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25 Unmissable Things to Do in Saint Martin (St. Martin) + St. Maarten

After nearly three weeks exploring this dual-nation island (and also visiting the island three other times too), it wasn’t hard to come up with our favorite things to do in Saint Martin.

We j’adore-d feeling the French vibes. Then we decided to go Dutch.

This way we got the best of both beautiful worlds, er, countries.

Even though it’s a tiny Caribbean island, there are many Saint Martin activities to lap up – and almost as many incredible resorts on Saint Martin to rest your sun-kissed body.

Best things to do in Saint Martin and St. Maarten
Once you arrive for your vacation in St. Maarten/St. Martin, you can enjoy two countries in one!

St. Martin vs. Saint Maarten

St. Martin/St. Maarten (aka “The Friendly Island”) is one of the Leeward Islands.

It’s about 190 miles east of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Sea.

Map of Saint Martin and St. Maarten
Map of Saint Martin and St. Maarten

When planning your trip to St. Maarten and St. Martin, you’ll want to know the different names for each country – the names for this island are confusing.

The Saint Martin (French) side is also called St. Martin. The southern Dutch side is called St. Maarten, Sint Maarten and Saint Maarten. See, we told you it was confusing.

The island’s French side is known for nude beaches, markets, fashion and high-end restaurants. It has a French-Caribbean vibe.

The Dutch side of the island is more the party side. It’s known for its casinos, nightlife, rum drinks, duty-free shops and stunning beaches.

The island’s international airport, Princess Juliana International Airport, is also found on the Dutch side, near St. Maarten’s capital of Philipsburg.

Is one side of St. Maarten/St. Martin Island better than the other?

We dish on the differences in detail in our post on Saint Martin vs. Sint Maarten.

Colorful roofs of Orient Bay homes
Talk about a colorful Caribbean island!

Unlike most borders between different countries, there’s no passport or immigration office when you cross from the French side to the Dutch (and vice versa).

You can freely travel between both sides of the island without stopping.

Because it’s like two islands in one, you can have two very different vacations by staying on both sides. Talk about maximizing your holiday!

St. Martin/St. Maarten after Hurricane Irma

One point to remember is that the entire island was badly damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Many of the buildings have been repaired. But on the French side, in particular, it’s a higgledy-piggledy mashup of renovated restaurants and hotels, along with empty boarded-up buildings.

A lot of the roads on the French side are riddled with potholes too.

So you can’t go expecting everything to be manicured and tickety-boo. But it’s charming nevertheless, and in many ways unique.

Things to do in Saint Martin (St. Martin)

Okay, let’s first cover the best things to do in St. Martin (French side).

We spent a lot of time exploring what to do in St. Martin to whittle it down for you.

1) Chill, then party, at a Grand Case beach club

People enjoy Grand Case Beach on St. Martin.
Grand Case beach is one of the best beaches in St. Martin

With 37 beaches, Saint Martin Island (the whole island) isn’t short of dreamy slices of sand and sea.

A favorite of ours is Grand Case Beach.

On the leeward (sheltered) side of the island, this one-mile long crescent is one of the best swimming beaches on St. Martin.

The electric turquoise water is typically calm. And the golden sand is so thick your feet sink almost ankle-deep when you go for a stroll.

About a third of the buildings on the beach still look like bombed-out wrecks, not having been fixed since Hurricane Irma.

But there are also brand new boutique hotels, condos, restaurants and beach clubs.

Damaged building on Grand Case Beach
This building still needs to be repaired from damage it sustained in Hurricane Irma

You can always shake out your towel anywhere on the beach for free.

But there isn’t too much natural shade. And it’s not nearly as fun as hanging out at one of the beach clubs.

The French side of St. Martin is known for its beach clubs – and Grand Case is home to some of the most happening ones!

At the beach clubs, you’ll all sorts of interesting people – topless and beautiful young women sipping champagne, grey-haired Rastafarians, moms rocking small babies, kids building sand castles and a crowd accustomed to dropping big money.

And we can’t forget to mention the cigarette speed boats anchored offshore that could easily feature in James Bond movies!

The cost to use two sun beds and an umbrella is usually $15 USD a day. But if it isn’t busy, that cost may be waived if you have lunch.

Here, then, are the best beach clubs in Grand Case. They’re typically open from morning right through to the wee hours the next day.

Rainbow Café, St Martin

The Rainbow Café is the place to be.

It’s classy and chic, with lounge chairs and umbrellas lined up on the beach.

When it’s time for lunch, gravitate to the open-air restaurant and indulge in a delicious long lunch the way the French do.

