Culture tours are growing in popularity for those who want to enjoy immersive adventures on shore excursions during their cruise vacations. In this traveler’s humble opinion, interactions with the history, art, music, customs, and other threads in the tapestries of society are some of THE best reasons to travel.
If you are cruising in the Caribbean and you have a port of call in Sint Maarten-St. Martin, this island is literally two countries sharing a small island with an almost imperceptible border. This destination is Dutch and French with strong African influences; equaling a smorgasbord of history.
Historic Philipsburg Bike Tour
Starting in downtown Philipsburg, you can tour the island with a guide at a leisurely pace. Common stops include the historic courthouse, the island’s oldest guest inn, and Fort Amsterdam. The latter offers the best views of the island and azure waters. These tours often last three to four hours, and can be enjoyed by beginners to advanced cyclists.
Island History Walking Tour
St. Maarten comes alive during a walking tour with a local guide. You’ll see and hear stories about the remains of plantation buildings and farming life. Visit the salt ponds, which gave the island its name (Soualiga) in the 14th Century, and learn pirate stories at one of the island’s three remaining forts. This tour is rich with information on early cultures, geology, and natural history. Wear comfy walking shoes, and take a bottle of water.
Historic Points Trolley Tour
Hop on the mini-trolley and enjoy the views of the island. Each tour is accented with stories and history from the local driver. You’ll likely see stunning examples of colonial island architecture, Fort Amsterdam, Great Salt Pond Island, and the Parotte Ville Bird Sanctuary. This is the best option for anyone with limited mobility, small children, or the desire to simply relax through the tour.
Wander on your own
There are multiple organizations on the island devoted to preserving and sharing the rich history of this location. There is an archaeological center, historical and cultural foundation, monument preservation foundation, and other groups who work together with the Saint Maarten National Heritage Foundation. The latter is a museum where you can watch rare videos from history, research the area, and view exhibits about national heroes, flora and fauna, geology, slavery and emancipation, and Hurricane Luis.
The big event in St. Maarten-St. Martin, known as ‘the friendly island,’ is Carnival – well, actually Carnivals would be more accurate. An entire month is packed with music, food, parades, shows, and all manner of festival events – twice! The French side (St. Martin) celebrates during the month leading up to Lent. The Dutch side (St. Maarten) always kicks off their month-long celebration on April 29th. In other months you can enjoy art festivals, concerts, and local holiday events all celebrating the culture and heritage of this amazing Caribbean island. (Two good sources of info for complete Carnival schedules and detailed programs can be found HERE and HERE.)
These are just a few suggestions for immersing yourself in the local sights, sounds, and history of this beautiful island gem known by two names: Sint Maarten-St. Martin.
Remember to book ahead whenever possible. Many of these local tours coordinate with cruise ship lines for booking and scheduling.
Angela is a professional freelance travel writer and published indie author – AngelaMinor.com