Every island in the Caribbean has a story, but few are as unique as Sint Maarten.
The island is so unique, in fact, that it has two names depending on which side you’re on. Steeped in colonial history, the 37 square mile island is governed by both France (Saint Martin) and the Netherlands (Sint Maarten) and has grown into one of the most popular vacation destinations for those looking for the quintessential Caribbean experience.
With cruises set to return to the island in the coming months, here’s what you need to know when you fly to Sint Maarten to catch your ship!
Cruising to Sint Maarten
Avid cruisers have no doubt experienced cruising into Port of St. Maarten on the Dutch side of the island. While we wait for ships to return to American ports, Sint Maarten is gearing up to welcome back visitors to A. Wathey Pier and nearby Philipsburg. Cruising from the island couldn’t be an easier experience as the port is near a number of hotels, restaurants and shopping to enjoy both before and after your cruise vacation.
Several cruise lines like Celebrity Cruises, Disney Cruise Line and Windstar Cruises have announced plans to sail from Sint Maarten starting this summer, so if you’re ready for your next vacation, the island is ready to have you!
Sint Maarten Best Beaches
Spending the day on the beach is usually high on the to-do list for travelers and there might not be a better island in the Caribbean to do just that. With more than 30 unique beaches to choose from, the island offers no shortage of places to kick back and relax with your toes in the sand and a cold drink in hand.
The most famous of all the beaches on the island is Maho Bay Beach thanks to its proximity to the airport. Wait, what? That’s right, the end of the runway sits along the edge of the water and landing planes swoop down directly overhead. It makes for a cool picture, but for those looking to relax in solitude, this isn’t the beach for you.
Instead, try off the beaten path gems like Happy Bay Beach or nearby Friar’s Bay Beach. Both can be found on the French side of the island and are a little more laid back than some of the island’s other beaches.
If you’re hanging out for a day or two before or after your cruise leaves, Great Bay Beach is right next to the Philipsburg cruise port and surrounded by hotels, restaurants, nightlife, casinos and more. There are plenty of beachside chair and umbrella rental services for a relaxing day watching the turquoise waters of the bay lap against the sand. If you’re looking for more of an adventure, there are kayak, paddleboard and even jet ski rentals available at several locations in Philipsburg.
If you get hungry, there are more than a handful of excellent restaurants right along Great Bay Beach like Ocean Lounge, The French Touch or the Layback Beach Bar & Grill to choose from.
Sint Maarten’s Cuisine
It’s easy to work up an appetite when you’re exploring someplace new, and on Sint Maarten there are some local delicacies visitors should make time to experience. The island’s cuisine is a delightful mix of French and Creole dishes with plenty of fresh seafood incorporated into the menus.
One of the most popular dishes found on the Dutch side of the island, particularly during April’s Carnival celebrations, is Conch and Dumplings. This delicious soup features fresh conch, a kind of sea snail, seasoned with local herbs and spices alongside dumplings for a flavorful and often spicy dish.
If you’re looking for a complete culinary experience, there are several food tour operators on the island who will take you to some of the island’s hidden gems. Flavors of St. Martin is one such tour operator who provides both walking and road tours to discover the best bites and sips St. Martin has to offer. They also offer private tours for a more intimate and in-depth experience. Tours include a discussion of the island’s rich history as a center for trade in the Caribbean as well as recommendations for other food and shopping spots across the island.
When it comes to wetting your whistle, Guavaberry Liqueur is the national drink on Sint Maarten and a must-try for any visitor. Locals have been making the berry-infused rum on the island for generations using the same handpicking methods and distilling process. The liqueur has a lovely fruity flavor and aroma with a little bit of spice as well. It’s used to make a number of drinks like daiquiris, coladas and margaritas.
Carnival on Sint Maarten
There are several major events on the island each year like the annual food and wine festival and the ever popular Heineken Regatta, but the best event of them all is Carnival. At the end of April into early May, the island celebrates life, joy and the West Indies with a party unlike any other. Festivities include parades with colorful costumes, steel drum bands, and as much local food, drink and culture as possible.
Carnival on Sint Maarten is a celebration of heritage for the local residents and the diverse backgrounds from which they come. While there are parties all over the island, the most popular spots are in and around Philipsburg. The festival culminates with the burning of a straw figure known as King MouMou in a celebration of the circle of life. If you like block parties, great music and incredible food, visiting Sint Maarten during Carnival has to be on your bucket list!
Sint Maarten Travel Restrictions
As part of the island’s COVID-19 response, all travelers to the island by air must complete a mandatory electronic health authorization application or they will not be able to board their flight. The processing time for the application takes about 12 hours to process, so make sure you do it a day or two before your flight to ensure it’s approved in time. The application includes the mandatory purchase of COVID-19 travel insurance and travelers must provide a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure.
Sint Maarten has several COVID-19 testing centers on the island and many of the hotels and resorts have sample collection services for getting tested upon your return home. Since travel rules and restrictions can change, make sure you double check what’s required before you head to the airport! For more information about COVID-19 protocols, please visit www.stmaartenupdates.com.
When cruise ships return to the docks of Philipsburg this summer, Sint Maarten is going to be ready. The island has long been a top destination for cruisers and it looks like that’s going to continue into the future!
This post was sponsored by the island of Sint Maarten