St. Martin is Back

Stronger than the Storm

By Sunsail      February 16, 2018

The Caribbean island of St. Martin was visited by Hurricane Irma in September 2017. However, the inspiring resilience shown by the people of St. Martin has proven them stronger than the storm. As we reopen our newly relocated charter base in Marigot, our very own Marty L., Sales Manager, visited St. Martin to report back on the impressive progress made in such a short time. Be sure to view suggested itinerary and travel notes. 

Day 1 - SXM and Marina Fort Louis 

Arrived in St. Martin early. As I got off the plane I realized it was a full plane and from what I could tell, most people were tourists. This was a good sign of many people coming to the island.

The airport building experienced extensive damage and is not currently being used. When de-boarding the plane, you exit through the plane doors and take stairs down to the tarmac. It's about a 200 ft. walk to the tents where they have everyone go through Customs and Baggage Claims. It took about 3 minutes for me to get through customs. Once going through customs, you immediately are standing in Baggage Claims. A cart comes by and about 5 people assisted getting the luggage off the cart. My first bag came faster than any airport I've ever been to before - the total process took about 15 minutes for everyone to get their bags.

After I got my luggage, I walked to the taxi signs. There was a line of taxi drivers standing outside, right next to the street. One had my name on it so I walked over to my taxi driver.

My driver said it would normally take about 15-20 minutes to get to the base, but suggested a stop at Carrefour Market - one of the best grocery stores on the island. This was on the Dutch side, near the airport. Carrefour Market was great. It had everything I wanted and more, with a wide variety of items and even dietary products. Everything seemed to be reasonably priced. It looked very nice on the inside. There was some construction on the outside, but I think it had more to do with the upgrades and a change in ownership.

As we drove, I saw some boats beached and some buildings destroyed. I also saw some buildings that looked brand new and there were a lot that looked normal. Not as much traffic as before, although I've found that this really depends on the time of day and the timing of the two draw bridges. One thing that I was not expecting was how green everything looked!

I arrived at the Marina at about 4:00pm, following the sign to Marina Fort Louis. We walked up the dock and found Petra, the Sunsail Customer Service Representative, sitting in the office.

The Marina itself has Wi-Fi (only accessible from the office area, not from the boat), showers (costs €2.00), and two restaurants. I took about a 2-minute walk over to the shopping mall to find that it was open and in good condition, and figured I would go back later when I had more time.

I spent that evening talking with my Skipper, Jacques Yves, and planned out our itinerary for the rest of the week.

Day 2 - Grande Case and Anse Marcel

We set out early as we anticipated a long day of stops before having to make our way back to the Marina. 

We set out at roughly 6.5 knots towards our first stop in Friar's Bay. It only took about 20 minutes. This is a nice little beach to go to as a first stop and have a swim. The beaches look great and for those that can't wait to feel the sand between their toes, this is the perfect stop. There are two beach bars, although only one is open at the moment. It welcomes you with plenty of umbrellas and beach chairs.


Grand Case, St. Martin

From there it took us about 10 minutes to get to Grand Case. This area looked to be hit pretty hard. You could see hotels and buildings missing roofs. Grand Case was known for its fabulous restaurants and beachside balconies. Unfortunately, all of the beachside balconies are now gone. The famous Calmos Café that was known for always blasting their music and being the place to be at night, is also now gone. Even the dinghy dock is missing boards. You can walk on it, but you have to be careful. There is no place to dinghy in either because the water level has risen and the beach is at too much of an incline. 

Despite all of that, Grand Case still has some amazing places to eat. The moment you reach shore, you can smell the BBQ from the famous Lolo's. They are known for their ribs and lobster. I counted six restaurants open with a mix of BBQ, French, café and even a tapas bar. Down the way a bit there was a beach bar open with plenty of lounge chairs waiting to be filled.

Next, we made our way East 20 minutes more to Anse Marcel. Anse Marcel looked to be hit as well, as there are no restaurants or bars open. The beach resort was destroyed as well. The beach looks ok, but there's just a few areas that look like they need a little cleaning. Anse Marcel does have working water and fuel station.

