Seeing wild iguanas on St. Maarten is quite common. // © 2016 Dana Rebmann
Feature image (above): Orient Beach is one stop during a tour of St. Maarten with Amigo Tours. // © 2016 Dana Rebmann
It had been nothing but smooth sailing on our weeklong adventure in the eastern Caribbean onboard Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Fascination. We had snorkeled in Barbados, sailed on a catamaran to Nevis and collected sea glass along St. Lucia’s Vigie Beach. We had no set plans for our last port of St. Maarten, and our group — five teenage girls and their trusty chaperones — was tired. While finishing dinner and debating how adventuresome we wanted to be in the morning, a quick internet search pulled up St. Maarten operator Amigo Tours.
By the time multiple orders of warm chocolate melting cake arrived at our table, we had read reviews, taken a vote and booked a private tour with the company. Upon finishing our dessert (which you know didn’t take long), we had already received a “see you soon” email confirmation.
When we disembarked the ship the following morning, easy-to-follow directions led us straight to our tour guide, just steps outside the cruise port perimeter.
“Thank you for letting me be your driver on my first day with a license,” said Wellington Richardson, our always smiling and laughing tour guide, setting the tone for a fun-filled day on the island. With five teens in tow, we could see it was immediately apparent that he knew how to adapt to his audience.
In 1648, St. Maarten’s 37 square miles were divided, not quite equally, between Holland and France. St. Martin, the French side, is to the north, with St. Maarten, the Dutch side, covering the southern part of the island. There are no checkpoints; folks travel freely between both sides. Blink, and you might miss the signs that mark the borders.
But we had Richardson, so we were covered. After listening to our group’s long and varied wish list of must-dos that included everything from visiting beaches and chasing iguanas to finding just the right lunch, he assured us that our six-hour tour would give us a good taste of both sides of island life.
In between his humorous tellings of island history, we made frequent stops. Sometimes, it was just to snap a picture or to meet a large family of iguanas that seemed to have mastered the art of posing for photos in exchange for an easy lunch. But at other points, we had time to explore. We spent an hour splashing at Orient Beach (be warned, there is a stretch that is clothing-optional) before heading to Marigot in St. Martin for a lunch of baguettes, cheese and sweets at Serafina’s French Bakery. Afterward, there was just enough time to wander around the open-air market — and meet Richardson’s mother — before hitting the road again.
We arrived at Maho Beach in time to find a spot on the small but crowded stretch of coastline before the sand started flying. Located smack-dab at the end of the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport, Maho Beach offers prime viewing of planes landing and taking off that create air bursts so strong that sand — and sometimes belongings — fly into the waves.
Taking an island tour allows visitors to learn about the culture and customs of both nations. Along with the Tour St. Maarten Your Way private option, Amigo Tours offers a number of daytime and nighttime group selections. All tours include complimentary refreshments, including water, soft drinks, beer and the island’s signature guava-berry rum punch. A well-stocked cooler onboard all tour vehicles makes it easy for guests to help themselves.