St. Martin Shoreline
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St. Martin Overview
Perhaps the most oft-quoted bit of Caribbean cruise port trivia is that the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin is the smallest occupied by two sovereign nations. Though snuggled together in a scant 37 square miles of mountainous terrain, these two countries could not be more different.
The Dutch side (St. Maarten) has large resorts/casinos, bustling beaches and tons of get-it-cheap duty-free shopping, while the French side (St. Martin) has quaint bed & breakfasts and luxurious resorts, laid-back beaches and the charm of local artisans at the waterfront market. Although St. Martin is the larger hunk of the island, this French side draws far fewer visitors.
Some smaller ships call on Marigot, St. Martin's capital, but the majority of lines dock on the busier side of the island in Philipsburg. Until recently, the flow of tourist traffic on day-visits from Philipsburg to St. Martin was a trickle, with taxi drivers refusing to make the run in favor of seeking cruisers looking for lengthy island tours. Since the government has regulated the cabbies, however, it has become simple and economical to make the trip, especially for those who wish only to spend some time in Marigot.
One major draw is the shopping. There are bargains to be found, and St. Martin is duty-free for the most part, but Marigot attracts those who seek couture and upscale imports from France. Boutiques there fit the bill, reminding many of a more down-to-earth version of St. Barth's.
St. Martin also offers cafes, bistros and brasseries ... most serving up tasty creations with Gallic flavors and panache. St. Martin has some of the prettiest beaches in the Caribbean, with assets to please everyone: families, snorkelers, romantics and those who like to catch some rays wearing nothing but SPF 50.
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Other Eastern Caribbean Cruise Ports:
Freeport • Grand Turk • Jost Van Dyke • La Romana (Casa de Campo) • Labadee • Nassau • Princess Cays • San Juan • Santo Domingo • St. Croix • St. John (U.S.V.I.) • St. Maarten • St. Martin • St. Thomas • Tortola • Virgin Gorda
Enjoy a glass or bottle of French wine or Champagne pretty much anywhere in St. Martin. You'll never see a better selection outside of France itself.
Upscale and designer fashions from the many luxury shops and malls sprinkled throughout Marigot make nice mementos. Whether you're looking for perfume, crystal or the latest fashion trend, the duty-free shops in St. Martin make taking home a souvenir for yourself a decadent exploration. You can also pick up some original artwork from one of many local artisans.
Watch Out For
Wild drivers! Although the speed limits are fairly low, it's a bit of a free-for-all in the streets of Marigot, and the lack of crosswalks and stoplights doesn't help. Just remember to look both ways. (They drive on the right, same as Americans.)
Taxis: Cabs will be waiting at the port to take you where you'd like to go.
On Two Wheels: For the visitor who has been there before and wants to explore a smaller zone at a slower, more in-depth pace, consider a bicycle or moped. You can rent one from Eugene Moto in Sandy Ground (Route de Sandy, Marigot; Tel. 0590-590-87-13-97). Be sure to ask for maps and suggested routes.
On foot: Everything you could possibly want is within a few feet of the terminal. Shopping, the market, dining, ATM's, Internet -- everything can be done on foot.
Renting a Car: There are several rental car agencies at the Port of Marigot, including Lucky's Car Rental (firstname.lastname@example.org), Keith's Car Rental (email@example.com), United with Claude Car Rental (firstname.lastname@example.org), A&K Car Rental (email@example.com) and other local companies.
The Port of Marigot is right in the heart of Marigot. You'll be close to shopping, the Marigot Market, restaurants and several attractions. Between the port and Marina Port La Royale, there's plenty to fill a busy day.
Shopping in Marigot for duty-free perfumes, crystal and jewelry. The city, an intriguing blend of small French town and Caribbean city, also houses chic boutiques with fashions ranging from trendy to couture. And don't miss the stunning architecture and interior design of Le West Indies Shopping Mall across from the terminal. It features bars, restaurants, a spa and 23 luxury designer shops in a three-level masterpiece. Other highlights include L'Occitane for Provencal soaps and lotions, Goldfinger for Rolex and Cartier jewelry, and Christian Lacroix, Lacoste and Diesel fashions throughout. Marina Port La Royale, a five-minute walk from the harbor, has also become quite a boutique shopping mecca for tourists and locals alike.
Marigot Waterfront Market is a daily event along the harbor which features a craft market, souvenir stalls and, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, a Caribbean food market where West Indian women in batik dresses and big straw hats sell spices, fruit and other produce. You can also watch fishermen scale their catches (mostly red snapper) using a broomstick lined with beer bottle caps.
Musee de Saint-Martin (7 Fichot Street). Explore the history and culture of the island going back 1,500 years. Open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.). For more history, wander around the ruins of Fort Louis, overlooking Marigot Bay on the leeward side.
The Butterfly Farm Not only are there literally hundreds of species of butterflies -- and a narrated tour to explain them -- but the landscaping is as dramatic and photogenic as it gets. Pose your family for pictures in front of waterfalls and forest grottos. (Le Galion Beach Road. Open daily year-round, 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. with the last tour starting at 3 p.m.)
Been There, Done That
If you have enough time in port and don't mind renting a car and exploring independently, take a short drive up the coast to Grand Case for some fine cuisine. Once a fishing village, it's now an attraction to those who enjoy eating fish more than catching them. At the far end of town, you can get beach privileges at Grand Case Beach Club, and, if a casual lunch on the beach is more appealing than a fancy sit-down repast, try out one of the lolos, little kiosks that serve barbecue and local seafood. For a more elaborate meal, Grand Case has a short main street where all 27 of the town's excellent restaurants can be found.
