Best Places to Stay in Sint Maarten – Tips and Advice
- Why visit Sint Maarten: St. Martin is known for being one of the livelier islands in the Caribbean, so this is the perfect place for you if you enjoy the nightlife, casinos, live music, and a more energetic vibe in general.
- What is the best time of year to go to Sint Maarten: Summers here means hurricane season, so if your schedule isn’t flexible enough to accommodate a swift change in plans, you should visit another time. The high season typically starts in December and ends in June, during which prices for hotel rooms, activities, and even a meal can be considerably higher than the rest of the year.
- How should I pack for a visit to Sint Maarten: There are a handful of items you may want to invest in to make your trip to Sint Maarten the best that it can be. But some must-haves are going to be a 10-15 L dry bag and a waterproof case for your phone. Sourcing these things in advance will assure that your tech items don’t get damaged by using a cheap knockoff.
Some other items that are helpful to bring are biodegradable sunscreen (so you don’t risk damaging the coral reefs,) a GoPro or other type of waterproof camera, and a portable charger for those long, languid beach days. Some opt to bring a full complement of snorkeling gear as well.
- What currency do they use in Sint Maarten: Unlike in the French governed side of the island where they use the Euro, the official currency of Sint Maarten is the Netherlands Antillean guilder, however, US dollars are used regularly throughout the island.
- Can you visit Sint Maarten on a budget: It is extremely difficult to visit Sint Maarten on a budget, but there are ways you can cut costs. Booking somewhere with a kitchen can help considerably, especially if you are open to purchasing foods produced on the island from local markets. If you’re trying to save money, the key is to stray from the infrastructure built for tourists and mingle with the locals.
Sint Maarten, a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is situated on the southern half of the Caribbean island of St. Martin.
It is renowned among frequent visitors to the Caribbean as being a haven for vices of all kinds: plentiful, locally made rhum, casinos galore, many late-night clubs, and even some places to see a cabaret or burlesque show.
But what sets Sint Maarten apart from, say, Vegas, is the miles of pristine, white beaches that ring the island, and the exquisite Caribbean weather.
While the most popular activities for visitors to Sint Maarten are sunbathing, rhum tasting, gambling, and dining, it’s also a spectacular place to enjoy all manner of water activities, hiking, and even some adventure sports.
Most visitors schedule at least one outing on a boat. There are many options for this ranging from the simple public ferry that services Anguilla to exquisite yachts that are available to charter.
If you’d like to try a day out on a sailboat or catamaran, Sailing SXM has a wide variety of options available, especially for groups. And the wild, high-speed Rhino Safari is a fun adventure that will take you speeding through protected waters on a speedboat to a secluded beach on the French side of the island.
Beyond the beaches, the interior of the island is filled with verdant hills and lush jungle. As eco-tours increase in popularity, companies like Seagrape Tours have been able to expand their offerings of hiking, trekking, and snorkeling tours.
They have many different options for most levels of experience and physical fitness, so they’re likely to have a tour that will work for you. And of course, you won’t want to leave without snapping a photo of a plane landing over Maho Beach.
But when you’re picking a property in Sint Maarten, you don’t have to be worried about being near these attractions. It’s a small island, and your hotel or resort can schedule a taxi to take you anywhere you need to go. You can also arrange for your own transportation, by either renting a car or using the public busses.
When you’re considering which hotel to book for your stay in Sint Maarten, what you’re really considering is your beach. Which beach do you want to have coffee on in the morning? Which beach has the best entertainment after the sun goes down?
You’ll be much happier if you worry less about which hotel is closest to your favorite attraction and more about what you’d like to have within walking distance for the times you don’t have an activity planned.
You’ll also be looking for a property that has the amenities you have in mind. Do you prefer an all-inclusive experience, or a more natural, beach bungalow vibe? While there’s a variety of options available all over Sint Maarten, each town, and thus each beach, has its own distinct vibe.
Sint Maarten City Guide
Picking a hotel in Sint Maarten is simple once you understand the unique qualities of all the major tourist areas. Whether you prefer quiet, calm shores or all-night beach parties, there’s a town in Sint Maarten that can offer you your own idea of the perfect vacation.
To get you up to speed on what each city is like, here’s an overview of what you can expect when you arrive.
The 6 Best Areas to Stay in Sint Maarten
For those who need to be in the center of it all
The capital of Sint Maarten, Philipsburg is the center of commerce and the beating heart of the Dutch side of the Island. This is the major port for cruise ships, both those that originate in Sint Maarten and that just pull in for the day. Because of this, there are a considerable amount of tourists here, especially during the high season.
But because a lot of the folks who debark here for the day tend to flock to the beaches, there is still plenty you can see in town while avoiding a majority of the crowds.
