Seven years ago Jono & I came to Saint Martin/Sint Maarten on our honeymoon. Unfortunately, we only had one day here as we were on a cruise (not so unfortunate) of the Caribbean Islands. Looking at the multitude of shore excursions we could do, such as snorkeling, island hopping, visiting the French and Dutch sides, zip lining, hiking, standing on Maho Beach as an areoplane lands over top of you, along with 37 beaches to explore we knew that we would need to come back at some stage to do it all. We settled on a day at the beach at Baie Oriental on the French side, and this solidified the desire to return. So here we are seven years and three children later, staying in a quintessential colourful, Caribbean HomeAway apartment right in Orient Bay Village for a month. Our memories of Orient Bay were those of sun lounges and frozen cocktails, at the numerous beach bars situated right on the sand dotted the whole way down the 1 kilometre strip of the most stunning beach. We knew that this time would be different though, with a 5 year old, 3 year old & 6 month old baby in tow.
To our surprise we were still able to lounge around and have the odd frozen cocktail, as although at first glance Orient Bay looks like an adult playground, it turns out that a number of the bars have actual children's playgrounds.
Here are our favourites to keep both the parents and children happy.
Here you will find a play area suitable for all ages, with ropes to climb, tunnels, slides and a baby swing.
The playground here is set back behind the restaurant and bar area, although there is still seating around it.
Kontiki is on the road to reopening soon....
Kakao Beach offers a slightly smaller playground, yet with a climbing wall up to a slide and a couple of swings. There are also some great trees to climb!
This would have to be our favourite. Unlike some of the others, the playground is set right by the outdoor seating area, near the oceanfront, offering great views of the turquoise waters. There is no hard dirt ground, only soft white sand. There are multiple slides, swings and climbing structures. We enjoyed happy hour exchanging French and English language tips with local parents, while the kids played happily with their local children.
Bikini Beach is set to reopen mid-June 2018
OTHER HIDDEN TREASURES
Walking far along the less populated northern end of the beach, we discovered a playground built among the trees. It had a cool netted plank tunnel tube that led you down three levels. This was a real gem, as although it looked old and abandoned, perhaps from a beach shack bar that is no longer there, it was so different, raw and really got the imagination flowing, it was like being on the movie set of Swiss Family Robinson.
What's Open in Orient Bay?
- Shamrock Residence
- Alamada Resort - Restaurant open, with Friday-Sunday Pool Parties! Hotel to open in November 2018
- Palm Court re-opening in July 2018
- Esmeralda Resort re-opening in November 2018
- La Plantation Hotel soft opening April 2018, restaurant open
- La Playa re-opening December 10th 2018
- The first beach bar to re-open was Perch Bar & Grill at Club Orient
UPDATE: Sadly since I originally wrote this post, St Martin has been devastated by Hurricane Irma. Who, with all her fury on September 6 2017 ripped through this beautiful Caribbean island destroying almost everything in it's path. Orient Bay and all the aforementioned beach bars, and playgrounds are no more. I feel though that it is important that I still publish this article, though no longer fully relevant. I hope that by doing so, I still spike your interest in this idyllic island paradise and hope that when Orient Bay is rebuilt, it will be better than ever. I believe that as all these beach bars were previously so child friendly, that they will rebuild with the same spirit and vibe. I just truly hope that this devastation does not offer the opportunity for the big wigs of the corporate world, to come in and change the relaxed, laid back, and most importantly authentic feel. I hope that the playgrounds are still basic but welcoming. I hope you can still grab a coconut on the beach for $5 from the man with dreads carting them around in his wheel barrow. But most of all, I hope that tourism continues, in order to support St Martin and Orient Bay's rebuild at all. To support the friendly locals livelihood, the man that made the most delicious baguettes at the local deli, the lady who loved giving our children ice-creams in the afternoon, as her children were at preschool while she worked. The gorgeous family that owned the cafe, that invited us in for Mothers Day cocktails and nibbles, while they all sang and danced. And the staff at the local mini-market, who patiently let me practice my French with them!
