People travel to St. Maarten because of its Caribbean white sand beaches. They are stunning and offer all the amenities you would expect. However, there is so much more to discover and do on this island.
This guide was compiled from ten days of travel around the island in an effort to find some of the more unusual experiences and places. You can travel to St. Maarten/St. Martin for a Caribbean island vacation, or an excursion on a cruise. Our guide has a variety of outdoor activities, hikes and day trips that will make your trip memorable.
St. Maarten Covid Travel Requirements
It is accessible to tourists, but make sure to visit the Sint Marten COvid Travel Requirements website to get the most recent information and updates. The majority of international entry points to the island can be found on the Dutch side. This means that it is most likely that you will arrive in St. Maarten. You will need to comply with these Covid entry requirements.
- In advance, complete the St. Maarten Electronic Health Authorization System (EHAS) online form. You will be asked to show proof of your negative Covid (if necessary) and current vaccination status. Your pre-approved authorization will be sent to you via email. A printable PDF will also be provided. Do not wait to apply as this can take up to 12 hours. If you do not have authorization, you will be denied access to your ferry or flight.
- Proof of negative Covid testing depending on your vaccination status
- Fully vaccinated (with/without booster shot), no older than 9 Months No Covid test
- Non-vaccinated:negativePCR test (within 48hrs)
- Mandatory Covid-19 Insurance. Travelers who are there for less than 12 hours (i.e. cruise visitors) are exempted from this requirement.
- Self Monitoring of Symptoms (five days) You will be required to monitor your temperature and report any symptoms for five days. Each day, you will be emailed an alert with a link to the required information.
- Masks must be worn in indoor public areas such as shops, airports, and other places.
Saint Martin technically belongs to France and has similar Covid travel requirements. Most international arrivals will travel to the Dutch side (see St. Maarten above), but if you do happen to land on the French side of St. Martin’s small airport (Grand Case Esperance SFG Airport), you will need to fill out the European Digital Travel Form Locator online form. You may also need to show proof of a negative Covid test (PCR/antigen) depending on your country of origin and vaccination status. For more information and the latest updates, visit the official St. Martin Covid travel regulations website.
Unusual Things You Can Do, See, and Experience in St. Martin / St. Maarten
You’ll see that most of the activities listed below are outdoors-based and in nature. These are our recommendations. These activities are more “Covid-friendly” because they involve less risk than those done indoors, or in large groups.
1. The 12-Metre Challenge lets you race at sea and experience the thrill of controlling a boat that is an America’s Cup winner.
This experience will take you aboard THE Stars & Stripes winning boat at the 1987 America’s Cup. This is enough to make it exciting. Each member of your group will be assigned a position on the crew. After a brief lesson, you can practice a bit and the helmsman will issue the commands. Then it’s time to race.
2. Get up at 5 am to go for a run or a stroll on Cupecoy Bay. Enjoy a Caribbean beach to yourself.
You can also choose to walk or cycle if running is not your thing. Get up at dawn and head for the cliffs, no matter what you do. Not only will you be rewarded with the soft glow from early morning sunlight, but also with a Caribbean Beach all to yourself.
3. Enjoy a Guana Bay hike and get away from everything.
It is easy to get lost in the St. Maarten tourist trails and wonder, “Is that all there is to it?” But a quick drive to the southeast corner of the island, Guana Bay, was our first glimpse at St. Martin. You can also plan vacation rental in St Martin.
4. Admire the planes that land over Maho Bay Beach.
We have never been to a place where the airport is so popular. You’ll soon understand why if you sit down near Maho Bay’s beach. This photo is a good example. Although it looks Photoshopped, it isn’t.
St. Maarten: Where to Eat
We ate all our meals in St. Maarten (the Dutch side) while we were there. This part of the island has a lot of international food, which is a reflection both of the local population and the number of tourists who visit it.
For traditional French cuisine, head to Grand Case, on the northwest side of St. Martin. Although we didn’t get to try it, the menus were similar to those you would see in France.
Long-term European residents have confirmed that Grand Case’s restaurants are top-notch. They include Auberge Gourmande and Bistro Caribe, Sol e Luna and Ocean 82. We were able to quickly see that Auberge Gourmande was the best place to visit. However, we may be influenced by the freshness and the plat de jour elsewhere.
Top Carrot, Simpson Bay
Vegans and vegetarians will love this place. This is the place for you if salads, juices, and healthy eating appeal to your taste buds. Top Carrot is all about fresh ingredients. These can be either locally grown (when possible), or brought in from the nearby Dominica. Specials change daily.
We felt satisfied after each meal and that we had done our bodies a favor by leaving feeling full. Lydia, the French co-owner, is often there and shares many great stories about her 20+ year experience living on the island. She is also incredibly kind. Top Carrot: Vegetable goodness
Favorite dishes: Salad, vegetable wrap, and baked goat cheese (St Marcellin). Daily special: Mahi mahi with passionfruit sauce and caramelized onion (daily specialty was fantastic). Top Carrot Restaurant: 3200 South Airport Rd (near Simpson Bay Marina), Simpson Bay.
