72 Hours in Sint Maarten & Saint Martin

Close your eyes and picture a place that has 37 beaches. This is Sint Maarten and Saint Martin: One island, two countries. The water? Is at least 3 shades of blue, and when the waves crash in, and the sun is shining just right, the foamy white tops of the waves make the sandy beaches transform into a shimmering pink diamond. And in this article I’m going to map out exactly what you could do if you had 72 hours in Sint Maarten and Saint Martin to experience the best of both sides.  

But please remember that 72 hours in Sint Maarten and Saint Martin will never be enough!  I was there for 6 days and still felt like I had so much to see.  From the beaches, to the restaurants, to the boating adventures, I encourage you to spend time both exploring, and relaxing on this easy going island that between both sides, will give you a beach vacation with a taste of Europe.

The Dutch Side and The French Side

Before traveling there to celebrate my birthday, I had no idea that in 1648, France, and the Netherlands signed the Treaty of Concordia, peacefully splitting the island in two. The“Friendly Island” is made up of France to the North, and the Netherlands, or the “Dutch side” to the South. This of course gave their countries, and thankfully the world!, 2 different cultures within 37 sq miles. But no matter the labels, the island seems to blur the boundaries a bit. In the short time that I was there, I couldn’t help but notice that they share characteristics all the while giving you a taste of their own uniqueness.

Did you know? Due to Covid, the island has set requirements to get ON to the island, as do many countries in the world right now. Most countries will also require a Covid test for you to get home. When I was there in April, masking and social distancing rules applied, and all of the restaurants and beaches I visited had covered, yet open air restaurants and bars. So don’t leave your mask at home! While indoors, masks were required, and these days we need to be prepared for anything. So I encourage you to visit St. Maarten’s website to make sure you have all the correct information as our world continues to change quite quickly, and hopefully for the better! 

Where to Stay: El Zafiro Boutique Hotel

With two enticing sides to choose from- where should you stay? This is quite the question because you have so many options. Should you stay on the Dutch side? The French side? What area? Will you want to stay close to home or do you like to get out and experience more than just where you are staying? After weighing all of my options, I decided on an area just between Maho Beach and Simpson Bay Beach. This location would make it easy to get back and forth between the French and Dutch sides while also being within walking distance of numerous beaches. The hotel we chose was El Zafiro Boutique Hotel, and I would stay there again in a heartbeat.  

Waking up to the Sound of the Caribbean Sea

Nestled in the western corner of Simpson Bay Beach, El Zafiro boasts Beach front rooms with private balconies, an open air restaurant, and a private beach.  This makes it so easy to enjoy the beach without the hassle of packing everything up for an entire day away from home.  Everything you need, including Erica’s famous Mango Coladas are moments away.  Every morning I enjoyed my espresso on the cozy sofas with a side of sunshine, and that beautiful Caribbean breeze.  

The Room we stayed in at El Zafiro– The Sapphire room- was spacious and comfortable, with a King sized bed, private balcony, and living space.  Let’s just say I was getting a bit too cozy waking up every morning to the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach.  

El Zafiro is quiet and secluded, yet close enough to the Simpson Bay Beach Area nightlife to give you everything you need. Sure, there are resorts on St. Maarten and St. Martin. But why go to the Caribbean if you are going to stay in one place? The culture of this island is unlike any other, and it is calling to you to come out and explore more than what an all inclusive resort has to offer.

Home Away From Home

But at the end of the day, the reason to stay at El Zafiro is more than the perfect location and dreamy paradise set up. It’s the people that make it feel like home. From the get-go, the staff at El Zafiro made my birthday extra special with a sweet card and a bottle of wine! Nicole was so delightful to work with, as she had amazing recommendations of things we should do to make my celebratory experience extra special. As I mentioned before, they even set up transport from the airport for us and these connections would help make our stay convenient and way more fun.

From Alvin who was always there to lend a helping hand (or give a pep talk on life), to being greeted by Erica every morning with a coffee and a ray of sunshine! The entire staff was personable, and wanted to make sure that we had a marvelous time on the island.   

Getting Around: Find a Driver You Can Trust

At the airport, I was greeted by Irving. He would not only bring me to the hotel, but he would end up being a huge part of why our trip was such a fun and easy week in paradise. Always a phone call away, it was an absolute joy to talk to him whether we were heading to dinner on the French side, or having cocktails in Simpson Bay. 

