A visit to this double-barreled island nation means the opportunity to visit the Dutch side of the island, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the northern side of the island, a part of the French Republic, without border patrol doing additional passport checks. Besides a flag and sign posted on the side of the road, there is no noticing you’ve changed countries. Walk, drive, jog, or swim between these two nations effortlessly. So why stay where? Why pick sides? These choices are personal and made for a myriad of reasons.

What we experienced while staying on the Dutch side and popping over to the French for dinner one evening was a lot. Determined to experience the influence of Europe in a Caribbean setting, we set out to see what this side of paradise was all about. A little bit of pre-arrival research said there were more than 120 nationalities living on the island. Our guide mentioned that there were about 140. Truly, does it matter when you get to those types of numbers? What it said to me was St. Maarten was going to be about a lot of things. From the highest peak on this side of the island is The Flying Dutchman, where the main attraction is the steepest zipline in the world, dropping about 1,050 feet. In this context, dropping should be read zipping! From this viewpoint, you see the island laid out below you. What you may not see is how the melding of these 100-plus nationalities blend together. For that, we recommend taking to the streets.

To get a real taste of a destination, we find answers in the flavors. On this island, we ventured out to a lolo, a lolo is a small, traditional restaurant (about 300 square feet). What we discovered was a reflection of the number of multinational inhabitants we were told about. Stopping for Doubles, the most popular street food in Trinidad, staring out at the multitude of lolos, we saw the eclectic mixture that is the backbone of St. Maarten. Dutch, Afro-Caribbean, Indian, Chinese, Spanish cuisine, and more, are authentic and at your fingertips. We went on to explore Phillipsburg, St. Maarten’s capital and heartbeat of the island. It’s one of our favorite spots on the island. Strolling along Front Street is a pastime in itself. Shopping, shopping, shopping is the name of the game on Front Street. Some come for t-shirts, nick knacks, sarongs, and salad tongs. I come for the array of jewelry and the best duty-free prices I have come across on any island. The discounts are deep, and the abundance of designers is remarkable. It’s a lot to take in, but well worth the time. We left with some great pieces at unbelievable prices. Not to sound like a television commercial about steals and deals, but wow!

There’s a lot to do and to take in on this side of the island. We went to a local school and took a Steel Pan Lesson with Mighty Dow. Here, again, we were shown the diversity of St. Maarten. Originating in Trinidad and Tobago, the steel pan is probably the Caribbean’s most recognizable instrument. We were taught how to play the steel pan by the legend himself, Mighty Dow. He is a son of the soil; St. Maarten’s famed steel pan artist – who founded Dow’s Musical Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving and showcasing the art of steel pan through lessons, workshops, events. If you can catch one of his lessons, it is highly recommended that you jump on the opportunity. This was a fun and interactive experience.

We learned to play “Hot Hot Hot”, a globally recognized song written and first recorded by Montserratian musician Arrow. If he could teach us, you know he’s pretty good. We were a handful, and a lot for him to handle. With music in our heads, and a pep in our step we chipped over to the We Culture Museum Experience, where we saw a lot of Carnival costumes and learned about the meaning behind some, and the evolution from fully covered to modest nudity. The vibrant history of Carnival at the world’s first Caribbean Carnival experience – We Culture was a lot to take in and so much fun. The brand-new museum took us on a journey, cocktail in hand, with a 60-minute guided exploration of artwork, costumes and hands-on interactive activities where we felt the magic of Carnival come alive. We even left with a memento that is most likely going to make an appearance this Halloween. I’m putting this item away until then because finding something to match and wear on the bottom may be a challenge, unless we go the route of body paint. Stay tuned for the update on that.

On another adventure in St. Maarten, we took to the Caribbean Sea and saw a lot. Aquamania Adventures, a local shop with several locations on the island provides water excursions, from snorkeling trips and sunset sails to day trips to neighboring islands as well as scuba diving trips. We took on snorkeling through the newest underwater sculpture park. The Under Sint Maarten Sculpture Park is a breath-taking new attraction, in Divi Little Bay, St. Maarten. These sculptures were all made from molds of actual residents of the island. Swimming through this sculpture garden was a lot of fun. The scantily clad carnival dancers were probably my favorite, where we could see sea urchins attaching themselves and some very provocative and promiscuous ways. It’s hard to laugh with a snorkel in your mouth, but somehow, we all came up with smiles at the stories. There’s a lot more to this underwater adventure, we recommend that you take it in on your next visit to St. Maarten.

Where we stayed, where we ate:

JW Marriott | St. Maarten Beach Resort and Spa

Located on the quieter side of St. Maarten on Dawn Beach, for those who want an experience that’s elevated and a touch on the quiet side. The hotel offers a range of luxurious suites, including some with a private, ocean-front plunge pool for an intimate getaway. The hotel offers a variety of onsite amenities. From a cooking school and daily activities like yoga, to a luxurious spa and three restaurants. The hotel’s location is also ideal, on the Dutch side of the island, it’s also easily accessible to the French side and some very cool areas such as Orient Bay. We had a fabulous and entertaining dinner there at L’Atelier. When you go, you cannot miss the owner. He reads the four-foot menu to each table while holding it atop a wooden easel. His strong French accent and descriptive notes on each dish leave you drooling. His name is Alexander Deglise.



The Morgan Resort and Spa

The Morgan Resort & Spa offers a more vibey, playful experience. If you are looking for this atmosphere either before or after a more tranquil escape at Dawn Bay, this is the spot. This hotel is walking distance to the well-known Maho Beach, where planes take off and land just overhead, and easy access to nightlife. It has an oceanfront, insta-worthy infinity pool and live entertainment multiple nights a week.


St. Maarten…It’s a lot!

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