St. Maarten is mainly known for three things: the shopping, the beaches, and the dining scene. The island is sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, where constant trade winds help create near-perfect temperatures year-round.
The beaches are heralded as among the Caribbean’s best by everyplace from the Travel Channel to U.S. News & World Report. The coastline comprises a series of inlets and bays, making for a total of 37 distinct beaches within 37 square miles. Each one of those beaches is unique, and each is open to the public.
Great Bay is the closest beach to the cruise pier. The strip of soft white sand curves around Philipsburg just off Front Street. It’s a bustling spot that attracts a decent-sized crowd, especially when there are a lot of ships in port.
Maho Beach, also on the Dutch side, is a bit more exhilarating—and not just because of the shimmering turquoise waters. Jumbo jets in their final descent fly directly over Maho just moments before touching down on the runway at Princess Juliana International Airport. The photos can be surreal so have a camera ready and try not to scream while staring at the underbelly of a massive jetliner.
For a more tranquil experience, head to Simpson Bay Beach. While the half-moon strip of powdery sand is also near the airport, it’s not in any flight path. It’s away from the big resorts, which means it’s also away from any crowd. There are no concessions here; there’s little more than clear warm water gently lapping the sun-kissed sand. Simpson Bay is also the setting for one of the island’s newest treasures: a 16-sided Venetian carousel with cerulean tiles that graces the water’s edge. After a ride, savor a refreshing gelato, made using only the finest natural ingredients.
Simpson Bay Lagoon, opposite the beach of the same name, is the Caribbean’s largest saltwater lagoon. The island’s imaginary border runs through the body of water, with the Dutch side to the south, the French to the north. The lagoon is entirely landlocked save for two narrow channels with drawbridges (one on the French side, one on the Dutch side). The protected body of water is often visited by some of the world’s most impressive megayachts, some spanning more than 300 feet long. A plethora of water-bound activities here help visitors take advantage of the calm conditions. Spending a few hours zipping around in a 10-foot inflatable motorboat is an excellent way to spend a day.
The Cole Bay International Lookout Point sits on a hill overlooking Simpson Bay Lagoon and nearby Cole Bay. The observation platform is easily accessible from the main road and provides panoramic views of both the Dutch and French sides as well as the neighboring island of Anguilla. On clear days, the view may stretch as far as nearby islands of Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, and Nevis.
On the French side, the best beach is unquestionably Orient Bay Beach, on the northeastern coast. Known as the French Riviera of the Caribbean, this au naturel (read: clothing-optional) spot has more than a mile of sugar-soft, pristine white sand and gentle turquoise surf fringed by swaying coconut palms and sea-grape trees. Orient Bay also boasts one of the island’s largest selections of water-sports options, including snorkeling, kayaking, Jet Skiing, and more. The reef just offshore fends off rough seas, turning this particular bay into a paradisiacal swimming hole.
Friars’ Bay Beach (also known as Anse des Pères) is a family-friendly stretch of sand located on the northwest coast of the French side of the island. Nearby Happy Bay, one of the island’s most secluded beaches, is accessible only by making a 10-minute hike through the hills from Friars’ Bay Beach.
Boat over to Grand Case, known for rich gourmet cuisine and culture. Experience the French village atmosphere, explore shops, galleries, and the local nightlife. Savor delicious hors d’oeuvres and drinks at one of Grand Case’s restaurants.
Visit the Simpson Bay Lagoon fish market with the onboard chef to source fresh-caught ingredients. Enjoy a cooking demo and travel to Marigot to uncover spices, herbs, and produce at a Caribbean market. Journey to Grand Case for a restaurant meal, then join the chef for a tour of the ship’s galley, followed by a dinner inspired by island flavors.
Hop aboard the double-decker boat for a fun-filled, narrated cruise along Simpson Bay Lagoon. Enjoy complimentary drinks and lively music on your way to Marigot. Discover the charming village of Grand Case, the beach of Orient Bay, the Rum Factory, and Fort Louis.
Travel along the French coast to Orient Beach. Bask in the sun, lounge beneath a coconut palm, and cool off in the cerulean sea. Then head to the beach bar for lunch. On the way back, stop in Philipsburg for some leisurely shopping.
Feel a rush of pure adrenaline as you power through St. Maarten’s pristine waters aboard a two-man Rhino Rider. Afterwards, relax beneath a swaying palm or snorkel among colorful fish at the reef in Happy Bay.
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