Most of the commerce in Philipsburg is centered around Front Street and Back Street, and these are supplemented by Old Road and the Boardwalk. As Philipsburg is the largest city in Sint Maarten, there’s quite a variety of things to do here, but many tourists stay in Philipsburg for the bars and casinos.
If you’re down to try some of Sint Maarten’s famous rhum, the Guavaberry Emporium on Front Street carries some of the island’s most interesting offerings. Guavaberry rhum is Sint Maarten’s national liquor and is made from a combination of oak-aged rhum, cane sugar, and guavaberries found high in the hills of the island’s interior.
Though they resemble a grape and are named after the guava, they taste like neither and are more closely related to eucalyptus. At the emporium, they sell a handful of varieties of Guavaberry, as well as hand-crafted hot sauces and from-scratch cocktails.
The two main beaches here are Little and Great Bay beach. The latter is where you’ll likely find charms of a typical Caribbean vacation, and has arguably recovered the best from the most recent devastating hurricane.
The beach bars here are quite well-appointed, and frequently offer package deals including a pair of beach chairs, an umbrella, and a bucket of ice-cold beers sold like a prix fixe menu. Conveniently, most of them also offer a bathroom and showers.
Off the beach, there is one extremely popular, albeit quirky attraction that most visitors to Sint Maarten make it to at some point: the Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit.
This small museum dedicated to all things film has an interesting collection of memorabilia with an incredibly knowledgeable owner, if you’re lucky enough to find him there during your visit, he might even take a selfie with you.
In addition to the exhibit, they also sell a well-curated collection of vintage movie memorabilia, comic books, and posters, if you’re in the market for that sort of thing.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN PHILIPSBURG
2. Simpson Bay
For a classic resort vacation
Even more so than the capital, Simpson Bay is the epicenter of tourism. While Philipsburg is certainly touristy, it’s large by island standards and has a considerable local population.
Simpson Bay can feel quite different, particularly if you’re staying at one of its many flagship resorts designed to keep you under the umbrella of a single, branded infrastructure.
But that being said, the beaches nearby are some of the best on the island, and if you’re exclusively seeking an all-inclusive property, this might be the best place to look.
This is also where you’ll find a lot of the island’s entertainment. Keeping up with their reputation for being far from the typical, sleep Caribbean island, many of the bars and restaurants in the immediate surroundings offer live music.
Jazz, funk, and reggae are all common genres around town, and you can find performances in clubs, bars, and even at the occasional beach bar.
If you do manage to make it out of your resort, seek out the Simpson Bay Market: you’ll find it on the waterfront near the Coast Guard Station. This is where local fishermen gather to hawk their catch, which inevitably makes its way to the many Caribbean restaurants nearby.
Most of these restaurants near the market have excellent food, so you need not worry about finding a bad meal here. Pop into any one of them and you’ll be sure to enjoy some of the freshest fish in town.
Rhum is the most popular spirit in Sint Maarten, and two of the islands best distilleries are located here in Simpson Bay. The massive Topper’s Rhum Distillery is very popular with tourists, famous for bottling their spirits in distinctive multi-hued bottles.
But the quaint Sint Maarten Distillery and their in-house bar and restaurant should be your first choice if you must choose between them.
Their flagship product, Soualiga Rhum, is crafted with care, by hand, in a generations-old style unique to the island. They offer frequent tours, but on Friday nights they have live music and karaoke, during which shots of rhum are only a dollar.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN SIMPSON BAY
3. Maho Reef
For lovers of a bustling, lively atmosphere
If you’ve never been to Sint Maarten, Maho Reef, or more accurately, Maho Beach, is probably your point of reference for the whole island. The runway for Princess Juliana airport begins just off the sand behind a fence that seems far too slim and short to reign in an airport, and commercial jetliners approach famously close to beachgoers.
Watching the planes land is an extremely popular activity in Sint Maarten, and nearly every visitor makes their way to this beach at some point, so it can get crowded. The first couple of landings of the day will usually offer the smallest crowds as the cruise ships haven’t yet docked.
Booking a property in Maho assures you can make it to the sand the catch a 7 am flight. But keep in mind that the two closest beach bars, Driftwood Boat Bar and the Sunset Bar and Grill don’t open until at least 10:30 so you may want to pack your own picnic.
Conveniently, both of these bars will post the day’s flight schedules if you’ve left your phone in your hotel room in an effort to unplug.
