There’s no place on earth like the island of St. Maarten. Thanks to a centuries-old treaty, the Caribbean island is half Dutch and half French, making it the smallest landmass that consists of two nations. Beyond that, you’ll hear many languages spoken across the island and find people – known for being incredibly laid-back, friendly and welcoming – from over 100 nationalities who call St. Maarten home. Whatever you’re in the mood for, from just about anywhere in the world, St. Maarten is cooking it up. The locals have fused all their distinct cultures to make the island a one-of-a-kind foodie paradise – so much so that it’s considered the Caribbean’s culinary capital. If you consider yourself a foodie – or are just someone who appreciates a good meal (and who doesn’t?) – then it’s time to start planning your trip to St. Maarten.
The best way to get to know St. Maarten is by sampling the vast array of local cuisine – which is often accompanied by the soft sounds of mood-setting soca or calypso or the latest hit music. You’ll find fluffy johnnycakes, flavourful rice and peas and irresistible fried plantains served alongside the likes of barbecued chicken, grilled red snapper (freshly caught, of course), creole shrimp and conch stew. And for dessert? The islanders are said to love tarts, and you’ll be able to find many different flavour options, including guava, guavaberry and coconut. If you’re travelling in November, make sure to take in the annual month-long St. Maarten Flavors event, during which some of the island’s best restaurants offer their signature dishes and cocktails at a reduced price. Or check out the Simpson Bay Strip, where you can find a number of vibrant restaurants that bring together many of the local flavours in one place.
Around the world
With over 100 different cultures represented on the island, it’s no surprise that you can find expertly made dishes from around the world with ease. In the mood for dim sum? No problem. There are a number of Chinese restaurants to be found on the island. Quick and casual bites – like Thai lok lak (pepper beef), Mexican cheese flautas (rolled and stuffed tortillas) and barbecued chicken and ribs with a side of mac and cheese – are offered in abundance. There are also plenty of fine-dining options (with many spots providing views of the Simpson Bay Lagoon, between the French and Dutch halves of the island) serving everything from Italian to French to Japanese. And, naturally, fusion cuisine is popular too, as are wholesome meals for wellness-minded foodies.
Beyond the plate
St. Maarten’s food scene is obviously a big draw, but there’s much more to do on the island. Spending time on the beach is a given, while the nightlife is lively, with clubs, beach bars and hotels all offering live entertainment. And don’t forget to try your luck at one of the casinos. During the day, explore history and culture at sights like Fort Amsterdam, a Dutch colonial stone fort built in 1631, and the St. Maarten National Heritage Museum, which traces the island’s story from prehistoric times. Like the outdoors? Take a Jeep or ATV tour of the entire island, enjoy a horseback ride at Seaside Nature Park or zipline on the Flying Dutchman or ride the Sky Explorer for 360-degree views with Rainforest Adventures.
Where to Eat & Explore in St. Maarten
Found inside a 17th-century sugar-cane boiler house, Emilio’s is a friendly fine-dining spot that serves lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Its specialty is Caribbean fusion, which translates to a menu with dishes like grilled watermelon salad, Cajun shrimp and vegetarian red coconut curry. You can even dine in its intimate (and well-stocked) wine cellar.
Ever since he moved from Quebec to St. Maarten in 1995, Chef Mario has made a name for himself on the island for his innovative and always delicious food. In 2020, he moved his beloved Mario’s Bistrot to the stunning Cupecoy Beach, where guests can now dine on standout French and fusion cuisine (think braised hoisin duck tacos and a different ceviche everyday) while they look out at the Caribbean Sea.
Rainforest Adventures Rockland Estate
A trip to Rainforest Adventures Rockland Estate is a must for outdoorsy types. Boasting unbeatable views, the destination offers the steepest zipline in the world from atop Sentry Hill while aiming to highlight conservation and the island’s natural environment.
The best way to explore every coroner of the island? On wheels, of course. There are a number of ATV and Jeep tours available that will help you roam the mountainous land while driving across the island to discover all it has to offer. Pro-tip: bring your bathing suit so you can go for a swim at any of the many beaches you’ll see.