We went to St. Maarten for the first time Dec. 7 to 21, staying the first week at Flamingo Beach and the second at Divi Little Bay.
We arrived in St. Maarten late on Dec. 7 (a Saturday) and were feeling a little disoriented - that feeling that you get when you're in a foreign land, you don't know anyone, you don't know where to go or what to do first. The next morning, since we didn't have a car rented, we decided to take a bus tour offered through the hotel to get a feel for the island. It was $13 per person. We went on a loop around the island, towards Maho Beach, then the market at Marigot, to Orient Beach for lunch, through the French Quarter, and to Phillipsburg, where we stopped to pick up some groceries. All in all, it was worth the money and driving around and getting our bearings gave us enough confidence to eventually rent a car.
For the first couple days we weren't too brave though, and kept it simple, just staying at the Flamingo beach, snorkeling, and tanning. It's a pretty enough beach, although it was a little too crowded for our liking.
By Tuesday we rented a car, which definitely offered us some freedom, and I think we probably should have had it from day one.
Since we had a car, we decided to do some exploring and checked out a number of beaches we had read about. We would recommend Cupecoy Beach for its beautiful cliffs, Orient Beach if you like to people watch and want water sports activities, and Little Bay for snorkeling - a very small sampling of what's available.
Random Wind: Martin and his wife Saskia (spelling?) were perfect hosts. This tour was so relaxing, with only about eight other guests on board, plus the crew of four. Seeing the St. Maarten coastline from the boat was spectacular. The drinks flowed freely and there were lots of snacks, as well as a tasty lunch. We stopped at a few beaches to snorkel, although never found any good spots. Still, the sail itself was worth the $75. We highly recommend this tour. Check out their website at here.
Gypsy Tours: We took this day trip after a presentation at the Divi Little Bay orientation. For $75, we circled the whole island on a fishing boat, stopping at Creole Rock, Pinel Island, and Tintamare for the mud bath. This was a great and relaxing way to see these three popular spots without having to spend a whole day at any of them (however, the snorkeling at Creole Rock was the best we saw on the island and we would have liked to stay there longer). From Creole Rock we went to Pinel Island for some more snorkeling and lunch. It was very pretty. The snorkeling wasn't great, but wasn't awful either. There was lots of very small fish, but the coral was very shallow, so unless you feel comfortable floating only a foot over prickly black sea urchins, it can be a little scary, especially when an ugly green eel sticks its head out of the rocks right under you! That happened to me, so I high-tailed it out of there (after taking a picture, of course). We found a couple conch to look at too. As we cruised, we caught a small Rainbow Runner. Pat got to reel it in, so he was happy to catch a fish in St. Maarten. From Pinel, we headed to Tintamare for a mud bath. Keith our captain mixed up some clay with water, then we slathered it on and scrubbed ourselves with sand. Our skin felt very soft afterwards. Felt just like kids again. This was a full day (8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and well worth the $75 each we paid.
MARIGOT: We went to Marigot a couple times to the market, even got there at 8:30 a.m. one Saturday to buy fresh fish. It's a bustling little town. The market was interesting, though only bought some fresh fruit. Took the walk up to Fort St. Louis and were treated with great views of Marigot and the coast. Thought of going to Pic Paradise, but a security guard at our hotel warned us that it was too dangerous, so we opted not to.
SHOPPING: We unfortuntely decided to go to Phillipsburg on a day when there were seven - yes that's right, seven - cruise ships in port. Need I say more?
DRIVING: Driving in St. Maarten wasn't as bad as we thought it would be. You just have to be aggressive like the rest of the drivers, or you'll never get into or out of traffic. Our first day, we had a dump truck carrying a load of pellets (not tied down!) pass us, so we learned to drive a little faster. It was so much fun to explore the island.
After our drunkfest the first night, Pat and I took it fairly easy, although Brad, who is single, headed out on his own a few nights and had a pretty good time. Our first Tuesday night, we went to the Greenhouse for two for one drinks. Aline, from La Veranda, and her boyfriend Devon took us there. More great St. Maarten hospitality! It was quite a pick-up joint for the young local guys, who were hitting hot and heavy on the single female tourists. And it was fun to watch the locals strut their stuff on the dance floor, breakdancing and doing all that hip-hop stuff. They really know how to move. Danced and drank until closing at 2 a.m.
We also went to the Lady C Floating Bar a few nights, Uncle Harry's for drinks one night, the Buchaneer Beach Bar, Sunset Beach Bar, and to Lee's Roadside Grill several times. We found if you sit at the bar, you're bound to meet lots of intesting people. We also checked out Cheri's Cafe one night and found it pretty lame. The local entertainment playing included a guy dressed as Tina Turner (complete with rainbow wig and pink sequined dress) singing "What's Love Got to Do With It" very badly. It was mostly families and wasn't at all what we were expecting. We got there around 10 p.m. and it closed at 11 p.m., so I'm not sure why it's considered a hot spot.
OVERALL IMPRESSIONS: We loved our holiday on St. Maarten. It's truly a beautiful island with so much to see and do, you almost need a vacation when you get home. After a very busy first week, we spend the second week letting sand gravity take over. The island and it's people are certainly very charming.