Rainbow Café is always hopping! (Credit: Rainbow Café)

Don’t expect burgers. (Remember, we said this place is classy.)

Think snails in garlic butter on a crusty pastry bed, a creole fishpot or roasted duck breast with foie gras sauce. Perhaps sushi.

All washed down with a fine bottle of French wine, of course.

Captain Frenchy

Cheek-to-jowl with Rainbow Café, Captain Frenchy by Fred is another great Grand Case beach club, with friendly servers and excellent food.

It has a more chill (as in slightly quieter) vibe than the Rainbow Café until 4:00 pm, when the place rocks on select days with DJs spinning tunes for a party crowd.

Right beside the Rainbow Cafe, Captain Frenchy is another great beach club in Grand Case

Drinks pack a punch – our rum-and-passion-fruit cocktail and mojito knocked us out for a couple of hours.

With padded cushions at least four inches thick, the beach beds are more comfortable at Captain Frenchy than at Rainbow Café. 

Le Temps des Cerises

A combination of a boutique hotel, restaurant and beach club, Le Temps des Cerises is another cool place to hang out on Grand Case Beach.

Music, good food, excellent service – you can’t go wrong here.

Les Temps des Cerises beach club in Grand Case, St. Martin
Ready for a bite after lounging on the beach? (Credit: Le Temps des Cerises)

Grand Case Beach Club

For a quieter place to relax, head to the beach club section of the Grand Case Beach Club Hotel at the north end of the beach.

It’s set on a darling little cove of beach (Petit Plage) just below the hotel. You can rent very comfy cushioned lounge chairs and umbrellas here ($25 USD for a set).

Unlike the other beach clubs in Grand Case, this one doesn’t have music – it’s just the sounds of wavelets lapping the beach that you hear.

An inviting bar and restaurant at the water’s edge (the Sunset Café – see #13) offers drinks and food.

2) Learn how to make perfume

Tijon Parfumerie
A fun break from the beach is learning how to make perfume at Tijon (Credit: Tijon Parfumerie)

Ever thought about creating your signature scent? Well, in St. Martin, you can.

Tijon Parfumerie helps you design and create your own personal fragrance.

You’ll start by choosing your base scent and then build upon it to find your perfect aroma. They will walk you through it so you’ll feel like a pro.

And you get to leave with a personalized fragrance in hand.

In addition, they’ll keep records of your custom formula, so you can re-order it as you wish. Or add it to a lotion, massage oil and even home and linen mists.

Learning how to make perfume is definitely one of the most unique things to do on St. Martin!

3) Snorkel with turtles at Tintamarre Island

Guests relax on the "Scoobitoo" trampoline in front of Tintamarre Island
Guests relax on the “Scoobitoo” trampoline in front of Tintamarre Island

Fancy a sailing trip with a side of sea turtles?

One of the most fun St. Martin activities is not actually on St. Martin, but off the island on a sailboat. We’re talking about a day trip to Tintamarre Island.

We had a blast with Scoobidoo.

This sailing tour operator takes mostly guests staying at smaller boutique hotels on the French side like Hotel L’Esplanade, Grand Case Beach Club and places in Orient Bay.

Sailing trips from Grand Case vs. Philipsburg

Scoobidoo’s trips are particularly convenient if you’re staying on the north side of the island (St. Martin side) because they leave from Anse Marcel at the top of the island.

Then they do a second pick-up from Petit Plage (Little Beach) right in front of the Grand Case Beach Club.

You don’t have to make your way to Philipsburg down on the Dutch side, where most day sailing excursions leave from.

Note: For sailing trips and boat tours from the Dutch side, see #25 on St. Maarten boat tours.

We got on at Petit Plage. It was easy-peasy.

The 75-foot custom-designed sailing catamaran (called Scoobitoo) anchored right off the beach. We waded knee-deep into the water and walked up a ladder to board the boat from the stern.

And then we sailed to Tintamarre Island.

The day was especially windy, so we had a true sailing adventure on the way over. One young couple stood at the bow like Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic – feeling the wind and sea spray in their hair.

The bar was open (unlimited premium drinks are included), and what the heck, we accepted the rum punches sprinkled with fresh ground nutmeg and cinnamon.

Sailing to Tintamarre Island aboard the "Scoobitoo"
Sailing to Tintamarre Island aboard the “Scoobitoo”

Arriving at Tintamarre Island, we donned snorkeling equipment (provided) and set off in search of turtles.

The island is an uninhabited nature reserve, home to sea turtles and nesting seabirds like brown boobies. And there aren’t any words to do justice to the gorgeous turquoise color of the sea.

Because it was a bit rough, we didn’t sea any turtles. But as soon as we got back on the boat, a large turtle surfaced off the stern and gave us the eye.

