It is rainy here in Japan, and I’m yearning for serene rhythms of the Caribbean’s beautiful sun-dappled islands. While that is unattainable at the moment I can satisfy my wanderlust by telling you more about our recent cruise with Carnival Conquest. As I mentioned in part one of my series dedicated to our Caribbean Adventures, we hit 3 beautiful islands which dot the eastern part of the sea: St. Maarten, St. Kitts and Grand Turk.
In the next few blog series I will tell you a little bit about each island and list the things you could do at each location. Since you are usually limited in time at the port of call, it is always nice to have a plan!
St. Maarten & St. Martin – Caribbean Island With A European Flair
Our first stop was at a tiny dual-nation island in the Caribbean. Those who don’t know, Saint Martin is an island split between the French collectivity of Saint-Martin and the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten (formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles, but now a constituent state of the Kingdom of the Netherlands). It is one of the smallest land masses divided between two countries and there is no border patrols or customs between them.
The Dutch tends to be less expensive, has casino hotels, and more nightlife, while the French side has a more genteel ambience, offers fashionable shopping, and a Continental flair.
The ship docked on the Dutch side of the island in the capital Phillipsburg. The port is located within a 3-minute boat ride away from the city. You can also opt to walk there (which we also had to do), but considering the sweltering heat it’s not the most pleasant stroll.
Top Things To Do In St. Maarten:
1. Stroll the boardwalk of Dutch-side Philipsburg and its narrow alleys, and explore the very French town of Marigot.
2. Indulge In Gourmet Food
On an island that covers only 37 square miles (96 square km), there are more than 400 restaurants. Dining on both sides of the island is among the best in the Caribbean, thanks to the influx of innovative chefs from across the globe. You can sample the best dishes from France, Thailand, Italy, Vietnam, India, Japan, and, of course, the Caribbean.
The culinary hotspot is known to be in the coastal town of Grand Case, which bears a nickname of the Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean. Unfortunately we were limited in time for a sit down dinner and missed on this wonderful opportunity. However, if you want to read about elaborate French haut cuisine in St.Martin/St. Maarten, here is a great reference.
3. Shop Your Heart Out
In St Martin, Marigot market is a lively meeting point for vendors from all over the island, who display their colorful produce and crafts every Wednesday and Friday.
Duty-free shopping is particularly good in Philipsburg, where the streets are lined with tax-free stores selling electronics, fashionable attire as well as the premier diamond jewelry.
4. ATV/Bike/Sagway tours
This is a fun way to tour the island. Most tours include rest stops at scenic spots and important landmarks.
5. Live a beach bum life
It’s easy to while away the day relaxing on one of the 37 beaches. One of the most popular ones are Baie Orientale (clothing optional and nude beach walking is de rigueur for the guests at Club Orient, so don’t be shocked) for its satiny white sand and turquoise water, and tiny Maho Beach for viewing the planes flying into the island.
You can spruce up your beach time with a little thrilling ride on the jet-ski. Water sports abound all over—diving, snorkeling, sailing, and windsurfing are all top draws.
6. Loterie Farm
Loterie Farm is a privately owned nature reserve where visitors can explore St Martin’s lush tropical vegetation, go zip-lining, sample the local cuisine in the farm’s alfresco restaurant, or chill out in the reserve’s tree lounge.
7. Get kissed by a butterfly!
Marvel at butterflies and moths from around the world and the host plants with which each evolved at Butterfly Farm. At any given time, some 40 species of butterflies—and as many as 600 individual insects—flutter inside the lush screened garden and hatch on the plants housed there. Butterfly art and knickknacks are for sale in the gift shop.
8. Treat You Senses at Tijon Parfumerie
Tourists have been coming here since 2007 to explore the world of handcrafted custom fragrances. This family-run business offers 3-hour courses where visitors can create their signature fragrance, but ready-made perfumes and cosmetics are also available for purchase. This is a great St Martin shopping experience and an opportunity to get a unique souvenir.
Have you ever traveled to St. Maarten? What was the most memorable thing you did? Share your stories in the comments!