St. Maarten, Caribbean

St. Maarten: Get In, Get Out

I have a new least favorite Caribbean island, and it goes by the name of St. Martin (or Sint Maarten if you’re on the Dutch side). Don’t get me wrong, the landscape is undeniably beautiful. It’s a volcanic isle with multiple levels and layers, a gorgeous coastline, and a rainbow of colors just off its coast.

St. Maarten, CaribbeanIt’s got all the makings of a great tropical isle: plush palm trees, nice beaches (if small), fruity cocktails, restaurant and bar options.

St. Maarten, CaribbeanAnd then someone had to go and plop a mini-Vegas right in the middle of it. In fact, as you taxi on the tarmac, the first thing you see is a neon sign advertising an “adults-only club”—and that’s before you’ve even cleared customs.

St. Maarten, CaribbeanSo why do people go to St. Maarten? Well, the airlift for one. It’s the busiest airport in the Caribbean, and thus it’s easy to find cheap airfare. Ours, for example, was just $500 a piece from Nashville to Princess Juliana International Airport, and that was over a holiday, too.

St. Maarten, CaribbeanPlus, it’s cheaper than most, and thus has suffered the effects of becoming “a Spring Break destination.” I didn’t investigate but I’m sure there are strip clubs galore. If you like that sort of thing, then maybe St. Maarten is for you. It was not, however, for SVV and me.

St. Maarten, CaribbeanWe hated the bright-lit, smoky casinos that greeted us everywhere we walked. We found the place generally unfriendly, no doubt because they have to put up with the onslaught of travelers invading their home island on a regular basis.

St. Maarten, Caribbean But the good news is that you can take advantage of the low airfare and use St. Maarten as a base, only to hop a ferry to a neighboring isle—which is precisely what we did to reach Anguilla, St. Maarten’s polar opposite ($15 and 20 minutes each way). For divers, Saba is an hour and 20 minutes and $50 each leg, as is the ferry for St. Barths (for those with more money to spend once they reach the pricey, yet charming island).

For us, we sought refuge on Anguilla—or more specifically, the Viceroy Anguilla, a property I have long wanted to visit ever since it opened a few years ago. Sure, it wasn’t the cheapest of destinations—our bill for two days there totaled more than our monthly mortgage—but it offered us the kind of experience we longed for and yet couldn’t find on St. Maarten.

Viceroy AnguillaThe property was so quiet. There were three restaurants and multiple pools. There were very few children (versus our Westin resort on St. Maarten where we couldn’t escape the yelling and screaming and splashing). The service was impeccable.

Viceroy AnguillaAnd all said and done, our room wasn’t that much more expensive than what we paid over in St. Maarten (and so much nicer, it’s ridiculous). So yeah, other than to save a few bucks, I don’t really get why people would come all that way and opt to stay on St. Maarten instead of its classier neighbor across the sea.

Viceroy AnguillaSorry, St. Maarten, I hate to rag on you and I totally want to be able to say, “it’s not you, it’s me,” but in this case, it’s all you (and your trashy strip clubs and party-loving clientele that follows suit). I will, however, continue to use you as my hub for reaching lesser-known, untainted islands. And Anguilla, hold my lounge chair, as I’m totally coming back for you the moment I have an opportunity to do so.

  • April 15, 2013

    It’s so interesting to hear your perspective on St. Martin. I was there 12 years ago but I don’t remember seeing any strip clubs (I was also with my boyfriend and his family at the time sanctioned to an all-inclusive so totally different trip). That said, we drove around to all of the beaches and felt that we had many to ourselves. I’m not sure how the island has changed but I really enjoyed my time there. I’d love to go back and see the lolas and explore Grand Case (which I thought would be totally up your alley). That said, different strokes for different folks. I have heard amazing things about Saba but your trip in Anguilla looks gorgeous. Bookmarking that in my head! Great pictures! Good shot of SVV in the pool. At least you got the getaway you wanted. 🙂
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  • April 15, 2013

    Looks really fun. Can’t wait to travel there. 🙂

  • April 16, 2013

    I guess, though it is a beautiful place but you are comparing it with its more gorgeous neighbors, no wonder, Caribbeans are heavens. Which is your favorite island there? I have heard a lot about St. Kitts.

  • April 16, 2013

    Wow, St. Maarten doesn’t really sound like my style at all. But Anguilla looks gorgeous! I will keep it in mind as I plan to be working on a yacht next Caribbean season and will inevitably end up in St. Maarten at some point.
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  • April 17, 2013

    Interesting perspective. You raise some valid points about the island. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
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  • April 18, 2013

    I’m glad that you found a place where you could seek refuge. I love the place and the pools. It looks perfect for travelers who seek a quiet and relaxing vacation. 🙂
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  • April 18, 2013

    We went on a cruise last year that stopped in St. Martin and it was our LEAST favorite port – for a variety of reasons. Glad to know about using it as a pass through to get to other lovely places though!
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  • April 19, 2013

    This one’s a good destination to have over the spring break.
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  • April 19, 2013

    Good tip on using St. Martin to get to islands that may be more my style.

