Tourism in Saint Martin is making a comeback after Irma

Although there is still work to be done, this unshakeable island is ready to welcome visitors with new infrastructure, renovated resorts and unparalleled natural beauty.

St. Maarten, the half-Dutch, half-French jewel of the Leeward Islands, has been a popular vacation destination for Americans since the 1950s. 5 Irma raged on the island for eight whole hours. It was one of the most affected islands, and it is estimated that more than 90% of the buildings were damaged; a third was completely destroyed.

Most of the population is involved in tourism in one way or another. Residents, the European Union and the World Bank therefore knew that it was crucial to quickly restore infrastructure to allow evacuees to leave and supplies to enter. People on the ground have been working tirelessly to slowly but surely restore this beloved Caribbean destination.

At present, despite infrastructure work largely complete, only about half of the island’s pre-storm hotel capacity has been restored. There are so many construction works on the island that there are bottlenecks: obtaining permits, importing materials and obtaining visas for construction workers. All of this leads to frustrating delays for stations and their staff, who are eager to get back to work.

The airport got back up and running first, resuming operations just a month after the storm and reopening the main terminal in December 2018. Next came the cruise port. It is a crucial source of income; the island could not afford to reroute the lines, which is often the easiest solution for cruise lines. Cruise lines stuck with the struggling island, and soon as many as seven huge ships returned each day. Since most cruise passengers stay in the Dutch capital of Philipsburg, where the docks are located, cleanup and reconstruction have been prioritized, and the city has largely returned to its former self. And most of the best resorts on the island are open again.

Why visit now?

The destination’s popularity before the storm means it’s easy to get to, with plenty of affordable non-stop flights from Miami, New York and Charlotte. It is also very popular with Europeans, with direct flights from Paris and Amsterdam. (In 1648, France and the Netherlands agreed to divide the island; the northern part of the island is French Saint-Martin, while the southern part, Sint Maarten, is a state of the Netherlands) . The two distinct foreign flavors appeal to travelers from the Americas looking for a hint of something different – ​​without traveling far. And putting tourism money into local businesses is currently one of the best ways to support ongoing recovery efforts.

Nearly five years after Irma, the exciting activities (and relaxation) you seek in a St. Maarten vacation are, for the most part, up and running. There is still work to do, but the locals are ready to welcome you back. It is not for nothing that it is called “the island of friendship”.

Here is a recap of all the reasons to visit now.

Where to stay

Sonesta Ocean Point, an adults-only all-inclusive resort, which had just reopened – the first major international brand to do so. Entertainment Director Shep Shepherd, who helped shelter over 300 guests and staff during the Category 5 storm, hosted me during my stay. (While the finishing touches were being put on, Shepherd and his fiancée Lauren Morgan, another entertainer, had time to entertain each guest individually). He is more than ever devoted to the island and the seaside resorts after having been close to death.

Although it is not known today, Ocean Point was particularly devastated by the hurricane; the resort is located where Irma made landfall, on a promontory at the western end of the Dutch island of St. Maarten. All suites have since been redone in a cheery white and blue, each featuring a balcony or bathing patio. As well as offering four bars and two restaurants, the hotel is close to the charming French capital, Marigot, as well as gambling and nightlife in Cole Bay and shopping and sightseeing in Philipsburg.

Ocean Point’s sister property — the family-run, 420-room Sonesta Maho Beach Resort — has also started receiving guests. All rooms at this all-inclusive resort have a living room and a private balcony or terrace. The 10-acre property has six restaurants, a water park, and an activity and entertainment program for kids, adults, and teens. (24-hour babysitting is also available.) As with Ocean Point, its state-of-the-art construction is designed to withstand any future storm.

The reopening of St. Martin’s resorts is helping bring the island’s economy back to pre-Irma levels. On the Dutch side, Divi Little Bay has also reopened this tourist season, as have Simpson Bay Resorts & Marina and Oyster Bay Beach Resort. On the French side, the highly anticipated Belmond La Samanna now sits at the top of the luxury food chain. There is a large timeshare and villa rental market here which has also rebounded with builds which, as elsewhere, were done in anticipation of stronger storms. On the horizon: the Morgan (formerly the Alegria Beach Resort), which will open fall 2022 in Simpson Bay, and a new “Secrets” resort, which will take over from the Riu Palace St. Martin next year after a $20 million renovation.

Where to go

St. Maarten’s 37 beaches are all, by law, open to the public, and are as clean and pleasant as ever — though the hurricane caused some of them to grow and others to shrink. My stay was brief, so I only visited two. One was Maho Beach, which is a major tourist attraction. Here, the oncoming jets come right over your head, testing your faith that you won’t be hit by one. After the roar of the engines, I experienced the singular sensation of being blown away by the stinging sand, followed by the sweet relief of running through the water to cool off. (I canceled my afternoon microdermabrasion appointment.) Nearby Mullet Bay Beach, a wide white expanse with no planes, was much more relaxing. Lounge chairs and umbrellas can be rented by the hour or day at one of its two bar and grills.

Away from the beach, climbing Pic Paradis is a favorite activity, to be combined with a visit to the nearby nature reserve (and bar, and restaurant, and pool club) Loterie Farm. Rainforest Adventures at Rockland Estate is a new attraction that offers a historic plantation and museum tour, a ridgeline zipline, a less strenuous seated zipline called the Flying Dutchman, a chairlift ride up and down, a panoramic view, a descent in an inner tube, or all of the above. The Butterfly Farm and the Blue Mall, in Cupecoy, are unfortunately closed for an indefinite period.

You can find all these places on the site:

What to do in St Martin?

The annual St. Maarten carnival takes place at the time of Lent, as in most places, following Catholic tradition, but unlike most other places, it lasts two and a half weeks. Not to be outdone, the Dutch carnival on Sint Maarten is just as long and picks its own time slot at the end of April. (The next one will take place from April 16 to May 3, 2023.) Either way, expect to see elaborate costumes, parades, contests, concerts, food vendors, barbecues, and dance marathons in the street.

While staying in St. Maarten, you can easily take day trips to the famous beaches of Anguilla, the untouched nature of Saba and the glitz of St. Barthelemy. And let’s not forget the shopping: Saint-Martin is a duty-free port, which allows you to find good deals, especially for jewelry and high-end fashion.

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Tourism in Saint Martin is making a comeback after Irma

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