Of course, the answer is YES, but there are some things to consider. We just got back from a three night Caribbean getaway to the French side of the island. The island is claimed by the Dutch on the south side (Sint Maarten).
I landed at Sint Maarten 6 years ago and immediately headed to the beautiful beaches of Anguilla to the north. But this time we decided to stay put because it was a short trip.
Here’s what we discovered about this gorgeous island.
1. It’s Still Recovering from Hurricane Irma
In 2017, St. Martin was tragically torn apart by Hurricane Irma and it still shows. The outside of our condo complex was badly battered, and the pool was still in disrepair, but the inside of our unit was completely renovated, clean and comfortable.
As we walked down the beach at Orient Bay, we saw many shells of former restaurants and bungalows. But the best thing to do to help restore this spectacular beach is to feed its economy. Little by little, it’s recovering, and there are a few very nice beach bars and restaurants to enjoy by crystal clear water with the backdrop of intensely green mountains.
Keep in mind, we were able to take this quick trip because it was so inexpensive. Airfare from Washington, D.C., was $300 for basic economy on Delta (which we used our Chase Sapphire miles to purchase for free), our condo was $100 a night including fees, and our rental car cost $85 for the whole trip. So we basically paid $385 for this trip.
If a Caribbean beach vacation is usually prohibitively expensive, think about visiting this beautiful island while it’s in a state of recovery and help it rebuild.
2. You’ll Need a Rental Car
The best way to get around St. Martin is by rental car. We used Thrifty based on TripAdvisor reviews and had a great experience. You’ll want to rent the smallest car possible because roads and parking spaces are narrow and driving is a bit crazy. This isn’t the place for the big SUV!
When we travel, we usually hire a shuttle from the airport and just walk everywhere, but that wasn’t really an option here. The beach at Orient Bay was very safe and walkable during the day, but it was dark and desolate at night, particularly on the North end of the beach where we stayed in Cul-de-Sac.
In the Mont Vernon neighborhood, we had a pizza shop close by and an exquisite fine-dining restaurant (Sol e Luna) a little ways down the road, but other than that, we needed to drive.
There was a fantastic grocery store, Super U, just down the road, so we were able to save money and stock up on beer, baguettes, breakfast and snacks (think: French assortment of meats and cheese).
We had an oceanfront condo, so sitting on the balcony with a coffee in the morning and a beer in the afternoon was perfectly relaxing.
3. Take the Ferry to Pinel Island
As a pasty pale redhead, I don’t spend much time (any time) laying out in the sun, but I had so much fun laying out under an umbrella at Yellow Bar on Pinel Island, drinking frozen mojitos and taking dips in the bath-like Caribbean water.
We brought our snorkel gear and spent a brief time swimming on the wilder north side of Pinel Island before setting up camp under a yellow umbrella and snorkeling around the more populated areas for a bit—which was also totally worth it.
The view of Orient Bay from Pinel Island is stunning. We don’t have any photos because we didn’t bring our phones—so you’ll just have to go there and check it out for yourself!
The ferry leaves from a dock at Cul-de-Sac every 30 minutes starting at 9:30 am and ending at 5 pm. It costs $12 pp round trip and takes about 7 minutes or so, maybe 10 minutes. There’s parking at the dock. We suggest taking one of the first ferries out because it gets crowded as the day progresses. The dock is stinky, but other than that the journey is easy.
Pinel Island was our favorite part of the whole trip!
4. Enjoy the Beautiful Orient Bay
First, you should know there’s a lot of seaweed. So, remember that money is tight on this recovering island and seaweed cleanup probably isn’t a priority. We didn’t mind. It was soft and not as buggy as seaweed in California. You can still walk (or take a fantastic morning jog) down the beach and swim with ease. We’ve read some complaints about it but didn’t think it was a big deal.
You’ll probably want to rent a chair from one of the establishments operating on the beach—there are several in operation now and the lounge chairs are nice and comfy.
Try the naked beach at the south end. It’s the nicest swimming spot on the whole beach!
5. Explore the Island
We didn’t explore much else since we only had a short time on the island, but if we had longer, we probably would have checked out a few more beaches and even stayed somewhere else for a few nights.
We read reviews about how the island is “too damaged” to enjoy a visit. That’s simply not true, though there are things to keep in mind to adjust your expectations. Not every beach in the world is perfectly manicured all the time. But St. Martin is a beautiful and resilient island, and Orient Bay is simply stunning. You can enjoy an affordable and relaxing vacation here if you keep an open mind. We did!