Sea turtle at Tintamarre Island
When conditions are right, chances are good you’ll spot sea turtles at Tintamarre Island

We also did a spot of beachcombing on the secluded white sands of Tintamarre’s aptly-named White Bay.

And before long, it was time for lunch! Think fresh crusty bread, pasta salad, chicken salad, tuna with a cream sauce, couscous – and the best part, delicious stinky soft French cheeses and chilled Chardonnay.

On the return, we anchored off Green Cay (near Orient Beach) and Happy Bay, where we swam ashore to its nude beach.

Stefan, Scoobidoo’s owner, has been offering day sailing trips on St. Martin for more than 25 years now.

He doesn’t do much advertising. And he doesn’t need to because he gets so many repeat guests year after year.

His Tintamarre Island trips are some of the best out there.

He limits the group size to a maximum of 28 people (even though the boat can accommodate twice as many), so everyone has plenty of room to move around.

And service is excellent. We were constantly asked if we wanted our drinks filled.

For more fun in the sun, there’s a water slide at the stern and two huge trampolines in the front for relaxing. And from February to May, you may spot humpback whales that pass by in the Atlantic Ocean waters too.

4) Visit Loterie Farm

Loterie Farm swimming pool
Swim in a jungle pool at Loterie Farm

Let us set one thing straight from the get-go.

This is in no way a farm. There are no cows or goats, so this isn’t a place to bring the kids to feed the animals.

However, visiting Loterie Farm is still one of the best things to do in Saint Martin.

It sits on 100 acres of lush land in Pic Paradis and is more like a beach club without the beach and in the middle of the tropical jungle.

There are cascading swimming pools, private huts and treehouses to lounge in with a cocktail in hand. The iguana spotting is fun too.

Healthy tuna salad for lunch at Loterie Farm
Drink, eat, spot iguanas – and enjoy the day at Loterie Farm

If all that lounging sounds boring to you, or you need to get your adrenaline rush on, there are ziplines and hiking trails to scratch that itch.

Loterie Farm has regular parties with DJs and food-and-drink specials so look out for those when you’re in town.

5) Taste rum at La Part des Anges

La Part des Anges is a fine rum tasting club in Grand Case.
For exquisite rums, head to La Part des Anges, a fine rum tasting club in Grand Case (Credit: La Part des Anges)

In St. Martin, you can have your rum and taste it too.

Head to the sexy La Part des Anges (attached to Le Pressoir restaurant, #8 below) and sink comfortably into the oversized leather lounge chairs.

As your eyes take in the golden, dimly lit room, you’ll be mesmerized by all the rum shelves.

Thankfully, the “rum tender” is there to walk you through your snifters.

The rum tasting room has the finest rums from around the Caribbean. You can savor any one of the 130 bottles and follow that up with a Cuban cigar.

Selection of fine rum bottles at La Part des Anges, St. Martin
What rums do you fancy?

Or, for an even more incredible experience, attend a five-course rum tasting dinner that honors the aged spirit in every course.

Then, as you eat creations whipped up by Le Pressoir’s chef, the rum tender will explain the liquor’s history, the production process and how to pair it with food.

6) Escape to Friar’s Bay Beach

Friar's Bay Beach
Friar’s Bay Beach is quieter than Grand Case Beach

A few minutes’ drive south of Grand Case leads you to one of the most beautiful beaches in St. Martin (French side).

The narrow dirt road to the beach is a bit of a disaster though – we had to drive our plucky little Kia rental very slowly to navigate around rocky protrusions and potholes.

But the beach is worth it. Protected from the wind and surf, it’s the perfect swimming beach with clear calm waters.

There’s no natural shade.

So you’ll want to rent beach chairs and an umbrella from one of the two beach clubs operating here – the original Friar’s Bay Beach Café or the new 978 Beach Lounge. (Cost: $10 for two chairs and an umbrella if you eat something, $20 if you don’t.)

Red-and-black door entrance to Friar's Bay Beach Cafe
Entrance to Friar’s Bay Beach Café

The beach chairs are spaced more widely apart than at the Grand Case beach clubs (see #1), and there’s no music, so Friar’s Bay Beach is more mellow.

We watched youngsters learn how to sail from the sailing school at one end of the beach, read and swam.

The more rustic Friar’s Bay Beach Café has cool individual wood cabanas under the trees, each with a wood shade roof and low wooden table, where you can eat with your feet in the sand. Cash only!

