St. Maarten and St. Martin are two countries on one island. The Dutch St. Maarten is on the south of the island, and the more laid-back French Saint Martin is to the north. This island is known for its beaches, shopping, water sports and its guavaberry drink.
St. Maarten was a port of call on our Royal Caribbean Cruise itinerary. Since we had been to St. Maarten before and had done a city tour by Segway, we passed on joining an excursion. Everything is so close together in Philipsburg and with so many beaches, it’s easy to spend the day on your own. On this visit, we had 7 hours on the island.
Philipsburg, St. Maarten
Philipsburg is the capital of the Dutch side of St. Maarten, and is located on the southern coast of the island. Many cruise ships dock here. The cruise pier is a close walk to water taxis that take you to Captain Hodge Pier, but the lineup is usually long. I remembered the way to the centre of Philipsburg so it was a better idea to walk to town. Plus, there are a few signs along the way, so it’s hard to get lost. The 15 minute walk took longer than usual since it was SO hot out, I stopped every 5 minutes to take a water break!
Water Taxi to Philipsburg
Instead of walking from the cruise pier, we could have taken a water taxi for the 5 minute ride to Philipsburg. It comes every 10 minutes, and the return fare is $7 per person, or $5 one way. Children under 3 travel free. They accept cash only and be prepared to wait in the long queue.
Cruise lines always try to promote duty-free shops on Caribbean itineraries, especially at Diamonds International. I was definitely not looking to buy jewelry, but did browse the diamond store for kicks and to use the free wifi.
Points of Interest in Philipsburg
Nearby, Old Street is a pedestrian-only street that connects Front Street to Backstreet. The picturesque street has cafes, shops, and a yellow vintage car. I was thankful for some shade on this colourful little street. Philipsburg Marketplace, an open-air market of souvenirs was also nearby. Back on Front Street, there were a ton of duty-free jewelry and souvenir stores.
At this point, we hired a driver to Maho Beach. It’s easy to find drivers in Philipsburg, you just have to negotiate a rate with them. The scenic ride to Maho Beach was about 30 minutes and we got to see some other parts of the island.
Maho Beach, St. Maarten
Maho Beach is known for its proximity to low-flying commercial airplanes taking off and landing at Princess Juliana International Airport. The strip of beach is very narrow and is located directly under the flight path where planes fly just 100 feet overhead.
So many visitors go to Maho Beach to watch these planes that daily arrival and departure flight times are listed on a surfboard at Sunset Bar and the Caravanserai Resort next to the beach.
To our disappointment, we had just missed the timing of the last commercial flight landing for the day, but were lucky enough to spot a smaller plane take off.
St. Maarten Attractions We Missed
There are 37 beaches on the island with a ton of water sports to do, such as surfing, diving, snorkeling, and windsurfing. The most popular beach is Orient Bay, in Saint Martin. Other notable beaches are Mullet Beach, Simpson Bay, and Grand Case.
Marigot is the capital of the French side. It’s known to be a charming Creole city and offers restaurants, markets, and shops that reflect the French Caribbean island culture. From here, you can also catch a shuttle boat at Gare Maritime to Anguilla and St. Barthelemy Island.
Back to the Cruise Pier
Our driver waited for us the whole time and on our way back to the cruise pier we missed the Causeway Drawbridge opening by just one car! Talk about 2 close calls for the day. That was the end to another visit to the beautiful St. Maarten.
Have you been to St. Maarten on a cruise? What’s your most memorable port of call on a cruise?