Visitors with a competitive edge can try their hand at sailing on an Americas Cup sailboat. // © 2015 St. Maarten 12 Metre Challenge
Feature image (above): The island offers numerous beaches ideal for a day in the sun. // © 2015 St. Maarten Tourism Bureau
The single island, dual destination of St. Maarten/St. Martin offers a full-blown Caribbean vacation with something extra added to the mix: Dutch influences and ambiance on the St. Maarten side of the island and Gallic charm and culture on the St. Martin side. Crossing between the French and Dutch sides is effortless, making it easy to set out and explore the island.
What follows are 10 suggestions for activities and attractions that will help travel advisors plan their clients’ itineraries.
Fly Zone Extreme at Loterie Farm
Loterie Farm is in the lush countryside of St. Maarten’s highest point, Pic du Paradis. Their Fly Zone XTreme zipline is for the fit and adventurous, since it combines ziplining with a variety of obstacles, including rope bridges a la “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
If ziplining isn’t tempting, there are hiking trails, a Jacuzzi area and a cafe serving light meals.
Travelers might automatically figure L'Escargot Restaurant is on the French side of the island, but it’s actually on the Dutch side. The menu is loaded with French specialties, and the restaurant is renowned for its escargot sampler.
But it’s the dinner show that’s the main attraction, in which female impersonators take the stage, lip-synching classic tunes by singer-songwriters Donna Summer and Christina Aguilera. It’s good-natured, raunchy fun, with lots of audience interaction.
Mullet Bay Beach
Beach-lovers will want to lay tracks on the powder-white sand at Mullet Beach. Is it the best beach on the island? That’s impossible to say for sure, but many visitors and locals make the claim. Depending on the swell, conditions can be ideal for either snorkeling or surfing. The beach sits on the edge of Mullet Bay Golf Course; inspired travelers could spend the morning on the links and the afternoon on the sand.
Orient Bay is on the French side of the island and is often compared to St. Tropez. There are open-air beach restaurants specializing in fresh seafood and plenty of activities, from jet skiing to banana boats.
Adventurous clients will want to check out the clothing optional area of the beach at Club Orient on the south part of the bay.
Ras Bushman’s Freedom Fighter’s Ital Shack
Ras Bushman’s Freedom Fighters Ital Shack is one of St. Maarten’s hidden treasures. The tiny eatery is tucked into a hillside, surrounded by fruit trees and a compact organic garden. The Ital Shack is overseen by the charismatic Bushman, who looks as though he walked off the cover of a classic reggae album. The food is organic and healthy — a standout is the fresh fruit juices made from sorrel, soursop, passion fruit and ginger. Opening hours are between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Shopping On Front Street
Duty-free shopping reigns in St. Maarten, and Front Street is ground zero for shopaholics. Prices can dip to 60 percent lower than what shoppers would pay for the same goods in the U.S.
Best buys include jewelry, china, electronics, cameras, cigars, watches and designer clothes. Advise clients to keep an eye out for Guavaberry Emporium, where they can sample and buy guavaberry liquor, an island specialty.
St. Maarten ‘12 Metre Challenge’
Visitors can get competitive by crewing on an actual Americas Cup sailboat for the “12 Metre Challenge.” It begins with the forming of two teams who then, under the guidance of seasoned sailors, head out into the bay on 39-foot (12-meter) sailing yachts for an actual race on the sea.
Participants don’t sit and watch — although that is an option. Instead, they work the grinders under the command of the first mate. It’s a guaranteed thrill that ends back on shore with the two teams toasting each other with rum punch.
The Butterfly Farm
The Butterfly Farm is a beguiling attraction, both low-key and beautiful. Visitors can stroll along the paths of the screened garden, led along by guides imparting all sorts of information about the creatures flitting about — be prepared to have tropical butterflies land on you. Go in the morning to catch sight of young butterflies emerging from their chrysalis.
Touring Fort Louis
For a dash of history, travelers can head over to the leeward side of St. Maarten and climb the 92 steps to Fort Louis. This historic fort was built in 1767 to defend the island against invaders.
There are remains of the fort to explore but the real reward is the panoramic sea views — on a clear day it’s possible to see Anguilla.
Watching Incoming Planes On Sunset Beach
This is one of St. Maarten’s not-to-be-missed experiences. Folks convene on Sunset Beach to watch a tiny dot in the sky grow bigger and bigger — until this dot becomes a huge jumbo jet making the descent into Princess Juliana International Airport and passes with a roar overhead. It’s a huge rush and an experience shared by locals and visitors alike.