• BLOG •
I lived in the Caribbean a life time ago. It was great. I absolutely loved the adventure, the outdoor lifestyle, and the huge variety of places our friends came from. I highly recommend it when you are young. My boyfriend at the time (now my husband) worked as the editor of the newspaper for the West Indies and I worked in a surf shop selling bathing suits, practicing retail french, and sailing on the windsurfing "team" on my free time. I was the only girl on the team and the sport was relatively new. It was empowering, exciting, and a total blast. I miss it, or perhaps I just miss being young!
Now, because I lived there, and because it is widely known that I do not like winter, around this time of year many friends ask me for tips and recommendations on travel plans. I have been asked enough times that I thought it may be helpful to start posting my responses here. I research trips all the time and occasionally I'm lucky enough to go on one. But I always enjoy it whether vicariously or in actuality. Lately a friend asked about my recommendations for her upcoming trip to St. Maartin (the island we lived on). As I told her, I want to preface this with the fact that a lot of my information is old BUT I think the generalities still hold true.
She started with this: "Did you say that you used to live on St Maarten? We will be there over winter break, We are thinking about renting bicycles to tour the island and are hoping to check out some beaches and go snorkeling. What would you recommend?"
I had to respond because of the comment about bicycles alone. First tip? DO NOT RENT BIKES. My response in full:
Yes we did live there a life time ago! But even back then I would never recommend biking. WAY too much traffic, the roads are really crazy and are not set up for biking. I would definitely say no to that. But, there are some nice spots. My tips:
• Personally I prefer the french side (Saint Martin) over the dutch side (Sint Maarten) just because the dutch side is more defined by the cruise ships. It is more about t-shirt shops and tourist stops while the french side feels more.... well, French! It's more about food, beautiful boats in the harbor, and being chic. If you are just going to opt for walking around town and lunch then I’d say Marigot over Philipsburg. Also, there is a lovely open-air market along the wharves of the Boulevard de France on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings. Full of fruit, spices, and fresh fish it's a must stop if you are cooking for yourself or just because it is so pretty.
The beaches we loved are:
• Baie Longue which was always totally empty and had the most heavenly water. LONG for nice walks. There was only one hotel on it back then called La Samanna (named after the owners 3 daughters Samantha, Anouk and Nathalie) and the rest was pure heaven. I remember floating one day and not being able to discern the sky from the sea.
• Baie de L’Embouchure is the best spot for windsurfing and, consequently, where we spent most of our days. It is known as Le Galion after the abandoned hotel there. Pat Turner runs a windsurf and water sports shack on the beach called Tropical Wave. Pat is a good friend and a great guy. It is the best spot to learn how to windsurf, to scream out some speed runs across the bay (my favorite), or go a bit further out to catch some waves on the reef.
• Baie Aux Prunes was also really nice but smaller than Baie Longue so now might feel more crowded. It used to have maybe 10 people on it at most. The brush is a bit close so it was one of the few beaches that had pick pocketers lurking so be a bit wary.
• Grand Case was my favorite town for dinner. Back then it was small, sweet, and really romantic with a cool surfer crowd. I know it has been built up quite a bit since but it still has some amazing restaurants.
• I’d avoid Orient Beach. Though the beach and water is amazing, it is the nudist colony and used to attract the worst kind of tourists (and LOTS of them) and I would imagine still does. Personally, the less clothing I have on the less people I gravitate towards. But some feel the opposite! Whatever floats your boat, but when I went to the bar/restaurant to look for a friend, it hadn't crossed my mind that the waiters and everyone sitting at the place would be naked too. The beach is one thing but lets just say, bar stools were not made for bottomless bottoms as far as I'm concerned. It didn't really enhance the thought of eating there.
• If it is the end of a trip and you’ve had too much beach time and want to do something a bit different, there is a nice little hike that gives you a great view of the islands called Paradise Peak. Back then it was not at all maintained and it was hard to find the trail. But at the top there was always a lovely breeze and a surprisingly beautiful view for a short climb.
• Anguilla was really the best spot for snorkeling and it is a quick boat ride away and sort of fun to pop over, though you will need your passport for customs. It has become a hot spot for the fabulously wealthy but there is a law that all beaches are public domain so it is surprisingly welcoming! You just can't use the umbrellas or chairs from the hotels unless you are a guest but the beaches are open to all and they are really spectacular.
• If you have time to explore a bit more it is worth visiting Saba and St. Barths as well. Saba is a totally unique island. No tourism really, the smallest airstrip in the Northern Hemisphere, and a beautiful hike up past the clouds. It boasts great scuba diving if you'd like but I found the unique history, the lace making, and the quaint town fascinating enough. St. Barths has also become a hot spot for the fabulously rich and wealthy. It is very French and very beautiful, as is every person on it, every beach, and it has the most beautiful harbor I've seen yet. We used to hitch hike on boats and just go out for lunch, walk the town, and visit a beach. You need a vehicle (mopeds are fun) to see most of the island but just a walk around the town and harbor are worth the trip.
• Just one more thing, not to bring it down too much. The island is known as the "friendly island". It is true, but it does have its fair share of crime as do all the islands. Nothing more than common-sense deserves but leave your fancy jewels at home.
That's my super duper quick low-down on St. Martin. Ahhh, that was a fun little trip! Brings me right back to the days of this:
Katie Craig is available for travel writing (with kids, girls getaways and romantic escapes)