Hurricane Irma, the strongest storm on record to exist in the open Atlantic region, struck Sint Maarten (Saint Martin) and the surrounded islands at contingency strengt back in 2017. Fortunately, the island is now already as good as recovered and ready for visitors!
We were lucky enough to visit this happy island and to join the locals on their special celebration: the 50th edition of the Sint Maarten Carnival!
The story of Hurricane Irma
Before we dive into the current state of Sint Maarten, let’s reflect on the horrible situation back in 2017. The island Sint Maarten and others got struck by Irma, the hurricane which passed stage 3 to a stage 5 in less than half an hour (It usually it takes a day or two for a hurricane to get from one stage to another). Even though this came as a surprise, the population did as much as they could to prepare for the worst. Unfortunately, evacuation wasn’t even an option, because there was not enough time.. People lost their lives, homes and businesses.
Recovery in progress
The locals in Sint Maarten are very open to talk about their experiences. During the hurricane, one of the residents had to hold on tight to the front door for almost two hours as the storm passed at its highest speed. Irma itself took about 8 hours to pass. The storm passed the island, but stayed in the minds and hearts of the population. It’s a traumatic experience, but they manage to stay strong and positive. Now, two years later, the island is already 80 percent recovered. Ready for visitors to have an amazing time! Especially during the great carnival…
80 percent of the hotels on the Dutch side of Sint Maarten have re-opened
Carnival in Sint Maarten, a must do!
This year, the Carnival of Sint Maarten celebrates 50 years of carnival and this unique experience is something you should add to your bucketlist. Every year during the last weeks of April and the first weeks of May, the whole island celebrates daily (!) at the Festival Village. Yes, residents are real die-hards. Every night there’s another event with another theme. And if that isn’t enough, they all gather on Kingsday (27th of April) around 03:30 at the roads next to the Village for the J’Ouvert Jump Up. Basically, a party in a parade until the sun rises and everybody is covered in colour powder, beer, glitters, water and syrups. It’s a special tradition which everybody can join, also visitors!
Tip: put on some old clothes and shoes and leave your belongings at home, it’s fierce.
The Festival Village (the centre of everything Carnival related), isn’t only the place to party, various stands also offer the best festival-food you’ve ever had. From Sint Maarten’s own barbecue chicken/ribs, johnny cakes, conch and dumplings and more, to delicacies from Suriname, Trinidad, Dominica, India and Curacao, if you want it, the Village has it. Personally, I had the best meal during my trip in Sint Maarten at the Village at ‘Team No Sleep’. I got conch and shrimps in a creamy garlic sauce with rice and salad. So good!
To end the Carnival in style, we watched the Grande Parade. Beautiful costumes, happy music, lots of feathers, glitters and drinks. The parade starts at the afternoon, we’ve watched it at the Holland House Beach Hotel in Philipsburg, a perfect spot! It took about 4 hours for everyone to pass, the time flew by. The local people are so sociable and also very proud of their Grande Parade, it’s lovely to encounter. If you’ve missed it, don’t be sad, the next day they’ll walk the whole parade again!
But there is more
Even without the carnival, Sint Maarten offers you plenty other activities to enjoy your stay. Get your body moving at Soggy Dollar Bar with their special Tuesday Latin Night at the Dutch side, or dance around in the water at the Poolparty of Loterie Farm every end of the month at the French side. Looking for more chilly vibes? Le Temps Des Cerises is the place to be! Order some cocktails, watch the sunset and enjoy good quality food.
If you stay at Divi Resorts like we did, you won’t have to go far for the beach. The sea is right in front of your room! Even the locals visit the resort to have a nice beach day. The water is amazing, not too cold and crystal clear. Great for watersports, snorkeling and swimming! More of a pool-person? Make sure to check out the infinity pool…
Good to know: you’ll be able to use your European phone data at the French side, but not on the Dutch side.
While visiting Sint Maarten, make sure you try the Guava Berry Pina Colada with their locally brewed rum. It’s delicious! Also don’t miss out on the fishy dish ‘Mahi Mahi’, again a local specialty. At Sandy’s in Marigot they’ll serve you well. As much as there is to do at Sint Maarten, this destination at the Caribbean gives you the perfect opportunity to check out some of the surrounding islands as well.
Island hopping: Visiting Saba
If you’re a thrill seeker, you don’t want to miss your flight to Saba. Even though a flight is a bit more expensive than going by boat, the adrenaline will make up for it. The landing strip at Saba is considered one of the ten most dangerous landing strips of the world. It’s so short, that not every pilot is allowed to land. Winair has daily flights from and to St Maarten.
www.fly-winair.sx. Besides the thrilling travel, Saba combines the charm of small-town life with the warming smiles of the Caribbean.
Fun fact about Saba: every house requires a red roof. Since the island is so small, this was how, in the earlier days, pilots flying over the island could see its inhabited.
At Saba you’re able to hike the highest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands: 2855 feet high, 1064 steps to make and around 90 minutes one way. Hiking the Mt. Scenery is a real adventure, almost like you’re in a suspense movie. Once you reach the clouds, the scenery changes into a rainforest. Make sure you stay hydrated! At the end of your hike, Queens Gardens is the place to relax and enjoy one of the best gin & tonics you’ve ever had. It’s the only place of the island where you’ll find a spa and you can even stay here for the night with a private jacuzzi. If you don’t want to leave anymore, we totally understand.
Island Hopping: Visiting Sint Eustatius
Most people visit Sint Eustatius to dive (look out for the sharks), but you can also hike here, even in the crater of the volcano! If you want to hike the crater, make sure to put on some of the best hike shoes you have. It can be slippery here. There’s a good chance that you’ll meet some protected species such as land crabs of hermit crabs on any trail you choose. Be careful, you can hike the outer slope your own, but they recommend to hike the inner slope a buddy (doesn’t have to be a tour guide).
In the end, I look back on a special time at the sunny side of Holland and France. The island is as happy, tropical and warm as I always thought it would be, even after the hurricane. If Irma can’t break Sint Maarten, nothing can!