St Maarten

St Maarten is one of the most popular and pretty of all the island playgrounds strung out across the gorgeous, azure hued carpet of the sunny Caribbean. Almost uniquely, the island is half Dutch and half French, but totally delightful. Small and beautifully formed, St. Maarten has no shortage of sights and highlights to make your stay an idyllic one.

The Dutch capital of Phillipsburg is the port for most of the cruise ships, and has some of the best duty free shopping anywhere. Shopping for electrical goods and diamonds is particularly good value here. Surrounded by low, rolling hills and flanked by a gorgeous, spun sugar beach, it’s a pretty little town of brightly painted, two story clapboard houses and restaurants. Lovers of water sports can rent kayaks, canoes, jet skis or sail boats here. Or just find a waterfront bar and kick back with an ice cold Daiquiri.

The island also has some salt flats not too far from town that are worth a look. And for a really different view of the island, you can help to crew an America’s Cup yacht that cuts a swathe through the sparkling blue briny.

Alternatively, you could wander over to the French side of the island for some café society, Caribbean style. The pretty little town of Marigot is like a little slice of the French Riviera, somehow unfeasibly afloat in the tropics. Lined with cafes and filled with idly bobbing yachts and small boats, Marigot is quieter than the more boisterous Dutch side of St. Maarten.

As ever with the Caribbean, some of the main attractions are, inevitably, the beaches. St. Maarten is wreathed in several miles of dreamy, blond sand that shelves almost shyly into the electric blue hue of the warm sea.

A day at any of these beaches is like a charmed world; a sublime paradise of warm sand and cold beer, where para gliders flit across powder blue skies like so many brilliant, exotic butterflies. The smell of freshly cooked jerk chicken and the cool lilt of reggae fills the warm afternoon breeze. You can hang loose in a hammock or just take time out on a sun lounger.

My pick of the best would definitely be Orient Beach, possibly the most beautiful and expansive beach of them all, But, truth is, any beach on this beautiful dream island will gift you a wonderful day.

Getting there: Most cruise ships dock at the main Phillipsburg piers, from where you can stroll into town- it’s an even walk- in around fifteen minutes. Or you can cross the bay directly by high speed water taxi in five minutes, for around three dollars. These leave from next to the cruise ship dock.

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