Saint Martin and Sint Maarten travel guide
Tucked away behind the mostly private own French lowlands lies Baie Rouge. Though the overgrown coast are dotted with luxury villas with gated driveways, the setting of the beach seems very secluded with only one food shack below the small parking area. From here you can also see through the cliff arch, which rises up further to the east. The long beach declines quickly into the blue sea, so be prepared for deep water.
The island of St. Martin is split into two sides, the French Saint-Martin and the Dutch Sint Maarten. The two separate sides are run as two different countries with different currencies (EU on the French and Netherlands Antillean guilder on the Dutch) though USD are widely accepted most places, and different language (French and Dutch/English). There are four border crossings, all open with no checkpoints whatsoever. Just some flags and a change in the the road condition (good on the French side, potholed on the Dutch) indicates that you have moved from one side to another.
Right at the end of the runway of Sint Maarten's airport SXM lies narrow Maho Beach. It’s probably the most noisy beach in the world with flights landing and taking off all day long. Mostly, it’s just smaller aircraft, but when KLM’s Boeing 747 arrives, it’s a spectacle not to be missed. However, real dare devils come for the departure of the Boeing 747, when it blasts its jet engines for take off. Remember to hold on to the fence, as you otherwise can be blown into the sea (or die from getting knocked over - at least one tourist has).
From the waterfront Marigot looks amazing with pretty villas and the ruins of Fort Louis high up on the hill, but as you venture deeper into the residential areas, the scruffier it gets. However, it certainly has a lot of appeal with fine old houses with ornamented balconies. The town center has the usual range of jewelry shops, but the beach fashion boutiques are a bit more Frenchy than what you otherwise see on the Dutch side.
Set behind the golf course, this long secluded beach with white sand and crystal clear water is a favorite for visitors and locals alike. There are simple snack shacks, and plenty of shade under the trees at the west end, otherwise beach chairs and umbrellas can be rented.
Orient Bay, or Baie Orientale in French, is many vacationers’ dream of a Caribbean holiday. A long pretty beach with azure blue water, never ending rows of sun chairs under shady umbrellas, beach bars and restaurants, and lots of water sports (jet ski, water jetpack, paragliding, you name it). It’s by far the most famous beach on St. Martin - maybe the nude section in front of Club Orient has something to do with that. However, don’t have too high expectation about getting a glimpse of gorgeous naked people, there rarely are - but there are plenty of skimpy dressed ones on the regular one.
Oyster Pond is a bay surrounded by two hills. The are holiday complexes and condors on the steep sides leaving not much view for visitors. The pretty bay is another playground for the yachts people, though the boats are significant smaller here than in Simpson Bay. The border slides straight across Oyster Pond - again, just with a few flags as indication.
Not much is expected of Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side, it's therefore a pleasant surprise to discover a fine little town. The "downtown" at the waterfront is a colourful mess with narrow bumpy streets. Many shops in first and second row from the bay cater to cruise ship folk (how many jewelry shops and casinos do they need), but there are interesting buildings squeezed in, like the wooden Methodist church. Even the long city beach isn’t too bad. Crowded on cruise ship days, deserted at all other times.
Simpson Bay lies in walking distance from the airport. It’s merely just one long road flanked with fashion boutique, shops, fast food joints, restaurants and strip clubs. The marina has some of the most posh range of yachts in the whole of St. Martin.