978 Beach Lounge is more sophisticated and modern.

7) Walk from Friar’s Bay Beach to Happy Bay Beach

Happy Bay Beach
It’s a pleasant walk to Happy Bay – and the beach itself is nothing short of stunning

When the heat of the day eases come mid-afternoon, hoist yourself off your beach chair on Friar’s Bay Beach (#6), and set off on a walk to Happy Bay Beach.

The 15-minute walk along the coastline takes you up and over a shrub-covered hill to Happy Bay.

The ocean views on the walk are fabulous – yachts bobbing in the turquoise sea – and then you get to Happy Bay Beach.

This drop-dead gorgeous beach is wild. It’s undeveloped, with no beach bars.

It also happens to be a nude beach, so feel free to go for a full-body tan.

Most people we saw were wearing swimsuits. But we did make out an older gray-haired couple in the distance, walking hand-in-hand along the sand, bare bums bouncing up and down.

8) Dine in Grand Case

Outdoor porch of L'Auberge Gourmande
L’Auberge Gourmande is one of the best French restaurants on the island

The French side of the island is renowned for its French restaurants. And nowhere is that more true than in Grand Case.

Before Hurricane Irma, a slew of legendary French bistros and other restaurants lined Grand Case Boulevard. Grand Case was known as the “gourmet capital of the Caribbean.”

Today, it’s pretty well reclaimed that honor again.

More than a dozen Grand Case restaurants have been refurbished and are now back in business.

The top ones all serve an amuse bouche (like a glass of warm curried asparagus soup) to start and a shot of rum (like a banana vanilla-flavored rum) on the house to finish.

Dessert under glass at Le Pressoir, St. Martin
Le Pressoir is one of our favorite French restaurants in St. Martin – and their desserts are incredible (Credit: Le Pressoir)

We also loved getting our Italian on at Spiga, which serves up yummy home-made pasta.

Keep in mind: When walking down Grand Case Boulevard by day, the forlorn ruins of some buildings awaiting repair might make you wonder how Grand Case could possibly be a culinary capital.

But when the sun sets, the lights are twinkling, restaurant doors are wide open and people are out and about enjoying themselves, the whole place takes on a vibrant Caribbean charm.

9) Visit Pinel Island

Pinel Island, St. Martin
Beautiful Pinel Island is just a short boat ride away from St. Martin

Search for the top activities in Saint Martin, and you’ll come up with taking an excursion to Pinel Island. And, yes, it’s definitely worth a day in your St. Martin itinerary!

Pinel Island is a tiny uninhabited key, about a 7-minute boat ride off the shores of St. Martin.

Here’s the link on Google Maps for the place where you catch the passenger ferry to Pinel Island.

There’s a large sandy parking lot to park your car. (If you’re lucky, you’ll see some wild donkeys scrounging around!)

Donkeys at the Pinel Island parking lot
These donkeys were hanging out at the parking lot for the Pinel Island ferry

“Ferry” is probably not the right word. We’re actually talking about little wooden water taxi boats that can hold about 20 people.

They go every half hour, and you pay cash on the boat (about $12 USD for the return ride).

Once on Pinel Island, you have your choice of two beach clubs: Yellow Beach, with bright yellow beach chairs, and Le Karibuni. (The cost to rent two chairs and an umbrella is the same at both – $25 USD.)

We prefer Le Karibuni.

The beach chairs are more comfortable and it’s further away from the water taxi dock. And while we didn’t eat at its restaurant, it’s very attractive in a rustic way, perched on stilts right by the water’s edge.

The key attraction, though, is the beach – turquoise waters, golden sand and a backdrop of swaying palms.

Protected from the wind, the water is almost always calm. And it’s very shallow – we had to wade out quite far before the water was chest-high.

Tip: There are no showers on the island. So you might want to bring a large bottle of tap water to rinse off after swimming, if you don’t like the feel of dried salt water on your skin.

10) Chill at Orient Bay Beach

Beach chairs with blue umbrella on Orient Beach
Settle in on a couple of comfy beach chairs for a day at Orient Bay

Orient Bay Beach was once the most popular beach in St. Martin – known for its nude section of beach. But almost all of its bars, restaurants and hotels were destroyed by the hurricane.

Thankfully, virtually all have now re-opened. And spending the day at Orient Beach is once again one of the most fun things to do in St. Martin!

This epic beach – almost 1½ miles long – is a gorgeous stretch of powdery white sand.

Whereas Grand Case Beach is coarser with gold sand, the sand at Orient Beach is as fine as talcum powder.

On the windward side of the island, it’s extremely popular with windsurfers and kitesurfers. Watching them fly over the waves is endlessly entertaining.

Orient Bay Beach clubs

Lining the beach is a string of inviting beach clubs.

On the north end, Coco Beach Club is the most upscale, offering very comfortable wood platform beds with thick cushions for lounging.