There is so much to learn about any destination you visit, and I encourage you to spend a moment to ask those around you about the history of the island. Or better yet, give Irving a call! Having a dependable driver to call is one thing (and an absolute must if you don’t plan on renting a car), but having someone who is knowledgeable and could probably be the mayor of the island is another. 

But enough about where to stay, and who you need saved in your phone! Let’s discuss itinerary- because after all, you only have 72 hours in Sint Maarten and Saint Martin!

72 Hours in Sint Maarten and Saint Martin:  Day 1

We begin our Caribbean adventure on the Sea with Eagle Tours SXM. In my humble opinion, you haven’t truly seen a place that is near the water until you’ve seen it from a boat. The perspective shift helps you appreciate the landscape a bit more, there is ALWAYS more to learn, and let’s be honest: being on a boat for the day is a delightful experience.

The morning of our excursion, I had my coffee at El Zafiro where they also have lovely breakfast options on their menu. Around 9am, a small, quite comfortable coach bus picked us up, and in no more than 30 minutes, we were pulling up to the Philipsburg port where the Eagle Tours office is located. 

Eagle Tours SXM

The staff at Eagle Tours was an absolute pleasure to work with! Even before we arrived on the island, they were completely dedicated to making our experience a positive one by answering questions and making sure our day with them ran smoothly.

The excursion we chose was the Catamaran tour that focused on the south side of the island. The boat was beautiful, and we were encouraged to make ourselves at home immediately as we conveniently stowed our bags, lathered on sunscreen, and were offered a rum punch to get the day started.  It may have only been 10am, but it had to be 5 o’clock somewhere, right?

Tamara, Charlie, and our Captain were our crew for the day, and the first order of business was safety.  As a teacher, I cannot tell you how much I appreciated the way they explained the rules of the boat.  Their attention to detail was fantastic, and it made me feel so much safer being in their care.  In one breath they were explaining how to use the snorkeling equipment (all properly sanitized I might add), and in the next moment I was being asked if I’d like another rum punch!  Safety and fun definitely went hand in hand.  

Taking the Plunge: It’s Time to Snorkel!

Our first stop was at Little Bay. It was time to snorkel!I gingerly took the ladder into the clear blue waters, adjusted my snorkel gear, and took the plunge. I’m not a natural in the water, but I felt way more comfortable knowing that Charlie was in a small boat just in case anyone needed assistance. To our left was the bay, and straight ahead; high up on the mountain top was Fort Amsterdam. 

At the bottom of the sea, we found a museum of items that made the snorkeling experience quite the feast for the eyes while also being a thoughtful one. A treasure chest, a shopping cart, and a helicopter. Skinny, silver poles that went vertical and horizontal from the sea floor, created  a bit of an obstacle course for both me, and the beautiful schools of fish that scurried about. 

One artifact in particular- a statue- sent a chill up my spine. Now, all of these items were placed on the ocean floor for the snorkelers and the scuba divers who come to this bay. But in a way this statue was a sobering reminder of the hurricane that devastated this island back in 2017. And even so soon after Covid, and the hurricane!  The people on the island still welcomed us with such a vibrant energy, and after a year of staying at home,  sunshine, smiles, and rum punch definitely cured all our woes.

A Boat Excursion for All

Back on the boat, Tamara and Charlie knew exactly when to talk safety, when to teach us about the island, and exactly when, and how to invigorate and entertain the very large variety of groups on this excursion.  There were the gals from New York who loved a celebration, a couple of couples, a family, a lovely woman waiting for her son to arrive on the island, and then of course Lisa, Theresa, and me- who couldn’t be happier to be on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. 

Another stop, and probably my favorite, was just over the Dutch-French border at Long Beach. The view was absolutely stunning and we were given time to swim, float on the noodles, head to the beach, or just lounge on the springy cargo nets on the boat while the crew prepared a yummy lunch. The time was ours, the vibe was heavenly, and everyone enjoyed this moment in the sun. After an hour or so, we all came together to enjoy a lunch that felt a bit like an American BBQ!  Chicken, Potato salad, and Tuna Salad to name a few. But the flavors and spices made it uniquely theirs.

