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The Caribbean is a massive archipelago, located in the Caribbean Sea. There are more than 7,000 individual islands and 26 Caribbean country islands to choose from. You can either fly and visit each island individually or you can explore them in groups. If you choose to explore them in groups, you should fly in the island with the best connections to the others and visit by air or sea its neighboring islands.
In September of 2017, St. Martin and its neighboring islands suffered catastrophic damage from Hurricane Irma – the first Category 5 hurricane to strike the Leeward Islands on record, followed by Hurricane Maria two weeks later. However, this paradise region on our planet still has so much to offer and you shouldn’t let the undergoing restoration to affect your travel plans. The best way to support and help the Caribbean is to visit!
My plan for this trip was to be based in St. Martin for a week and to visit by ferries Pinel Island (5 min), Anguilla (20 min), St. Barts (45 min) and Saba (90 min). St. Martin is a Caribbean dual island nation divided between the Dutch side (Sint Maarten), which is constituent country of Kingdom of Netherlands and the French side (Saint-Martin), which is overseas collectivity of France.
There is no real border between those two island nations. Anyone can freely pass from one country to another without going through any security or needing to present a passport. That place reminded me of John Lennon’s song “Imagine there is no countries, It isn’t hard to do..Imagine all the people living life in peace..”
MY COST BREAKDOWN (4 islands in 7 days) : $1,304
Uber (USA): $40 to/from airport
RT Flight: $75 + 20,900 JetBlue Airways bonus points
Accommodation: $515 (6 nights + hotel points)
Ferries: $100 (Saba) + $80 (St. Barts) + $53 (Anguilla) + $12 (Pinel Island)
WHAT TO BRING
Read my other post Traveling with Less: Travel Gear Guide
BEST TIME TO GO
The island’s weather is good year round, however in May – June and November – December , there is less chance of rain showers. Also keep in mind that high season is December-April and this is the time to avoid if you travel on a budget. I took the trip to St. Maarten in June and the weather was perfect.
HOW TO GET THERE
My round trip to St. Martin’s SXM from New York’s JFK, cost me only $75 since I used 20,900 JetBlue Airways bonus points. I earned them by applying for the JetBlue Plus Card. If you apply for it, spend $1,000 for the first 3 months, then you will earn 40,000 bonus points. Those points will be good for at least 2 free flights to the Caribbean! To learn more about flying with bonus miles & points, you can read my other article How to Earn Air Miles and Points for Free Flights
The two official currencies on St. Martin are the Netherlands Antillean Guilden or Florin (Dutch side) and the Euro (French side). US dollars and credit cards are widely accepted on the island of St. Martin. It’s always a good idea to bring some cash with you in case you need to use taxi and decide to eat at small local restaurants.
I stayed at a resort with a kitchenette and I prepared the majority of my food, in order to stay on a budget. However, don’t miss visiting Nowhere Special Rum Bar & Grill, located in Simpson Bay. Any food that is worth trying while vacationing in this region of the world, you can find there! Also, I’ve heard excellent recommendations for Pineapple Pete Restaurant & Bar, which I didn’t have a chance to visit but you might want to give it a try!
I rented a car from Thrifty only for the last 2 days of my week long stay on the island of St. Martin. On the first day I used the car to get to Maho Beach to watch the planes and then spent the afternoon sunbathing at Mullet Bay beach. On the next day I used it to get to Orient Bay to catch the ferry to Pinel Island and in the evening drove to Simpson Bay to have dinner at Nowhere Special Rum Bar & Grill. For the rest of the time I used taxi services, since I just needed to get to the ferry terminal and then I was spending the entire day on a completely different island. There are minibuses (group taxis) that cover most areas on the island and you can get on them by waiting on any bus stop and raising your hand when you see the minibus coming. However, I never got a chance to use them. If you are on a strict budget, you should definitely stay away from car rental and use the mini bus services in St. Martin.
BEST THING TO DO IN ST. MAARTEN (Dutch Side)
Maho Beach is located on the Dutch side (Sint Maarten) of the Caribbean dual nation island of St. Martin. This beach is located right by Princess Juliana International Airport and it’s a famous site for tourists to watch airplanes landing at the airport, while passing on a very short distance above their heads. Look for Sunset Bar & Grill right next to it, where you can find the schedule of the arriving planes, written on a surf board. The big airplanes usually arrive between 10:30 am – 3:30 pm.