It’s also the most expensive. When we checked, it was $40 USD for a couple for sunbed rentals plus towels and a bottle of water each. Now we hear it’s $60 USD for two people.

Interestingly, the same owner runs many of the other beach clubs on Orient Beach (where $30 USD gets you two chairs and an umbrella). The difference lies mainly in the food they serve.

Bikini Beach specializes in tuna tartare and seafood. It’s also more active. You can rent jet skis there, and it has a volleyball court.

La Playa serves French and Mediterranean fare.

Kontiki Beach has bright red umbrellas and red cushions on their loungers. Sushi and fresh salads are a hit here.

Wai Plage has more Caribbean dishes. (And it doesn’t have any cushions on its beach chairs.)

Our Orient Bay hotel, Esmeralda Resort, included free rentals at KKO Beach Club. So we hung out there – friendly service and the French fusion food gets great reviews.

KKO Beach Club, Orient Bay
KKO Beach Club had our number in Orient Bay

At the south end of the beach, you come across more budget beach clubs.

And then at the very far end is the nudist area. You can even rent beach chairs there too.

Sargassum seaweed

Orient Beach is afflicted with a little sargassum seaweed that has washed up on the sand.

But the best beach clubs rake the seaweed and beach in the morning so the sand is mostly seaweed-free.

Orient Bay Village

As for Orient Bay village itself (behind the beach), it’s a pretty cluster of pastel-colored holiday homes, townhouses and villas, plus some boutique hotels and a central shopping/dining area.

This dining area has several very pleasant restaurants surrounding a circular plaza, which are open at night for dinner.

Orient Beach visit for cruise ship passengers

If you’re visiting the island as a cruise ship passenger, this 4-hour St. Maarten shore excursion visits both Orient Beach and Maho Beach (see #15).

It includes pick-up and drop-off at the cruise port. And you get to chill out on each beach for about an hour.

Not a bad way to take in two of the best beaches in St. Maarten and St. Martin on a half-day tour!

11) Indulge in lobster at L’Astrolabe

Coconut cake at L'Astrolabe restaurant
After the lobster, it’s time for dessert! (Credit: L’Astrolabe)

Friday nights is lobster night (with live music) at L’Astrolabe, a great French restaurant at Esmeralda Resort in Orient Bay. You can get a grilled lobster dinner for 42 Euros (about $45 USD).

Make reservations because it’s a very popular evening.

Actually, anything you choose at L’Astrolable is culinary perfection!

It rivals the French restaurants in Grand Case, and the meals we had there were superb.

For a starter, go for the lobster-and-cognac bisque, served as a foamy cappuccino poured over fois gras ravioli. Also memorable – the fresh scallops with smoked pork belly and mushroom tempura.

Scallops with pork belly at L'Astrolabe, Orient Bay, St. Martin
These scallops with pork belly look almost too good to eat!

If you dream of crepes Suzette for dessert, it’s flambéed at your table.

12) Spend the day on the beach at Anse Marcel

Anse Marcel Beach, St. Martin
Anse Marcel is one of the quieter St. Martin beaches

For more water activities in St. Martin – and to get away from the masses – head to Anse Marcel in the north of the island. It’s a secluded cove with calm water great for swimming.

It’s not entirely secret as a couple of luxury hotels are there. Still, it’s not as crowded as the main beaches on the island.

While away the day on the white sand. Or rent jets skis and explore the aquamarine waters in the area.

13) Watch the sunset at the Sunset Café

Come for the best sunset views on the island and stay for the food.

Set upon a craggy bluff dividing Grand Case Beach and Petit Plage, the Sunset Café is the perfect spot to watch the golden orb drop into the sea.

With spectacular views of the beach, the Caribbean Sea and Creole Rock in the distance, you may never want to leave.

If you don’t have other dinner plans, you can happily dine on mussels and fries (moules frites) or fresh local fish and seafood served French-Caribbean style.  

14) Eat at a lolo

St. Martin lolo
Casual, local and good BBQ food – that’s a “lolo” in St. Martin

Here’s something else you must do in St. Martin – eat at a lolo. No trip to the island is complete without eating at a lolo, one of the most non-touristy St. Martin attractions.

A lolo is a casual open-air eatery serving authentic local dishes at affordable prices.

Some are fancier than others but sitting at a picnic bench or simple table with plastic chairs is the norm.

It’s all about the food, which tends to be meats and seafood grilled fresh in front of your eyes – fresh lobster, fish, ribs and chicken, with all the fixings your little stomach desires.

Fresh lobster at a lolo in Grand Case

There are lots of lolos in Grand Case and a few in Marigot, the capital of the French side.

