The beautiful island of St. Maarten is one of the most popular ports to visit on a cruise when cruising to the Eastern Caribbean. If you are stopping in St. Maarten on an upcoming cruise, here are a few options on how you can spend your day in port.
Water Taxi to Downtown
For $7, you can get an all day pass for the water taxi that leaves right near where the cruise ships dock. The water taxis depart and arrive every 5-10 minutes and will take you over to a great family beach and the downtown area for shopping.
Kids 3 and under are free and it is cheaper than taking a cab if you wish to go downtown for shopping.
When you disembark from your ship, start walking towards the shops and look for the large “Water Taxi” sign on the left. You can’t miss it.
Maho Beach is one of the most unique beaches in the world. Situated directly across from the street from the runway at the international airport, you can sit on the beach and have airplanes fly as low as 50 feet directly over you as they come in for landing.
Since beach area is not very large, it can get very crowded when several cruise ships are in port. The larger planes also cause larger than normal waves when they fly over so it is not the best beach for small children. There is a restaurant and several places to get drinks and watch the planes come in. A one way cab ride from the port will cost anywhere from $8-10 a person, depending on the size of your group.
Another unique thing about St. Maarten is that there are actually two countries on the island. The cruise port is located on the Dutch side and is known as St. Maarten and the French side is St. Martin.
Taking an island tour is a great way to learn about the culture of both countries and learn how they have lived peaceably for almost 400 years. You won’t even realize that you are entering the other country if you miss the sign since there is no physical border between the two countries.
They drive in the right hand side of the road so don’t be afraid to rent a car and explore the island on your own.
Sail and Snorkel
The cruise lines and 3rd party shore excursions companies offer a variety of sailing and snorkeling excursions in St. Maarten. The beautiful blue water is crystal clear and great for seeing an abundance of sea life.
Creole Rock has a reef that extends a mile offshore and the water is shallow and calm, excellent for snorkeling. Tour groups to this spot are often limited to 15, so you won’t be stuck among the crowds.
When you do go to St. Maarten, you should probably know ahead of time about Orient Beach. Orient Beach, located on the French side, is one of the most popular beaches on the island and was the #1 booked shore excursion on our last cruise.
I know several cruisers who stopped here not knowing that the beach was clothing optional. One told me that not one person on their tour wanted to get off the bus, so they just skipped it. While many have no problem with it, it is something you should know about if you would be uncomfortable in that setting.
Cupecoy Beach, located on the southwest tip of the island in St Maarten, is another great place to visit. It’s actually three beaches surrounded by limestone cliffs. It’s free to visit the beach, but there are paid parking lots nearby.
The sunsets at this beach are gorgeous, but you just have to see it to believe it. A romantic place to visit, it’s recommended that you get there as early as possible to get a good spot on the sand.
It’s worth mentioning that families will want to avoid the beach’s northwest end, as that section of the beach is clothing-optional.
Located about a 30-minute drive from the cruise terminal, Loterie Farms offers passengers a great place to have fun and relax.
Still recovering after Hurricane Irma, a couple of the Farm’s attractions are not yet available: the obstacle course for children and the Treelounge Tapas Bar.
Those with an adventurous nature can still zip-line through the forest, and visitors can still hike to their heart’s content. Relax in the pool cabana and enjoy lunch and snacks served there. You can also book a ride on the Sealounge and take a visit to neighboring shores.
They’re open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Prices vary so be sure to check their website for more information.
If shopping and sightseeing is more your style, Front Street in Philipsburg is a great place to check out. The entire island has duty-free shopping, and Front Street offers the best bargains you’ll find on jewelry, china, electronics, and much more.
Recent visitors report that Front Street can get rather crowded, especially since it’s located so close to the cruise ports. If large crowds aren’t your thing and it gets too much for you, just move over to Back Street for some window shopping till the crowds ease.
Alternatively, you can take a dip at the Great Bay Beach. Both Back Street and Great Bay run parallel to Front Street.
The “Yoda Guy” Movie Exhibit
Fans of the popular “Star Wars” movie franchise will love The “Yoda Guy” Movie Exhibit on Front Street. This exhibit is a working gallery by Nick Maley, the creator of Yoda and other various characters from popular movies.
This exhibit showcases about six decades of movie making, including relics from Star Wars, The Terminator, Men in Black, and so much more. You won’t see a movie exhibit like this anywhere but in St. Maarten, so be sure to stop by.
Pic du Paradis
Also called Paradise Peak, this mountain offers stunning panoramic views of all of St. Martin and St. Maarten, and the surrounding islands of Anguilla, Saba, and St. Eustatius.
Park at Loterie Farm for a small fee (located at the base of the mountain) and hike up to the top, or take a drive or taxi to the end of the road. From there you can walk to the summit, which only takes about 10-15 minutes.
A few bits of advice from recent travelers should be heeded here. First, if you decide to hike, bring plenty of water and bug spray, and strong supportive shoes with good traction. Also, theft has been reported a few times at the summit, so be sure to not leave any valuables in your car.