For those who have had their fill of tropical marine ecology, Loterie Farm, near Friar's Bay, is an eco-preserve that focuses on Caribbean forests and mountains. Though cruise ships offer zip line tours there (see below), there is much for the independent explorer, including horseback-riding, hiking, mountain-biking, ecotours -- even meditation and yoga (Pic Paradis 103. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
Take a trip to the isle of Anguilla. This peaceful, British-affiliated island -- about a 25-minute ferry ride from Marigot -- is known for its gorgeous white-sand beaches and phenomenal gourmet restaurants. There are taxis available at the ferry terminal. Most folks head straight to Shoal Bay (east), full of activity and barbecue shacks that front tranquil waters. Another option, especially for foodies: Ask a taxi driver to take you to Trattoria Tramonto, a fabulous waterfront Italian restaurant on Shoal Bay West. (The restaurant offers free lounge chairs for lunch guests.) Make sure you arrange for the cabbie to pick you up again, though! Logistical note: Ferries operate between Marigot and Blowing Point (Anguilla) every 45 minutes with the first ferry leaving Marigot at 8:15 a.m. and the last ferry at 7 p.m. Returns to Marigot from Blowing Point start at 7:30 a.m. with the last ferry being 6:15 p.m. The $15 ferry fee each way is paid in cash onboard. Both St. Martin and Anguilla charge small "departure" fees. Critical: make sure you bring your passport, or you'll be denied entry
Visit Philipsburg, St. Maarten. If shopping is your thing, then the duty-filled main drags (Front and Back Streets), side streets and alleys, and boardwalk of the Dutch side of the island are for you. Highlights include jewelry, electronics and liquor. (Be sure to check out the Guavaberry Emporium for a true taste-of-the-island souvenir.) And, if gambling is more your thing and you haven't gotten enough of it on your ship, Lady Luck is waiting for you at a host of varied casinos throughout St. Maarten.
Best Secluded Beach: with its nearly two miles of extra-wide sand beaches, Baie Lounge is gorgeous, never crowded and well-suited for the sun-worshiper who prefers privacy and quiet. Visitors can also take in million-dollar views of stunning villas or check out the ultra-chic La Samanna Hotel.
Best for Naturists: Laid-back Baie Rouge offers up a deserted pink-sand beach with calm waters perfect for swimming. The Eastern end, near the entrance, is more popular, and bathing suits are the norm. The farther West you go, the fewer people (and suits) you'll see.
Unique Beach: French Cul de Sac is a little gem on the east (Atlantic) coast of St. Martin, perfect for a couple looking for a romantic getaway or a family looking for a kid-friendly beach experience. But the real draw there is Ilet Pinel, an uninhabited tiny island. (Some cruise lines offer shore excursions there.) Shuttle boats regularly make the five-minute crossing throughout the day. You can kick back on the beach, enjoy snorkeling on the near-shore reefs on either end of the island, and enjoy lunch in one of the island's two restaurants. Better yet, get your food to go, and take it out on the beach for an impromptu picnic.
There are many fine choices in Marigot, but Grand Case, a scant five miles or so north, has 27 fine restaurants packed in a one-mile stretch, earning it the sobriquet "restaurant capital of the Caribbean." Traditional French cuisine, local seafood and Caribbean favorites are the calling cards.
Casual, in-town joints: With lovely views of Marigot harbor, L'Oizeau Rare serves excellent French bistro cuisine in an open verandah setting surrounding a fountain. (Marigot Waterfront. Open for lunch Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner daily from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.). For a casual meal right in town, you can't miss the blue-and-white striped awnings of Enoch's Place. It serves Caribbean classics like saltfish and fried johnnycakes for breakfast and garlic shrimp, fresh lobster, and rice and beans for lunch. (Marigot Market, Front de Mer. Open Monday to Saturday, early to late afternoon).
In Marina Royale: You've got several great options, from the Mediterranean-leaning La Belle Epoch and the Creole and Caribbean flavors of La Petite Auberge des Iles, to the fine French creations of uber-chef Cecile Briaud-Richard at Le Chanteclair.
Gourmet Lunching: Le Tastevin in Grand Case for a creative and imaginative blend of traditional French cuisine with the flavors of the Caribbean, all with impressive and attentive service. (86 Boulevard de Grand Case. Open daily for lunch, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.).
Best for First-Timers: An island tour will give you the opportunity to experience the charm and romance of both the French and Dutch sides of the island. From the picturesque countryside and clothing-optional Orient Beach to the duty-free shops of Philipsburg and the historic Salt Ponds, the three-hour tour will give you the highlights of this unique two-flags island and still give you plenty of time to explore Marigot on your own.
Best for Adventurers: Take a bus ride up to St. Martin's highest point, Pic Paradis, 1,500 feet above sea level, and hike your way down through the lush rainforest and mountainous terrain of this Mountain Top Hike Adventure. During your two-hour hike, enjoy the views of St. Martin and the flora and fauna of the unique landscape. Also keep your eyes open for some indigenous wildlife. End up at Loterie Farm's 154-acre nature reserve, and enjoy a rum or fruit punch before your return to the ship.
Best for Eco-Lovers: Experience a scenic horseback beach safari that crosses a deserted beach, giving you an opportunity to ride and swim along with your horse. Enjoy the local plant life along the winding trails that lead to a deserted lagoon. Take a refreshing swim, and then enjoy a drink back at the stables at the end of this three-hour tour.
For More Information
On the Web: www.stmartinisland.org
Cruise Critic Message Boards: St. Martin
Independent Traveler Forums: St. Maarten
--by Steve Faber; updated by Lynn and Cele Seldon, Cruise Critic Contributors