After a quick stop there, we made our way to Tintamarre which took about 45 minutes. I was amazed to see that it looked just as beautiful and pristine as always. Taking a walk along the beach or strolling more inland gives a great opportunity to see Tintamarre in all of its beauty. Normally a very popular place, we were one of about five boats. So, if you want to have the place virtually all to yourself, now is the time to go! The mooring balls looked to be in good condition, but it's hard to take a dinghy ashore right now because of the steepness of the beach. If you are on a mooring ball, they are placed close enough to where you can just swim ashore. Snorkeling isn't as clear right now due to the sand. But in time that will correct itself. 

From there we moved on to Orient Bay which took about 20 minutes. Unfortunately, almost all the bars and restaurants are gone. There is only one bar open at this time. The Orient Club is no longer open and won’t be for a while. Interestingly, a lot of the palm trees that survived the hurricane held the shape of the storm - they all look like the wind is blowing even if it's not. One of the nice things about Orient Bay is that the beaches look great. White sand and beaches that stretch on for what seems like eternity. There are plenty of umbrellas and lounge chairs set up just as they always were. For the adventurous type, there is a jet ski rental place open for business. 

Next, we went just across the way to Pinel Island in about 10 minutes. Pinel surprised me because from the looks of things you might have thought only a little damage was done. But come to find out that both of the restaurants were completely destroyed. Still, it's amazing to see the progress. Yellow Beach bar has its structure in place and is now working on rebuilding its famous Tiki Huts for people to relax in the shade while enjoying a cold beverage. It'll be another month until it's open and serving food and drinks. Karibuni is the other restaurant/bar. They are already open for drinks and will be serving delicious food in about two weeks. The beach is just as nice as it used to be. On this particular day, there weren't a lot of people there, but the ones that were there were families. I enjoyed listening to the sounds of kids laughing and seemingly having the time of their lives. Not too far out in the water were some snorkelers. This still continues to be a great snorkeling spot. Just above me were families taking a hike atop Pinel Island to really take in all that it had to offer.

That was pretty much the conclusion of the day's journey, as we set out for our 1 hour 45-minute trip back to the marina.

Day 3 - St. Barts

Today we got off to a bit of a later start. We left around noon and got to St. Barts in three hours. We stopped in Gustavia to have a walk around.

Gustavia seemed to be untouched. If there was any damage from the hurricane, it's been repaired already. All of the high-end shops and the great places to eat are back in action. If you loved St. Barts before, there's absolutely no reason not to come back!

It was getting late and we headed over to Anse de Colombier for the night.

 

Anse de Colombier is just as great as it's always been. Aside from a few trees that looked damaged at the top of the hill, not much had been touched here. The beach is so inviting and fun to play in. You can still take a great hike up the mountain. And if you're lucky like I was, you can even swim with the turtles! Anse de Colombier is the perfect place to go following an afternoon of shopping and eating on Gustavia, to come and relax in the beauty of this island.

Day 4 - Phillipsburg

The goal today was to spend as much time as we could on the Dutch side since we had spent most of our time on the French side so far. We started off on our 1 hour and 45-minute journey to Philipsburg in Great Bay. In Great Bay, the beaches are beautiful and lined up and down with lounge chairs and umbrellas. The main attraction for Great Bay though is the shopping, restaurants and beach bars. These stretched out for what seem like over a mile. There was some damage to the area - mainly any of the two-story buildings or higher. All of the main shops on the lower level were just fine and happy to welcome customers. This is a place where you can easily find yourself spending quite a bit of time.

From there we took a 30-minute sail over to Simpson Bay. You could see many nice resorts, although it looked like a lot were being repaired. There is a little beach area with a bar, and a place to rent jet skis to ride around. You can also take the dinghy under the bridge into the marina for more options to eat at some of the restaurants. Simpson Bay is beautiful as there is a wide beach area, although most of it is used by those that live there.



