St. Maarten/Martin

Well, it seems to have completely slipped my mind that we took a vacation in May. I guess moving a few states south could facilitate that. So here we are, it's the end of July... er February, I'm going to recap our trip and give you some awesome recommendations for enjoying some time in the Caribbean.

First off, we stayed in a rental condo. We split it with friends who got a deal in a silent auction, then they couldn't make, so it was Joe and I in a two bedroom, two bathroom condo, with this view...

dawn-beach-st-maarten

There are many nice places to stay around the island, but I can't really mention any specifically since we did stay in a condo. I would recommend the Dutch side for an American style hotel, and the French side for a more boutique hotel. Grand Case seemed like a really nice place with lots of good restaurants and possibly some cute hotels.

Beaches!

Oh the beaches! Wow! These are world class beaches my friends, crystal clear turquoise water, white sand, and ran the gamut from totally secluded to full of amenities. Beach hopping is really easy here, the island is small, and it's totally worth it to try a new beach every day. My order of preference:

Simpson Bay Beach. This is a long stretch of beach with the prettiest water I've ever seen, ever. There are a couple places to rent out a lounge chair, which is really nice. Allows you access to the place's restrooms and pina coladas... Swim in the water and take a run from one end of the beach to the other.

Mullet Bay/Le Galion. This is a tiny little beach with few amenities, but if you bring enough water and some of your own snacks, this is THE PERFECT place to just float in the shallow clear water. It's so warm and other worldly.

Orient Bay Beach. This is a long stretch of beach and there's plenty to do. Topless sunbathing is pretty common, but you kind of get used to it. This is a great spot to rent some beach chairs and do some water sports.

Anse Marcel Beach. This is a gorgeous bay, small with cliffs on either side. This would have been my top pick but the beach area is really built up with a resort and there was a party going on that kind of ruined the vibe. 

Of course, I highly recommend driving down any little road that heads towards the beach, you never know what you might find. Bring a TON of water (it's really expensive if you have to buy a bottle), sunscreen, a hat, and baby powder (I always forget the baby powder). 

What We Ate

We ate a lot of seafood. It was plentiful and delicious. But be forewarned, the prices are steep almost everywhere you go. We ate out for nearly every meal except a few breakfasts, and rarely revisited a restaurant. I'll share my top picks, because some of the places we went to weren't like amazing. And I must admit that service was lacking. Maybe we just weren't used to the European style of dining, but it seemed like asking for our check was rude, or even getting the waiter to attend to us was silly.

Dutch Side

Mr. Busby's Beach Bar, Canoa, Big Fish at Dawn Beach. All right next to each other, very good, similarly priced. I'd recommend Mr. Busby's for a regular dinner, Canoa for a nice dinner, and Big fish for dessert and drinks.

Lazy Lizard Beach Bar and Grill in Phillipsburg. One of our favorite meals of the trip. The boardwalk area was very quiet and very dark, few places were open. Some locals were hanging at the bar here having a good time. And we had a very delicious meal.

Karakter on Simpson Bay. We parked here, ate a tasty lunch, and rented two lawn chairs on one of the finest beaches with the prettiest water I've ever seen. This is right next to the landing runway of the airport, so you can watch planes come in, but it is a little noisy. Great pina coladas. 

Sunset Beach Bar. This is overlooking Maho Bay where you can watch the planes come in, but we just had burgers, and most of the places around there will be similar.

French Side

Quai Ouest in Oyster Pond. The best. Ambience was divine, the server was perfectly French, and the food was great. I had the special which was stingray, and it was wonderful. Must try. I would go back to the island just for this restaurant. 

Paradise View in Quartier D'Orleans. We had a late lunch here, which wasn't very satisfactory (probably better for someone without a gluten problem), but their breakfast is supposed to be great. And they really did have an amazing view. It was breezy and relaxing.

Some tips for comfortable dining: Make sure you tip 15-20%. Most places close at about 2, so don't wait to have lunch if you feel you might be getting hungry, or plan ahead and bring snacks. Try to relax and go with the leisurely pace of the servers, but don't be afraid to hurry them along if you need to. Try some new dishes, and if you're gluten free, don't be afraid to ask, they pretty much know what that means and how to help you out. Dining here is expensive, budget accordingly, I was very surprised. We had terrible service aka no one even bothered to get us menus or take our drink orders at Captain Oliver's and Dinghy Dock Bar. There are a ton of restaurants on the island. There are some are great beachside lunch spots in Orient Bay and I think Grand Case would have been a great place to try some restaurants and even stay.

What We Did

We mostly just beach hopped. We went towards the end of the busy season so we did have a little difficulty finding things that were open.

We hiked to the highest point on St. Martin, Pic Paradis, from Loterie Farms. This was a strenuous 2 hr hike that led to some good views. It was a little confusing at the end, but a great physical diversion. Loterie Farms looked like a ton of fun, and I would recommend spending some time there as well.

We took a boat charter to St. Barth's, which was lovely and exciting, and I'll give you more details on our St. Barth's trip in the next blog post so this one doesn't get too long. 

We found a really cute artist's studio in Grand Case. Wish we would have spent more time here. Seemed like a fun town.

We watched the planes land at Maho Beach.

From Rotary Lookout Point we walked in shallow water to a small island. I definitely recommend water shoes that fasten on your feet, not flip flops. The rocks and shells are very, very sharp.

And we almost got bamboozled into a time share presentation by a couple of dudes who said we could get free drinks at the Dawn Beach Club. Not a club, just a time share thing.

We visited the small St. Maarten Zoo, which had a ton of different birds, and plenty of other interesting animals. Not like a typical American zoo, but you can interact with many of the birds, which I loved.

We also visited the Fort Amsterdam which had some interesting ruins, but mostly incredible views.

What we didn't do that would have also been fun - horseback riding on the beach, stand up paddleboarding, catamaran/sailboat sunset cruise, snorkeling, more hiking, Pinel Island and Tintamarre Island

Be adventurous. The roads kind of freaked me out a little at first, I wasn't sure if it would be safe to drive at night, but the island is so small and very safe, so it really isn't a big deal. Just know where you're going and have your map ready because navigating is really tricky.

Next up, St. Barth's