They’re the best places to get a feel for the local food and where locals eat when they go out.

Things to do in St. Maarten

With plenty to do on the French side, you might wonder if you should bother hopping on over to the island’s Dutch side! Is St. Maarten worth visiting?

Absolutely! There are a lot of unique things to do in St. Maarten too – some of which can’t be done on the French half.

These are our favorites…

15) Watch the planes land at Maho Beach

Plane flying low over Maho Beach as it lands in St. Maarten
No joke! The planes fly this low over you as they land at the airport

For airplane spotting par excellence, hit Maho Beach.

Princess Juliana International Airport (the main airport for the island) has an extremely short runway and it cozies right up to Maho Beach.

If you’re standing on the beach when one of the large passenger jets zooms in low to land, you’ll be in for quite a blast. Literally!

It’s one of the best free things to do in St. Maarten.

Serious plane spotters come from all over the world to get a close-up view of the aircraft swooping down mere feet above their heads.

Just don’t get too close to the fence separating the airport runway from the beach, as the jet blast is seriously strong (and can be dangerous).

To hang out in some comfort, you can rent a lounger for $10 USD. You probably won’t want to spend the day on the beach, though, as it’s noisy and crowded.

Plane spotting at Maho Beach from the Sunset Beach Bar
You can safely watch the planes land from this beach bar (Credit: Sunset Beach Bar)

Another great way to get in your plane spotting is to plop yourself down at one of the rainbow-colored picnic tables at the Sunset Beach Bar.

Order a burger, get a drink. It offers a prime perch to view the planes coming in to land.

Visiting Maho Beach on a cruise

If you’re visiting St. Maarten for a day as a cruise ship passenger, you can book this inexpensive tour to take you to and from Maho Beach.

Alternatively, you can take a taxi from the cruise port (about $15 to $20 USD p.p.).

16) Go scuba diving near Saba

scuba diver in Saba island
If you love scuba diving, plan a day trip from St. Maarten to the island of Saba

Saba is a tiny volcanic island that’s an eco-paradise with crystal clear waters, incredible marine life and colorful coral.

Since 1987, the Saba Marine Park has been considered a protected area, making this one of the Caribbean’s top dive areas.

With 30+ sites in the area, you’ll find a dive for you regardless of your skill level.

It’s easy enough to make a day trip from Saint Maarten as the ferry is only about 90 minutes each way.

Or you can take an organized scuba trip through one of the many scuba dive outfits on the island. It’s definitely one of the best St. Maarten excursions if you’re a scuba lover.

Another option is to stay on Saba for a couple of days and spend it discovering the underwater world and the land adventures.

Saba Island
Neighboring Saba Island is known for its hiking and scuba diving

17) Try your luck at Casino Royale

Gambling is one of the things to do on St. Maarten that you can’t do on the French side.

The largest casino is Casino Royale in Maho Beach.

It has 21,000 square feet of gaming for your gambling pleasure.

And if losing your money at the gambling tables isn’t for you, try saving it by going to the free shows on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights.

If you’re staying near Philipsburg, a lot of other casinos in town will be happy to welcome you and your wallet.

Check out Casino Rouge et Noir, Jump Up Casino and Coliseum Princess Casino. There are about 20 casinos strewn about the Dutch side of the island, so you’ll never be far from one.

18) Shop in Philipsburg

Colorful buildings of Philipsburg, St. Maarten
Philipsburg is known for its great duty-free shopping

Head over to the capital of St. Maarten and get your shop on. Front Street is lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and boutiques to make this an all-day shopper’s paradise.

Once all the shopping works up an appetite? Hit the beachfront boardwalk for drinks and lunch or dinner.

For cruise passengers especially, shopping in Philipsburg is one of the more popular things to do in Sint Maarten, as the town is within walking distance of the cruise ship dock.

19) Paddle a kayak in Simpson Bay

One of the coolest things about this kayaking trip is getting up-close-and-personal to the sealife and all the yachts.

There are mangroves and mega yachts and zillions of crabs you can scope out as you paddle along on this leisurely trip.

The kayaking is fairly easy as you only paddle for about 40 minutes.

And then you get to go for a dip and snorkel along a coral reef and near rocky caverns, before clambering back into the kayak to return home.

The whole kayaking and snorkeling adventure is less than three hours, but it’s a must-do in St. Maarten!

TriSport guides this tour a couple times a day. It’s best to go early in the morning to avoid the midday sun.

20) Enjoy a St. Martin to St. Barts day trip

Gustavia Harbor with sailboats
The chichi French island of St. Barts is a popular day trip from St. Maarten

There are many options for St. Maarten day trips. But hopping on the Edge Ferry and spending the day on the glam island of St. Barts takes the cake.

