Discovering St. Maarten: Our Home Away from Home
Written and photographed by Christine Garabetian (@mitraveldiary on Instagram)
The sprawling ocean in front of me seems endless, engulfing the tiny island I sit on. It’s a Tuesday afternoon, and I’m sitting on the beach, pathology slides displayed on my iPad, a virgin piña colada in hand, watching KLM land right above my head. It’s not something I do every Tuesday, or any other day, but sometimes you just need to get away, away from the pressures of school, the chaos, the library.
I can’t believe it’s almost been a year since I moved to Cupecoy, St. Maarten, from Los Angeles. The main similarity between LA and St. Maarten? The weather. Though by now, LA is preparing for a little bit of cold. Here, it’s summer all year round. The high tourist season is upon us, December-February or so. The beaches are packed, the island is up and coming post-Hurricane Irma, the restaurants are open again, the island is coming back to life.
As someone who’s been traveling since she was six months old, I’ve always loved learning and exploring new places. Therefore, as I’m lying on the beach and a tourist comes to me asking what there’s to do and see on the island, I don’t know where to start.
The Maho Beach Experience
Found on the Dutch side of the island, just past the golf course and next to the airport, Maho Beach is a popular sight for tourists. Completely packed when cruise ships are visiting, it’s a great getaway for a couple hours, or if you just want to watch planes land and take off right above your head!
Pic Paradis – Hiking
Pic Paradis is the highest point on St. Martin (the French side). The summit provides great panoramic views of the island (and the neighboring islands as well). There are a couple different paths you can take if you don’t want to go to the top, and all start from the bottom of Pic Paradis. There are the Northeast Ridges, Central Ridges, Careta Ravine, Hope Ravine, and Eden Well (roundtrip). Most end at various bays and lakes, except for Eden Well, which is roundtrip.
If you plan on going to the top of Pic Paradis, make sure you do your research and pack the essentials. There are some steep areas, and it’s not the shortest nor easiest hike, but the tremendous views at the top are extremely rewarding for those who want to put in the effort.
Loterie Farm is a secret hideaway located in the hillside of Pic Paradis, on the French side of the island. With many fun activities, including wining and dining, climbing, hiking, ziplining, or joining their famous Saturday day parties, you won’t be bored. Unfortunately, the restaurant and lounge are no longer operational since Irma, yet the pool area is intact, and it's where most of the activities take place. You can rent cabanas or daybeds by the pool, eat a small lunch, and enjoy some drinks during the week and weekends.
However, during the last Saturday of every month, Loterie Farm throws a huge pool party during the day. So, if you’re looking to let loose, put on a bathing suit, swim, tan, eat, drink, and dance, make sure you check out Loterie Farm’s website and find out what events they have coming up! Or, if you’d prefer to swim, tan, and read a book (or study while tanning), then visit loteriefarm.com for their hours of operation and making reservations.
Take a day trip down to Philipsburg, the Dutch capital of the island. With many restaurants and bars to eat at, and multiple small boutiques to shop at, Philipsburg is always a fun choice! If there are cruise ships visiting, many locals will sell inexpensive clothes, trinkets, and souvenirs on the beach, which are great gifts if you’re looking for something to take back home to friends and family. Also, you can jet ski, kayak, snorkel, and participate in other water activities while there! It’s a great place to hang out after midterms. And while you’re there, visit Fort Amsterdam as well!
Nestled behind Divi Bay Resort in Philipsburg, Fort Amsterdam is accessible by foot. Park close by and visit the historical site on the way to Philipsburg! Also, it’s a great view for the endless ocean, and viewing various nearby islands on a clear day.
Called Îlet Pinel by the French, Pinel Island is a small island off the coast of Cul de Sac on the French side, and a very easy, short ferry ride away. Check it on Google Maps before you leave so you know where to meet the ferry (Rue de Cul de Sac). The ferry leaves every 30 minutes and is $12 per person round trip. The island has two restaurants and beach chairs/umbrellas for rent for the day for $20 (2 chairs and 1 umbrella). Enjoy the beach, the sun, the water, and a day away from the hustle and bustle of medical school (or take your notes with you ;)!
