Dreaming of an island getaway? How about a week exploring the beautiful island of St. Martin/St. Maarten. We have a suggested itinerary that will bring you some of the best of the French and Dutch sides of this diverse Caribbean island. We had a free 5-night stay at the Coral Beach Club Resort on St. Maarten for winning an Islands Magazine Readers' Choice photo contest, so here's what we did:
Day 1 - Dawn Beach
The first day was spent settling into our modern and spacious condo at the Coral Beach Club Resort, located on gorgeous Dawn Beach. Since arrival was late in the day, we didn't venture beyond the Oyster Pond area and Dawn Beach. We strolled along the beach and got acquainted with the area before having dinner at Daniel's By The Sea which is located right on Dawn Beach. The fare was casual Italian and dining was alfresco with the sound of the surf and beautifully lit palm trees all around, creating the ideal ambience for our first evening on the island. This quiet picturesque area is an excellent location on the island for accessing all the things one can do on both the Dutch and French sides of the island and is rather self-contained with its own beautiful beach, marina and restaurants. Dawn Beach is known for its spectacular sunrises so don't miss that if you stay there. There are two other resorts located in this area as well - Oyster Bay Beach Resort and the Westin Dawn Beach Resort.
Day 2 - Pinel Island
Based on the strong recommendation of a fellow traveler on St. Martin, we decided to make Pinel Island the first excursion on our list. So we headed over to French Cul de Sac to take the short ferry ride to this best kept secret on St. Martin. Pinel Island makes a perfect day long trip as there are many things to do on this small island. Since it is a nature preserve, there are easy hiking trails with markers that identify the local flora and wildlife along the way and where you can catch breathtaking views of the wilder north and east end beaches. There are calm beautiful beaches on the main side of the island that faces St. Martin. The main beach has clear swimming pool-like water with a gentle slope and chairs and umbrellas available. If you're hungry, there are two restaurants on the beach - the Yellow Beach Restaurant and Karibuni.
Day three we set out on a quest to discover some of the renowned beautiful beaches on the French side of St. Martin. Enroute, we decided to pick up some food at the French food market to enjoy on one of the beaches. Our first stop was Friar's Bay - quiet and gorgeous, perfectly calm water, nice white sand beach. We layed out our blanket, enjoyed our baguettes, meats, cheeses, sweets and a bottle of wine while we savored the beautiful setting and the sound of lapping waves on the shore. This is an excellent beach for swimming and snorkeling, great for families. There are snack bars on the beach as well as chairs and umbrellas for rent. After that, we headed over the short footpath to a more remote and secluded beach - Happy Bay. We were certainly happy to find this idyllic little beach, which has no amenities, but is just pure natural beachscape, and a few nude bathers included, which is a fairly common thing on St. Martin. This was a lovely beach, with great snorkeling, and no crowds. Out next stop was Baie Rouge, a very long and expansive beach, named for its slightly red sand and also considered one of the most beautiful beaches on St. Martin. We didn't get to swim here as the sun was setting but we did stroll along the beach. There is a little arched rock cove at one end of the beach that you can swim through to reach a small secluded beach on the other side.
Day 4 - Anguilla Day Trip
Just a short distance from St. Maarten is the beautiful unspoiled British island of Anguilla. There are several catamaran day trip options to this island from St. Maarten. We took the Lambada sail excursion that takes you to Prickly Pear Cay for some great snorkeling and swimming right off the boat into some of the clearest blue water. After an hour or so of snorkeling there, we sailed over to one of Anguilla's pristine white sand beaches, Sandy Ground, for some relaxation, swimming and a BBQ lunch at Roy's Bayside Bar and Grill. The trip was tons of fun with a lively, efficient and fun crew that had us all singing and dancing to the music while enjoying drinks, snacks and a beautiful sailing trip. For about $120 pp the trip includes an open bar and snacks onboard, snorkel equipment, float belts and BBQ lunch on the beach in Anguilla.
Day 5 - Marigot, Fort Louis and The Butterfly Farm
On this day, we visited The Butterfly Farm, or La Ferme des Papillons, on French St. Martin, a fascinating little place that is like a lush tropical rainforest with flowers, trees, ponds and waterfalls where all types of exotic butterflies fly around you in their own natural environment and some may even land on you. It's a very unique and interesting place to visit on St. Martin. Next was Marigot, the capital of St. Martin, a bustling harborfront town full of cafes, restaurants, stores and boutiques, even a shopping mall. The ferries to Anguilla and St. Barts leave from the dock at Marigot. From here, you can head up into the hills overlooking Marigot and catch some amazing views of the island while exploring Fort Louis, a fort built in 1789 to defend the goods stored in the harbor warehouses.
Day 6 - Rotary Lookout Point and Dawn Beach
Rotary Lookout Point is a great place to stop when you're traveling around the island to take in some spectacular views of the island from the viewing platform and wade in the wide expanse of ankle deep water over to a little rocky island offshore or just explore the tide pools. The water is warm and calm and a beautiful turquiose color. There are some picnic tables nearby to relax and enjoy a lunch while admiring the scenery. Finally, we spent the rest of the day on Dawn Beach, snorkeling around the reef that is just a little ways offshore, relaxing on the beach, and enjoying a drink from Mr. Busby's Beach Bar. There are several good restaurants in the Oyster Pond/Dawn Beach area that are all very good. We tried Big Fish and Canoa, both enjoyable dining experiences in beautiful settings. If you want something simple, there is Mama's Pizza there as well.
Day 7 - Maho Beach
Departure day for us, and since this beach was right at the airport, it was the best day to check it out. You can't visit St. Maarten without seeing this beach where the huge planes fly so low overhead that you can actually feel the jet wash and sand blast as they're landing at Princess Juliana Airport. This is truly an exciting and outrageous experience. There is a beach bar at one end of the beach where you can enjoy the show while sipping a drink.