Next, we headed to Maho Beach, which only took about 15-minutes. You can't access the beach by boat or dinghy. Finding a taxi from Simpson Bay is probably the better option. This is still famous for watching the planes land over your head while you are on the beach. The beach itself looks great. The bar/restaurant looks repaired and fully ready to serve you an ice-cold beverage while you sit back, relax and watch the planes land. 

Another 5 minutes or so and we were in Mullet Pond. This place was stunning! Perfect white Sandy Beaches that you dream of. Plenty of umbrellas, too. A perfect place to have a swim and lay out at the beach.

After that it was only about 15 more minutes until we stopped in Anse Longue (Long Beach). This area had very picturesque beaches. The beaches go on for a very long time. Hence the name, Long Beach. This would be a perfect place to have lunch on board or go for a swim before heading back to the French side.

That was pretty much the conclusion of our trip. From Phillipsburg, we did a total of about 1.5 hours of sailing back to our base in Marigot.



Though the island still has a long way to go, the inspired efforts of the locals to rebuild their lives, the amount of repairs already carried out and the site of families returning for vacations and providing a welcome boost to the local economy is a great site. St. Martin is back in business, just see for yourself.

View our suggested itinerary

Travel Notes

Airport

  • Building not in use at the moment and probably not until maybe the end of this year
  • Walk off on Tarmac and go through Tents
  • No A/C but it is in the plans. Currently have many fans to keep everyone cool
  • Takes about 15 minutes to clear customs and get baggage
  • 15-20 minute cab ride to the base
  • Plan to arrive early for your departure flight. They recommend 3 hours, but it took me about an hour to get all the way through

Transfers

  • About €20 for 2 passengers. Additional charge for more passengers. Extra €10 to stop at a market along the way
  • 15 minutes to/from airport with no traffic. Because of 2 different bridges in area, always have to prepare a little bit of extra time just in case
  • When getting taxi from airport, all of the cab drivers line up right outside the airport near the street
  • All Sunsail customers will see a Sunsail sign with their name on it
  • A little bit of a walk from airport exit to where taxis have to park

Anguilla 

  • Not really affected very much. Only few bars/restaurants aren't open yet. A few hotels need some repair to the roofs
  • Sandy Key has no buildings on it anymore
  • Still a bit expensive to clear in/out. For Cats it's $140/day, Monos are $55/day *Spending the night = 2 days

Anse De Colombier 

  • Looks great! Beaches are beautiful. Still a great place to go for a hike
  • Better place to spend the night than Gustavia, due to less wave action
  • Mooring balls are in working condition

Anse Marcel 

  • Beach looks ok, needs a little bit of cleanup of damage on both ends of the beach 
  • No restaurants or bars open. Beach resort has lots of destruction. Will need to be rebuilt 
  • Does still have a working water and fuel station

Banks 

  • Many open all throughout the island with the majority in Marigot and Phillipsburg

Carrefour Market 

  • Stocked extremely well. Didn't have trouble finding anything. Even had dietary friendly items 
  • Prices were pretty similar to US pricing 
  • Inside looked great! Outside had some repairs going on, but part of it was because of upgrades from new ownership 
  • Only about 15 minutes from Airport and probably the best place for provisioning 

Ferries 

  • Still running and operational. Running daily from Marigot to Anguilla or St. Barts

Fort Louis Marina 

  • Centrally Located and guarded 24 hrs/day with nice and sturdy docks 
  • Wi-Fi is Free but only can access near the office. Cannot access from boat 
  • Has showers but need a coin to use (cost is about 2 Euro) 
  • Rockwall protects from the weather 
  • Marina offers assistance to customers to get them out of their slip and out of the Marina if they wish 
  • Has Fort Louis Yacht Club restaurant in the Marina. Another restaurant directly across the street 
  • Sunsail has a small office in the marina 
  • Briefings will be done by boat for now

Friar's Bay

  • Closest stop from the base. Good place to start or end your charter for a swim. 
  • One beach bar open currently. Another will be open soon. 

