One of the Caribbean’s most popular yet diverse destinations, St Maarten in the Leeward Isles is served by the port of Phillipsburg and is really two, or even three islands in one, thanks to its blend of French, Dutch and Caribbean cultures and is always a rewarding place to visit.
6 hours in... St Maarten
At 34 square miles, St Maarten is small enough so that you can explore outside Phillipsburg and experience a little of all the cultures which make it so special, but there are some attractions in the port itself which you won’t want to miss the first time you visit. We’re talking about the Caribbean after all, so obviously beaches are going to feature. You don’t have to venture far out of port to experience them either, with Little Bay Beach and Great Bay Beach each offering the perfect place for a sandy escape. If you’re looking to keep away from the crowds and experience some of the bluest waves around, Little Bay Beach is the best choice, while Great Bay Beach is convenient for the cruise ship port and a great place to head if you like things a little more lively.
Duty-free shopping is for many a firm Caribbean tradition and a stroll along the boardwalk gives you the opportunity to pick up a souvenir or two while enjoying the coastal scenery and soaking up the atmosphere. However, if some hardcore haggling is in order, be sure to head to Front Street. More than mere holiday trinkets are on offer here and it’s a great place to head if you know your jewellery. Much of the fare on offer is realistically priced (but some over!) and of high street quality, so don’t expect too many crazy bargains, however, the lack of tax and the great choice will make most shopping experiences satisfying ones. A little further in land, Old Street is another good option if you’re looking to really get your shop-on. If you’re in Phillipsburg for a few hours and want to experience a little culture, the town is located in the Dutch part of the island, so the colonial history will mostly reflect this. The Courthouse, Museum and St Martin of Tours Church are all satisfying places to visit for culture and architecture, and all of them are small enough so you won’t have to take too much time out of your day to visit.
If you didn’t get the chance to venture out of Phillipsburg the last time you were on St Maarten, there are some excellent attractions to enjoy elsewhere on the island. If beaches are what you came for, or indeed, a spot of plane-spotting, then don’t miss Maho Beach. Also located on the Dutch side, it’s famous for the amount of low-flying aircraft which pass over it every day and when we say low, we mean low. Lying on the sand and feeling the heat from the jets is certainly an exhilarating experience you won’t get just anywhere.
As well as Maho, there are a host of other great beaches to enjoy across the island, including Orient Beach, Happy Bay Beach and Mullet Bay. There’s an abundance of aquatic life to experience along St Maarten’s coast and if scuba or snorkelling is your thing, there’s an excellent selection of dive spots and some great tours and excursions available. A completely different kind of wildlife is on display in the French half of the island, in the form of The Butterfly Farm. A short but informative tour tells you everything you need to know about the different species and you’re granted plenty of time on your own to spot butterflies for yourself and enjoy the serene atmosphere.
Can’t keep away?
If you’re a return visitor who’s had their fill of the island’s beaches and you’re in search of something completely different to enjoy, there are a number of attractions which fit the bill. If you’re looking to improve your game, the American Tennis Academy is the place to go. More than just a tourist ‘have a go’ establishment, though it welcomes everyone, the Academy is the place to head if you’re already a competent player and in search of some serious coaching. A great choice if you’re visiting with the kids (big or small) is the Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit in Phillipsburg, which as you may have guessed, is a Star Wars exhibition full of memorabilia owned by the man who sculpted Yoda for the iconic films.
Don’t even bother!
The old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is, is something you should certainly keep in mind when browsing Front Street or Old Street for bargains. It’s always a good idea to price things up before you set sail for comparison and never spend a lot on an impulse buy.