Planning a vacation to St. Maarten? Here are 7 places you might want to visit during your stay, including my favourite restaurants on the island.
St. Maarten (a.k.a. St. Martin) is tiny island in the Caribbean. It's actually two separate countries, with a northern French side (Saint-Martin) and a southern Dutch side (Sint Maarten).
This Caribbean island is a popular cruise ship stop, known for its duty-free jewelry and liquor shops. But there’s more to the the island than just shopping. In this post, I'll share a few of my favourite places to visit and some tips to make your stay more enjoyable.
Where to Buy Groceries in St. Maarten
109 Welfare Road Simpson Bay, St. Maarten
If you're staying at a timeshare, villa, or somewhere else that has a kitchen, you'll probably want to grab some groceries for your stay. As much as I love trying new things, I do enjoy being able to find familiar brands if I'm going to be doing any cooking.
Market Garden is a large (if not the largest) grocery on the island, and it carries popular brands like Chobani, Fairlife, Kerrygold etc. You can find pretty much everything at Market Garden, including matches, magazines, alcohol, ice cream and bottled water.
Ok, so this isn't a specific place, but I wanted to mention that roadside stands can be a good option for groceries too. If you happen to spot a stand while exploring the island, take a moment to check out what they're selling. Many stands offer good quality fresh local fruits, veggies and coconut water, and are happy to have your business.
Where to Eat in St. Maarten
There are so many good restaurants and cafes on the island! Here are a few that I really like, because of their excellent food and customer service.
Welfare Rd, Simpson Bay, St. Maarten
This little breakfast spot is popular for a reason. Their menu offers a variety of baked goods, crepes and omelettes, as well as your standard coffee and tea options. The service is good, and the food is tasty.
One thing to note though is that most of their seating is outdoors, so it's not the ideal choice for a rainy day.
Billy Folly Road, Simpson Bay, St. Maarten
We randomly popped into this restaurant one day and were really impressed with the quality of the food. They make everything to order, so be prepared to wait a while for your food to arrive. It's worth it though. The biriyani and dhal were particularly good.
This restaurant is on the second floor of a building, but does have several fans going to combat the heat.
Welfare Rd, Simpson Bay, St. Maarten
My family and I go to SkipJack's every time we visit St. Maarten. If you go early, you can get a table by the dock and the view is really pretty.
Our favourite dish from this restaurant is the Tuna Carpaccio. It's so simple, just thinly sliced tuna with red onion, capers, lime, pepper and olive oil, but it's so tasty. I've been meaning to try making this at home for years now, but haven't gotten around to it yet.
93 Boulevard de Grande Case Saint-Martin, 97150, St. Martin
Last, but certainly not least, is La Villa. We visited this restaurant for the first time back in 2012, and it quickly became our favourite restaurant on the island. The staff at La Villa are friendly and really go out of their way to make you feel welcomed. You feel like you're visiting a friend's home - except that friend is a really good cook and an excellent host.
A couple of really great dishes to try from La Villa are the pesto lamb chops (shown above), and the hot chocolate profiteroles which are so popular they've been on the menu for years.
Little perks that make your visit feel special include a shot of soup before every meal, a tiny madeleine served with your tea, and shots of homemade flavoured liqueurs after dinner. All complimentary.
The shots in particular are a fun part of the experience (and I don't really drink usually). They aren't very strong, but the waiters put on a show bringing the bottles to the table, and it all feels very generous. Not a bad way to end an excellent meal.
Places to Visit in St. Maarten
19a Front Street, Philipsburg, St. Martin
This one is a bit random, but fun for the die-hard Star Wars fan. My dad stumbled upon this while doing research for our trip, so we decided to check it out. The "museum" is tiny, and more like an art studio with a fancy back room, but if you're into Star Wars and film memorabilia, you'd probably enjoy this attraction.
The museum is run by special-effects designer Nick Maley who worked on the Star Wars films (the "Yoda Guy"), and features with Star Wars props & costumes, and a little gift shop with some of Nick's artwork.
This little gem is a quiet stretch of beach with calm clear waters. The lack of undertow makes this a great beach for families with kids (and it's one of the non-nude beaches).
In previous years we've seen tiny fish here, but not this time. I'm not sure if that has anything to do with the time of year (October) or if it's an after-effect of the hurricane, but it was nice to have fish-free water to splash around in.
We did find the the beaches had a lot more rocks when we visited this time, so I'd recommend packing a pair of water shoes to protect your feet! Sadly, the palm trees on this beach were destroyed by the hurricane, so there isn't much shade here anymore.
There are a few bars/restaurants on the beach stretch, and you can rent beach chairs from them if you want to. These establishments do have bathrooms, but otherwise there is no public bathroom on the beach (although one of the bars let me use their facilities even though they were closing up for the day).
Getting to Friar's Bay can be tricky. First of all, if you try to use Google maps it will try to take you to a tiny bar with the same name. Make sure you're looking at the directions for the beach not the bar! Secondly, it's a bit hidden so it's easy to miss. You have to take the main road from Marigot heading north towards Grand Case. Eventually you'll see a bridge, and signs for Friar's Bay. Turn onto the dirt road and you're there.
The beach is very quiet during the week, so if you don't like crowds be sure to check this one out.
Frequently Asked Questions about St. Maarten
What Currency is Used in St. Maarten?
Even though prices are sometimes in Euros on the French side and Florins on the Dutch side, U.S. dollars are also generally accepted across the entire island.
Has St. Maarten Recovered from Hurricane Irma?
In 2017, the island was hit with a Category 5 hurricane named Irma. Although Irma didn't last as long as other hurricanes that the island has experienced, the severity of it destroyed large parts in the island very quickly. Unfortunately, several businesses could not recover from the damage and had to shut down.
It has taken a few years, but residents there told me that the tourism business is finally showing signs of recovery, which is great news considering that tourism is the biggest industry on the island.
Personally, while I did see some buildings that have not been re-built, I thought the island was in pretty good shape when I visited. Most of the shops and restaurants that I know were back up and running, and the infrastructure felt the same as the last time I visited. The biggest change that I noticed was that the beaches are more rocky than they used to be, but otherwise everything else was the same.
A Note About Addresses: I'm having trouble finding proper addresses for the restaurants on their websites and through Google, sorry!