On August 22Andrea Milam answered the question:Unfortunately, it’s impossible to explore all of the U.S. Virgin Islands’ three beautiful islands in one day, as St. Croix is 40 miles south and a plane ride away from St. Thomas and St. John, which are separated from one another by a mere 20-minute ferry ride. So here’s how to best explore the islands depending on which area you’re visiting.
If you begin in St. Thomas, it’s easy to travel to St. John, so you can do both islands in one day. Start off in St. Thomas’ Charlotte Amalie, where some of the region’s best duty-free shopping can be found among historic buildings dating back to the 1600s. Once you’ve given your credit card a workout, it’s time to head to St. John to cool off, so hop on a taxi to Red Hook and catch an hourly ferry to Cruz Bay.
When you arrive on St. John, you can easily hire a taxi driver. Ask him to take you on a tour of the island’s stunning north shore, whose beaches are part of the V.I. National Park and therefore remain in their beautiful natural state. Head out to Maho Beach, whose placid, gin-clear waters make this beach a favorite among families with young children. Then make your way back toward Cruz Bay, stopping at beaches along the way, like Cinnamon Bay and the famed Trunk Bay, which often appears on top 10 lists for its jaw-dropping allure. Once you’ve experienced the beauty of St. John’s north shore beaches, ask your driver to stop at the Cruz Bay overlook and watch the sun set over St. Thomas for the perfect ending to your day.
If you begin on St. Croix — at 28 by 7 miles, the biggest of the three U.S. Virgin Islands — you can explore plenty of history and beauty. Start off in Christiansted, perusing the eclectic shops housed in historic Danish buildings and exploring Fort Christiansvaern, an 18th-century fort constructed by Denmark, which owned the Virgin Islands until 1917. From Christiansted, you can easily pick up a taxi. Ask your driver to take you along the island’s picturesque north shore, making time for a stop at Cane Bay, a beautiful beach where there’s always a good crowd of people looking to kick back and have some fun. From there, continue west along the vista-laden North Shore Road before heading south for St. Croix’s rainforest. Ask your driver to take you along Mahogany Road, where you’ll see the biggest trees and the lushest, most dense greenery on the entire island. Finally, stop in Frederiksted, a nearly 300-year-old town where you can amble among historic buildings, including the striking red and white Fort Frederik, built in the 1750s to stave off pirates. There are also plenty of shops and restaurants to check out before you make your way out onto the Frederiksted Pier, the ideal place to watch the sun set after your busy day of exploring.
On August 16Andrea Milam answered the question:Both of the St. Martin’s capitals (Marigot on the French side and Philipsburg on the Dutch side) offer plenty of great duty-free shopping. In Marigot, you can shop upscale boutiques — including Cartier, Lacoste and Longchamp — but thanks to its ease of use, recent renovation and wide variety of shops, we vote Philipsburg as the best place to go shopping on the island. The city’s boardwalk and streets feel like a scene from a postcard, and palm tree-lined sidewalks keep shoppers cool in the shade. You can pick up typical souvenirs here — everything from T-shirts to the island’s famous guavaberry rum — as well top-notch clothing and jewelry.
On August 16Andrea Milam answered the question:While St. Martin is generally thought of as a playground for adults thanks to its nightlife, casinos and nude beaches, there’s still plenty of fun to be had for the whole family. Here are the top five ways to keep kids entertained on St. Martin:
1. Visit a zoo with Caribbean flair. You won’t find elephants and zebras at the St. Maarten Zoo. Instead, check out the local animals like the red-footed tortoise and the green iguana. Your kids will love the zoo’s monkeys, and children can even feed the parrots, who are surprisingly gentle as they eat from your hand. The zoo also boasts a large playground.
2. Enjoy ice cream and a ride. The Carousel Gelateria combines two childhood favorites: ice cream and carousels. Located on St. Martin’s Simpson Bay, the shop features pretty landscaping and a working merry-go-round.
3. Check out The Butterfly Farm. This lush tropical space is home to hundreds of exotic butterflies from across the globe. Tour guides are both funny and informative, and visitors are given a sweet juice to put on their fingers, attracting thirsty butterflies for unforgettable close encounters.
