Cruise and Beach Destinations
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St. Maarten

Philipsburg St. Maarten Walking Tour

Philipsburg St. Maarten boardwalk
Philipsburg St. Maarten boardwalk. © 2017 Scott S. Bateman
Two walking tours of Philipsburg over a 10-year period revealed two different views of this popular St. Maarten cruise port.

During the first visit, we disembarked our cruise ship right at the Philipsburg waterfront, walked off the docks and plopped down on Great Bay Beach. The long Philipsburg boardwalk lines the beach and begins the robust shopping and dining district that caters to cruise tourists and others who visit the capital city.

During the second visit, we disembarked our ship at the massive new cruise mall about one mile from the city. Although we could have taken a taxi or water taxi, we chose to walk the distance, which took us about 15 minutes. Be on the lookout for signs pointing to the beach. Walkers should go as early as possible to avoid heating up too much from the exercise.

The new cruise terminal is less convenient than the old way, but it allows more ships to visit the city. It has also made a difference in the shopping experience. The busy Front Street shopping mecca was less busy on our second visit than on our first. The mall has taken over much of the shoppers.

Best Philipsburg Attractions

But the three main attractions are still appealing on a Philipsburg walking tour. The Great Bay Beach is still a convenient beach for any cruise visitor. The boardwalk is still long and inviting. The Front Street shopping and dining is still enough to fill the rest of the day.

Cafes on the boardwalk that line the beach also rent chairs and umbrellas. Many of them also promote free Internet access. The cafes often have employees who stand on the boardwalk to push their deals. Frugal visitors should walk along the boardwalk to find the best beach deal before buying instead of getting the first one they find.

St. Maarten shopping
Shopping on Front Street in Philipsburg. © 2020 Scott S. Bateman
Front Street is almost entirely made up of shops and restaurants. It also has the St. Maarten Museum at 7 Front Street. It is a national museum of island heritage, which is common on many Caribbean islands.

Beyond those attractions, Philipsburg is more like a typical city. But a few more attractions are reachable on foot for fit and energetic people.

The St. Maarten Zoo claims it is the largest zoo in the Caribbean with hundreds of animals. It also claims it has the largest playground on St. Maarten. It is on Arch Road across the Great Salt Pond and is a two-mile walk from the waterfront.

Nearby Attractions

Fit and energetic people also can visit the ruins of 17th-century Fort Amsterdam. Just go west along the waterfront away from the cruise port and follow the bay's edge to the peninsula that juts out between Great Bay and Little Bay. The fort is a decaying ruin with a handful of rusty cannon in place.

It is worth visiting for the photographic views and the nearby Little Bay Beach. But it is a mile and a half from the east end of the boardwalk by the Sint Maarten Museum. That's a lot of walking for anyone who walks from the cruise terminal to the boardwalk. It's much easier to reach for anyone who takes a water taxi from the terminal to the city.

Our two walking tours taught us that the new cruise terminal is equal in stature and experience to other cruise malls at major Caribbean islands. But they start to blend together after a while.

For us, the greater appeal of any island is the unique set of attractions that we don't see anywhere else. In the case of Philipsburg, the combination of Great Bay Beach, the boardwalk and Front Street will fill a day-long cruise visit with plenty of things to see and do.

Other Ways to Tour Philipsburg

Shore excursion operators offer other ways to tour Philipsburg that don't involve walking.

A guided bicycle tour takes about three hours and has prices starting at $60 per person. The tour covers the town's history going back to its founding in 1631 and includes a visit to the salt pond and the beach.

Another option is a trolley train that takes two hours with costs starting at $55 per person.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Tours   

February 19, 2020
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