Boating: Always a Good Idea

Our bellies full and our eyes full of the turquoise views of Long Beach, we started to make our way back to the Port. We did have one more stop, but most of the folks on board were very happy staying on board to relax and take it all in. I will truly never tire of being surrounded by beaches, mountains, and pristine blue waters.  And the next time I head out to Sint Maarten, and Saint Martin, I’m planning to try another one of the excursions that Eagle Tours SXM has available-probably the Eco Tour that goes all around the island and even visits Tintamarre.

In all my travels, it has become very clear that time spent on a boat will always be enjoyable, but it’s the people around you that will take it from a lovely day to one of those memories you will never forget. Many thanks to everyone at Eagle Tours SXM for such a memorable experience!

Dinner Tip

You could easily stick around Philipsburg to walk the boardwalk and grab a bite to eat. When we were there, the cruise ships were not yet allowed to set sail, so many of the restaurants and bars were quiet, but it was very clear that the boardwalk would be lively someday soon. The people we met, like Brian from Taloula Mango’s/Blue Bitch Bar, were so excited for the day they could welcome and entertain tourists once again!  I hope you will be one of those visitors.

Prefer to head back home for dinner?  Check out Pineapple Pete in Simpson Bay where I enjoyed the mojitos, sushi and the coconut shrimp, or 3 Amigos for tacos and margaritas.  

Did you Know: The French side of the island uses Euros (we used credit cards) and the Dutch side of the Island takes American Dollars, (you will definitely need cash for taxis), and credit cards.

72 Hours in Sint Maarten and Saint Martin:  Day 2

On our 2nd day we walked past the famed Maho Beach which is right by the airport and our hotel, to Mullet Bay Beach.  I was concerned that all of the airplanes would be uncomfortably loud, but I truly found it to be more thrilling than anything. I watched the airplanes from the balcony of El Zafiro, their lookout tower, or right on the beach as they soared up and over the mountains.  

Did you Know: Maho Beach allows you to get so unbelievably close to the planes as they land that you can feel their power. My one regret from the trip, was that I did not sit at Maho Beach long enough to experience it, or take some really incredible photos.

Covid Testing at Mullet Bay Clinic

Another huge plus about The Simpson Bay/Maho Beach area was not just the closeness to the grocery store, and 3 different beaches within walking distance.  But it was also the Mullet Bay Clinic, where you will most likely need to get a negative Covid test before heading home. 

The morning of my Covid test, I arrived at the clinic 15 minutes early to wait in line with my passport, and $75 dollars.  I am so glad I arrived early! I was second in line, and in and out in an hour. The line does get long, and please also note the days and hours that they are open. You will also need to go back to the clinic to pick up your results.

After my test, I made my way to the store for water, snacks, and a double espresso. I asked the gal behind the counter how she took hers, and decided to follow suit and enjoy my espresso with cinnamon and honey. It was delicious! Another big reminder to always try new things- especially while traveling.

Mullet Bay Beach

Then it was off to Mullet Bay Beach. There is a parking lot, but the walk is quite nice, and in my opinion, less of a hassle. Some of the roads on the island are quite tight. As a Chicago girl, I quite enjoyed the 20-30 minute walk from the hotel to burn off some of that rum punch, and the Rosé from Provence- which was everywhere thanks to the French side of the island.  

The moment we arrived at Mullet Bay Beach we were greeted by Alex who helped us get set up with 2 chairs and an umbrella, which together cost us about $20 for the day.  Alex is the perfect example of who you’ll find in St. Maarten:  Genuinely friendly people who truly want you to enjoy yourself, and are there if you need them.  

The Perfect Beach Day

Mullet Bay Beach has the most BEAUTIFULLY clear Turquoise waters.  I know I keep saying that, and honestly I mean it!  The Beaches on this island are STUNNING and I only visited a few.  Mullet Bay Beach  was the perfect backdrop to an entire day of sunning, swimming, and enjoying beverages and snacks from Da Waterhole, The Open Air Beach Restaurant that was just steps away from our chairs.  This beach was absolute paradise, and completely convenient to all of our needs!  Comfy loungers, gorgeous views, and yummy food and beverage. 

