Helpful Tips for Traveling to Philipsburg, St. Maarten
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St. Maarten is an island in the Northeast Caribbean, which comprises two distinct nations, the French Republic of Saint-Martin, and Sint Maarten, a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Philipsburg is the capital of the Dutch half of the island. It is also where you will arrive if you take a cruise to St. Maartan since it is home to the only cruise port on the island.
The entire island is less than 35 square miles, so while there is plenty to do in the bustling port of Philipsburg, you won't have go far if you want to see more of the island.
When to Visit Philipsburg
Trying to decide when to plan your trip to Philipsburg? Let's dig deeper into when you can expect the best weather and when all the seasonal activities are in full swing.
Year-Round Warm Temperatures
Philipsburg has a tropical climate, which means the weather is ideal pretty much year-round.
The average annual temperature is about 80° F and temperatures never dip much below 70° F, even after the sun goes down. While there are rainy and dry seasons in St. Maarten, the variation is not as dramatic as it can be in other parts of the Caribbean, and rain, when it comes, generally passes quickly.
That said, St. Maarten is subject to the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June through November. Rain is more likely during this period, but big storms are relatively rare and generally limited to September and October.
Peak Season is December through April
The peak tourist season in Philipsburg corresponds with the island's dry season, which begins in December and runs through April. During this time period, averages temperatures hover right around 83° F, and rain is minimal.
This time of year, of course, also corresponds with the Winter holidays as well as spring break for most schools in the U.S. and Canada, making Philipsburg a popular high season destination for both college students and families with young children.
There are also several annual events, most occurring in the first few months of every year, that attract large numbers of tourists. Carnival kicks off on the second Sunday in January on the French side of the island. The parades, parties, concerts, and other celebrations continue for roughly two months, peaking on Mardi Gras and wrapping up as Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.
The next major event is the Heineken Regatta, which has been held every March for the past forty years. The event draws sailors of all skill levels from more than 35 countries. You'll find everyone from Olympic medalists to families in live-aboard boats participating in the wide range of events and races that take place over the course of the weekend.
There is also plenty fun to be had on dry land thanks to a number of concerts and parties that are held during the weekend of the regatta.
The Dutch side of the island saves the Carnival fun for after Easter, so those festivities usually begin around mid-April and continue for a couple of weeks. While Dutch Carnival is shorter, it tends to be a more raucous affair.
Locals spend months preparing elaborate costumes and floats, and the island basically comes to a standstill for 15 days as everyone fills the street to dance, sing, eat, and generally admire the pageantry of it all.
Top 3 Things to Do in Philipsburg
Here's what you don't want to miss out on when you are visiting. You can put these at the top of your list, so you make sure you see the places that are what makes Philipsburg unique.
#1 Soak up the sun at Maho Beach
Naturally, one of the best things to do during a visit to a tropical island is spend some time with your toes in the sand, and St. Maarten has more than its fair share of stunning beaches. Maho Beach is on many tourists' must-see list thanks to its unique location at the end of the runway at Princess Juliana International Airport.
While it's certainly not the place to go for seaside tranquility, even a quick visit to Maho Beach is worth it for the unique experience of having jet planes coming in for a landing just a few yards above your head. If you were hoping for a quieter afternoon by the beach, head for nearby Mullet Bay.
#2 Visit Loterie Farm
Located about a half hour from the cruise ship port in Philipsburg, Loterie Farm is a former sugar plantation that has been turned into a 135-acre nature preserve. The lush, tropical reserve is the perfect place to get a taste of the island's natural beauty.
Thanks to the wide variety of activities available at Loterie Farm, it's the ideal choice for people traveling with a group. The adventurous types can zipline through the treetops, while those who prefer more stationary activities can lounge in a cabana by the pool or grab a bite at the Hidden Forest Café. There is even an obstacle course for the kids.
#3 Explore Front Street
Shopping is always a popular activity in St. Maarten thanks to the fact that everything is tax- and duty-free. Front Street is the place to go for bargains in Philipsburg. Over a mile long, the shopping area is packed with stores selling everything from souvenir trinkets to fine jewelry and art.
Hidden among the Front Street shops is one of St. Maarten's most unexpected attractions, the Yoda Guy Movie Exhibit. More museum than gift store, this wonderfully strange place is run by Nick Maley, aka "Yoda Guy," an America ex-pat who spent his career doing creature effects for Hollywood hits, including, yes, Star Wars.
