Not being in a position this year to spend lavishly at an all-inclusive resort in an exotic locale, and not being inclined to compromise our comfort level by opting for a three-star type of affair somewhere less than desirable, we chose to do the kind of trip which would be the opposite of a typical resort, away from the usual tourist traps as much as possible.
We used our Air Miles Rewards Points to secure a flight to Sint Maarten. We chose our accommodations very affordably through Airbnb and stayed at a beautiful, sprawling, gated property that felt *very* safe, complete with a private pool and stunning view of the inner island.
Our trip lasted nine days, eight of which we mostly spent at various beaches.
Due to the insane traffic throughout the island between 4:00 to 8:00 pm every weekday, we made the habit of getting up at 7:00 am and heading out to our beach of choice for that day by 9:00 am to ensure we'd be back to the property before the traffic jam.
We were buying our groceries at the "Grand Marché" close to Philispsburg, about 5 min. from where we were staying.
We ate four times during our stay on “The Friendly Island” at the restaurant next door to the marché, called Mark's Place. A typical fish entree will set you back about $14 and is delicious, especially with rice and peas. A glass of wine is $4.00 -- in other words, a recommended place for great value.
We often packed a lunch to bring to the beach so as to stretch our dollars, although we splurged somewhat on two occasions.
Getting back to the house relatively early every day was great, especially for those evenings we were cooking. Having access to the pool and the elegantly- furnished gazebo was a great way to cap our day.
We didn't go out at night. This was our fourth trip to the island, and we have done our share of evening exploring during the prior visits. This time we felt like staying within the confines of the gated property after sunset.
-- The Beaches --
One of the main reason my wife and I are so fond of Sint Maarten / St-Martin is because of having fallen in love with Mullet Bay Beach. It is located on the Dutch side, fairly close to the airport.
We spent four days there during this trip.
Two chairs and an umbrella cost $15 for the day.
Burgers and beer are available affordably from vendors.
On windy days, it gets somewhat trickier to swim there, depending on your skill level.
This one is on the French side.
The road is a bit of a nightmare getting to it. Just as I was telling myself, "Enough of this already", the pristine beach appeared in our line of sight.
There is hardly anyone before lunch time and swimming there in the morning is surreal.
We spent two days there, and I had lunch once at one of the two restaurants which occupy Friar's Bay.
Two chairs, a cocktail table and an umbrella cost $15 for the day, if you chose not to eat at their restaurant, and $6 if you do.
The water is always calm, even when the rest of the island is less favorable to swimming. So it's a good spot to go to in order to not lose a day at the beach while on a short-enough vacations as it is.
The easiest way to access Happy Bay Beach is from Friar's Bay via a path through a bit of forest and a field.
It is quite secluded and picturesque.
We were there on a Sunday and there were families with children at one end and fully nude people at the other -- so quite ecclectic :-)
We spent less than two hours there, as it was fairly windy that day and we had spent time driving through Phillipsburg and coming up the East Coast of the island earlier that morning.
Located on the North East side of the island (therefore on French territory) and accessible by ferry at the cost of US $13 per person round trip, Pinel Island is also idyllic, to say the least.
We were there for one day, and again, we ate at one of the two restaurants.
Two chairs, a cocktail table and an umbrella cost $20 for the day, regardless of whether you chose to eat at the restaurant or not.
There is also a neat souvenir shop on the island. The owner has a colorful personality and he and his wife travel once a year to Bali to replenish their inventory, which they then get shipped by container to St-Martin.
The other side of the island is desolate and not suitable for swimming, but it is worth the 5-7 minutes it takes to walk to it to take a peak. I came across a large turtle slowly proceeding in the grass on my way there. It was quick to withdraw in its shell before I could snap a picture.
This was a beautiful, relaxing trip -- the type of experience that typically comes at a much higher financial cost, unless one is forced to find creative ways to create a comparable experience for a fraction of the price.
This must might be of of those cases where more money doesn't necessarily make you happier -- sometimes less is really more...