The minute I got back from my trip to Panama with my mother in May 2014, it was time to start planning the rest of my summer. With the next semester around the corner, I only had a month to get as much travel and adventure out of my system as my budget and body would allow. My partner was a month out from coming to stay with me in Florida for a another visit, so I decided to surprise him with a trip to the Caribbean, somewhere not often visited by Australians due to price and convenience. After searching for the best deals from Florida, I found a few islands that I knew little about which naturally sparked my interest. It all started when I sent him this hint as to where we were going..
(My poorly crafted clue as to where our next trip was)
Unless you’re fairly familiar with your Caribbean islands, this was a hard one to guess. I eventually had to tell him it was St. Martin or Sint Maarten depending on which side you’re on, the Dutch or French. I had the whole week planned out with a nice mix of options of things we could do and see.
After a nightmare of a trip with American/US Airways and being stranded in Orlando overnight due to weather, we finally made it to St. Martin the next day and rented a car ($25-35 a day) to drive around and check out both the Dutch side and the French side of the island. We stayed on the Dutch side at the Azure Hotel and Art Studio, which was perfect for us since we didn’t plan on being in the room much. Even when we were, it had everything we needed including a small kitchenette and we couldn’t have been more than 30 feet away from the water!
(View just outside our room)
There could not be a better way to start every day than by strolling down the beach in the soft Caribbean sands before swimming out into an inviting, crystal blue ocean with nothing to fear. In the back of my native Floridian mind, I can never get away from the fact that I’m probably within a few feet from an alligator or shark in all bodies of water. But here, the Caribbean seemed to be too expansive for me to have to worry about sharing the waters with potential predators (assuming the sharks are well fed..).
Throughout the week we freely drove back and forth between the Dutch and the French sides exploring the beaches and markets, which are first on my list for every new destination. On the French side near the port, I found multiple spice markets and stands from which I bought numerous types of seasonings, a fresh locally made rum without the extra chemicals as gifts, and I couldn’t resist getting a cacao pod I managed to get home. Although I couldn’t get the seeds to germinate in Florida, I dried out the pod and now use it as a planter.
Towards the main town, Marigot, we stopped at a couple of local shops for more local treasures including blackening seasoning, a papaya bbq sauce (my favorite fruit), and serious blocks of dark chocolate.
(Local market items)
(Exploring the town – Marigot)
The French side of Saint Martin also had a fairly large mountain with a gorgeous view from the top. We were warned to be very careful at the top as it was a common place to get jumped or robbed, but we hiked with a few other travels and felt safe. We never carry much of value with us anyways and traveling with valuables is never a good idea.
(View from the top of Pic Paradis in St. Martin)
We managed to take day ferries to Anguilla that cost $40 round-trip per person and to Saba for about $70 round-trip per person. Although Saba was a bit more than we wanted to spend, we probably would have beat ourselves up later if we hadn’t gone. We also considered going to the famous St. Barth’s, but that would have required a lot more planning and a flight. Neither had much to do besides the beaches, but Saba was a lot more our style. We spent the entire day hiking and experimenting with local juices.
(On the ferry and our arrival in Anguilla)
(Beautiful beaches in Anguilla)
(View of Saba from the ferry)
We also came across a lot of really nice locals as we tried our luck “catching a ride”. Be prepared to find more goats than people if you take the bumpy hour and a half-hour long ferry ride out to Saba. It’s a very small island with just a few small shops and restaurants and mainly caters to divers and some hikers. We weren’t there long enough to book a dive, but we enjoyed our day out hiking through the forests and picking fresh mangos off the trees.
(At the top of the highest trail in Saba)
We found it easier and cheaper to rent a car in Sint Maarten and Anguilla due to the cab prices. They definitely make their living off the tourists there. If you’re just looking to explore Sint Maarten, I highly recommend the local buses. They’ll pick you up almost anywhere you see one and will get you extremely close to wherever you need to go. The island is not very big and people are generally very kind and helpful.
Our trip wouldn’t have been complete without a dive trip to look for the giant mantas and whale sharks, neither of which made an appearance, but that’s ok because that means more traveling to look forward to!
- Take advantage of the local markets, spices, and handcrafted knickknacks by the port and Marigot on the French side.
- Take a ferry ride to one of the many nearby islands and enjoy swimming in the clear blue Caribbean Sea. If you’re going to Saba, they seemed to be the place to dive as opposed to St. Martin or Anguilla.
- Depending on your starting point, there are bound to be tons of great layover options, islands and stops on the way to St. Martin. See if you can’t squeeze in a quick trip to San Juan, Nassau, Santo Domingo or Cuba on the way.
- Unless you’re diving or plan on spending a lot of time in the water, you really only need a couple of days here.