How to Have a Fantastic Trip to Saint Martin
Posted June 30, 2018
Last year, Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean island of St. Martin/St. Maarten almost dead on nearly 3 weeks after we visited the island in mid-August. The damage was so bad the airport was destroyed and closed for several weeks. Thus we held off on posting our guide until we knew the island was back up and running, and we are pleased to see that it is! For an island as dependent upon tourism as St. Martin/St. Maarten it was critical that potential travelers know of the situation on the ground and plan accordingly as not to strain the infrastructure and resources until the time was right.
For travelers who keep track of how many places they have traveled to the island of St. Martin/ St. Maarten is famous for being one of the few islands where you can pick up two for the price of one flight! St. Martin, on the northern side of the island, is French and St. Maarten to the south is Dutch. While the border is almost difficult to discern while traveling on the island, there is a noticeable difference between the two sides, particularly since cruise ships pull into St. Maarten. After much research, we opted to stay in St. Martin, in the town of Grand Case, and as you’ll see we made a great decision.
Saint Martin and Tourism
Tourism is undeniably the cornerstone of St. Martin’s economy. Historically, the island depended on the export of sugarcane. Today, however, like many Caribbean islands, tourism is the number one employer and contributor to the economy making St. Martin a destination where tourist expenditures and the support of local businesses has a larger impact on the community. Tourism is so important to St. Martin that it supports approximately 85% of the labor force directly and indirectly.
The bulk of nearly 2 million tourists arrive via cruise ships which, while the volume is great for supporting excursions, does not impact the economy and those who fly into the island and spend their entire vacation here. If you are looking to explore some of the Caribbean, the island’s excellent infrastructure offers several options to explore the neighboring islands of Anguilla, St. Barth’s, and Saba! We visited two of the three! Check out our posts on Anguilla and Saba for why you should visit too!
Where to Stay in St. Martin
Les Temps des Cerises
Figuring out what part of the island to stay on was our biggest challenge. Do we stay near the most popular beaches? Do we stay on the Dutch or French side? Or do we stay near one of the two locations to catch ferries to neighboring islands? After a lot of research, we decided the best place to stay would be Grand Case. We chose it because of the beach, the selection of high-quality Caribbean and French restaurants, and Les Temps des Cerises.
We’ve stayed in A LOT of places, and I mean a lot, but nothing compares to Les Temps des Cerises (or LTC for short). Looking to avoid one of the characterless mega resorts that dominate the island we searched up and down the coasts for a small, boutique, and family owned option. The minute we found this all in one hotel we had to stay there. Honestly, it would be inconceivable to travel to St. Martin and not stay in Grand Case and not stay at LTC. As you’ll you read and see this place can’t be beaten. If you’re traveling to St. Martin, do yourself a favor and click on the link to the hotel and book your stay now. Waste no more time searching. Unless you prefer characterless mega resorts and lounging around a pool with lots and lots of people.
We fell in love with this family-run beach-side boutique hotel for two reasons. First, the beautiful design and decor of the hotel. From the lobby to the restaurant and the room, everything exceeded our expectations for that beachfront property in the Caribbean we were looking for, with impeccable attention to detail.
Second, the view of the beach from the room. We fell in love with the place the minute we opened the door to our room and saw the sea. Each of the 7 rooms has a large balcony with panoramic views of the beach and mountains, making it the perfect place to enjoy your morning coffee or happy hour sunset drink.
Where to Eat in Grand Case
Grand Case is filled with restaurants ranging from beach bars to local spots and french cuisine. While there are a lot of options there are two you really shouldn’t miss these three.
Cynthia’s Talk of the Town
The appropriately named Cynthia’s Talk of the Town happens to be the most popular restaurant in Grand Case. Unsurprisingly Cynthia’s serves a great selection of affordable Caribbean cuisine and is packed every night with locals and tourists. We had the lobster with fried plantains and ribs with rice. You’ll smell the ribs cooking well before you even see Cynthia’s. It’s a decent 15-minute walk from LTC.
Another reason to stay at LTC (as if you needed one!) is the hotel’s restaurant. Not only do they serve great food, like classic French cuisine and Caribbean dishes, but the restaurant has the best view, perfect for sunsets. Our room was located next to the restaurant, so we enjoyed the same view day and night. The restaurant also has a drink and food service for the beach chairs. Not only can you relax on the beach, but you can do it while drinking a French Rose!
Le Petite Table
Looking for that one fancy dinner in St. Martin? Look no further than Le Petite Table, a French restaurant located on Grand Case’s main strip. The restaurant is ranked as one of the best on the island and doesn’t disappoint. We both went for the three-course special, veloute of celery and cauliflower with pan-fried fois gras, duck parmentier, and vanilla crème brûlée. We accompanied our crème brûlées with a glass of Calvados. It was delicious. We a perfect romantic dinner to round off our amazing trip to St. Martin.
What to Do in St. Martin
Go to the beach! One of the reasons we traveled to St. Martin was to hang out at the beach and what better place to do that than in Grand Case. An advantage to staying at LTC was its direct beach access with beach chairs and umbrellas. The water is warm and turquoise and the sand is soft. What else could you wish for?!
Day trips to other islands!
Is there a better way to spend a trip bouncing from beach to beach? We don’t think so. An advantage to staying in Grand Case is the short bus ride to Marigot to catch the ferry to the neighboring island of Anguilla, which you could see from our hotel room. Check out our blog post on spending a day trip in Anguilla. Again, if you’re someone who likes to visit as many places as possible basing yourself in St. Martin makes it easy to travel to Anguilla as well as St. Maarten where ferries are available to islands south and west of the island. Keep in mind that rough seas can cause ferries not to operate as was the case when we traveled.
Getting Around St. Martin/St. Maarten
Travel around the island can be relatively easy and affordable if you take the local buses. The biggest expense was the taxi from the SXM airport to Grand Case which cost $35 for the 20-minute drive.
The best way to get around the island is via the local bus which can be identified by the signs in the front window which show the final destination. When we traveled from Grand Case to Marigot to catch the ferry to Anguilla, we took the bus which cost $1.50 each, one-way. If you want to head over to the Dutch side, you can catch another bus from Marigot, another $1.50 one-way. It’s easy and if you aren’t sure where to catch the bus just ask someone!
St. Martin is the ideal Caribbean destination especially for those who love the beach or love beach hopping. With the island back up and running now is the time to book your next trip there. We’ve given you the tips!
All Photography by Albert and Carrie Bond
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