Sint Maarten may spark confusion when you search for it online due to its varied spellings. This puzzling fact stems from a unique geographical twist: this single, 37-square-mile island is shared by two distinct nations. The northern side, which makes up 55% of the island, is known as Saint Martin and belongs to France. Meanwhile, the southern part, covering roughly 45% of the landmass, is the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten.
Every corner of this spectacular island, where mountains meet the sea, is worth exploring. The Dutch region, although smaller, is renowned for its warm-hearted locals, justifying its nickname, “The Friendly Island.”
The allure of Sint Maarten extends far beyond engaging conversations with locals over the country’s signature guavaberry liqueur. The island boasts a plethora of experiences, from lounging on a beach while airplanes fly astonishingly close overhead, to riding the world’s steepest zipline, to feasting on endless johnnycakes. Here’s your guide to the magic of Sint Maarten.
Feel the Thrill of Planes Flying Over Maho Beach
Maho Beach and the neighboring Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten are famous for their startlingly close encounters with airplanes. Photos and YouTube videos often depict sunbathers seemingly within arm’s reach of incoming aircraft. To join this exhilarating spectacle, arrive early in the day when most international flights land. For a more comfortable view, rent a daybed or chair from local vendors.
However, Sint Maarten offers 36 other beaches for those seeking more tranquility. Long Bay Beach, also known as Baie Longue, is the island’s largest beach, featuring a secluded coastline of turquoise waters framed by rock formations. It’s an ideal spot for bodyboarding and surfing. For sailing expeditions around the island, head to Simpson Bay, which offers numerous options, including No1SXM Sailing and Sail Arawak SXM.
Experience the World’s Steepest Zipline and Interact with Parrots
Sint Maarten’s beaches often steal the spotlight, but the island’s zipline and bird sanctuary offer equally exciting adventures. The Flying Dutchman Zipline begins at the summit of the nearly 1,200-foot-tall Sentry Hill on Rockland Estate, one of the island’s highest points. As you zip down to sea level at speeds of nearly 60 mph, you’re treated to breathtaking views of forests, seas, and beaches.
Belvedere, a town near the French/Dutch border, is home to Parotte Ville Bird Park. Established in 2015 by local George Parotte, the park houses hundreds of bird species you can interact with, including vibrantly colored parrots. The park also serves as a rehabilitation center for various bird species, with guided tours and a small museum on-site to educate visitors.
Explore the Vibrant Streets and Pineapple-Shaped Bell Tower in Philipsburg
Philipsburg, the capital of Sint Maarten, is the island’s bustling urban heart. The city features a blend of classic Dutch architecture and pastel-colored buildings, housing a myriad of businesses.
The pedestrian-friendly Front Street is a shopping haven, featuring designer boutiques, jewelry shops offering locally sourced tanzanite, and the town’s colonial courthouse adorned with a pineapple-shaped bell tower. If you need a break from shopping, take a stroll along the nearby seaside boardwalk.
Recently, the city’s streets have become a canvas for local artists, thanks to the Be The Change Foundation‘s ColorMeSXM Project.
These artists have filled the city with modern murals, creating an art-walk experience that features everything from flamboyant iguanas to butterfly wings. These Instagram-worthy art pieces are conveniently mapped out for visitors.
Join the Unique Carnival Celebration
Unlike typical Carnival celebrations that focus on their host country and last only a few days, Sint Maarten takes it to another level. Its annual Carnival, usually held in mid-April, features a round-the-clock carnival village teeming with over 30 culinary vendors from across the Caribbean.
One of the highlights is the Jouvert Morning Jump Up, a pre-dawn street party where locals and tourists dress up in group costumes and dance until dawn. The country’s dedicated Carnival website provides a full schedule of events, ensuring non-stop festivities.
Indulge in Local Flavors
When dining in Sint Maarten, you’ll likely see some recurring dishes on the menus, such as johnnycakes (cornmeal pancakes), callaloo (a thick, vegetable soup), lokri (a rice dish similar to paella), and spareribs. For the most savory spare ribs, visit the unpretentious Captain’s Rib Shack, where they’ve perfected the balance between sweet and jerky flavors.
When it comes to drinks, the island is peppered with charming beachside bars. Dutch Blond Beach Bar is a popular spot for its ice-cold, homemade craft beers. Juggie’s Place, boasting the title of “The Smallest Bar in the World,” donates money to a local breast cancer awareness nonprofit for every donated bra. If you’re looking to bring a bottle of Saint Maarten rum back home, choose Guavaberry. You can find it anywhere, from the cruise port to the airport’s duty-free section.
Relax in Luxurious Accommodations
When it comes to accommodations in Sint Maarten, you’ll be choosing between dreamy all-inclusive resorts and breezy villas. Divi Little Bay Beach Resort, which opened its newest wing in 2022, offers three ocean-view pools, a swim-up bar, and an on-site water sports center. For a more family-friendly option, consider the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort. Located on 10 acres of oceanfront property, it offers a kids club, aqua park, and an on-site casino.
For those seeking more privacy, the Coral Beach Club, nestled in the northeastern corner of the country on Oyster Pond, offers 24 luxurious villas with stunning views of the ocean and mountains. No matter where you choose to stay, you’ll be sure to experience the enchantment of this unique island, where the sky nearly meets the sea.