Maley now devotes his time to maintaining this unique collection of Hollywood artifacts. Alongside the permanent exhibits, you'll find movie-making memorabilia, autographed material, and vintage Star Wars comics available for sale.
More Local Landmarks and Things to Do in Philipsburg
Here's some more fun activities that Philipsburg is known for to add to your vacation itinerary:
Visit Museum Sint Maarten
If you're looking for things to do in Philipsburg on a rainy afternoon, head for Museum Sint Maarten. Located in a historic home, this small museum is easily missed but well worth a visit. It provides an overview of the history of the island and is home to a collection of interesting historical artifacts.
Get out on the water with a boat tour
No trip to the Caribbean would be complete without a little time in or on the sea. Fortunately, there are plenty of companies in Philipsburg offering a variety of boat tours as well as snorkel and dive expeditions. Whether you book a two-hour snorkel trip or opt to charter a yacht for a multi-day trip to nearby islands, you'll be glad you got some quality time with the crystal-clear Caribbean waters.
Take the ferry to Pinel Island
Located at the center of Orient Bay, Pinel Island is easily accessible by ferry and makes a great day trip from Philipsburg. Once there, you can fill your day with outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking, or you could opt to settle in at one of the beachside bars and watch the waves roll in.
Sample the national liquer
Guavaberry, a unique liquer made of rum, cane sugar, and local guavaberries, is legendary in St. Maarten, and you really shouldn't head home without at least tasting it. Guavaberry Emporium is located in a historic 18th century building on Front Street in Philipsburg and is the go-to spot for sampling the unique adult beverage.
See Multiple Destinations on these Cruise Itineraries…
It's easy to see why the Caribbean is one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world. The weather is as close to perfect as you can get, and the geography is such that you can visit several islands on a weeklong cruise.
The region's proximity to the US also makes it incredibly popular with American cruisers. If you're considering a cruise to St. Maarten, you'll want to check out the amazing itineraries offered on these cruise lines.
Thanks to their award-winning children's program, Royal Caribbean is a great choice for families. That said, you don't have to be a kid to love the floating theme park atmosphere of the ships in Royal Caribbean's fleet. The cruise line offers a variety of Caribbean itineraries ranging from five to 11 nights, so you'll have no trouble finding one that includes a stop in St. Maarten.
If you're after an upscale, modern cruise experience, you'll want to look into Celebrity Cruises' Caribbean itineraries. Celebrity's fleet boasts ships that have been completely renovated to appeal to discerning travelers who want innovative cuisine and contemporary design. With cruises to the Caribbean departing from Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, and San Juan, Puerto Rico, Celebrity has over 300 unique itineraries to offer.
Windstar's fleet of ships is unique in the cruising world. Holding no more than 350 passengers, these ships are nothing like the floating cities you probably picture when you think of a cruise ship. Perhaps the best thing about a Windstar Cruise to the Caribbean is the fact that you can access water sports like kayaking, snorkeling, and windsurfing right from the ship.
Princess Cruises sails the Caribbean year-round and is consistently recognized as one of the best cruise lines operating in the region. Princess offers Caribbean itineraries ranging from quick four-night excursions to once-in-a-lifetime 21-night adventures.
More Things to Know About Philipsburg
Thanks to the wide array of things to do in and around the city, Philipsburg is a vacation destination that appeals to a variety of travelers.
Honeymooners looking for white sand beaches and a little international charm will find much to love in Philipsburg and across the border on the French side of the island.
Those traveling with young kids will appreciate the range of fun eco-tourism activities that appeal to children. Finally, college students and other young people looking to cut loose will have no trouble finding places to raise a glass and dance the night away.
What currency will I need?
There are two official currencies on the island of St. Martin - the euro on the French side and the florin on the Dutch side. You'll find that U.S. dollars are also widely accepted across the island.
What local cuisine should I try?
Don't leave without ordering at least one plate of conch and dumplings. You'll also want to stop at one of the island's many barbecue shacks, or lolos. Order the spare ribs, and never look back.
What voltage is used in St. Maarten?
Electricity on the island is 220v, so you'll need an American to European two-prong plug adaptor.
How difficult is it to go back and forth between the French and Dutch sides of the island?
It's not difficult at all! There is no physical border between the two countries, and as long as you have a passport that is valid for at least six months, you'll have no trouble traversing the island.