Had enough of dreary, cold weather, dusty museums and sterile art galleries? Plan your next vacation in the hot, sultry climate of the exotic Caribbean Islands.
These vibrant and colorful islands are located north of South America and east of Central America. There are hundreds, but the one we find the most exciting is Saint Martin / Sint Maarten. Yes, you are correct – one is actually two!
WHERE DUTCH AND FRENCH CULTURES MEET
This tiny, 54 square mile island, is made up of two countries which are borderless but have distinctly different vibes, languages, cuisines, traditions and cultures. One side is French and the other Dutch. Passports are not needed and a drive around the island will have you exploring both sides in a short time.
Which is better? The tourists are certainly divided on this but one thing is for sure, the locals of this ‘Friendly Island’ as it is known, are super happy to show you around and let you decide for yourself.
HEAD FOR THE IDYLLIC BEACHES
Stunning beaches covered with silky soft, pristine white sand, crystal clear turquoise waters and swaying palm trees are the order of the day.
Depending on your mood, choose fun-filled tourist beaches lined with beach bars and rum shacks to off-the-beaten-track beaches, where you can be alone to ponder upon the meaning of the Universe.
Great Bay Beach is a short distance away from Philipsburg Town on the Dutch side and is easily accessible by taxi or foot. Dawn Beach on the east coast is the perfect venue to watch the sunrise and the beaches facing west make for romantic sunset picnics. The water is warm and calm, ideal for children and the elderly. If you enjoy a naturist lifestyle, head to Orient Bay Beach on the French side where walking around with nothing on won’t get a second glance.
A PARADISE FOR SPORTS LOVERS
Kim Sha Beach and Creole Rock are paradise settings for certified scuba divers to explore the magnificent underwater reefs and ship wrecks. They are home to a wide variety of marine life from magnificent corals to stingrays, turtles and shoals of colorful fish. If you don’t have diving equipment, rent snorkel gear and float on the surface, gazing down into the mesmerizing depths below.
Extreme sports lovers can show off their skills at jet skiing, parasailing, kayaking and surfing. Up for a game of tennis? Head to the American Tennis Academy and enjoy a few sets. If you want to serve like a Wimbledon champ, Oliver will give you a private lesson.
LET’S EXPLORE INLAND
Once you have had your fill of sand and sea, head inland to discover the stunning scenery, lush tropical rainforests and abundance of wildlife. Join an ATV tour which will have you bumping along rugged, rough trails high up into the hills to gasp at the panoramic views.
If you feel the need for speed, get attached to a zipline and zoom high over the rain forest tree tops at crazy speeds jumping from platform to platform – only for the brave! Then enjoy some family bonding and take a bicycle tour along the country roads. The pace is slow and serene and even Grandma can come along.
CITY LIFE CALLS
For those who cannot be away from shops, grab your plastic money and head for Front Street in Philipsburg. This capital of the Dutch side is bursting with boutique shops, bars and trendy restaurants. Try your hand at the Coliseum Casino, it may be your lucky day.
Then explore the French capital, Marigot, an eclectic mix of French and West Indian cultures. This colorful town offers a vibrant and noisy market, ideal for browsing and bargaining for that special something to take home.
DON’T FORGET THE HISTORY
Every exotic venue has its share of history and the island is no exception. Visit the imposing Fort Louis which towers over the town of Marigot. The thick, high walls and ancient cannons will thrill the kids. The Fort was built in 1789, to defend the harbor warehouses where salt, sugar cane, rum and coffee were stored. It was the scene of a battle in the 19th century between the French and the English who came to raid the warehouses.
In Philipsburg take a stroll along the tree-lined streets to the historic wooden courthouse in Watney Square, built in 1793. It has served as a jail, a post office and a fire station and is now restored as a working courthouse.
BE TEMPTED BY LOCAL CULINARY TREATS
The exotic flavors and aromas of the Caribbean will tempt your taste buds and blended with classic French pasties and Dutch treats you may not know where to start. Go French at Le Tastevin with snails, foie gras and cassoulet, followed by decadent chocolate croissants. Then go local with authentic Creole cuisine. Ask for crabe farci – stuffed crab, or boudin – a spicy blood sausage. It may be an acquired taste! Enjoy these dishes with fresh juice squeezed from mango, guava and papaya. This is the Caribbean and artisan Rum blends are a must! Sip a 100-proof Rum and relax to the sounds of reggae as the sun sets over the sea.
SHAKE HANDS WITH DARTH VADER?
What, may you ask, is Darth Vader doing on a tropical island? Odd but true! Located in Philipsburg on the Dutch side, is a the fabulous Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit. Delight Dad and the kids when they explore the fascinating private collection of iconic movie relics and artifacts. Take a hologram-narrated tour and learn how blockbuster movies like Star Wars and Superman were made. Have your photo taken with Yoda and meet the founder, Nick Mailey who will sign your personal souvenir.
MAKE A LIFE DREAM COME TRUE
If your life-dream is to swim with dolphins, Sint Maarten is the place to make it happen. Charter a luxury catamaran to Anguilla, a small island 6 miles away where you will find the amazing Dolphin Discovery. Spend time learning about these gentle intelligent creatures. Then jump into the water and play games, receive handshakes and even a wet kiss. If you are more adventurous, enjoy a belly ride or hold onto the dolphin’s fin as you sail over the sea. When you get back to shore, take part in the feeding program. Make sure you get photos, this experience will create memories to last a lifetime!
PLAY DARE WITH MASSIVE JET PLANES
Just when you think you have run out of ideas, the best is kept for last. Maho Beach is a beach with a difference – not rocks, not shells, not huge crashing breakers or golden sands. This beach is located at the very edge of the Princess Juliana International Airport’s landing strip.
Standing on the beach, the thunder of jet engines will blow you away and you will shake in your shoes as massive airplanes skim mere yards above your head. When you have recovered, it will be a blast to see who is brave enough not to run and scream.
Restaurants and bars along the beach offer flight schedules for fun at your tables, making this a unique and unforgettable experience – a perfect way to end your Caribbean Island vacation.
Images: Shutterstock. Princess Juliana Airport/Alexey Y. Petrov; Philipsburg cityscape/Sean Pavone; Fort St. Louis/Nenad Basic, St Martin/Natalia Barsukova; Belmond La Samanna/thomas carr; Gregory wreck/sladerer; Front Street – Philipsburg/Ruth Peterkin