St Maarten, Cupecoy beach

St Maarten is one of the most touristed islands in the Caribbean, but despite the large resorts, casinos and fast-food chains it still has quiet niches to explore. There are powdery white-sand beaches, secluded coves and good diving.

A colourful mixture of different cultures, nestled in the beauty of a Caribbean paradise, that's St. Maarten or Saint Martin depending if you are on the island's Dutch or French side. One of the most popular islands in the Eastern Caribbean, St. Maarten boasts lots of impressive beaches, an exciting nightlife, a great variety of restaurants and duty free shopping.

With its 80 square kilometers, St. Maarten is the smallest island in the world with two governments. Due to its favourable location between Anguilla and St. Barthelemy, as well as its proximity to St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin/St. Maarten is the perfect base for cruises and sailing trips.

Philipsburg, St Maarten’s main town, is centered on a long, narrow stretch of land that separates Great Salt Pond from Great Bay. There are some older buildings mixed among the new, but overall the town is far more commercial than quaint. Most of the action is along Frontstreet, the bayfront road, which is lined with boutiques, jewelry shops, restaurants, casinos and duty-free shops selling everything from Danish porcelain to Japanese cameras and electronics.

History buffs can visit the Sint Maarten Museum, which has displays on island history with Arawak pottery shards, plantation-era artifacts, period photos and a few items from the HMS Proselyte, the frigate that sank off Fort Amsterdam in 1801. There’s also an interesting exhibit on the damage caused by 1995’s Hurricane Luis.

Wathey Square, overlooking Great Bay on the south, is the town center of sorts. It boasts a tourist information booth, a wharf where cruiseship tenders dock and an old courthouse that dates from 1793. On cruise ship days, vendors on the square sell drinking coconuts and souvenirs; more street vendors, selling T-shirts and wood carvings, can be found at the north side of the courthouse.

In 1631 the Dutch built their first Caribbean fort, Fort Amsterdam, on the peninsula separating Great Bay and Little Bay. Invading Spaniards expanded it and added a small church. Despite its historic significance little remains of the fort other than crumbling walls and a few rusting cannons. It does, however, offer a nice view across the bay to Philipsburg.

Maho Bay, on the southwestern shore, is Sint Maarten’s main resort area. It feels a bit like the Las Vegas Strip: while little more than a block long, it’s dense with multistory buildings housing exclusive jewelers, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and a huge resort and casino. Maho Bay has a nice enough beach except that it’s at the very end of the airport runway.

If you’re looking for a beach that’s quiet but not totally secluded, Cupecoy is a good choice. Its white sands are backed by low sandstone cliffs that have been eroded in such a way that they provide a run of small semiprivate coves.

Enjoy life on the beach
Already when approaching the Queen Juliana Airport this unusually shaped Caribbean island is a real eyecatcher: a vast amount of water birds romp about the salt lake located on the tropical coast. At 425 meters Paradise Peak is the crown of the island’s mountain range.

On the west coast shimmers the blue lagoon, Simpson Bay, one of the Caribbean’s biggest inland bodies of water. Lots of spectacular beaches and bays invite you to relax. The beach of Cupecoy is so beautiful that it seems to be painted with white sand, crystal-clear water and deeply fissured rocks in the background. Mullet Bay has a golf course located at a wonderful beach. Simpson Bay Beach and Little Bay Beach are perfect spots for swimming, snorkelling and other water sports.

You also find beautiful beaches like Dawn Beach on the East Coast. People snorkelling from here can go with the current in the direction of Oyster Pond without ever losing sight of the small colourful fishes surrounding them.

A Variety of Sports
A ride on a banana boat is a lot of fun, and a great way to cool off. Or what about jet skiing? Whoever has tried or wants to experience the thrill and challenge of high speed wave hopping will love our island.

St. Maarten also attracts scuba divers from around the world. Here on dive cruises explore some of the most beautiful dive areas in the Lesser Antilles.

You’ll see sea horses and stingrays, as well as sea turtles and swarms of exotic and colourful fish, which shine in full rainbow colours from silver-blue to neon yellow and warm orange. A truly special adventure is wreck diving. Those who prefer above water sports can make a good catch deep-sea fishing. Orient Bay is the place to go if you like windsurfing.

Lovers of horseback riding will enjoy a ride on the beach. There are sports activities for everyone, with tennis courts at most large hotels and an 18-hole golf course at Mullet Bay.

Action Day and Night
Like to do some shopping? St. Maarten is a duty free paradise. Designer clothes can be bought in the tax-free shopping center of Philipsburg.

You will find everything you are looking for in boutiques and jewelry stores in Philipsburg, the small capital of the Dutch part located on a small strip between the big salt lake and Great Bay. The most famous street is Frontstreet.

However, do not forget to visit the French capital Marigot, with its attractive West Indian style buildings. Try breakfast with coffee and croissants on one of the many terraces on the seaside and explore the habour.

After a day full of excitement it is time to go on a culinary spree. Enjoy a taste of Creole cooking and its abundant seafood. St. Maarten offers nearly infinite gastronomic choice: Besides French and Italian Cuisine you will find Mexican, Cuban, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indonesian restaurants. The national drinks are wine on the French side and beer on the Dutch side.

Later in the evening the island bustles with pulsing nightlife. In the discos and nightclubs of Philipsburg you can throw yourself into the rhythms of Limbo and Calypso.