There seems to be a consensus among several professionals and organizations that 2022 will experience a major rebound in travel, both to the U.S and outboard to international destinations. As COVID infections subside and the desire to take action on travel bucket lists increases, the World Travel & Tourism Council predicts that tourism in the United States will reach pre-pandemic levels. Internationally, experts say we’ll see a nice bump this year as travelers shake their cabin fever, with previous levels returning in 2023.
Nevertheless, if you are ready to book that ticket and add new experiences to your spring, summer or winter travel plans, I have a suggestion if culture, amazing weather, water and adventure are among trip requirements.
French Ooh La La
As an island divided between two colonies (Dutch–St. Maarten and French – Saint-Martin), our exploration takes place on Saint-Martin, which has more than enough food, history and culture and water adventures to fill your itinerary, whether it is for a few days, a week or more.
Welcoming millions of visitors each year from around the world, Saint-Martin is one French Caribbean destination that should be on your bucket list. Best travel times are either May-June or November and December for great deals as well as good weather, especially if you are trying to miss the rain and hurricane season.
Part of planning your trip will include deciding where you want to stay and play while in Saint-Martin. Marigot is the largest city on this side of the island as well as the capital. Here you’ll find traces of the city’s colonial past with the houses and history of sugar cane production. You’ll also find some of the best restaurants, shopping and beaches, as well as tax-free trade for luxury goods and fashion.
Orient Bay on the east side of Saint-Martin has a reputation for luxury and fine living and dining with numerous private villas, boutique hotels, restaurants, salons and more. Known as the St. Tropez of the Caribbean, Orient Bay is also home to the clothing-optional resort and beach, Club Orient and Orient beach. So if you feel like really letting loose, feel free to do so here.
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If eating your way through Saint-Martin is how you want to spend your time, the Grand Case area fits the bill. With diverse gastronomy experiences being the highlight, you’ll never leave hungry or unsatisfied thanks to the locals sharing their specialties through lolos or inexpensive local roadside restaurants, in addition to a myriad of restaurants boasting French, Caribbean and international dishes and flavors.
Eat and Drink the Saint-Martin Way
Known as the culinary capital of the French Caribbean, be sure to come hungry and curious as the food in Saint-Martin is as diverse as the people who live on the island; therefore you’ll get to experience different cultures through various bites.
From eating with and like a local to casual and fine dining, if you’re looking for it, you’re sure to find it. As mentioned earlier, Grand Case is your Saint-Martin destination for all things food, but Marigot and Orient Bay also lend themselves to delicious culinary escapades.
Highlights from a recent trip include a stop at Chez Leandra on Orient Beach for cocktails. Open daily from 11 am – 5 pm, the menu is a pleaser with options that range from cheeseburgers, jerk chicken, quesadilla and fresh lobster.
It’s all about French cuisine at Be Kool, a family-owned restaurant where the cuisine is described as “spontaneous.” The marina views will undoubtedly add to the experience and conversation as the food prepared by siblings balances French techniques with Caribbean flair.
If elements of surprise on a plate excite you, scoring a reservation at La Villa Hibiscus will excite you even more. If you have dined at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in Yountville, California, you’ll certainly enjoy the experience that owners and husband-wife team Sabine and Bastian have in store. Located on Pic Paradis, the highest point of Saint-Martin, sip carefully curated cocktails as you glance into nature or the open kitchen with Chef Bastian and his team meticulously plate each course using seasonal ingredients.
While wine, as well as rum, are staples on the island, you haven’t had the authentic Saint-Martin drink experience until you’ve tried guavaberry liqueur. Colombier Guavaberry Tradition, owned by Louis Maccow and his wife Maria, has been family-owned and operated for multiple generations and produces more than ten flavors ranging from passionfruit, coconut, lime, pineapple, mango and more. Enjoyed all year round, it is especially a celebratory must-have during the holidays.
For more great dining suggestions, check out this great Eater roundup.
Lastly, the island’s culinary event, Festival de la Gastronomie is scheduled to return in November, giving you plenty of time to make those travel plans now.
Something in the Water
Some could argue that if one of the reasons you are coming to Saint-Martin is not for water activities or the beaches, then why are you coming. For water enthusiasts, the island’s 37 beaches are there to spoil you with relaxation, fun play days with friends or family or adrenaline-filled adventures.
But the beaches are not the only way to enjoy the beautiful turquoise blue waters. Spend the day at sea with one of many charter companies’ boats or catamarans that offer excursions such as snorkeling, swimming or just chilling while listening to music.
Captain Jo Boat Charter is definitely one to check out when planning your day. Put that swim gear on and head out for a time you won’t forget. Be sure the day’s schedule includes a stop at both Creole Rock and Tintamarre Island, a deserted island that was once the base of a small airline and home to about 150 people in 1902 and then less than 20 before it closed off to humans in 1952. Today the 250 acres are part of the Saint-Martin’s nature reserve.
Next, sail over to Pinel Island for more fun in the sun and lunch and cocktails at one or both restaurants, Yellow Beach and the Karibuni. This is a hotspot for sure, so you may want to save your seat online to have one of the best views on the sand. Charters usually drop off here for the rest of the day, so you’ll need to get the schedule for the ferry that runs every 20 minutes to take you back across to shore.
Warm nights and beautiful sunsets are to be appreciated, especially on the water. Matt Balege, owner of Caribbean Marines, knows just the right spot to catch that perfect moment. From private rentals that include day and sunset excursions and island connections to and from Anguilla and St. Barts, Caribbean Marines is worth taking note of.
Art, Nature and Adventure
Art murals adorn various parts of Saint Martin, and driving around to see the commissioned pieces is a fun way to spend a couple of hours. From downtown Marigot to the outskirts of the city, each tells its own story worth knowing. Also worth seeing is The Wall of Art in Marigot outside the entry of Hommage Hotel and Residences. French artists created the wall after Hurricane Irma to show resilience in rebuilding the island.
When you’re on the island, the word may get around if you haven’t heard it already that Loterie Farm is a must for nature activities such as hiking and ziplining and lively adult poolside gatherings complete with a DJ and good food.
The Jungle Pool is where the main action is, as you can reserve a day bed and cabanas that fit two people (includes a bottle of rosé wine) or up to ten people (includes a bottle of Champagne or white or rosé wine). Service allows you to order food and drinks to enjoy while grooving and relaxing. If kids are in tow, the recently opened Jungle Kids Adventure Park will keep them busy and happy with a pool area designed just for them. Of course, parent supervision is required.
The word jungle is not used at Loterie Farm for nothing. If you’re feeling a little adventurous or feel adventure is your middle name, I would highly suggest not just ziplining but extreme ziplining. To be fair, this “jungle,” which is really a forest, is the perfect setting for Fly Zone Extreme that starts high in the forest and brings you back down to the property. Accompanied by trained staff, get ready for 90-120 minutes of dopamine releases as you fly through the air, taking in some of the island’s best views.
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Know Before You Go
As we are still not entirely out of the pandemic, be sure to check Saint-Martin’s website for up-to-date COVID information and health record and testing requirements. As of this article, all travelers must complete the Electronic Health Authorization System form 72 hours before arrival.
If fully vaccinated, a negative COVID test is not needed, but you still have to complete the EHAS form. A negative nasal PCR test is required 48 hours before departure if unvaccinated. Travelers taking a nasal antigen test will need to submit a negative result 24 hours before departure.