So from here, rather than mention all the activities we did, that may no longer be in operation, I'd like to take you on a journey around a number of St Martin/Sint Maarten's 37 beaches. It's here that regardless of what Irma did to the buildings on the island, that we can still find beauty, serenity and untouched paradise. Here are our favourites for babies, pre-schoolers and kids:
Galion is a flat calm bay, also known as Baby Beach, with shallow water for at least 100 metres. Small fish are easy to spot on the shoreline. There are two pontoons, one located just off the shore, where even the youngest toddlers can happily jump into your arms. The other is out in the deep, and has a raised platform for the more thrill-seeking older kids. With no waves whatsoever our six month old who was not yet sitting up by herself, could happily be supported in a wee hole in the sand at the shoreline and enjoy splashing in the warm water. Galion is popular with the locals and you will find them under the palm trees dotted along the beach offering shade. Rather than paying for the beach chairs and umbrellas each time we visited, you could also find us and our sleeping baby under the palms!
The days we swam at Grand Case we had only a gentle rolling tide, with the tiniest of breakers on the shore. The kids could easily play in the shallows unassisted as there was no risk of a big breaker knocking them over, or an undertow dragging them out. The warm turquoise water of the two kilometre long beach, gently rocked us all back and forth as we floated together watching the boats in the distance. We planned a visit to Grand Case on the day of the Fete de la Mer festival. A community run event, with the aim of providing as many water based activities to locals, visitors and families at an extremely low cost. With activities such as snorkeling tours, paddle-boarding, jet-skiing, and fun beach based games for the young, starting at as little as one dollar or euro! Due to the fact that St Martins natural playground was not destroyed by Irma, Fete de la Mer will still go ahead this year on May 26th & 27th. Grand Case also has a jetty where you can jump off from one side, and board a semi-submarine on the other. It was on this submarine that we discovered that mermaids live in St Martin!
- Bleu Emeraude Hotel
- Hever Hotel
- Grand Case Beach Club - opening October 1st 2018
Bookend by cliffs Friars Bay is small quieter beach, which made it one of our favourites. As you can easily see each end of the beach, it sets the challenge to swim the length of the bay. The water is calm, and we did this easily with the kids taking turns on our back. Friars Bay is also the start of the track across to the even more secluded Happy Bay Beach. The hike is only about 10 minutes, even with a 3 year old, and is great for spotting Iguanas!
Kali's Beach bar at Friars Bay has reopened!
HAPPY BAY BEACH
Happy Bay Beach is accessible via a 10 minute hike from Friars Bay. The kids found the hike easy, and were distracted from tired legs, by all the Iguanas we spotted hiding in the bushes along the track. Happy Bay Beach, is off the beaten path, and is so secluded and untouched that there are not even any beach bars or chair and umbrella vendors. The ocean itself has a quick deep drop, with a big swell, so only Jono and Bodie jumped in for a quick refreshing dip, while Summer slept in the shade of a palm tree, and Lola and I built sandcastles.
Baie Rouge or Red Bay, is one of the last beaches to the North West on the French side of the island. The beach itself is quite a long stretch of slightly pinkish sand, hence it's name, with beautiful beach villas atop the cliffs at one end, and two beach bars right next to each other at the other end. Like Happy Bay, this beach also has a sudden deep drop, however it was calm enough for the kids to safely float around holding on to their noodles, while we could relax on the beach chairs right on the water's edge.
Anse Marcel Beach is quite unlike the other St Martin Beaches. Due to the deep green lush bush on the hills at either end of the beach, the water appeared to be more of an emerald colour than the turquoise that is synonymous with the Caribbean Sea. There were no waves, the water was still and calm, and felt more like swimming in a bay than the ocean. We hung out floating in the deep, having family chats for ages!
- Anse Marcel Beach Resort will be re-opening December 15th 2018
Pinel Island is a small island situated just across the water from Orient Beach. You can easily get across to it by a calm five minute ferry ride from Cul de Sac, for just $12US per person. There are four small boats that are run by the same four men, since Pinel Island was opened to the public. They run back and forth all day, every half hour or so from 9.30am-5pm. Or for the more adventurous, or those of you with older kids, you can hire a kayak or stand-up paddleboard and paddle across. Caribbean Paddling now even have a super sized paddleboard holding up to eight people, which we will definitely try out next time we visit! We had the best day on this idyllic island. We set ourselves up on the famous yellow sun lounges under an umbrella at the recently re-opened Yellow Beach. From there we could sit back and relax and watch Lola swim in the shallow wave-free water, while Summer napped under the sun umbrella, and Bodie spent hours with his new buddies....the resident Iguana's. Just when we thought our day couldn't get any better, an Ice-cream boat the pulled up. This was a welcome reward after we had done an easy hike up and over the island.