4. Horseback ride. Lucky Stables at Seaside Nature Park on St. Martin’s Dutch side offers lessons for first-time riders, and tours culminate in a swim in the sea with your horse. The scenic overlooks make for an incredible family bonding experience.
5. Log some beach time. St. Martin offers plenty of shoreline for building sandcastles, swimming and body surfing. Try Maho Bay, where in addition to the usual beach fun, your little ones can watch airplanes soar mere feet above their heads as the planes come in for landing at the Princess Juliana International Airport just across the street. For a quieter experience, try Le Galion Beach, where a fringing reef makes for calm waters and excellent snorkeling.
On August 16Andrea Milam answered the question:While most visitors come to St. Martin for the beaches, they will be pleased to discover that there’s more to do here than hit the shores. Here are five things you simply can’t miss while you’re on the island.
1. Visit Maho Bay. Located on the Dutch side’s western shore, this beach offers the island’s most unique sunbathing — aircraft landing at nearby Princess Juliana International Airport skim close to Maho Beach. The day’s flight schedule is even posted at a Maho Beach bar so you can be prepared for what is undoubtedly a hair-raising beach experience
2. Swim at Orient Bay. The French are hardly shy when it comes to clothing-free sunbathing, and topless beaches dot the entire northern half of St. Martin. To shed every last bit of clothing, head to Orient Bay, where half of the beach is dedicated to birthday suit-wearing bathers. Here, you’ll find people of all ages, shapes and sizes lounging, walking down the beach, swimming, and engaging in all the usual beach activities — they just happen to be naked.
3. Hit the casino. The Dutch side of the island is chock full of casinos, and gamblers will find plenty of Las Vegas-style venues to try their luck. Players can find the usual games, including slot machines, roulette tables, black jack, poker, craps and more.
4. Dine in style. St. Martin bears the unofficial title of the “Gastronomic Capital of the Caribbean,” in a nod to the classic French cuisine served in the northern capital city of Marigot. Charming sidewalk cafes serve fresh food that arrives daily from France. You’ll also find a wide range of restaurants at Marina Port La Royale, where people-watching is a highlight of every meal.
5. Sail or dive. The aquamarine waters are a pleasure to explore by boat or by scuba. Hop on one of many day sails that combine sightseeing with rum punch, or rent snorkeling gear available on most of St. Martin’s beaches. The best water attractions are a little deeper, however — the island boasts scores of dive sites, including the HMS Proselyte, a British warship that wrecked in 1801.
On August 16Andrea Milam answered the question:St. Martin is small enough that the island’s main points of interest can easily be explored in a day, and the best way to do so is to hire a taxi driver to show you the sights. Starting in Philipsburg, you’ll pass the Great Salt Pond, a great brackish pond that’s played an important role in the island’s history. From there, you’ll see Fort Amsterdam. Built in 1631, it was the first Dutch military outpost in the Caribbean. Then, ask your driver to stop at Harold Jack’s lookout point for an impressive view of several beautiful bays. At this point, a stop at Simpson Bay is in order, and if you’re lucky, your visit to this beach might just coincide with a plane landing at the Princess Juliana International Airport, which is right across the street.
When you’re finished at the beach, make a run for the border — the French-Dutch border. St. Martin is one of the world’s smallest islands that’s home to two different countries, France and the Netherlands. No passport is required as you enter the French side of the island in the blink of an eye. Make a stop in the French capital of Marigot for some shopping, and grab a bite to eat at one of the city’s picturesque sidewalk cafés. On your way to the island’s famed nude beach, Orient Bay, ask your driver to pass through Grande Case, which is both a small fishing village and home to the island’s — and perhaps the region’s — best restaurants. At Orient, half of which welcomes nude sunbathers, don’t be afraid to strip down and frolic in the waves. Grab a beach chair and a sweet tropical drink, because this is the perfect place to end your island tour.
On August 16Andrea Milam answered the question:St. Martin is an island of fine dining and European-style accommodations, so it’s only natural that you’d find a lively, cosmopolitan nightlife scene here. On the Dutch side, Simpson Bay is your best bet for a fun night out, but be ready to stay up past your bedtime — the party typically begins around 10 p.m. and clubs stay open until the wee hours of the morning. Bliss Nightclub, located next to Maho Beach, is a popular outdoor club and lounge where house music reigns and international DJs sometimes make appearances.