When you’re done watching the airplanes at Maho Bay, head on over to the much quieter alternative called Mullet Bay.
Mullet Bay’s clear waters and soft sands are just a 30-minute drive from the cruise port. Due to the proximity it may get a few crowds while ships are docked, but the beach is large enough to accommodate.
The Bay is free to visit, but there is a small rental fee for a chair and umbrella ($15 according to recent visitors).
Its clear waters are perfect for snorkeling or surfing, or any other water sports you may enjoy.
18-Hole Mullet Bay Championship Golf Course
If you’re in the Mullet Bay area and fancy a game of golf, be sure to visit the only golf course on the island designed by Joseph Lee and located right beside the Towers at Mullet Bay. The course wraps completely around the Mullet Bay Lagoon and along the oceanside.
Don’t worry about packing your clubs on your trip, as you’ll be able to rent all the equipment you need at their Pro shop.
Book a ride with Eagle Tours out of Philipsburg and visit the neighboring island, Tintamerre Island.
This island offers more seclusion for those who don’t like large crowds. Enjoy the shallow swimming waters of Blanche Bay and the coral gardens of Saint Martin Nature Reserve. Bring your snorkeling gear and have fun swimming with parrotfish and plenty other sea creatures.
You’ll discover other local creatures like goats, lizards, iguanas, and hermit crabs. You won’t find any bars or restaurants on this island, just beautiful Caribbean nature. If being among nature is what makes you happy, this is a great spot to visit.
Prickly Pear Cay
Another great place to relax is Prickly Pear Cay, a tiny little island located just off the coast of Anguilla.
Sail over for a day trip on a catamaran. The men hoist the sale on the way to the island, and women pitch in for the trip back. Snacks and drinks are served on the ride and there are plenty of opportunities to sunbathe as well.
While on the island you can enjoy several homemade barbeque cuisines, as well as hours of snorkeling or swimming.
Pinel Island and Little Key
Explore the different beaches and coves around Pinel Island and Little Key at your own pace by renting a kayak for the day. Rental fees start at just $15 USD per kayak, and the shop will give you some detailed directions and insider tips.
Take your kayak around to Pinel Island and Little Key, beaching on each island’s shore for a brief hike or a quick swim before continuing. You’ll find various restaurants and gift shops nestled on the beaches.
If you’d rather get away from it all, kayak over to the channel between St Maarten and Pinel till you find the North beach. Virtually unspoiled, you can get away from everything, do some snorkeling, and walk the length of the beach to stretch your legs some.
For a chance at some great views, hike to the top of the island to see the surrounding islands. Be sure to take your camera with you to capture everything.
Once you’re done, it’s only a short 10-minute kayak ride back to St. Martin.
While you’re taking your island tours around St Maarten and St Martin, be sure to stop by the French-side’s capital city, Marigot. Originally a fishing village it became the capital during Louis XVI’s reign.
There’s plenty of shopping to do in the various boutiques housed in St. Martinoise-style houses, all situated a long the city’s winding streets. When you get hungry, stop over for lunch at the Bistro Nu. This hidden gem offers both French and Creole cuisines.
For a bit of history, don’t forget to visit Fort Louis, built in 1789 to defend harbor warehouses. Visitors can take a short hike to the top for some breathtaking views of Marigot and Anguilla island.
If you’re looking for an intimate beach with tons of snorkeling opportunities, you’ll want to visit Happy Bay. This beach is only accessible by a 20-minute hike from the end of Friar’s Bay (located on the French side of St Martin).
Easily lose yourself for the day in this beach’s tropical waters and white sand or take a nap in the shade of various palm trees.
Rockland Estate Eco-Park
St Maarten’s newest attraction, Rockland Estate Eco-Park, was funded by Carnival Corporation and had its grand opening on April 11, 2018. After the devastation of Hurricane Irma in 2017, this new attraction was a welcome sight to inhabitants and cruise passengers alike.
This shoreside offers something for everyone, from a mountain chair lift, high-adrenaline zip-lining, and a heart-racing inner tube ride, to a museum showcasing the rich history and culture of the island.
Indulgence by the Sea Spa
If your idea of a vacation includes massages, pedicures, and facials, be sure to reserve yourself a spot at Indulgence by the Sea Spa, found at the Divi Little Bay Beach resort.
This spa provides a variety of treatments including facials, manicures, pedicures, and massages. All treatments use hand-elected, organic products and oils personally tested by the owner. Stop by for some relaxation after a long day of island excursions.
Experience the more authentic part of the French side of St. Martin by visiting the village of Grand-Case. Well known for exquisite dining and perfect mix of attractions, you won’t want to miss it.
There’s a beach nearby with several bars and restaurants, and a beach side market square serving grilled lobster, barbeque, and local treats.
Explore the island of St. Maarten like never before: from the back of a horse! In operation since 1985, Lucky Stables in Seaside Nature Park offers rides for beginners and intermediates alike.
