Orient Beach is the most developed, most popular, and busiest beach on the island of St. Martin/Sint Maarten. Protected from Atlantic rollers by a reef, the beach is a two-mile long swath of sugary white sand surrounded by turquoise waters. It is reputed both for its natural beauty and setting and for being the island’s foremost swimsuit optional beach.
Located two miles west of Sandy Ground and within walking distance of Marigot (if you like long walks), Baie Rouge is home to one of St. Martin’s most popular beaches. After spending several days in Anguilla, it was difficult to be impressed by the golden sand which had the texture and color of cornmeal, or somewhat choppy seas. But it isn’t a bad beach, and the area is said to be good for snorkeling. Be warned – Orient Beach isn’t the only beach with nudists; there are plenty at Baie Rouge as well.
Just west of Marigot in Sandy Ground, Baie Nettle features a decent beach. The beach is fronted by a number of hotels and restaurants but is relatively uncrowded. Looking back toward the Marigot marina and the surrounding hills, it features a nice backdrop as well. Unfortunately, the far end of the beach is excessively littered with rubbish and is popular only with foraging stray dogs.
Constructed in 1767 by order of French King Louis XVI to protect Marigot from pirates of British and Dutch descent, Fort Louis is not much more today than a few crumbling rock walls and some left-over cannons. But it is worth climbing up to see for the sweeping view of Marigot, its harbor, and nearby Anguilla. Although not particularly well marked, it is impossible to miss the fort if you simply look up from the Marigot waterfront.
The capital of French St. Martin, Marigot has a bit of a southern European flavor. Home to a public market, souvenir stalls, a handful of lolos, and other restaurants, Marigot’s harborfront is the city’s main commercial area. Not surprisingly, it is a good place to people watch, browse, and graze. High-end shoppers will prefer the trendy boutiques surrounding the nearby Port La Royale Marina and along the roads linking the marina and the harborfront. The marina also is home to scores of tourist restaurants, and is a comfortable place to have dinner. One of the town’s highlights is the panoramic view from Fort Louis. A day in Marigot is more than enough to take it all in at a reasonable pace.
Lolos are makeshift restaurants serving traditional creole fare. Typically consisting of a small kitchen with a counter, a grill, and some plastic tables and chairs under an awning or plywood roof, lolos are direct descendants of more rustic barbecue shacks. Clustered at the main pier in Grand Case and along the waterfront adjacent to the public market in Marigot, lolos are extremely popular with locals and tourists alike. Serving hearty meals at less than $10 a pop, lolos are difficult to beat. Picking which one to eat at can be a challenge – my theory was to eat at the ones with the most locals, and I was never disappointed.
There are charters everywhere around the island. Go on the water taxi to Saba and sign up for the 2-dive outing. We opted for only the afternoon dive and got a taxi to take us around the island and had lunch in the small town at the top of the hill. The water was warm down to 82' and the coral and fish were amazing.
In case you did not know, St Martin is the French side of the island and St Maarten is the Dutch side of the island. Look up St Maarten here at Virtual tourist. It is listed as part of the Netherlands Antilles. You are in the Guedeloupe and you are also in the Leeward islands. So many names! There is no border crossing, just a sign on the side of the road. You may come and go at ease whenever you please. If you want to call from one side of the island to another you will need an international calling card.
On both sides of the island there are telephones with red and blue stickers. Avoid them, they are a private company's phone. My $10 card of theirs did not work. Use the other phones and you will not have any problem. On the dutch side it is 75 cents US to make a phone call. You can drive around the whole island in an hour-and-a-half if there were no trafic or bridge openings (south west side).
There are 33 beaches all with free public access (some have washrooms for a fee/others are free bring TP) The French capital Marigot is know for great clothing shopping. Grand Case is known as the Gourmet Capital of the world second to Paris. The Dutch sides main capital is Philisburg and is know for it's jewelry. The most popular beach on the French side is Orient Beach, on the Dutch side Philisburg beach with the cruise ships and Maho & mullet beaches.
On the Dutch side the currency is the Netherlands antilles Florin. I never saw this currency during my trip. I wanted to bring some because I was sure the cheapest way to travel was to use the local currency. I'm glad I did not bring any, the currency exchange places offered such a poor rate back home in Canada, I said forget it, I'll use the US dollar. Everyone uses the American dollar!!!! On the French side the currency is the Euro, however I did not use any either cause every person I encountered accepted the US dollar dollar per Euro and that was a bargain!
Pic Paradis is the highest point on the island. It is NOT safe to travel there alone. Car Jackings and robery are common! Do visit Lotterie farm for an ambitious group guided hike $25.00 9:30 am, or for a delicous lunch at the cafe. The cafe gets rave reviews. There is an $8.00 charge to visit the property. Closed on Mondays. It is safe to visit pic paradis with the Lotterie farm guide.
The city of Grand Case has a festival on tuesday nights called "Harmony nights". Happens during the winter months. Maybe Nov-March? They have bands that perform and crafts people set up tables for their booths. The street is lined with festive lights and all the local children come out to dance. Many local women bring home cooked goodies to sell. Look for Acra - fish cakes and Jonny cake.