Story originally appeared on Diamond Resorts.
Located at the northern end of the Lesser Antilles and occupying just 37 square miles, St. Maarten is uniquely dual-governed the north by the French and the south by the Dutch.
Enjoy historic landmarks, restaurants and outdoor adventures with a laid-back Caribbean vibe for an island escape like no other.
Here are six activities to start your island exploration.
1. Watch Planes Take Flight at Maho Beach
Hold on to your hat as jumbo and junior jets soar above this beach, situated adjacent to Princess Juliana International Airport. Relax on the white sand or splash in the ocean as arriving and departing jets fly overhead almost too close for comfort. When you’re craving lunch, pair your plane-watching with a delectable burger at Sunset Beach Bar , an outdoor eatery at the end of the runway. Just as curious about what’s under the sea as what’s above? Rent a snorkel set from the bar!
2. Visit a Historic Fort
Explore ruins dating back to the 1600s at Fort Amsterdam, a former military base overlooking the Dutch capital of Philipsburg. Walk or cycle up a hill near town to see its old cannons and still-standing stone walls. A visit at dawn or dusk provides stunning panoramas of the city lit by colorful sunrises and sunsets.
Birdwatchers take note: This landmark is a sanctuary for brown pelicans that nest on the cliffs west end. Bring binoculars for a closer look, without disturbing the breeding colony.
3. Fly the World’s Steepest Zip Line
If you’ve got a flair for the adventurous, get ready to launch down a mountain, dropping 1,050 feet at speeds reaching 60 mph on the Flying Dutchman an attraction billed as the world’s steepest zip line. Rainforest Adventures at Rockland Estates is an eco-adventure park with activities to keep your heart racing. Tour the Emilio Wilson Museum to learn about the property’s past, then take the Sky Explorer chairlift to the summit of Sentry Hill, one of St. Maartens highest peaks. Enjoy vistas of neighboring islands before being harnessed and soaring through the air on this thrilling ride. Add on a Schooner Ride to careen back down the hill in an inner tube.
4. Go Horseback Riding
Trot on trails overlooking St. Maarten and the Caribbean Sea with a guided horseback ride through Seaside Nature Park . This setting offers 30 unspoiled acres of undeveloped terrain and trails ready for exploration. Ride your horse up to a lookout of the island, or cool off by wading into the crystal clear Caribbean waters atop your steed. When the horses arent taking guests riding, they freely and happily roam the park, like most of Seasides animal residents. After your ride, stay to hand-feed the ducks, pet the miniature goats or spot sunbathing green iguanas.
5. Take a Kayak Tour and Snorkel in a Lagoon
Paddle the Caribbeans azure waters on a leisurely kayak tour beginning in Simpson Bay at Kim Sha Beach. A reef protects this stretch of sand, keeping the surf calm as you paddle out into the open ocean toward Pelican Rocks, where birds gather to rest. Once you reach the snorkeling destination, don flippers and a mask to explore caverns and coral that hide colorful parrotfish, angelfish and trumpetfish. Return to Kim Sha Beach for ice-cold refreshments at the Greenhouse Restaurant following your tour.
6. Taste Local Specialties
From Caribbean crab to tender conch, St. Maarten is a foodies paradise for adventurous seafood eaters. For an authentic taste of the island, order a local conch, a type of large sea snail, seasoned with herbs and gravy. Big on eating your greens? Try a cup of hearty callaloo soup, one of St. Maarten’s national dishes. The stew is made with kale, spinach and its namesake callaloo, another leafy green vegetable. If you’re craving something sweeter, Johnnycakes are the perfect treat. The local pancake is made with cornmeal and served for breakfast or as a side dish with dinner.
Before booking travel, be sure to check current COVID-19 travel restrictions and updated requirements for tourists entering St. Maarten here .