They use a local breed of horses, the Antillianos, for their tours. These horses are famous for being friendly and well-behaved, and they love water.
Lucky Stables offers two rides: a 1-hour trail ride and beach swim, and a 2-hour sunset champagne ride (for the romantics).
St Maarten Bicycle Tour
Forego the confines of a car or taxi and explore the city of Philipsburg on bike with this 3-hour guided tour through the city. While on the tour you’ll visit historical sites like the Phillipsburg Courthouse, Passangrahn Hotel, and Fort Amsterdam.
The tour’s guide will fill you in on the city’s rich history while you ride along strips of sand between the Great Salt Pond and the Great Bay.
Riders of all skill levels are welcome, and all riders will be provided with a bike, helmet, bottled water, and one cold beverage of choice. Your group and cycling guide will meet you right at the Phillipsburg cruise terminal.
Flavors Food Tours by Flavors of St. Martin
Sometimes an island’s culture is best experienced through taste, and if you’re a foodie at heart, you’ll love getting to know St. Maarten and St. Martin by visiting various restaurants and sampling their foods.
Flavors of St. Martin offers 3 types of food tours on the island. The Culinary Road Trip is an exciting 4-hour air-conditioned ride where you’ll visit four restaurants and specialty shops on both the Dutch and the French side.
The Philipsburg Foodie Walking Tour is a 3-hour walking food tour through the Dutch Capital of St Maarten. You’ll discover four local, international, and hidden gems and learn about the capital’s history from your tour guide.
The final tour they offer is a private tour, which offer the same experiences as the other tours but much more intimate. This is perfect for special occasions like honeymoons or anniversaries, or if you plan on proposing to your significant other.
On the French side you’ll find Tijon Perfumerie, known for producing fine perfumes, colognes, and skin care items. Enroll in a 60- or 90-minute class where you’ll learn how to make your own custom perfume.
You’ll learn how to select your scents and craft them into your own fragrance to take home with you. In case you fall in love with your new perfume, they keep the formula on file so you can order more later.
Visit Other Islands
Don’t want to be limited to just one island? Go island hopping around the Caribbean!
St. Maarten has so much to see, but some people like to go beyond their island of port. So why not take a boat tour to Anguilla for some beach fun, or a 10-minute flight to exclusive St. Barts, also known as the Jewel of the Caribbean. There’s also a ferry that will take you to Saba where you can climb to the top of Mt. Scenery, nearly three-thousand feet above sea level.
Just Make it a Beach Day
Both the Dutch side and French side of the island have so much to offer in the way of beaches. In total there are thirteen beaches to visit during your cruise stay. I’ve already listed a few: Maho, Mullet, Cupecoy, Orient, Happy Bay, Grand-Case, and Pinel Island.
There’s two more on the Dutch side you should visit, if you have the time, and at least 5 more on the French side.
On the Dutch side you have Great Bay Beach and Little Bay Beach, located right next to each other on either side of the Fort Amsterdam Peninsula.
Dutch Side Beaches
Great Bay is located right in the heart of Philipsburg, right by the cruise port. It’s white-sandy beach runs parallel to a promenade filled with bars, restaurants, shops, and various tourist stops.
You can easily walk there from the port or take a water taxi for roughly $4 per person. It’s a great spot if you only have a few hours to kill and you want to do it by just relaxing at the beach. It’s also a great choice for families, unlike the clothing-optional beaches mentioned before.
Little Bay is just a little further of a walk or drive from the cruise port, located right behind the Divi resorts. It’s a great secluded spot to get away from the cruise crowds. Enjoy calm, crystal waters perfect for snorkeling or swimming.
French Side Beaches
On the French side, there’s Friars Bay Beach, Dawn Beach, Baie Rogue, Anse Marcel Beach, and Le Gallion.
Friars Bay Beach is probably the furthest of them all, but it makes for a nice secluded spot away from the rest of the tourist-heavy areas of the island.
Take a stroll down the walking trail to the open beach, rent a lounge chair and umbrella, and kick back. Happy Bay (mentioned above) is just a short walk away and offers an even more intimate beach experience.
Dawn Beach is aptly named because it’s positioned just right to bring you the best view of sunrises and sunsets. The soft sand and coconut trees will make you feel like you’re in a magical land.
Baie Rouge, also called RedBay beach, for its pink hued sands. It’s located on the French side but can be tricky to find, so tends to not have as many crowds. If you’re up for the challenge, this is a good beach to spend a few hours relaxing in.
Anse Marcel is another one that’s tricky to find. A well-sheltered beach a mere 15-minute ride from the port will give you all the relaxation you need.
Lastly, we have Le Gallion Beach, a very popular spot for high-adrenaline seekers. This beach is a very active spot for surfing, windsurfing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and a variety of other water sports. If you want a beach where you can have a bit of fun at, this is the place to go.
Whatever you decide to do while in St. Maarten, we hope you enjoy this beautiful tropical island as much as we do every time we visit.