Saint-Martin: what to do, what to see…

Saint-Martin is currently being rebuilt. The “Friendly Island” suffered the full brunt of Hurricane Irma on the night of September 5, 2017. The island was left devastated by the storm’s unprecedented power but is starting to get back on its feet and doing all it can to be ready for visitors in 2019. For more details, please visit the Saint-Martin Tourist Information website or social media pages (links at end of the article).

As you probably know, Saint-Martin has a French side and a Dutch side. This small island of just 86 km² (33 mi²) boasts 37 white sandy beaches and 300 restaurants, making it the fine dining capital of the Caribbean. Saint-Martin is also home to people of 110 different nationalities, manifest in its melting-pot culture. Ready for some amazing encounters?

Not to miss sights in Saint-Martin

• The Sentier des Froussards hiking trail from Marcel to Cul-de-Sac

Between Anse Marcel and the beach of Grandes Cayes, via the deserted beach of Petites Cayes, traverse the 4.5 kilometers (2.48 miles) of the trail of the Froussards in in 2.5 hours to visit the last unspoiled forest massif of the island.

• Fort Louis

Fort Louis was built in 1789 under the leadership of Jean Sebastien de Durat, then governor of Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthélemy, for the King of France. Its primary purpose was to defend the warehouses of the port of Marigot, where the crops were stored (salt, coffee, cane sugar, rum), from English looters.

• The butterfly farm

In a tropical setting, this 900m² (9687 ft²) sphere is home to hundreds of butterfly specimens from around the globe. Anyone with an ounce of childlike wonder will adore this unmissable place, located on the Route du Galion.

• The village of Grand-Case

Becoming capital of the gastronomy of the island, the village of Grand Case has preserved all its authenticity, notably in the atmosphere of the eateries. Many restaurants are located in the typical small traditional huts and in the last Creole gaulettes houses, still present on the island.

• The Loterie Farm nature sanctuary at the foot of Pic Paradis

At the foothills of Pic Paradis, which stands at 424 meters (1391.08 feet), is the Loterie Farm, a former sugar refinery built in 1773 which ceased all activity in 1855. It is a true tropical jewel, where endangered plant and animal species carefully protected.

• The Spring sugar mill

Located south-west of Marigot, the Spring Sugar Mill, now in ruins, takes its name from a nearby water source. Sugar production began here in 1772, launched by traders from Guadeloupe. For a century it produced massive quantities of sugar and rum.

• The islet of Pinel 

This islet included in the nature reserve Saint-Martin is a place of high tourism. Unfortunately, this corner of paradise is often therefore very crowded. It's deserted again at 4:30 every day, after the departure of the last shuttle. That's the perfect time to find peace here, as jet-skis and fishing are prohibited.

• Plum Bay

Located between the Cannonier Tip and the bird cliff, Baie aux Prunes is little visited because it's little known. Its magnificent wild beach has two faces, depending on the weather: calm, perfect for fins and snorkeling; wild, when surfers are thrilled.

• Marigot

The main town of the French part, Marigot owes its name to the many swamps that once stood there. Like the demand for sugar cane, Marigot rose rapidly during the 18th century and became the capital of the French part. A nice walk from the Fort Louis Marina to the cemetery, passing by the windward market.

• Orient Bay

The "Caribbean St. Tropez" is slowly recovering from the ravages of Hurricane Irma. Orient Bay is the longest beach on the island and its turquoise water is ideal for lazing around or practicing aquatic sports. There is a cheerful atmosphere, both trendy and very friendly, welcoming for families and party-goers.

Things to do in Saint-Martin

• Swim with the fish through the many coral reefs

Coral reefs protect the coast from the swell and serve as a larder, refuge and nursery for thousands of species. Scientific monitoring of the seabed has been set up in the Saint Martin Nature Reserve since 2007.

• Take a leisurely lunch on Red Bay Beach

Baie Rouge owes its name to the color of the pink sand that lines its banks—its lively and pleasant beach is one of the most beautiful in Saint-Martin. You can even have lunch with your toes in the sand at one of the small beach restaurants.

• Hike to the summit of Pic Paradis

Climbing to the summit of Pic Paradis 424 meters (1391.08 feet), the highest point of the island, offers a magnificent panoramic view of Saint-Martin and the neighboring islands. By crossing it on foot, you tour through the lush tropical flora. This is the starting point for many hiking trails on the island.

• Go window shopping in the colorful streets of Marigot

In Marigot, between sessions at the beach or at the end of the day, come walk around the marina to admire the yachts at the quayside, or wander through the streets of the small town center to window shop.

• Live Saint-Martin carnival life in February and April

In February / March each year, the carnival of Saint-Martin encourages inhabitants go out disguised, masked and made up, to sing and dance to folk music in the streets during the parade. On the Dutch side, the carnival takes place in April.

• Be amazed at all five of the island's protected ecosystems, from coral reefs to dry forests

The Saint Martin Nature Reserve preserves its five main ecosystems: reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, ponds and dry coastal forests. More than a thousand plant and animal species have been identified, with more catalogued every day,

• Enjoy traditional dishes barbecued in one of the many lolos

The lolos of Saint-Martin are the small, very popular traditional restaurants where one cooks on makeshift barbecues installed in the open air. This name comes from the word lot, the sales unit that has always been used in these stalls.

• Seek out the secret Plage des Amoureux (Lovers’ Beach), the smallest on the island

It's hard to find Lovers' Beach—it's accessible only by the sea and nestled in the rocky coast of Pointe Arago. The smallest beach in Saint-Martin, it cannot accommodate more than two people at a time, hence its romantic name.

• Explore the mangrove swamp in a glass-bottomed kayak

From Galion Beach, a 2-hour kayak tour will take you to explore the mangrove forests of Saint Martin. This is the best way to discover the diverse ecosystem of the region, teeming with various plant and animal species, such as iguanas, egrets and herons.

• Windsurf in Nettle Bay

The island of Saint Martin offers ideal weather conditions throughout the year to discover—or improve—various water sports, like surfing, stand up, paddle, kite surfing and windsurfing.

Getting to Saint Martin