PHILLIPSBURG - GREAT BAY
Phillipsburg is the capital town on Sint Maarten, the dutch side of the island. It is where the cruise ships dock. In the Summer there can be as many as seven ships in port at one time, making it a vibrant shopping, dining and water sports hub. We struck it lucky in early June, and only had two in, the day we visited. Being a city beach, there are numerous vendors all wanting to offer you the best price for their beach chairs and umbrella's. All wanting to out do the other with the best drink specials, or most rum punch included. The further down towards the cruise terminal the cheaper, we found. Although the beach area is best, more centrally. For such a busy beach, we still found it clean, with clear water and relaxing, even with the cruise ships a few hundred meters away, and jet ski enthusiasts speeding past. Taking a stroll along the promenade was great, with local markets at one and , and high end resorts at the other.
- Alicia's Inn
- Holland House Beach Hotel
- Horizon View Beach Hotel
Maho Beach otherwise known as Airport Beach is situated right at the end of the runway at Saint Martin's Princess Julianna International Airport. The beach itself isn't really any thing to write home about, however this beach is famous for huge jet aircraft coming it to land right over top of you. From here you can also stand behind a jet as it powers to take off. There are signs advising you against standing up against the fence as this happens, as the blast is very powerful, and numerous over-zealous tourists have been seriously injured as they are forcefully blown back across the road on to the sand, even getting blown into the ocean. With caution, Bodie and Jono stood well away from the fence, on the sand, as a very small aircraft departed. Even then they were blasted with sand, and described it as awful, and something they did not feel the need to have experienced! Standing under, as an aircraft lands though is a lot safer and an exhilarating experience. If you choose to visit Maho Beach, please be careful, take the advice of the warning signs, and DO NOT go up to the fence. Sitting just off to the side at either end of the beach is still an experience that you can't get in many other places in the world. Or even better, stay at Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, and watch from your balcony like we did. Or sit back and enjoy the views from the resorts restaurant and bar. Note: Sonesta Maho Beach Resort was badly damaged in the hurricane, for up to date re-opening details click here.
Although this is not a beach, Loterie Farm is worth mentioning, as just like the Saint Martin's beautiful beaches, Loterie Farm, is a place of stunning nature, and unspoiled wilderness. Loterie Farm is a private nature reserve and the only tropical forest on St Martin. Although the restaurants were damaged by Irma, the private pool area is re-opened. Here you can relax in luxury and hire a private Cabana starting from $150 euros per day for up to 10 guests, including a bottle of wine. Daybed hire starts at 15 euros per person per day, or you can simply spend a minimum of 10 euros per person in the newly opened upstairs/downstairs dining area and hop in and out of the pool as you please. A perfect way to relax, recharge and refresh after a hike on one of the many trails at Loterie Farm. We chose to pay a small entry fee (five euros) and hike what seemed to be one of the easiest trails, however we think we went up the trail intended on coming back down, and also ended up a lot higher than we were advised to with the kids. They thought our kids couldn't hack it, but we knew otherwise! Bodie walked and led us the whole way. Lola mastered most of it, with her little lady legs, with the odd piggy back from Jono, and Beck proved to be superwoman, with baby Summer putting in the least amount of effort, sleeping the whole way up and down in the Baby Bjorn front pack! (Fair enough at this stage, she couldn't even sit, let alone walk!) If you like to free-roam (like us) just grab a map and head off, or if you are directionally challenged (also like us!) you can book a guided tour. It was from the top the we spotted a beautiful beach below, and when we left, drove in a straight line in the hopes of finding it. It turned out to be Friars Bay, which turned out to be one of our favourite beaches. Unfortunately during our time on Saint Martin, we didn't make it across to neighbouring island Anguilla, however from here, we could see stunning views of the whole island, across the Caribbean Sea.
St Martin's rebuild still has a long way to go, but the airports are fully operational, the cruise ships have returned. Hurricane Irma may have destroyed everything else, but the beaches are still there, the sand is whiter and softer than ever, the fun and sun are still there. It is currently like the Caribbean of 30, 40 years ago. The long, secluded white beaches of 'The friendly Island' are calling you. (And us............)