A visit to Saint Martin is a European-meets-Caribbean adventure with Dutch, French, and Creole elements. Saint Martin is the world’s smallest area of land that is split between two nations and is home to people of 120 nationalities who speak more than 80 languages.
While the island was devastated by Hurricane Irma in 2017 — the disaster destroyed about 90 percent of the structures on the island — more than half of the hotels on the island have since reopened. Today Saint Martin remains a paradise for foodies, adventurers, nature lovers, and beach bums with its 37 white sand beaches, fantastic fusion restaurants, water sports, hiking trails, and more.
Cruisers with a day to spend in Saint Martin can have difficulty deciding how to make the most of their visit, but you can’t go wrong with any of these eight great shore excursions.
Here’s what to do on a day in Saint Martin.
1. See The Sights On Four Wheels
A bus or jeep tour is a great way to get your bearings, but a truly memorable way to experience Saint Martin is to tour it by ATV. This is one of the best ways to see the entire island — both the French side and the Dutch side. Forget tuning out from the back of a minivan — ATV tours put you in the driver’s seat for a much more meaningful and personalized experience.
Solid ATV & Scooter Rental is one of the many companies on Saint Martin that offers island tours. Tours begin around 10 a.m. and last up to 5 hours, crossing from the Dutch side over to the French side and back again. Solid ATV & Scooter Rental is an authorized company for major cruise lines like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Carnival, and Celebrity, so customers can be sure that they will be back to their ship in time. Be sure to wear a swimsuit under your clothes just in case you stop for an impromptu beach visit. While you’re at it, bring a towel, sunscreen, and extra money for food and souvenirs. The rate is roughly $150 for two riders on one ATV, or $80 for a solo rider.
2. Hit The Beach
If you’re cruising through the Caribbean islands, then chances are that you know a good beach when you see one. Saint Martin is home to many beautiful beaches, most of which make perfect places for shore excursions.
Mullet Bay Beach, for example, located on the Dutch side, offers calmer waves and fewer crowds. The crescent-shaped bay has shallow waters for swimming, but it can be a bit rocky. Umbrellas and tables are provided for a fee, and food and drinks are also available for purchase.
Over on the French side, Orient Beach is Saint Martin’s flagship beach. Translucent, turquoise water laps lazily against the bleached white sand. There is a reason that this is one of the most photographed beaches on Saint Martin! This is a popular beach, especially among cruise-ship passengers, so keep in mind that it might get crowded. It’s also important to note that Orient Beach is clothing-optional.
Friar’s Bay Beach, also on the French side, was not as affected by Hurricane Irma, since it was protected from the wind and heavy surf. This is a great beach for families. Those traveling with little ones will be relieved to hear that clothing is required!
3. Spend Time On The Water
Change up your vantage point and enjoy Saint Martin from the jewel-colored Caribbean waters that surround it. Like any Caribbean island worth its salt, Saint Martin offers much to do both on and underneath the surface, from snorkeling to diving to just skimming the waves. Hiring a boat charter is a great way to explore the waters around Saint Martin.
Billy Bones Boatcharters offers a half-day boat tour specifically designed with cruise passengers in mind. There are two departures, one at 9 a.m. and one at 12:45 p.m. The tours start at Bobby’s Marina and continue toward the Simpson Bay Lagoon, where million-dollar megayachts go to roost. From there, you’ll zip from the Dutch side to the French side, passing under the French side’s bridge for a stop at the Marigot waterfront and a cruise over to Creole Rock for snorkeling. Other stops include Happy Bay, Baie Rouge, and Plum Bay, with a stop at Long Beach for a chance to swim, relax, and visit Saint Martin’s famous floating bar.
The tour includes snorkel gear, snacks, and an open bar. Rates begin at $85 per adult and $12 per child.
4. Join The Welcome Wagon
Saint Martin’s Princess Juliana International Airport is home to one of the world’s shortest landing strips for 747 jets. At the end of the runway just happens to be a white sand beach, which is actually more like an extension of the runway. People lounging on the beach end up directly underneath the incoming jumbo jets. It is an exhilarating experience to get up close and personal with these massive planes, and a stop at the beach to watch them come in is an absolute must.
Be sure to pull up the airport schedule for the date and time that you plan to visit the beach so that you can be ready with your camera when the jets arrive. There are signs that let visitors know how far to stay away from the fence of the airport, and it’s important to heed those warnings. But the proximity to power on such a scale is humbling, and the photos are fun for everyone.
5. Take A Day Trip To Anguilla
While you might have just arrived in Saint Martin, it’s not difficult to make your visit a two-for-one special. Just a 30-minute ferry ride across the Caribbean are the sugary shores of Anguilla. Home to numerous private and pristine beaches, Anguilla is an entirely different kind of Caribbean experience.
Visitors can book a private boat tour to the island or take the public ferry boat. The public ferry is easy, fast, and costs about $20 per adult and $10 per child each way. For a private boat experience, consider Calypso Charters Anguilla, which can help design a customized Anguilla itinerary with transfers to and from Saint Martin.
Keep in mind that you will need your passport and photo ID to access Anguilla, since it is a separate country from Saint Martin. You will also need money for exit taxes, food, and souvenirs. The local currency is the East Caribbean dollar, but United States dollars are accepted at most places. The boat ride across the channel is known to be choppy, so if you get seasick, it’s best to come prepared with any medication you might need.
6. Rock To The Rhythm
No visit to the Caribbean would be complete without a dip into the world of rum and reggae. When visiting Saint Martin, why not experience both at an afternoon beach party? The Rum & Reggae Beach Party adventure kicks off on Great Bay Beach, a powdery soft stretch of sand backed by green mountains. From the comfort of your lounge chair, you can groove to the sounds of local reggae music while relaxing on the sand with a fun and festive rum drink in hand.
Great Bay Beach is just outside the town of Philipsburg, where you can get a taste of Dutch charm, enjoy a bit of shopping, and try some tasty Caribbean eats. After checking in at the beach club, you can come and go as you please. The excursion also includes transfers to and from the cruise pier.
7. Enjoy Some Of The Island’s Best Eats
Did you know that Saint Martin is a paradise for foodies? Offering Dutch, Creole, and French flavors, Saint Martin’s restaurants are bursting with tasty treats. Foodies can get a taste of the island’s best eats by taking a culinary road trip to five restaurants. You can sample Dutch cheeses paired with wines or snack on succulent barbecue at a local hot spot. Along the way, you’ll be treated to beautiful views of turquoise seas and powdery beaches. The tour will take you from Philipsburg on the Dutch side to Grand Case on the French side and back to Simpson Bay on the Dutch side, so not only will you be sampling different restaurants, but you’ll also be sampling both sides of Saint Martin. The Flavors of Saint Martin Culinary Road Trip starts at $139 per person. The tour operates from November through August.
8. Go Dutch — Or French
Just a mile away from the cruise pier is the town of Philipsburg, the best place to get a taste of the island’s Dutch charm and enjoy shopping and delicious Caribbean cuisine. There are also casinos in this town, if those rank high on your to-do list. Philipsburg sits on a wide, sweeping crescent bay frequented by cruise passengers with money to burn. Front Street provides a glimpse into the island’s Dutch colonial past, with restored churches and other historic architecture. The alleyways are lined with fun bars, while the main avenues are home to brand-name stores.
On the French side, Marigot is the town to explore, especially if you like high-end shopping and French cuisine. Marigot is the capital of the French side and showcases beautiful Belle Époque style, with wrought-iron balconies and historic lampposts. Down by the ferry dock, there’s a vibrant market. The town also offers delightful French bakeries and cafés.