Area: 33.59 mi² (87 km²)
Max length: 8.326 miles (13.4 km)
Max width: 9.818 miles (15.8 km)
Population: 74,852 (Jan 1, 2007)
Island groups: Antilles, Lesser Antilles, Leeward Antilles, Leeward Islands
Must See & Do
Orient Beach, or Baie Orientale, is one of the most renowned and top-rated beaches in the world. Located in the northeast corner of the island on the French side, miles of soft powdery Caribbean sand are ready for your pleasure. Protected by a reef from the Atlantic Ocean, the water is warm, clean, and perfect for swimming under most conditions. Orient is not only a clothing optional place (to the extreme south of the bay) it’s also a beach with non-stop action – all the great water sports and watersports equipment is available including jet skiing, parasailing, kiteboarding, scuba diving, snorkeling, water trampolines, and more. Of course, the beach has a LOT of food and refreshment choices as well and we have some favourites – Kakao is a must stop to visit GP’s beach bar. Whether you are into playing all day or catching some rays while sipping an island drink, Orient is worth a visit.
Grand Case is known as “The Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean” and truly, the food here is exquisite. Situated on the northwest side of the island, the town has a variety of cuisine styles – French, Italian, American, Creole – and a wide range of price points – from the LOLO’s (locally owned/locally operated) to the extremely high end – you will find something to feed your fancy. On Tuesday nights during the high-season, you can experience another side of island culture with Carnival which includes a nightly parade, street vendors, and lots of locals and tourists. Most other days and nights the town is pretty quiet, as is the beautiful west facing beach which features views of Creole Rock and Anguilla. Finding a quiet spot to lounge on the long beach is never a problem, the water is typically very calm, and if a beach chair is more your speed, there are several options including the famous Calmos Cafe, ZenIT, and our favourite, Max’s Place at the head of the pier we arrive on. Sunsets here, and the elusive green-flash, are absolutely stunning! Also available here is our favourite Dive Shop Octopus Diving which provides the absolutely best diving experience in the islands.
Friar’s Bay is a quaint little protected bay between Marigot and Grand Case with stunning sand. It features two restaurants, Friar’s Bay Beach Café and Kali’s Beach Bar, both of which offer beach chairs and we prefer Friar’s Bay food. The “Full Moon Parties” are legendary and are not to be missed should your timing workout. Towards the north there is good snorkling and typically the water here is calm enough to SUP. This is a great little morning or afternoon stop en route to Grand Case or Marigot.
Happy Bay is just around the bend from Friar’s Bay and is typically more quiet than Friar’s due to the walking path-only access. When on island this is our favourite beach to visit. Soft white sand, bookended by rock outcroppings at either end, and tropical palms make this beach truly visually stunning. There are clothing optional groups who frequent the beach, however they usually stick to the north end only – not as much showboating as Orient. Snorkling and swimming here can be fun, as can mooring and enjoying a few hours of relaxation.
Marigot is the principal town and capital of French St. Martin. It is an appealing spot with brightly coloured houses, a scattering of restaurants, and lively produce and crafts markets. A promenade has been developed on the water front, running from the marina to the cemetery via the open-air market. No capital would be complete without a marina and Fort Louis Marina doesn’t disappoint complete with yachts docked inside the protected area, hundreds anchored or moored outside, and constant boat and ferry traffic. The town has lots of little side streets to explore yet we find the main ocean front drag to be the best. If you’re feeling adventuresome, a hike to Fort Louis provides beautiful vistas and a views of most of the west coast of the island. Now the headquarters of the “sous préfecture” for the two northern islands of St. Martin and Saint Barths, the town of Marigot is home to all the local government departments and is where we will check-in upon return to the island.
Philipsburg is the principal and capital of Dutch St Maarten. It is one of the largest cruise ship ports in all of the Caribbean, and on some days can be an absolute zoo with tourists as up to 8 ships arrive. All those tourists need something to do, and Philipsburg supplies in spades. For those inclined, there is a plethora of duty and sales tax-free shopping for electronics, clothing, and jewellery (especially diamonds) on the mile-long shopping district. The beach here surrounding Great Bay is spectacular and many beach bars and restaurants fronting the boardwalk exist. Closer to the cruise ship dock, various activities such as America’s Cup Racing, scuba diving, and specialty fishing excursions leave early in the day. A longer walk around Great Bay will get you to Fort Amsterdam – which has some unique history and building, and is an important breeding ground for Brown Pelicans.
Maho Beach, also known as Airport Beach or Sunset Beach, is visited for one reason – to watch insanely huge planes land and take-off directly over your head!! The photo-ops here are plentiful (just check Youtube), and a board at the Sunset Bar and Grill will keep you up-to-date on when the “big birds” land, while you’re enjoying some food and drink. Often, some of the most fun here is people watching – insane tourists stand behind planes taking off and get sandblasted by jet engines. Certainly a must-see, the photos will be something you show to all your friends. Unfortunately access via yacht is limited due to an exclusion zone at either end of the runway, so this beach is best visited on your last day prior to departure, as the airport is obviously, seconds away. Something amazing to conclude your trip!