This best things to do in St Marteen post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure policy for more information .

Our first stop during our Southern Caribbean cruise was St. Maarten. Excited to visit this island where two halves co-exist (the French and Dutch sides), I immediately started studying what sights I would like to see. Allan’s only request was that we go to Maho Beach, where you see the jetplanes landing and feel the thrusters.

I booked an island tour through Viator. At the port terminal in Phillipsburg, if you’re taking a tour not organized by your ship, you’ll be directed to a white tent in the corner of the parking lot. We paid $44 each for a 4 1/2 hour tour of the island. We met our guide and took off in our 15 passenger van.

The Best Things to Do in St Marteen on a Port Day featured by top US travel blog, The Common Traveler

Our driver, Wellington, was very knowledgeable and engaging. His personal stories added to our ability to relate with the information he gave us. I liked his explanation of how each country had taken over either the entire island or portions of it, leading to the peaceful cohabitation by both France and the Netherlands. The Dutch side gained its independence in 2010, but it is still part of the Dutch kingdom like Aruba, which we visited last year.

Pro Tip on the Best Things to Do in St Marteen

The St. Maarten stop on our cruise was on a Sunday. This meant that most shops were closed and so were some of the restaurants. We just didn’t get to see as lively an island as we would have if we had stopped here during the week.

The Best Things to Do in St Marteen on a Port Day featured by top US travel blog, The Common Traveler: St. Maarten City of Marigot from Fort Louis

The Best Things to Do in St Marteen’s French Side

The first main stop in the French side was in Marigot. This quaint French village usually offers a taste of France in the Caribbean. Walk among the open-air craft and clothing market. Our Sunday stop proved to be a little disappointing, but I could see how a visit on a busy weekday would be thrilling. I still ended up buying a dress that I can’t wear anywhere but on a beach!

The Best Things to Do in St Marteen on a Port Day featured by top US travel blog, The Common Traveler: St. Maarten Fort Louis in Marigot - French flag

Since we weren’t interested in visiting the little restaurants, we hiked up the mountain to visit Fort Louis. The French wanted to protect their side of the island from other invaders and this fort looked out over the bay protecting Marigot.

The Best Things to Do in St Marteen on a Port Day featured by top US travel blog, The Common Traveler: St. Maarten

The second stop was at Rotary Lookout Point. Another group was walking out to a rock since the tide was low. A wooden platform allowed you to see the nature preserve and contained signs explaining the flora and fauna found here.

The Best Things to Do in St Marteen on a Port Day featured by top US travel blog, The Common Traveler: St. Maarten

Orient Bay Beach ranks so high on the best beaches in the world that it was one of my “must-sees.” But Orient Bay suffered a lot of destruction during Hurricane Irma. I had been forewarned that Orient Bay would be off-limits during our visit. While disappointed that we didn’t get to enjoy a beautiful beach on the French side, I have seen on more recent reviews for the tour that guests are being taken to Grand Case beach instead. We didn’t get that option, unfortunately. I would have loved exploring another beach!

Pro Tip on the Best Things to Do in St Marteen

While the Euro is commonly accepted here, everyone will also take U.S. Dollars. No need to change your money if you’re coming from the U.S.!

The Best Things to Do in St Marteen’s Dutch Side

The Best Things to Do in St Marteen on a Port Day featured by top US travel blog, The Common Traveler: St. Maarten

We stopped on the side of the road to feed iguanas and take pictures.

The crowning achievement for this tour and the cherry on top was the stop at Maho Beach. This is a really crowded beach and there is a steep drop-off as soon as you enter the water – I really don’t think it is a great spot for either children or non-swimmers.

The Best Things to Do in St Marteen on a Port Day featured by top US travel blog, The Common Traveler

The sand is white and soft, the water a magnificent shade of blue. But let’s be honest, people don’t come to Maho for the beach (although it is breathtaking in its own right). Everyone wants to feel the power of the engines overhead! Warning signs were posted about the danger and areas where you were warned not to stand. A tourist died in 2017 when she fell backwards and hit her head, so this is no joke.

Unfortunately for us, we missed the landing of Jet Blue’s first flight into Phillipsburg by just a few minutes. I really felt that we could have cut out some of the time we spent at other stops to make sure we made it here on time for the big flights. To add insult to injury, as we were walking back to our van at the end, a jet landed – so that made two big flights that we missed by mere moments!

Pro Tip on the Best Things to Do in St Marteen

Find out ahead of time when jet planes will be taking off. The thrust from those planes can’t be beat! But don’t forget to respect the caution signs!

One of the restaurants on Maho Beach, Sunset Beach Bar, is probably the best known location. It provided internet and was near the parking area. They had a board listing flight times (also listed on their website). But we actually found that a bucket of Heineken from the bar restaurant at the other end of the beach was a much better deal!

The Best Things to Do in St Marteen on a Port Day featured by top US travel blog, The Common Traveler

St Marteen’s Hurricane Irma

Out of all of the islands that we visited, St. Maarten was hit the hardest by Hurricane Irma. This island still has a long way to go before it is fully functional. Driving around, we saw many blue tarps that still top roofs. Many buildings had red Xs on them, marking them as unsafe for habitation. The strangest sight were the cars piled up on top of each other with red Xs. There is just nowhere to dump all the debris.

The Best Things to Do in St Marteen on a Port Day featured by top US travel blog, The Common Traveler

The priority for reconstruction has been the tourist areas. Without tourist money coming to the island, islanders will be hard pressed to fund repairs to their own homes. Wealthy landowners and large hotel companies have focused on their own recoveries, which has driven the price of goods up. Our driver hoped that the price of items such as sheet rock would come down soon so that he could repair his own home.

And there is nothing like hearing the story of what it was like as Hurricane Irma hit St. Maarten that from someone who lived through it. We appreciated Wellington’s story of his family’s night and what it felt like.  We saw the devastation in context with an islander’s experience of the storm.

The Best Things to Do in St Marteen on a Port Day featured by top US travel blog, The Common Traveler

Take Away on the Best Things to Do in St Marteen:

If you’re coming to St. Maarten, I’m going to suggest staying away from the tours. The island is easy to navigate by simply paying taking a bus or hiring a taxi driver to take you to your desired location. The bus costs $2 per person each way. For $20 each way, you can hire one of the many drivers willing to take you to Maho Beach. I would also recommend studying the schedule of flights for the day of your visit. While the landings are impressive, the entire fun feeling of the jet blasts come from the takeoffs. Make sure that you schedule your visit to Maho Beach to coincide with one of the big jet liners arriving or departing.

What were your best things to do in St Maarten? Let me know in a comment below!

Read about our stops in St. LuciaSt. Kitts, AntiguaBarbados and San Juan. Curious about our itinerary and budget? Read all the details here.

Happy travels!

Annick, The Common Traveler

The Best Things to Do in St Marteen on a Port Day featured by top US travel blog, The Common Traveler