It’s the playground of celebs and elites the world over, and you can visit on a day trip.

It’s only a 45-minute ferry ride, so you’ll spend most of the day feeling like a high roller on the island. 

There are a zillion things to do in St. Barts, but no one would blame you for spending your entire day trip lazing on the beach.

21) Hike in St. Maarten

You may have gathered by now that one of the most striking St. Maarten attractions is its natural beauty. To appreciate that beauty, one of the top things to do in St. Maarten is to step out on a hike.

Say what? Hiking in St. Maarten?

We hiked up Hope Hill on the French side, parking off the side of the main road (going from Grand Case to Orient Bay) at Hope Hill Villas.

The dirt path up through scrublands opened up to offer beautiful views of Orient Bay.

There are other good hikes too, mainly on the island’s Dutch side. Some are coastal, others are all about the view from the peaks.

Guana Bay to Point Blanche hike

This is a wonderful journey for newbie hikers because it’s not too difficult. It’s only two hours one-way along the rugged coastline.

At the end, you can cool off in some natural pools.

You’ll likely see more goats than humans on this hike. And if you’re lucky, you’ll spot some wild horses as you climb too. On a sunny day, you can see all the way to St. Barts.

If you’d like to hike with a guide, check out Seagrape Tours.

Fort Willem Hill trail

This is another moderate hike for newbie hikers (about two hours round-trip).

You’ll get panoramic views of neighboring islands, the cruise ship harbor, Fort Amsterdam and Oyster Bay. You’ll also stroll by the coastal area of Little Bay, an important birding area.

See trail information here.

22) Race an America’s Cup sailboat

America's Cup sailboat racing in St. Maarten
Race head-to-head on an America’s Cup race course (Credit: 12 Metre Regatta)

You read that right.

You can learn what it takes to crew and race an iconic America’s Cup racing sailboat!

No sailing experience is necessary. They’ll train you in your assigned crew position.

As an active participant, you’ll learn how to crew the sailboat. Feel the ocean spray in your face as you trim the sails and grind the winches.

It’s an exhilarating experience for anyone who loves to be on the water.

But if all that sounds like too much work, you can just sit back and enjoy the ride as you race head-to-head with another America’s Cup vessel.

Either way, you’ll have the thrill of a lifetime, and it’s one of the best things to do in St. Maarten.

23) Fly on the world’s steepest zipline

Flying Dutchman zipline in St. Maarten
Who wants to race other zipliners on the Flying Dutchman? (Credit: Rainforest Adventures)

Ready for more heart-thumping things to do in Saint Maarten?

You’ve had your thrill on the water. Now it’s time to fly in the sky.

Head to Rainforest Adventures’ eco-adventure park for a turn on the Flying Dutchman – the world’s steepest zipline.

It’s 2,539 feet long and drops a whopping 1,050 feet in elevation. It’s enough to leave you breathless as you fly and race other zipliners.

But wait… there are more fun activities too. 

The thrill isn’t over after you come down off the Flying Dutchman.

The Soualiga Sky Explorer is a 4-person chairlift ascending to Sentry Hill, the highest point on the island at 1,125 feet tall.

Or take part in the Schooner Ride, where you’ll slide down the mountain in an inner tube along a curvy, specially designed track.

Maximize your thrills!

For the most fun at the Rainforest Adventures park, book a thrilling combination of all three adventures – and do the Flying Dutchman, the Sky Explorer and the Schooner Ride!

24) Swim at Mullet Bay Beach

Mullet Bay Beach
Head to Mullet Bay for a relaxing beach day

The island is no stranger to postcard-worthy beaches, and Mullet Bay is ranked one of the best beaches in St. Maarten.

It’s a local favorite. That’s no surprise, given its gently sloping white sand, protected coves and calm waters.

A golf course backs up against the beach, protecting it from overdevelopment.

Even though there are a couple of restaurants, and you can rent beach chairs and umbrellas, it’s never very crowded. Bring your snorkel gear because the water is clear, and there’s a reef nearby.

Best beach club in St. Maarten (Mullet Bay)

Since first writing this post, we recently visited St. Maarten again for a day on a Caribbean cruise.

We took a taxi to the new Kalatua Beach Restaurant on Mullet Beach. At the far end of the beach, it’s the cat’s meow!

This high-end beach club restaurant is the perfect place for a chic beach day.

The lounge chairs are spaced far enough apart on the white sand beach to give everyone a little privacy. When hungry, order from the menu, then make your way to the restaurant when your food is ready.