A small town on the French side of St. Martin, lying on the Anguilla Channel, Grand Case is beloved by tourists and locals for its great beach, restaurants, and bars. Indulge in a decadent French meal or eat some soul food by the beach. Go early, rent some beach chairs, enjoy the beautiful blue waters. Take a picture under the pier.
One of the prime tourist destinations on the French side, Orient Beach sustained damage from Hurricane Irma but is coming back to life, with new restaurants and beach bars opening. The newest is Bikini Beach Club, a restaurant on the beach which also provides chairs and umbrellas for those who wish to swim in the water. There’s jet skiing, paddle boarding, kayaking, and other water activities available for purchase as well. Also, at nights, Bikini Beach club turns into a fun local dancing spot, with English and French tunes, and locals coming out to dance and have a great time on the beach!
Want to ride the world’s steepest zipline? Then look no further than the Flying Dutchman, provided by Rainforest Adventures. Located on the Dutch side, you can make your way up the mountain on a ski lift and enjoy amazing 360-degree panoramic views of the island. Enjoy some ziplines through the forests while taking in the views of the island, go tubing down the mountain, and when you’re ready, enjoy the steepest zipline in the world on the Flying Dutchman ride! For more information, pricing, and packages, visit rainforestadventure.com.
This is a short hike on the Dutch side by Guana Bay which leads to the secret tide pools of Devil’s Cupper. Park at the end of Guana Bay Road (Google Maps!), and you’ll see a small gate/pathway leading away from the houses towards the mountains. The hike itself is pretty easy, and you will walk past two small bays. As the tide pools come into view, you see a flat, unobstructed plot of land. Just over the side of the “cliff” you’ll find the tide pools. The descent down is a bit tricky, so make sure you’re wearing tennis shoes. Otherwise, it’s a short, easy hike leading to a beautiful tide pool!
The capital in the French Collectivity of St. Martin, Marigot is the main town on the French side. During the weekends, you can find farmer’s markets here as well as trinkets and souvenir shops. Great restaurants line the bay, and there’s a small mall that’s neat to see.
Additionally, right above Marigot lies Fort Louis. Fort Louis is a must for the scenery. You can’t miss it, as it sits right atop Marigot and the mall, boasting the French flag, Fort Louis offers great views over Marigot Bay and Anguilla. The view is spectacular and the “hike” up (maybe 30-40 steps) is completely worth it. Park your car right beneath the steps, and head up to the fort for a wonderful breeze, gorgeous views, and the feeling of being on top of the world!
Many students opt to get their diving certification while at AUC. Personally, I haven’t taken the course, but if you like diving, St. Martin and the surrounding islands (especially Saba) have some of the best reefs and preserved shipwrecks! For more information on certification and rates, visit stmaartendiving.com or talk to other students who have become certified.
Horseback Riding at Lucky Stables (on the beach!)
An enjoyable and fun experience, you can ride well-trained horses through the sea and up some rocky terrain. The horses trod gently around the water, and mounting and dismounting is easy. Wear shorts (or anything above the knees), as anything below the knees will get wet! Also, it makes for some great pictures!
It’s hardly a wonder why so many tourists make their way to St. Martin/St. Maarten. Graced with pretty beaches, amazing views, the proximity of nearby islands, various water activities, guava berry rums, seaside bars and restaurants, and great hikes, the island has many gems. Staying in and around Cupecoy only allows us to view a tiny part of the island. If you have the chance, rent a car for the day, and drive around (it takes about an hour if you don’t stop and there’s no traffic). There are so many hidden natural gems around that are worth checking out when you want to take a break, celebrate after exams, or show around to visiting family and friends.
In my next article, I’ll post about various day trips or weekend trips you can take to nearby islands!
Follow Christine on Instagram at @mitraveldiary.