Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond
St. Maarten

Best St. Maarten Shore Excursions

Marigot, St. Martin; ©

St. Maarten shore excursions belong in the same category as other small islands such as St. Kitts. The island is small, but visitors will find enough to do to fill a week.

The best and most popular St. Maarten attraction is the cruise port of Philipsburg, capital of the Dutch side of the island. Nearly all of the remaining attractions on this list are in St. Martin, which is the smaller French side of the island.

Other than Philipsburg, the unique attractions on the island include the Bay of Grand Case, which has the best restaurants on the island and the well-known Orient Beach.

Adventurous visitors can travel to nearby St. Barths and Anguilla. Marigot tourists will find panoramic views at Fort Louis, built in 1765 to protect the capital of Marigot on the French side of the island from the English.

1) Philipsburg: Capital of the Dutch Side

Philipsburg has the benefit of being the main St. Maarten cruise port, which means it is filled with shops and restaurants catering to tourists.

Cruise visitors will usually disembark at a new terminal and either walk or drive to the city a little more than a mile away. The tourist district is rare among Caribbean ports because it includes a nice beach called Great Bay Beach right there at the shopping and dining area.

The main street has the usual variety of jewelry, electronic and souvenir shops. The boardwalk along the beach has many bars and restaurants. Philipsburg is arguably the best tourist attraction on St. Maarten.

2) Fort Amsterdam

A good tour of Philipsburg requires plenty of walking, especially for anyone who walks to Front Street from the cruise port. People with enough energy can walk another mile from the beachfront to Fort Amsterdam.

The fort, built in 1631, is on the opposite side of the harbor from the cruise port. The ruins are decaying, but it is in better shape than Fort Louis at Marigot. Both forts offer good photo opportunities.

3) Marigot: Capital of the French side

Marigot, capital of the French side, offers visitors a tour of Fort Louis. It was built in 1765 to protect the city from the English.

The site provides a 180-degree view of the city, Simpson Bay, the lagoon, Anguilla, Marigot Bay, and Nettle Bay up to the Terres Basses. The fort cannons are visible from the waterfront by West Indies Mall.

Marigot also has The Market for shopping and a chance to see Creole architecture. Locals have a regular arts and crafts market in the city center.

The town has one other major advantage. It has a ferry that runs back and forth every 30-45 minutes to to the island of Anguilla with its beautiful white-sand beaches. The ride lasts only 20 minutes.

4) Orient Beach

It’s big, it’s beautiful, it’s filled with people and some of the people don’t have a stitch of clothing. The most famous St. Maarten beach is actually located on the French St. Martin side.

As a result, clothing is optional. But when we visited, nearly everyone had a real bathing suit. Although the beach has plenty of places to eat, the prices are a bit high.

5) St. Maarten Zoological Park

The St. Maarten Zoo near Philipsburg say it is the largest zoo in the Caribbean. It is on Arch Road just across from the Salt Pond next to Philipsburg.

It has “hundreds of birds, mammals and reptiles” plus a playground. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children.

6) Grand Case

Grand Case is a small Creole village by the sea that is a four-mile side trip for anyone who visits Marigot. It is lined with gourmet and local restaurants and arts and crafts boutiques.

Every Tuesday from January to May, the Mardis de Grand Case or Harmony Night festival has brass bands and Caribbean music Tourists can browse local crafts and try either local or gourmet cuisine.

7) Loterie Farm

Loterie Farm near Marigot is a former sugar cane plantations from the 1720s that now has zip lines, hikes, obstacle courses. It also is a home to rain forest, thousands of plant species and numerous animal species including monkeys, mongoose and parrots.

Hikers can eat at a restaurant at the starting point of the walk. It has lunch from Tuesday to Sunday and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. During high season, jazz bands play music during the aperitif hour on weekends. Prices vary depending on which activity a visitor chooses.

8) Pic Paradis

Visitors to Lottery Farm can go to the highest point on the island at Pic Paradis for a 360-degree view of St. Martin and nearby islands. The site is halfway between Marigot and Grand Case.

9) Butterfly Farm

The farm, five miles north of Philipsburg, is one of several on islands around the Caribbean. This one was the first built by two Englishmen and it opened to the public in 1994.

Tours last about 30 minutes each. Prices vary with each location around the Caribbean.

10) Plantation Mont-Vernon

The large plantation on the northern end of the island grows cotton, coffee, manioc, tobacco, corn, sugarcane and spice gardens. Visitors will learn about rum production, indigo and coffee roasting.

Anyone who wants to explore the French side of the island can combine Grand Case, Mont-Vernon and the Butterfly Farm in one trip because they are so close to each other.

11) Cul de Sac

The French town of Cul de Sac, north of Orient Bay Beach, is mainly known for hiking, cuisine and water activities.

12) Pinel Island Kayaking

Shuttle boats can take visitors to Cul de Sac over to Pinel Island. The five-minute boat ride is worth it for snorkeling around the deserted island and spending time on the beaches. Physically fit tourists can kayak there.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
February 17, 2020