Maho is definitely not the place to be if you’re looking for a tranquil beach retreat: this is a lively beach, with crowds, music, and of course the frequent roar of Jetliners. But this is all part of the fun, and perfect for those looking for a little more excitement than a lazy day on the sand.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN MAHO REEF
4. Dawn Beach
For windsurfers, snorkelers, and divers
On the eastern side of the island is the tranquil Dawn Beach. With perfect, soft sand and incredible reefs just offshore, Dawn beach is less of a party and more of a tropical paradise. On a clear day, you can see all the way to St. Barths from the beach, and as the name might suggest, the sunrises here are legendary.
The eastern side of the island is also known as the “windward” side, meaning winds and swells are much greater here. While this might make the surf quite choppy, particularly during high tide, it makes Dawn Beach an excellent spot for windsurfing, many believe it’s the best on the island.
But the real draw here is the reef that even beginner snorkelers can reach simply by swimming from the beach.
Beyond the first ring of coral you’ll find a treasure trove of incredible wildlife just below the water’s surface: think colorful fish, squid, and flowing underwater flora existing peacefully together in the clearest water of any surrounding the entire island.
If you have a diving certification (or are interested in getting one,) Dawn Beach has some of the most excellent diving in the Caribbean. Though most of Sint Maarten’s dive shops are in Philipsburg, they are more than able to schedule a Dawn Beach dive for you.
You can rent any equipment you haven’t brought with you, and there are several knowledgeable dive instructors in town who can guide you to the best locations. If you don’t want to head into Philipsburg to arrange a dive tour on your own, most hotels and resorts can handle it for you.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN DAWN BEACH
5. Koolbai (Cole Bay)
For beach hoppers and fans of all things low-brow
Fairly recently, Cole Bay was a town you may not have wanted to visit at all, as it was mostly populated with warehouses and machine shops. But huge investments into infrastructure and brand new developments have transformed this town without losing the kind of “working class” vibe it was once famous for.
If you prefer to mingle with locals rather than be surrounded exclusively by tourists, Cole Bay has many beloved haunts that the residential population frequents as well. If you like live music (and maybe the occasional round of karaoke,) then Red Piano Lounge in nearby Pelican Key is a must.
As you likely guessed from the name, the star of this bar is the bright red grand piano and the many musicians who play it regularly. Every Monday they book a live band that plays nearly until morning to please your inner night owl.
If you’d like to mingle with visiting sailors who bring with them tales from far-flung lands, you’ll adore Cole Bay’s Lagoonie’s. The favorite watering hole of both commercial sailors and pleasure cruisers, Lagoonie’s is a Sint Maarten institution.
While the vibe here feels effortless, the food and cocktails are fantastic, and at prices that will seem too good to be true if you’ve spent any time around Maho or Simpson Bay. Cole Bay is situated, as you might have guessed, on the bay rather than the ocean.
If you require a beachfront property, you’ll want to look somewhere else, but because of the new Simpson Bay causeway, you can easily reach Simpson Bay and Maho beaches with a short taxi ride. Even better, try out the less crowded Pelican Key or Kim Sha beach, both easy to access from Cole Bay.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN COLE BAY
For boho vibes and LGBTQ+ travelers
Though it’s situated only 10 minutes from the airport, Cupecoy is surprisingly free of the crowds of tourists you’ll find in Maho or Simpson Bay. It’s known for having extremely calm water that’s perfect for swimming, and famously, toward the northern end of Long Bay Beach, a stretch of sand that’s clothing optional.
Because of the “live and let live” attitude that envelops Cupecoy, it has become the Sint Maarten hub for LGBTQ+ travelers. The very middle of the beach is considered the “more gay section,” no one will bat an eye at a straight couple here if they should care to join.
The highlight of the queer beach scene here is Dany’s Beach Bar, which doles out a seemingly endless supply of island cocktails just steps from the beach.
But besides Dany’s, there aren’t many facilities surrounding Long Bay Beach, at least relative to Maho or Great Bay, but this is part of the allure of Cupecoy. It’s far less crowded and offers a much more natural beach experience, the perfect place to bring your own picnic.
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN CUPECOY
Now that you have a better idea of the different areas in Sint Maarten, you’ll want to consider why you’re visiting before you make your final decision. If you’re open to suggestions, here are a few ideas for where you might want to stay depending on what type of traveler you are.
- Best Luxury Hotel in Sint Maarten: ($$$) • Sonesta Ocean Beach Resort • Maho Reef
- Best Boutique Hotel in Sint Maarten: ($$) • Adonis Cupecoy • Cupecoy
- Best Cheap Hotels in Sint Maarten: ($) • Guana Bay Studio • Guana Bay
- Best Family Hotel in Sint Maarten: ($$) • Surfsong Villa • Simpson Bay
- Best Romantic Hotel in Sint Maarten: ($$$) • Little Bay Villa • Philipsburg