As for lunch, it’s creative and delicious. From the ceviche on avocado to the fresh grilled shellfish, it’s all prepared just right.

We were even treated to a mini-fashion show. There’s a boutique attached to the beach club, and every hour or so, a lovely young woman saunters out and walks around the restaurant and beach area, modeling swimsuits and cover-ups.

This is a classy place, and Kalatua gives the beach clubs on the French side a run for their money. It’s a good idea to reserve in advance.

Lunch at Kalatua Beach Restaurant
Beautiful food, beautiful wine and a beautiful beach make for a great beach day! (Credit: Kalatua Beach Restaurant)

25) Enjoy a boat trip around the island

Boat trips rank among the best St. Maarten activities, offering snorkeling, swimming at pristine beaches and stunning coastal views. The following are three of the top St. Maarten boat tours.

White sailboat anchored in blue waters of St. Martin
The island was made for sailing, and you’ll see many sailboats anchored in different coves

Tintamarre Island tour from Philipsburg

So you want to snorkel with the sea turtles at Tintamarre Island?

If you’re staying in St. Maarten (Dutch side), you can pick up a Tintamarre boat tour from Philipsburg.

This full-day eco-sailing cruise is highly rated.

You first sail to Tintamarre Island for turtle snorkeling and walking the soft sand beach, then you do a second snorkeling stop at Creole Rock.

The catamaran excursion includes French baguette sandwiches in the morning after your first snorkeling stop, unlimited premium drinks, a barbecue lunch onboard at Happy Bay Beach and a glass of champagne toward the end of your perfect day.

Speedboat tour from Philipsburg

Alternatively, head out on a thrilling 6-hour speedboat adventure around Saint Martin/St. Maarten Island.

Captain Bob’s boat tours promise several unique stops – including snorkeling at Tintamarre Island (home to sea turtles), swimming at Pinel Island and checking out the planes flying low over Maho Beach.

Captain Bob’s uses various new speedboats, carrying between 10 and 17 passengers. Tours depart from Dock Maarten, Philipsburg.

You’ll dodge the crowds, all while basking on beautiful beaches and enjoying drinks and endless snacks!

For cruise ship passengers, especially, these tours guarantee you’ll get back to the ship on time.

Sailing trip from Simpson Bay

This top-rated, small group sailing tour aboard the family-friendly yacht Random Wind leaves from Simpson Bay and stops at Mullet Bay and Little Bay (no Tintamarre Island stop).

Kick back and relax. Or go snorkeling, try stand-up paddleboarding and trapeze into the water on the boat’s Tarzan swing!

Lunch and unlimited top-shelf drinks are included on this 5-hour sailing trip. The group size is limited to 30 guests.

That’s a wrap for the best things to do in St. Martin (French side) and St. Maarten!

Now that you know exactly what to do on St. Maarten and St. Martin, you’ll never be bored.

This dreamy small island punches above its weight when it comes to water sports, fun beaches, lively beach bars and clubs, foodie restaurants and beautiful places to soak up the scenery.

Our top travel tips and resources

Hotels: is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)

Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).

Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours, plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out Viator (a TripAdvisor company) and GetYourGuide.

Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.

Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more. We also have and recommend Medjet for global air medical transportation and travel security.

Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)

Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.

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St. Martin Bucket List
Best things to do in Saint Martin and Sint Maarten

Photo credits: 4, 6, 7, 11, 14, 15, 17 to 20, 22 to 26, 28, 31 to 33, 37, 39, 40, 50 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase

About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!


Monday 19th of December 2022

Well written and comprehensive article on St. Martin.

I would include Bistro Caraibes (for food) and Ocean 82 (for sunsets) in Grand Case as must-visit restaurants.

I play tennis at the two-court academy with friendly locals on each visit. Oliver will make you feel welcome and arrange a court time, give you lessons and supply rackets. It's off the Hope Village traffic circle on the road to Mt Vernon/Pinel.

And the pastry/sandwiches at the nearby Express by Bachus are well worth the stop.

Also notable is the recent addition of five outdoor restaurants in Orient Beach across from the Yellow Sub. Music and nightlife has revived that area that was hard hit in September, 2017 by Hurricane Irma.

Janice and George

Saturday 24th of December 2022

Glad you like our St. Martin article :-).

And thanks for the additional tips...

Etienne Roger

Monday 26th of September 2022

Don’t forget to taste original Dutch Gouda at the wine and cheese tasting tour at Amsterdam Cheese & Liquor Store!


Saturday 17th of December 2022

@Etienne Roger, Thanks for the tip. I would enjoy this.

Janice and George

Monday 26th of September 2022

Sounds like another fun activity on the island! Thanks for suggesting it :-).