South African crew member Sheldon Sunkel sails the globe on board Radiance of the Seas, where he works at the collection of upscale shops. Sharing his adventures on Instagram at @fiveb5, Sheldon has traveled to St. Maarten on different ships since 2004, and knows this “quaint yet vibrant” island well.
Here’s his take on St. Maarten’s island charm, why you should travel to this Caribbean beauty, and what to do once you’re there:
Two Islands In One
Where else can you visit two islands in one stop? “Sint Maarten” actually refers to the southern, Dutch part of the island where our ships dock at the capital of Philipsburg; “Saint Martin” to the north is actually a French territory. As Sheldon explains, “the dual nationality of the island gives it two completely different feelings.”
Since they are so close—less than seven miles separate the two capitals, Philipsburg and Marigot—there are plenty of chances to dive into both cultures. Royal Caribbean’s Ultimate Island Tour, for example, takes you to Marigot’s shops, small streets, cafés and to the historic Fort St. Louis, then it’s off to the Dutch side to see the Great Salt Pond in the center of the city.
With the mix of cultures, it’s no surprise you can find delicious food everywhere. In Philipsburg, Sheldon highly recommends ducking down a breezy side street to “Au Petit Café” for the freshest, authentic baguette sandwiches on the island. If you want to dive deeper into the flavors of this island, our food tour can take you through the Dutch, French and Creole cuisines found here, with stops at three local favorites.
Beaches And Beyond
Another highlight you can find on both sides of the island: incredible aquatic adventures. Each boasts beautiful beaches, though the most famous is Maho Beach, where you can see airplanes flying just 60 feet above you as you take in the crystal waters of Burgeaux Bay and enjoy a drink from the nearby beachside bars.
On the French side, you can catch an open-air ferry to Pine Island (or Îlet Pinel), where Sheldon says, “the water is crystalline clear with superb reefs.” All the waters surrounding Pine Island’s powdery, white beaches are within a protected marine park, so you can snorkel and discover unspoiled coral reefs and their many colorful inhabitants including Hawksbill turtles.
For those hoping to see more of the island by boat, you’re in luck—that is if you’re up for some competition. Thrill seekers can board a 12-meter racing yacht—possibly an America’s Cup winner—and roll up their sleeves to help their captain race in a mini regatta, just like Royal Caribbean Adventurist Shay Mitchell did when visiting:
An Animal Lover’s Dream
Another one of Sheldon’s favorite parts of the island is the ample wildlife. The butterfly farm is a must-see to discover hundreds of exotic species. Sheldon and his squad have had these colorful creatures land right on them at the farm, where you can also learn about their fascinating metamorphosis.
There’s flora and fauna to see all across the island, so if you prefer to stumble upon the “locals,” Sheldon recommends simply walking around—with a good camera—to see other wildlife, like iguanas soaking up the island sun.
St. Maarten is actually one of the best destinations to see wildlife, whether that means traveling along the ocean floor to see tropical fish, boarding a boat to see dolphins, or watching the seagulls dive into the waves for meals.
Ready to book your own trip to St. Maarten? Head here to plan your adventure to the Caribbean to visit this incredible island.