  • April 21, 2013

    I was there, but when I was 12 and can’t remember it at all. Good to know to skip in the future! This is how I felt about the Caymans, though in all fairness there were spots on the Caymans that you could get away from the craziness. I would have never left that pool!!!!!!
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  • April 21, 2013

    It’s a shame it’s so pretty and so yet so crazy. I guess the party animals need a beautiful place to go too.
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  • April 21, 2013
    Alexa Rae Johnson

    That shot of SVV in the pool – SO COOL! Anguilla looks/sounds amazing!

  • April 22, 2013

    aww is this the last Caribbean post? im glad you got to go to so many islands. did you make it to the virgin islands over yonder left? great post about new york too, you are so productive! anyway, you are off to the ship now so looking forward to more posts about a familiar turf…europaaa

  • April 22, 2013

    Hmm, I think you stayed at the wrong place on the island. In Grand Case, I didn’t have that problem at all….but when we taxi’d into Orient Beach we did indeed see the kind of development you speak of.

    Grand Case has better restaurants, legit Carib culture and is more quiet.

    I did go to Saba as well, yes, for the diving. Incredible island experience. Definitely not at ALL like anywhere else I have been in the Caribbean. But….no beaches.

  • April 24, 2013

    Amen to all this. As far as I am concerned, the only thing that St. Maarten has going for it is the airport and the fact that it is is close proximity to Anguilla (which is my favorite place on earth).

  • April 28, 2013

    Oh God, I want that bed! I have very little experience in the Caribbean and am currently savings tips and tricks for the next time I go there as I don’t want to do it the way I have the last 3 times!

  • May 7, 2013

    Wow, what a shame. Who would travel to the Caribbean just to see a casino?
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  • January 2, 2014

    Sounds like you never saw the French side of st. Martin….there really are two very different countries here…get on the n7 and don’t look back

    • January 2, 2014

      We explored Marigot–does that count? Still weren’t impressed. I did want to visit Grand Case, but it was too long of a drive.

      • September 17, 2014

        It’s such a shame you didn’t make it to Grand Case! It is the polar opposite to Maho where the casinos and such are. You’ll want to break out a “Bonjour!” just to be polite, but if you do you’ll find the French crowd in both Grand Case and Orient Bay extremely hospitable and if you hang around long enough you may just start to feel like family. In Grand Case, have drinks at LOVE Beach (heck – stay at the LOVE Hotel) or dig your toes in the sand while you eat at Calmos Cafe. You can dine in perfect French style at La Villa (albeit at French prices) or have a plate of barbequed ribs, some fresh grilled mahi-mahi with creole sauce and a beer for under $15 at one of the “Lolos” (low-cost local barbeque joints) with an ocean view to boot (my favourite is Au Coin des Amis). You can also visit Tijon and make your own perfume to bring home as a souvenir or go diving/snorkeling with Octopus Diving.
        Orient Bay is great for beaches and food too – too much to list. I don’t disagree with your assessment of the places you went, but don’t write off the whole island – there’s a serious hidden gem on the French side!!

        • September 19, 2014

          OK! Will take your advice. Thanks for the insider input—definitely good to know for future Caribbean trips =)

  • June 17, 2014

    Always enjoy checking out what’s happening out in the industry and doing my best to stay up with the latest news. Thanks, I enjoyed the items listed here, they offer a lot of thought provoking ideas. I’ll be certain to take another look in again before long.

  • June 3, 2016

    I just came across your article and I have to say that I disagree. I lived in St Maarten for about a year and I never went to a club nor casino. I’m not saying it does not exist, but this is only the surface of the island and you definitely need to take the time to explore more to really enjoy it. SXM has so much to offer and not only the beaches but also the diverse international cuisine, hikes and nature reserves, scuba diving, snorkeling and marine life, shopping…

    I hope you will give it another chance and spend more than a couple days to really discover all that Saint Martin has to offer!
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    • June 3, 2016

      Fair enough =) I hear the French side is gorgeous, just sounds like I picked the wrong places to go to (bigger islands stress me out!). I’ll consult your blog before I head through SXM again!

  • June 21, 2016

    Really could not agree more. I’m in SXM right now and having been to many islands in the region, I’m kind of appauled. SXM is perfect if your idea of intriguing culture is Las Vegas or Disney Land. If you’re into traffic jams, road rage, watching over your shoulder constantly & packed beaches, I would recommend it. I did have a few amazing meals here, which I would put on par with meals I’ve had in Anguilla & Grenada, but that’s about it. Crime is on the rise, tourists and rental cars are targeted, and the worst part isn’t the strip clubs, but the presence of brothels on the Dutch side. It’s a known hot-spot for human-trafficking and according to the one taxi driver I took, if my idea of a good time is a 15-year old little Colombian or Venezuelan girl, they can make that happen. If you have two weeks, come here and head to Anguilla, then come back to SXM en route to Saba.

    • June 21, 2016

      Carl, I’m so sorry you’re having a bad vacation. We didn’t stick around long enough to try the local cuisine, but I have a hard time comprehending how people would opt to go to SXM (other than price) when there are so many other more beautiful isles in the immediate vicinity, you know? We had an amazing time in Anguilla following our quick 36 hours in Saint Marteen and I’m really hoping to get back there and also dive Saba, which is somewhere I’ve yet to go.

      Thank you for weighing in, and I hope things get better down there!

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