Did you know: In the Caribbean, it actually rains quite frequently, but it never lasts long. Our weather forecast was 80 degrees For for the entire week- no rain in sight! But on the island, a dark cloud will pass by with gentle rain, and then before you know it the sun will be shining once again! I tell you this, because no matter how hot I was, I wished I had a long sleeve linen shirt with me for those rainy moments. I came to enjoy it! The rain was always a lovely reprieve from the hot sun.  

Dinner Tip

Head up to the French side for dinner at least once!  One night we had Champagne and an array of yummy snacks at Barranco.  I do love a glass of bubbles and a view, and this restaurant gave us one of the best on the island.  We could’ve stayed there for dinner as well, but were keen on variety.  

We then strolled over to Restaurant L’Auberge Gourmande which is a classic French Restaurant.  I felt like I was at a cozy bistro in Paris!  I am still dreaming about the Champagne cocktails they presented to us on arrival, and the foie gras stuffed quail. And how could I forget the beautiful vegetable creations or the banana rum to finish our meal.  This restaurant was a wow! 

 If you are feeling more of a Modern French vibe, head on over to Bistrot Caraibes for the decadent French creations that we enjoyed very much. This is yet another reason to visit St. Maarten and Saint Martin.  Gorgeous beaches during the day, and amazing French Restaurants at night.  

72 Hours in Sint Maarten and Saint Martin:  Day 3

We started our day downstairs at the restaurant with coffee on the sofas.  The sunshine paired with the breeze of the Caribbean truly took the stress of the world off of my face, and out of my mind. 

Zip Lining in the Rain Forest

From there we made our way to Loterie Farm to try our hand at the Fly Zone Adventure course!  I had never been zip lining before, so this was the perfect introduction to walking across tight ropes, climbing swaying wooden steps, or flying across the zip lines from canopy to canopy.  All while harnessed in and very safe.  But of course! Being in the middle of the rainforest was great fun.  From the lush greenery, to the tropical plants, Iguanas and even monkeys!  Loterie has much more to offer- like the Mango Colada and Mojitos we enjoyed along with a delicious Poke bowl.  The perfect snack after a challenging adventure on the French side.

Simpson Bay Beach

Back at the El Zafiro Boutique Hotel, we enjoyed the private beach that had one of my favorite views on the island.   You can see all the way down Simpson Bay Beach, and as your eye wanders up from the jewel-toned waters to the gorgeous sands, you notice the mountains that look like fluffy green pillows sitting right below the clouds.  And don’t forget about the blue skies!

One can easily stroll up and down Simpson Bay in between mango coladas, but watching the planes take off will be the perfect backdrop while you have your feet up on the lounge chair as well.  

A Massage on the Beach

After our physical activities earlier, it was only right that we enjoy a massage on the beach with A Touch of Handz. They came to El Zafiro which was just so marvelous and convenient. I cannot even begin to explain how surreal it was to have a massage on the beach with the actual sound of the Sea- not the recording at a spa.  But there are many more reasons to give Brian and his skilled massage therapists a call.  He believes in continuously learning about his craft so he can give you exactly what your body needs.  He also believes in giving his guests a decadent experience.  

Before my massage I had the pleasure of meeting Justine and her boyfriend Daniel from Boston.  They had just finished their massages and were looking quite relaxed while enjoying champagne and dessert.  I would soon feel the same way after my own massage.  I found myself breathing a little lighter, my legs walking a bit freer!  And the stress I was holding onto in my back and shoulders were a thing of the past.  If only I could bring the sea-front experience home with me!  

Dinner Tip

Take it easy tonight and stay at El Zafiro for dinner.  I enjoyed my grilled mahi mahi so much, and could’ve had the coconut shrimp every single day!

A Spring Break to Remember

All in all, this beautiful island gave me the getaway I wanted and very much needed.  Whether you have 6 days, or just 72 hours in Sint Maarten and Saint Martin, I hope you will spend time on both sides!  And as always, I encourage you to immerse yourself in the culture, and get to know the people.  This will always be the formula to a fantastic holiday.  

This article is written by Julie Anne and a proud member of the Dutchbloggeronthemove team. Julie is known for her food and wine experience and she flawlessly combines these to give us the best travel experiences. To learn more about Julie, you can read her bio here or read more of her articles about Italy and Paris here. You can also always ask us anything in the comments below.

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