Fuel

  • Available in Marigot, Anse Marcel and Phillipsburg currently

Water Fill Ups

  • Currently available in Marigot, Anse Marcel, Phillipsburg and Gustavia

Hotels

  • Still a work in progress as there aren't many open 
  • Mercure Hotel is probably best option right now as it's open, in decent condition and only about 10 minutes from the Sunsail base (Mercure Hotels) 
  • Sonesta Resort is really the only open Resort near the airport

Grand Case

  • Entire area hit pretty hard, although still a good choice of restaurants to choose from 
  • Calmos Café is gone and many restaurants that had balconies are gone now
  • Dinghy Dock is missing boards so caution is needed (This will be repaired soon)
  • Construction has already begun and the condition will certainly improve shortly
  • About 6 restaurants open currently including the famous Lolo's BBQ 
  • Beach restaurant with lounge chairs and umbrellas off to the far right 
  • Grand Case Beach Club will be open in October
  • Tijon is a place more inland where you can make your own perfume

Gustavia

  • Looks absolutely untouched! Just as beautiful as ever and even if there was damage, it's already been repaired 
  • All of the high-end shops are up and running
  • All of the restaurants are up and running.

Ile Forche

  • Virtually untouched. Still a great place to swim on your way to St. Barts

Loterie Farm

  • Nature Reserve and Sanctuary in the middle of the island. Great place for anyone wanting to see something special on land 
  • Has restaurant and bar, as well as an Infinity Pool and Cabanas
  • Has areas for hiking and is also well known for their Zip Lining courses

Maho Beach

  • Beach looks great 
  • People still hang out at the beach to watch the planes land overhead
  • Bar/Restaurant looks to have been repaired and serving ice cold beverages

Marigot

  • West Indies Shopping Mall is open and 2 minute walk from Marina
  • About 6 restaurants currently open
  • Nice hike up to Fort Louis is an option
  • Local market is open about 3 or 4 days a week
  • Ferries still bringing in customers
  • The Marina area itself looks fine. Once you start to go a bit more inland or a bit further out from the Marina, you'll start to see some destruction

Orient Bay

  • Pretty much all of the bars and restaurants are gone. Only one bar open currently
  • Orient Club was destroyed
  • Palm trees still standing
  • What used to be a place to stop and spend time inland, has now become a nice beach stop
  • Beaches look nice. Lots of chairs and umbrellas and Jet Ski rentals available

Phillipsburg

  • Beautiful water and beaches 
  • Seems like over a mile of shops, restaurants and beach bars that are up and running
  • Some damage done but mainly to buildings w/ 2 or more stories. All lower level beach front ships were fine
  • Plenty of umbrellas and beach chairs available
  • Can get a massage in a cabana on the beach
  • Could easily spend a long time here

Pinel Island

  • Dingy Dock is working
  • Yellow beach bar was destroyed. Already being rebuilt. Structure is there and just finishing building all of its famous Tiki Huts. Probably a month away
  • Karibuni is up and serving drinks. Still doing a little construction but will be finished in 2 weeks and will be serving food then
  • Beach is just as nice as it used to be and the snorkeling is good here
  • Great place for a hike and for some great views

Simpson Bay

  • Nice resorts but not operation and being fixed up. Probably a year until most of them are open
  • Little beach area with a bar. Plenty of umbrellas and lounge chairs
  • Can rent jet skis
  • Can take a dingy inside the bridge into the marina to eat at some restaurants. There are several restaurants currently open. 
  • Plenty of beach area in all of the Bay however most of it is used by residents

Super U Market

  • 5 minute walk from the base 
  • French focused market, very good but not as equipped as Carrefour

Tintamarre

  • Still just as beautiful and pristine 
  • A bit hard to take a dinghy to shore now because of steepness of the beach due to the sand being pushed up. Have to either dinghy all the way to the right of the beach or swim
  • Mooring balls work and are close to shore, so not far of a swim
  • Snorkeling not as clear right now due to sand movement. Will clear itself out eventually
  • Excellent place to hike

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