The Palms, Simpson Bay
What happens when a Canadian Trinidadian opens a restaurant in St Maarten Caribbean favourites like drunken ribs or Trinidadian bites are served in a Canadian (and Torontonian!) paraphernalia style. The Palms is your choice. Greg, the owner and his mother, change the menu every day based on what is fresh. He is also an excellent resource for restaurant recommendations and tips on the island.
Favorite dishes: Dranken ribs, pholourie and spiced split pea flour puff fries with house special cumin tamarind sauce. You can split the rib portions or serve them as an appetizer.
Where can I find The Palms Restaurant: 25 Airport Road, Simpson Bay (near RBC Bank).
Sunset Bar, Maho Bay
Sunset Bar is located in a prime spot next to Maho Bay Beach, making it the ideal viewing location for pilots and passengers of planes landing at SXM airport. (see #4). You can also enjoy sunset gazing from the bar with a glass of wine in your hand.
Favorite dishes: While most people come to this restaurant to have a drink, we thought the seared tuna served on top of salad greens was delicious. It’s also very fresh and well-prepared. Ask for the dressing.
Location: Maho Bay is just behind the runway. Disclosure We were served our first meal at this place.
Driftwood Boat Bar in Maho Bay
We can recommend the chicken schwarma sandwich at Driftwood Boat Bar as a cheap and tasty option. Grilled, spiced chicken served with lots of vegetables and dressing.
In case Maho Bay’s Sunset Bar is full, there is another place to view the planes landing at the airport. The location of the Driftwood Boat Bar is Maho Bay on the west side, just beyond the runway.
St. Martin – Where to Stay
We stayed at the Morgan Resort in Maho Bay for the ten-day stay. It is just a short walk from the famous beach, where planes fly overhead to land on the Princess Juliana airport (see #4).
The rooms at the Alegria Boutique Hotel were more like studios or apartments. They had a balcony and a separate bedroom, which made them ideal for longer stays. Alegria was our “home base” during our trip. We returned to the hotel to unwind and reflect on the day, and plan our next steps. It was different than home in that we had a balcony with a view of the Caribbean Sea. Sometimes, we could see the sailboats or catamarans racing across the horizon at sunset. You could also relax in the saltwater swimming pool.
St. Maarten Hotels and Apartments
You may wish to spend a few days on the Dutch side of St. Maarten, whether you’re traveling there for a solo vacation or to start your cruise. These St. Maarten apartments and hotels are located in quieter areas and less developed areas. They are ideal places to base yourself for exploring the island.
Hotels in Maho Bay, Cupecoy Bay, Simpson Bay
These areas are all within easy reach of the airport. We loved staying in Maho Bay because it was far from the main tourist areas. Also, we were close to Mullet Bay Beach and Cupecoy Bay. We could also go to nearby bars and watch the planes fly overhead from the airport. Many activities don’t start in Maho Bay so you will need to add driving time or transfer time between the beginning and the end of your day. You may find Simpson Bay, or close by, in some of the tours and activities listed above.
- El Zafiro Boutique Hotel This hotel is close to our St. Maarten home. It is situated right on the ocean so you can see the mountains and the coast from your room. It is convenient for viewing planes landing at SXM airport.
- Adonis Cupecoy Hotel: It’s in a great location, not far from Cupecoy Bay, Maho Bay (see #4), and Simpson Bay. However, it’s still quieter and less developed than the rest of St. Maarten.
- The Horny Toad Guest House is the perfect place to rent a studio or apartment with a kitchenette and a seating area. You can walk to local restaurants and the airport is close by.
Hotels in Philipsburg, Eastern St. Maarten
Philipsburg is a charming little town that you could consider as a base. It has historic areas, a beach, and nearby shops and restaurants. You can also easily explore Fort Amsterdam from Guana Bay Beach, which is just a few minutes away. Philipsburg is convenient if you are arriving in St. Maarten early to cruise.
- Alicia Inn A great budget option in the middle Philipsburg, close to restaurants, shops, and the beach. If you don’t own a car but still want to explore the area by bus, public transport is available nearby.
- Bay View apartment: A little out of town, in the hills, with great views over Great Bay below and the Atlantic Ocean below. You will feel right at home in this apartment. This is a great place to stay if you need privacy and quiet.
St. Martin Hotels and Apartments – Staying on the French Side
We might visit the French side next time we are on the island. There is less tourism development there and fewer large resorts.
- Sunshine Studios Grand Case: Although our time in Grand Case was brief, we enjoyed the feeling of the place. It had a more local feel than other tourist-oriented areas on the island. It’s also near the “Restaurant Row” for French cuisine when you visit St. Martin. You can cook from your own kitchen or eat on your balcony in the studios.
- Happy Residence in Orient Bay: Located at Orient Bay Beach. This is one of our favourite beaches on the island. You will find other restaurants and shops within walking distance from the apartment.
- Tiko Lodge Oyster Pond:Located on the eastern side, near Babit Point Natural Reserve. This reserve is great for hiking and is not far from Orient Bay. You can choose from rooms or apartments and enjoy views of the water. Despite being remote and quiet, there are still nearby restaurants that can be reached by foot.