This the first of two blog posts that address charter cruising in the Leeward Islands; this first chapter addresses St. Martin: Jewel of the Eastern Caribbean. We have researched it in depth for you and entitled this piece:
Saint Maarten/Saint Martin: Yachting that Doubles the Pleasure
St. Martin is an enticing mélange of Old World elegance and Caribbean flair. The island is half Dutch, although a recent vote created the independent country of Sint Maarten, occupying 34 km2.
The slightly larger half, at 53 km2, is an overseas territory of France. The division dates back to 1648 and colonial history is everywhere. The French side has European boutique shopping, fine art galleries and haute cuisine.
The Dutch side includes a labyrinth of duty-free shops, museums, glitzy casinos and a famous beach bar where intrepid patrons brace against being toppled by a jet blast. For shoppers, foodies, watersports enthusiasts, adventure seekers, sun worshippers and culture vultures, this island is simply superb.
French Saint Martin
Marina Fort Louis is an ideal base for an exploration of Marigot Bay. Port La Royal is an enclave of upscale shops and restaurants nestled along cobbled streets and tucked around the tiny harbor.
Hikers will enjoy a climb to Fort Louis for the history and the magnificent views. Fine art collectors and admirers will be delighted by the numerous galleries to be found on the French side.
Visit the exhibit of impressionist painter Sir Roland Richardson at a beautifully restored 19th century Creole townhouse at #6 rue de la Republique, Marigot. Tour the historic home with stone-laid walls and soldiers’ barracks dating back to the court of Louis XVI.
The action in this historic fishing village runs from morning until the wee hours along several blocks parallel to the beach. The street is lined with period homes converted, at least in part, into commercial establishments that range from acclaimed French restaurants to beach barbeque shacks, and fine art galleries to trinket shops.
Referred to as the “Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean”, L’Auberge Gourmande is at the top of connoisseur lists and Calmos Café is a casual favorite; revel in the lively jazz or reggae from the aft deck, or join in the milieu ashore.
Ilet Pinel and Anse Marcel
Pinel Island is especially popular with families for swimming and snorkeling. Located offshore from Cul de Sac in the heart of the Marine Park, the beach is long and shallow with gentle surf. Children of all ages will enjoy a learning adventure along the park’s well-marked snorkel trail.
Pinel Island is a clothing optional beach, particularly the north side. Anse Marcel is an organized beach that benefits from the upscale amenities of two resort hotels.
The protected bay guarantees minimal swells and the white sand beach has shallow water. The Marina Port de Lonvilliers has boutiques, shops and magnificent views of Anguilla. Sample Caribbean fare at Le Karibuni Restaurant or savory barbeque at Yellow Beach restaurant in front of the dock.
Petites Cayes and Le Galion
There are several spots around the island that offer challenging wave action to experienced surfers and kite surfers, including Guana Bay, Mullet Bay and Cupecoy. However, Petites Cayes and Le Galeon offer reliable swells that are ideal for both beginning and experienced surfers.
At the northern tip of the island, the unspoiled Petites Cayes is one of Saint Martin’s most beautiful beaches, which has no easy access other than by boat so is rarely visited. The reef break here receives a reliable swell and there is excellent surf on a north swell.
Le Galion beach is so shallow it takes a 20-minute paddle to reach the surf. The knee-deep water is ideal for toddlers, children and non-swimmers, yet past the sandbar, the display of surfers, kite surfers and wind surfers is a sight to see on any day.
The former sugar plantation is now a vast nature preserve, organic farm, extreme attraction and acclaimed restaurant. Perched on the slopes of Pic Paradis, the highest point in the hill chain, explore hiking trails that crisscross the dry forest and offer panoramic views.
Arrange to zip line over the treetops, relax in a private cabana at the refreshing spring-fed pool and Jacuzzi, savor natural smoothies or signature cocktails at the bar and sample locally sourced, fusion cuisine at two treetop restaurants. Zip lines of differing levels making this an excellent attraction for the adventurous of any age.
With so many activities available, Loterie Farm is perfect for diversified charter groups.
Dutch Saint Maarten
This colonial Dutch capital, now the capital of the country of Sint Maarten, is a cruise ship port, so plan to visit in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the throngs. Designed on a grid, the main thoroughfares, Frontstreet and Backstreet, are lined with duty-free shops.
Old Street has craft stores and art galleries, and Back Street has a local market that sells beachwear, trinkets and souvenirs. Among several popular museums, history buffs should not miss the collection at the St. Maarten National Heritage Foundation.
The waterfront boardwalk runs along picturesque Great Bay beach, with restaurants, shops and pretty views, it is an excellent spot for refreshments.
Take a stroll around Simpson Bay, which has upscale resorts on the beach side and several acclaimed restaurants and clubs just across the road on the bay. Children love the water fun at Playstation 4 Kids, located at the Pelican Beach Resort.
Shopping is diverse, from local Caribbean stores to European salons and trendy retail. Be sure to stop in at the St. Maarten Yacht Club to watch the megayachts navigate the infamously narrow lift bridge. Nearby, indulge in luxurious treatments and massages at the Christian Dior Spa in Cupecoy.
For action after dark, the Dutch side of St. Maarten is known for glitzy entertainment venues, including three of the 13 casinos located right in Simpson Bay.
Departure or Arrival
On your day of departure, there’s one exit strategy that will let your spirits soar. Plan to spend an hour at the Sunset Bar adjacent to the airport. There is a sandy beach for a final swim, good casual food and classic Caribbean cocktails, and live Caribbean music.
But this is not why thrill seekers, aviation enthusiasts and amateur photographers down a “Jet Blast” shot at the bar, then rush to place a death grip on the chain-link fence as a jumbo jet flies over almost within reach, blowing sand, and sometimes people, into the water.
Less of an adrenaline rush but equally exotic, the Karakter beach bar is a converted bus with great food on a nice beach and a safe view of the planes.
St. Martin is equally ideal for first time charter clients seeking a gentle experience that features the excitement of an ocean voyage without ever losing site of land.
Saint Maarten/Saint Martin’s exotic fusion of Caribbean, French and Dutch cultures are paralleled by its physical diversity: cosmopolitan centers and seaside towns, lowlands and mountains, rainforests and white sand beaches.
St Martin is a place where you can do it all, or do nothing at all, and the ultimate way to experience the island is aboard a private, luxury charter yacht.