St Maarten has so much to offer. From the nightclubs to the beaches to everything in between, it's a vacation you and your family will want to take again.
St. Maarten, the Dutch side, has casinos, nightlife, smaller price tags, and bigger hotels. St. Martin, the French side, has no casinos, quieter nightlife, and hotels that are smaller and more intimate. There are many good restaurants on the Dutch side, but if fine dining makes your vacation, the French side rules.
The biggest difference might be currency—the Netherlands Antilles guilder (also called the florin) on the Dutch side, the euro on the French side. Many establishments on both sides accept U.S. dollars.
The high season begins in December and runs through the middle of April. Many events happen on both sides of the island each year.
The French side's Carnival is a pre-Lenten bash of costume parades, music competitions, and feasts. Carnival takes place after Easter on the Dutch side—the last two weeks of April—with a parade and music competition.
On the French side, parades, ceremonies, and celebrations commemorate Bastille Day on July 14, and there's more revelry later in the month on Grand Case Day.
The Dutch side hosts the Heineken Regatta in early March, with as many as 300 sailboats competing from around the world. (For the experience of a lifetime, you can sometimes purchase a working berth aboard a regatta vessel.) Other local holidays include November 11 (St. Martin Day), and April 30, the birthday of Queen Juliana.
The best way to explore St. Maarten/St. Martin is by car. If you’re spending a few days, get to know the area with a scenic loop around the island. Be sure to pack a towel and some water shoes, a hat, sunglasses, and sunblock. Head up the east shoreline from Philipsburg, and follow the signs to Dawn Beach and Oyster Pond. The road winds past soaring hills, turquoise waters, quaint West Indian houses, and wonderful views of St. Barth. As you cross over to the French side, turn into Le Galion for a stop at the calm sheltered beach, the stables, the butterflies, or the windsurfing school; then keep following the road toward Orient Bay, the St-Tropez of the Caribbean. Continue to Anse Marcel, Grand Case, Marigot, and Sandy Ground. From Marigot, the flat island of Anguilla is visible.
In the morning head out to the Butterfly Farm and watch the beauties emerge, before heading to Loterie Farm on the slopes of Pic du Paradis to take advantage of the hiking trails or try the zip line. You can stay and have lunch in the Hidden Forest Café, and lounge around the beautiful spring-fed swimming pool. If you are hot, head right to Baie Orientale, where you can rent some chairs and umbrellas from one of the beach clubs and take advantage of the lovely surf. If you get hungry, you can have snacks or lunch there, too. The afternoon is a good time to stroll along Front Street in Philipsburg, because you can duck into one of the many air-conditioned stores to escape the heat. In the late afternoon, a nap is in order, but you have to be awake before sunset.
For a splurge, have your sunset cocktail at the bar of La Samanna before heading to one of the restaurants in Grand Case for a perfect dinner. Dance the whole night away in Maho. The party starts at Sky Beach then moves on to Tantra.