BEST THING TO DO IN SAINT-MARTIN (French Side)
Pinel Island is located 5 minutes away by ferry from the French side of St. Martin. It lies in Orient Bay and it’s accessible via boats ($12 RT, cash only) that run from 9 am to 4 pm. You need to drive to Cul De Sac and the easiest way to find the place is to type “Caribbean Paddling” in Google Maps. On this island, you can rent beach umbrella and 2 chairs ($20) or you can bring your own beach accessories, hike up to the other side of the island and chill at the nude beach there.
Pinel Island is home to many Lesser Antillean Iguanas. They are endangered creatures and legally protected from hunting. These iguanas eat plants, fruits, sometimes meat and live for up to 15 years.
DAY TRIPS TO NEIGHBORING ISLANDS
ANGUILLA (British Territory)
HOW TO GET THERE
I used the public ferry, which is located in the French side of St. Martin, in Margiot. You can purchase tickets directly from them. Round-trip ticket costs $53 ($40 ticket + $13 departure fees).
BEST THING TO DO
A day prior my trip to Anguilla, I made online car reservation at Andy’s Auto Rentals ($60/day). I drove around to explore the island, starting from the west end. Shoal Bay East was my last stop, where I spent the rest of my time on the island before the last ferry to St. Martin leaves. My eyes couldn’t believe the scenery at Shoal Beach – calm, crystal clear, turquoise water, powder white sand, and the sound of live reggae music coming from the beach bar & restaurant.
ST. BARTS (French Territory)
HOW TO GET THERE
Saint-Barthelemy is also known as St. Barths or St. Barts. You can get there from the Dutch side (Philipsburg by Bobby’s Marina) or from the French side (Margiot ferry port), depending on where your accommodation is located. I was based in Dutch St. Maarten and I used Great Bay Express, located in Philipsburg. The ferry left around 7:30 am, the ride took about 45 minutes and the cost was $80 RT.
BEST THING TO DO
St. Barts is a popular destination for the rich and famous, best known for its stunning crowd-free beaches. Once I arrived in St. Barts’ Gustavia ferry port, I started hiking (this island is hilly!) towards Colombier Beach. This gave me a chance to explore the southwest part of St. Barts but it was super serious and exhausting work out! I wouldn’t recommend it. You should rent a car if you want to save your energy and see more of the island. Turbe Car Rental and and Welcome Car Rental have pretty good online reviews.
While hiking to reach Colombier beach, I got a chance to see from above the scenic Flamands Beach. On the way back to the ferry port in Gustavia, I visited Shell Beach as well. However, I must say the Colombier was the most spectacular and breathtaking beach I’ve ever seen. Keep in mind that even if you rent a car, you still need to hike in order to get to that beach. Don’t forget to check the rest of the beautiful St. Bart’s beaches, which I didn’t get a chance to see!
SABA (Dutch Territory)
HOW TO GET THERE
Saba (pronounced “Say-ba”) is a small volcanic and tropical forest island (13 sq km), 90 minutes ($100 RT) ferry ride from St. Martin with Aqua Mania Adventures. It’s a pretty long and rough ride in choppy waters, however I have no regrets for taking that trip. If you have problems with seasickness, you might want to consider using patches for motion sickness.
BEST THING TO DO
Saba is known as “The Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean”. The island is famous with exceptional scuba diving, snorkeling, spectacular hiking and ecotourism. There aren’t any beaches in Saba. There aren’t all inclusive hotels and chain resorts. There isn’t a mass tourism on this island.
I got a taxi from the ferry port ($15), asked him to drive me to Windwardside and I spent my short time (4 hours) in Saba, hiking the island. The trailhead for Mount Scenery is located across the street from the Trail Shop in Windwardside. Mount Scenery is a potentially active volcano in the Caribbean Netherlands. At an elevation of 887 m (2,910 ft), it is the highest point in the Netherlands. I enjoyed a breathtaking 3 hours hike and the lush landscapes in Saba’s cloud forest!