Editor’s note: This story appears in the winter issue of Aspire magazine.
On September 6, 2017 Hurricane Irma, the most powerful hurricane that the Caribbean has ever seen, hit Sint Maarten-St. Martin, the small island that France shares with Holland. At least 11 people lost their lives and over 95% of the island was damaged.
The scale of destruction in the region was unfathomable; yet what Hurricane Irma tried to take away from this unique locale, residents have been working diligently to restore. Infrastructure and life on Sint Maarten-St. Martin has returned to normal, mostly thanks to the resilience and hard work of island residents and the tourists who have supported the rebuilding process. Its 37 beaches are pristine, its streets are clean and safe, casinos and nightlife are hopping and its people continue to greet visitors with the friendliness and hospitality they have always been known for.
Klingerman Travel would like to share with you how Sint Maarten-St. Martin, also known as “The Friendly Island”, has recovered thus far and what’s in store for the near future.
Despite the fact that the island is small in size (only 37 square miles), St. Martin is a destination that has always offered a wide array of activities and fun. More than 80 percent of the attractions across the island have re-opened for business. Visitors can explore the island by land, with activities such as rental cars, all-terrain vehicles, bicycle tours and Harley Davidson motorcycle tours — or by sea, with activities like sunset sails, jet-skiing, kayaking, sailing, kite surfing and more.
Brand new to the destination is Rain Forest Adventures, an eco-adventure park, which is home to the world’s steepest zip line, a chairlift ride to the top of one of the tallest mountains on the island, a zipline course and a number of other exciting activities.
For history and culture buffs, the island is home to numerous art galleries, museums, landmarks and historic forts. Fort St. Louis overlooks the French capital of Marigot and Fort Amsterdam overlooks the Dutch capital of Philipsburg.
Tucked away in the interior of the island on the Dutch side is a secret gem called Parotte Ville, a vibrant bird sanctuary with over 170 different type of parrots and birds that people can interact with.
The Lotterie Farm is a swanky eco sanctuary located on the French side of the island. Its setting, in an isolated valley, is stunning. The sanctuary features a rope course, multiple nature trails, a treehouse-style restaurant and a pool/cabana area that is built into the forest complete with its own waterfall. The Tijon Perfumerie in the village of Grand Case gives visitors a “make your own perfume” experience and is one of the island’s most popular attractions. Both the Lotterie Farm and Tijon re-opened last winter.
Food has always been a defining feature of the island and that has continued post Hurricane Irma with many of the established restaurants back up in operation. Since the majority of resorts on Sint Maarten-St. Martin are not all-inclusive, the island has always fostered a strong and vibrant restaurant scene. It isn’t unusual to find Chinese, Surinamese, Creole, African, French, and Spanish restaurants all on one stretch of road, reflecting the diversity of the population of the island. There also has been noticeable expansion in some areas like Simpson Beach where dozens of new establishments have opened such as Sale and Pepe, Nowhere Special and Little Bamboo. Tried and true favorites like Taloula Mangos, Rainbow, Chesterfields and Toppers have been welcoming guests since last winter.
Famous for allowing travelers to experience planes taking off and landing low overhead from nearby Sunset Beach, the island’s Princess Juliana Airport officially reopened to commercial flights on October 10, 2017. Since then, major airlines like JetBlue, American Airlines, Delta, United and Spirit have resumed their non-stop flights and reconstruction work is well under way at the airline terminal. Once all phases of reconstruction have been completed, the entire airport roof will be able to sustain hurricane wind forces of up to 185 miles per hour. Repairs are expected to conclude in 2020.
In the meantime, however, travelers can experience a rather simple process of checking in for their flights, going through customs, and more at the airport’s temporary pavilions. Operations in the two temporary facilities, one for departing passengers and another for arriving ones, are expected to conclude this month.
Thousands of tourists each week continue to enjoy the excitement of watching the flights arriving and departing from the Maho Beach area and the nearby Sunset Beach Bar which has undergone a large renovation and expansion.
Hotels & Guest Houses:
From luxurious resorts and cozy guesthouses to roomy villas, there are plenty of accommodation options that are sure to suit any budget and taste.
Currently, travellers have the option of staying at 43 different resorts, villas and guest houses on both sides of the island. Some of the larger properties like Divi Little Bay, The Atrium Beach Resort, Oyster Bay Beach Resort, and Holland House Beach Hotel have been welcoming guests for a number of months. The Grand Case Beach Hotel reopened in November; The Belmond La Samanna and The Sonesta Ocean Point reopened in early December, and The Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino & Spa will once again welcome visitors on Feb. 1, 2019.
The island also will be welcoming a new resort to its shores in 2019. Hospitality giant AMResorts announced that they will be opening an adults-only property on-island, replacing the former 350-room Riu Palace St. Martin. Slated to reopen in 2019 under the Secrets brand, the new property will undergo a $20 million renovation and will feature a variety of amenities including a rooftop pool, swim out suites, and the Unlimited Luxury all-inclusive program. The former Sonesta Great Bay Hotel in Philipsburg has been demolished to build a brand-new Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. The property will have 450 rooms, 5 restaurants, a world class spa, a beach club, and a 20,000 sq. ft. casino.
Sint Maarten-St. Martin began welcoming cruise passengers last November and next month cruise ships will be back to pre-hurricane levels. In September the island, which has always been a beloved cruise port, welcomed its one millionth passenger for the calendar year. In 2018 the island was named #2 Cruise Destination in the Cruise Critics awards for the Caribbean, Bahamas and Bermuda.
Events & Celebrations:
There’s no such thing as a dull day on The Friendly Island and even more fun is expected in 2019.
The SXM Festival will be making its grand return to the island from March 13-17, 2019. This popular underground electronic music festival will offer the global party elite a week filled with concerts and sets by global powerhouses in the house and electronic music scene.
For those looking to explore a bit of Sint Maarten’s sailing scene, the renowned Heineken Regatta will be coming back in 2019 for its 39th iteration. Showcasing world class sailing and serious fun, the regatta brings together some of the world’s most seasoned sailors for four days of thrilling and heart-racing competition. From Feb. 28 – March 3, 2019, sailors and sailing enthusiasts from around the world will assemble for world class sailing and events.
Carnival in the Caribbean is serious business and the Sint Maarten Carnival is an event that can’t be missed! From April 22 through May 6, 2019, the Carnival will feature 16 days of non-stop fun. Including barbeques, lively concerts, vibrant parades, and more, St. Maarten Carnival is a highly beloved and anticipated event that, each year, truly reflects the colorful and exciting nature inherent to the island.
Whether you’re looking for a quiet getaway or an action-packed, fun-filled vacation to this beautiful island, the travel consultants at Klingerman Travel can help you with air flights and resort accommodations. Call 860-739-0043 for more information.