St. Maarten and Beyond: 6 Nearby Islands to Visit
Living in St. Maarten means you're just a short ferry or plane ride away from several other islands -- many of which are top vacation destinations for their natural beauty, renowned diving and hiking opportunities, and other attractions.
Written and photographed by Christine Garabetian, 5th semester student
One of the greatest attributes of St. Maarten is its proximity to so many nearby islands, making day trips or weekend trips extremely convenient, as well as a great escape from our everyday study sessions and classes. Here's a small list of islands to visit, plus some of my personal recommendations and tips to get the most out of your stay on each island!
Known as the Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean, Saba is only 15 miles from St. Maarten, making it an easy trip via ferry or plane. By plane, it’s about a 20-minute trip, landing on the smallest commercial airport in the world! Via ferry, it’s about 1.5-2 hours depending on weather conditions, but it’s said to be a pretty wavy ride. Landing on Saba, you realize just how green it is—and how tiny. Just five square miles, the island is home to the highest peak of the Netherlands: Mt. Scenery, a potentially active volcano.
Places to eat:
- Chez Bubba Bistro
- Tropic’s Café
- Bizzy B
- Swinging Doors
- Scout’s Place Restaurant
- Queen’s Gardens Resort Restaurant
One of the most impressive aspects of the island is the Queen’s Gardens Resort, which boasts private hot tubs overlooking the island in each of its rooms.
View from the Queen's Garden Resort.
Additionally, the island is great for adventurous individuals who love to hike or dive. The hike up to the top of Mt. Scenery is no easy feat, but the views from atop are breathtaking. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see various nearby islands as well as a 360-degree view of Saba itself. And when you’re done with the hike, you’ll get a certificate for hiking the highest peak of the Netherlands!
As far as diving, Saba is known for its diverse marine life and protected reefs, as well as the best snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean. From January-April, you can see multiple whales swimming around its vicinity.
View from ¾ to the top of Mt. Scenery
Top of Mount Scenery! Most of the time, there is a cloud covering the summit of the mountain. It seriously gives you Jurassic Park feels.
Anguilla, known for its pristine white sandy beaches and turquoise blue waters, will take your breath away. Go for either a day trip with the many day cruises offered from AquaMania Adventures or Eagle Tours (or many other tour companies around the island) or make a weekend trip out of it. Most day cruises will also stop at Prickly Pear, Anguilla’s sister island. Both places offer beautiful beaches, great restaurants, and a wonderful experience. Day trips leave in the morning and return in the evening. Trips can offer a complimentary lunch, snorkeling gear, and chairs/umbrellas once you arrive to Anguilla.
St. Barthélemy (St. Barth's/St. Bart's)
There are multiple ways to enjoy St. Barth’s. Whether it’s a day trip, a catamaran, or a weekend getaway, St. Barth’s won’t let you down. If arriving by ferry, you’ll get off right in Gustavia, a perfect place to spend your morning. Ferries leave from Marigot about 2-3 times a week, so check the schedule online or in person before you decide to make the trip. If you arrive by plane, Gustavia is where you’ll want to start off your day.
Gustavia is the hub of St. Barth’s, a central location for eating, shopping, and yacht sightings. During high season, prepare to see some insanely gorgeous yachts from all around the world. The beaches in St. Barth’s are famous, with some of the more well-known ones being St. Jean Beach and Shell Beach. Each offers daily chair/table/umbrella rentals for a fixed price per person (but be warned that they can be quite pricey!) or you can take your own towel and lay down and enjoy the scenery for free.
Places to eat:
- Nikki Beach Saint Barth
- Do Brazil
- Hotel Christopher
- Le Tamarin
- Bonito St Barth
- Baz Bar
- Cheval Blanc St. Barth
If you’re taking a boat trip to St. Barth’s, make sure you take the one that stops at Île Fourchue, a privately-owned island with goats as its only inhabitants. It has some of the best snorkeling around St. Maarten!
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 short ferry ride away. I would recommend doing a check a GPS app before you leave so you know where to meet the ferry (Rue de Cul de Sac).
The island has a couple restaurants and beach chairs/umbrellas available to rent for the day. 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! :)
With a great beach for snorkeling and swimming sea turtles, Tintamarre is a secluded island and a close escape from the mainland of St. Maarten. Most snorkeling trips will take you to Tintamarre, from either Simpson Bay or from Oyster Bay. It’s a pristine island, with a beautiful beach, and clear blue waters—perfect for a day trip to just get away. Many trips will offer lunch in their prices, but pack your own picnic if you’d like. Also, check the weather before going as the main thing to do there is lay under the sun and swim.
If you’re staying in St. Maarten during the breaks between semesters, a great place to visit is St. Lucia. Home to volcanic beaches, reef-diving sites, beautiful rainforests with waterfalls, volcanic mud baths, and luxury resorts, St. Lucia has evolved into an famous vacation destination. However, be forewarned, the luxury doesn’t come without a price!
- The Pitons (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
- Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens and Mineral Baths
- Marigot Bay
- Reduit Beach
- Boat Safari
- Anse Chastanet (dark sand beach)
- Anse Cochon (dark sand beach)
- Anse des Pitons (beach between the Pitons)
- Castries Market
Places to eat:
- Coal Pot
- Dasheene at Ladera
- Jacques Waterfront Dining
- The Cliff at Cap
- Rainforest Hideaway
- Green Parrot
- The Great House
- The Lime on the Bay
Cruising Around St. Maarten
One of the best features of St. Maarten is the range of cruises, sailing, and water tours available around the island and to nearby islands. Many companies around the island offer great boat trips that often include breakfast and lunch.
If you enjoy sailing, make sure to take a break for a day (maybe during a long weekend, after exams, or to celebrate a birthday!) and enjoy a boat trip during your time at AUC. You can go to Prickly Pear and Anguilla, or St. Barth’s and Île Fourchue. You can choose to do a St. Maarten snorkeling tour, or a motorboat cruise stopping at 3-4 different beaches around the island. There are so many options.
Whatever you decide to do while on the island or during your breaks, remember that your time on the island will fly by! If you get seasick, most boat tours offer different methods to reduce your nausea. And, most island-hopper planes will get you to your destination in less than half the sailing time.
If you manage to find a free day here or there, or plan on staying on the island between semesters (or even a few extra days), visiting nearby islands or doing day trips around the island is a guarantee to have a great time! And if you’re at AUC, don’t forget to look up during the beautiful St. Maarten sunsets. The end of a day usually brings with it a breathtaking view.