Things to Do in St Maarten
Little Bay Beach is a secluded hideaway just outside of Philipsburg. The beach itself sits just over the western peninsula of Great Bay, and it’s soft white sand offer an enticing backdrop to the idyllic turquoise water that ever so gently laps the shore. Because of the consistently calm water, Little Bay Beach is a great spot for snorkeling, and you can also find watersports like jetskiing, paddleboats and parasailing, not to mention a selection of bars and restaurants, among the handful of resorts along the bay. From the eastern end of Little Bay Beach, you can take a short hike to the tip of the peninsula to explore Fort Amsterdam, which was built by the Dutch in 1631.
When you’re in Philipsburg, you’re never far from the sand because Great Bay Beach fronts the entire length of the town, and the proximity means it’s loaded with amenities. Beach bars abound, as do walk up rum shacks and street carts serving up ice-cold beers. The recently completed boardwalk adds to the cosmopolitan feel of this Dutch Caribbean city. It’s an ideal spot to people watch as tourists and local alike stroll, bike or zip along on segway tours past souvenir shops, restaurants, and bronzed sun-seekers in beach chairs. The brilliant white stretch of sand is one of the longest and widest beaches on the island, and it’s also one of the most popular thanks to easy access from the town and the cruise ship dock.
One of the most developed, popular and beautiful beaches in all of St Maarten, this clothing-optional spot is a top attraction. At Orient Beach you’ll find great views of the bay, clear water and many excellent restaurants and bars that let you dine with your feet in the sand.
Certainly one of the most European-feeling beaches of the Caribbean, Orient Beach offers plenty to do in and out of the water, including live music, parasailing, jet skiing, windsurfing and also a strong undertow that makes sunbathing more popular than swimming. Club Orient, the island’s only nudist resort, sits on the southern end of the beach.
The centerpiece of the Philipsburg is the courthouse on Watney Square, at the heart of the Front Street shopping area. The historic wooden building is bright white with a bell tower that sports a clock and small spire with a pineapple at the top, which symbolizes welcome. It was originally built in 1793 as the home of the town’s founder, Commander John Philips, and has since been used as jail, post office and fire station. Today the building is a working courthouse, but if you’re interested to learn more about the town’s history, you can walk five minutes east down Front Street to visit the St. Maarten Museum.
Philipsburg’s Front Street, or Voorstraat in the local Dutch, is the hub of this Caribbean capital. It runs for about half a mile along the inside of the bay, overlooking the waterfront. Front Street is home to some the island’s finest shopping and restaurants. Visitors in the market for duty-free jewelry, electronics and cigars can stroll this shopping district to find competitive prices. The road also threads a needle through many of the city’s more popular attractions. You can spot wooden colonial buildings like the courthouse from 1793, which is centrally located on Watney Square, and the Methodist church from 1851. Great Bay Beach is just steps from Front Street, as is the oceanfront boardwalk, and if you’re interested to try your luck in a local casino, you can find both Coliseum Casino within easy walking distance.
More Things to Do in St Maarten
The island of St Martin (on the southern end of which St Maarten sits) has had its fair share of land disputes, as you would expect from an island that is split into two territories, one French and one Dutch. The tiny island of Tintamarre just off the coast is no different and is now a part of the French St Martin.
Located less than two miles to the northeast of St Maarten, this flat, 80-acre island is uninhabited and includes many unspoiled beaches to explore, some of which are clothing-optional. With calm waters, historical ruins to explore and fields of greenery, grass and palm trees to wander through, there is much to do on this tiny slice of Caribbean paradise.
Maho Beach can't boast that it's one of the most peaceful beaches in the world, but it certainly has a unique claim to fame, particularly if you're an aviation lover. This is because Maho Beach is located right next to an airport and the planes fly directly over the beach so low that you feel they might land on you.
Kids especially love watching the planes soar overhead multiple times throughout the day at Maho Beach, but even adults quickly get caught up in the wonder of seeing a large inflight plane so close up. Hang out by the fence on the edge of the beach closest to the airport and you'll even be able to feel the blast of the jets as a plane takes off – and probably some sand particles being swirled up around you. In addition to plane watching, Maho Beach is a fun place to swim and snorkel.
Find Saint Martin’s main airport on a map and you've found Maho Beach. How close is it, you ask? Well, if you’ve ever seen a photo of sunbathing tourists gawping as 747s approach the runway just yards above their heads, it was probably taken here. So come by all means and get your own snap, but you may well find that the roar of engines and the smell of jet fuel deters you from staying too long.
Thankfully things are calmer on Mullet Bay Beach, a short walk away. This is the tropical paradise you've always dreamed of: white sands, swaying palms, clear water. Waves can get surprisingly high here, making it a magnet for the island’s surfers. Mullet Bay is also the site of the island’s only 18-hole golf course.
Ocean lovers and outdoors adventurists love the little island of Pinel. Located just off of the St Maarten coast, Pinel Island is a safe haven of white sand and clear water that is perfect for kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders and those who want a tranquil escape from the modern world.
On the main beach you’ll find two restaurants with lobster and conch specialties, and on the other side of the island you’ll find an ideal snorkel spot in the secluded cove protected by a barrier reef. The island is small enough to explore by foot, and if you end up on the secluded side of the island, you’ll be rewarded with great views of St Maarten and the greater Caribbean.
One of the most famous but under-visited beaches in St Maarten, Baie Rouge (Red Beach) is picturesque with its signature red sand and rock formations.
Found in the Lowlands area of the country, these shores are in a neighborhood residential area, which means it remains relatively quiet. It also sits between two rocky bluffs that seclude the serene area. At the edge of the beach, young people are often found jumping off the rocks into the sea, while others don snorkel gear to head out looking for fish. On the half-mile-long strip of sand, it is common to see topless sunbathers out enjoying the weather.
From Grand Case Bay you can enjoy easy access to one of the best snorkeling destinations on the island. Creole Rock is a small rocky outcropping just offshore, at the north end of the bay, where you can slip into the 30-feet deep water to explore the reef and fish life that are protected here as part of a marine preserve. As you swim near the edge of the rock, you’ll be engulfed by schools of sergeant majors and yellow snapper, and it’s common to spot sea turtles grazing among the rocks. Creole Rock is also loaded with wildlife above the water because it’s a bird rookery where pelicans and brown boobies come to lay their eggs.
To enjoy incredible views and take panoramic photos of St. Maarten’s capital and coastline, head to Cole Bay Hill. You can drive up the hill to Harold Jack lookout point, a scenic overlook where you can gaze down upon Simpson Bay, Philipsburg and Great Bay, and even catch a glimpse of nearby islands Saba, St. Eustatious (Statia) and Anguilla. Cole Bay Hill is the ideal spot to capture morning photos of the sun glinting off Simpson Bay Lagoon, the largest inland body of water in the Caribbean, and it’s also a great place to enjoy the Caribbean sunsets.
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