The party also starts late on the French side, where the Marina Royale in Marigot is the place to see and be seen. Catch live local music and see street performers here, then check out one of the area’s chic nightclubs.
On August 16Andrea Milam answered the question:From traditional French food to West Indian fare to the drink that’s readily associated with St. Martin, here are the top five food experiences you must try during your time on island:
1. L’Escargot. You might not expect to find a delicious French delicacy in a colorful Creole cottage on a Dutch Caribbean island, which is one of the many reasons that L’Escargot is a pleasant surprise. There’s an entire menu dedicated to the cooked snails for which the restaurant is named. Try escargot with wild mushrooms, white wine and shallots, or perhaps with cherry tomatoes with garlic butter. Can’t make up your mind? Order an escargot sampler.
2. Lolos. Sampling the local food when you’re traveling in the Caribbean is a must, and the best place to do this on St. Martin is in Grand Case, where you’ll find numerous “lolos” — simple shacks that serve grilled food in an informal atmosphere. Creole shrimp and barbecue ribs are just some of the delicious dishes you’ll find scrawled on the lolos’ sidewalk chalkboard menus.
3. Guavaberry rum. In the Caribbean, spirits flow freely with every meal. And on St. Martin, guavaberry is the liqueur of choice. Made with the fruit of the same name, guavaberry is rum steeped with cane sugar and the ripe berries, picked by hand right on St. Martin. It’s the national liqueur of the island, and the best place to sample this sweet treat is at the Guavaberry Emporium in Philipsburg.
4. Callaloo. This dish — a soup of stewed greens generally made from the callaloo plant, similar to spinach — is found throughout the Caribbean. It often includes seafood or pork and is sometimes spiced up with a bit of heat. It’s a must-try when you’re in St. Martin and can be found at various local food vendors.
5. Karakter. Located on beautiful Simpson Bay beach, this beach bar and restaurant is the place to go when you’re feeling weighed down by all the delicious French meals you’ve been enjoying. The focus is on healthy dishes — the restaurant offers the best smoothies, salads, and tapas (like a variety of nuts and cassava chips with chili sauce).
On August 16Andrea Milam answered the question:It just wouldn’t be right to leave St. Martin without guavaberry rum in your luggage. This rum-based liqueur, made with ripe hand-picked guavaberries and cane sugar, is a well-known product of the island. It is made right in Philipsburg at the famous Guavaberry Emporium, along with other flavored liqueurs and hot sauces. If alcohol isn’t your thing, head to the island’s French capital of Marigot where you’ll find the chicest French fashions on this side of the Atlantic. Charming old Creole houses are home to designer boutiques, from locally owned shops to big names such as Longchamp and Hugo Boss.
On August 16Andrea Milam answered the question:Thirty-six stunning stretches of sand fringe St. Martin’s coast, and there’s something special about each beach. On the dual-nation island’s Dutch side, experience a thrill at Maho Bay, where planes coming in for a landing at the Princess Juliana International Airport right across the street fly close enough that you could almost reach up and touch them. For a fun beach-going experience without the noise pollution, try Mullet Bay, which offers a little bit of everything: great snorkeling, surfing, snack bars and shade.
Nudity is widely accepted at beaches on the island’s French side, so head north if you’re looking to get rid of your tan lines. Perhaps the most well-known is Orient Bay, a long, popular stretch of white sand that’s home to clothing-optional resort Club Orient. The beach features snack bars, restaurants, water sports and vendors galore. And the aptly named Long Bay is indeed the island’s longest stretch of sand. You won’t find any vendors, beach bars or restaurants on this beach — just you, your traveling companion, and perhaps a few other beach-goers. It’s the ideal spot for a quiet, romantic day at the beach.
Andrea Milam is a Forbes Travel Guide correspondent who lives in St. John and covers the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Kitts, Nevis and St. Martin for Startle. After a surviving a childhood filled with brutal Ohio winters, Milam moved south and never looked back. A graduate of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Milam traveled extensively to Barbados and Trinidad and was convinced the Caribbean was where she needed to be. In 2005, Milam headed for St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands and has lived there since, working as a newspaper reporter and a freelance travel writer.