Things to Do Ashore in St. Maarten

Popular Shore Excursion Options from St. Maarten

Great Bay Beach, Philipsburg, St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles, West Indies, Caribbean, Central America
••• Richard Cummins / robertharding/ Getty Images

The island of St. Maarten and St. Martin is the smallest territory in the world shared by two sovereign states. The island is only 37 square miles, but is shared by the Dutch and the French. The Dutch side is known as St. Maarten, and the French side is St. Martin. Once you are on the island, you can move between the two nations very easily. Large cruise ships usually dock at Philipsburg in St. Maarten, whereas smaller ships sometimes visit Marigot, the capital of the St. Martin. The island is well known for its shopping, gambling and beautiful beaches, so those who choose not to do a shore excursion should be able to find lots to do.

Many cruise shore excursions involve water activities, history, or island tours. Here are a few you might find interesting. I loved the "America's Cup" yacht racing excursion, but have also done island tours that covered both countries on this small island

St. Maarten Archaeological Expedition

A treat for history lovers. This tour traces the history of the island from the arrival of the Arawak Indians from South America over 2500 years ago by visiting an archaeological site near Hope Estate. The tour then explores other Arawak sites dating back over 1500 years ago. Finally, you will have time to take a self-guided tour of the Arawak Museum. If ancient cultures fascinate you, then you might find this trip fascinating.

St. Maarten/St. Martin Island Tour

A bus takes participants on a driving tour from Philipsburg around the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin, stopping for photos along the way. The tour includes about an hour or so free time in Marigot, the capital of the French part of the island. This is a good tour for those who haven't visited St. Maarten/St. Martin before and want to experience both cultures. It also provides the chance to do some great shopping in Marigot.

See and Sea Island Tour

This tour focuses on the French side of St. Martin. A bus transports the passengers to the second largest town on the eastern side of the island, Grand Case. A semi-submarine then takes the group on a 45-minute narrated tour of the coral reefs near this unspoiled fishing village. This semi-submarine only goes down to 5 feet underwater, but you will have a good view of a diver feeding the fish while you sit in air conditioned comfort. Passengers will continue via bus to the French capital of Marigot, where you will have time to explore the shops, markets, and sidewalk cafes.

You will also have an opportunity to soak up the French ambiance.

Golden Eagle Catamaran and Snorkeling.

A catamaran takes up to 86 passengers to Tintamarre, an island near Sint Maarten. The 76-foot Golden Eagle is one of the biggest catamarans in the Caribbean, with a wing mast of 80 feet. You get the thrill of sailing while munching on home-baked pastries and Champagne. The boat beaches on a beautiful sandy beach, and passengers can snorkel, swim or explore nearby caverns. The Golden Eagle unfurls her spinnaker on the downwind sail, and you can enjoy snacks, music and an open bar on the way back to the ship.

My brother and his wife did this excursion while on a cruise that included St. Maarten as a port of call. They thoroughly enjoyed the sailing and the snorkeling. My brother said they snorkeled near a nude beach, so if you're easily offended, you should skip this one. (When he told me that some of the nude bathers were also snorkeling, I got this flash picture through my head of a nude swimmer in a mask, snorkel and fins ONLY!)

Discover SCUBA.

A good way to learn to SCUBA. No experience necessary. In a couple of hours, you will be breathing underwater! Resort course includes instruction and a shallow dive in a sheltered cove.

Certified SCUBA (Two Tank).

If you bring your dive certification on the cruise, you can join a group for a double tank dive to explore coral reefs and ship wrecks in 35-85 feet of water.

"America's Cup" Regatta.

This excursion was a thrill we thoroughly enjoyed, as did the other 16 cruisers who did this sailing regatta with us. The tour divides into two groups, with some "sailors" on the s/v Stars and Stripes, and the others on the s/v True North. Both of these are multi-million dollar sailboats built to sail in the America's Cup when it was in Australia in 1987. The two sailboats raced a shortened America's Cup course with an experienced crew in charge. The nine of us on our boat ALL worked. I was a primary grinder and Ronnie a main grinder.

I told the crew that I understood bumping and grinding, but my job on the sailboat had nothing to do with that! Needless to say, neither I nor anyone on our sailboat was disappointed.