coming there to boos their economy! I’ve had people joke that I have a PHD in St Maarten! 🤣.
    I love my island home and I don’t even own a home there!! YET! #SXMFOREVER

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