TravelQ: St. Martin with Day Trips to St. Barths and Anguilla

Editor’s note: TravelQ is a series that documents the diverse experiences of queer and trans travelers as we negotiate dressing our most authentic selves with navigating complex travel obstacles unique to our communities. We have returned with a very special piece featuring St. Martin with easy day trips to St. Barts and Anguilla.

I have a deep wanderlust and have been traveling extensively for the last 30 years. While I always want to explore new destinations, there are some that are just so special to me that I carve out time to visit them annually. Two of those places are St. Martin and Croatia.

 

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When describing the type of seaside traveler I am, I say that I am  “Sporty Spice” meets “Posh Spice.” Sporty in the sense that I love adventure and nature, away from all of the cruise ship crowds and Posh in the sense that, after a good hike and swimming at a secluded beach, I love to reward myself by experiencing aesthetic neighborhoods, restaurants, and decor, adding little touch of luxury and glam to my trips.

St. Martin offers the perfect mix of these things that I seek in a seaside destination. I have visited the island for 15 years, sometimes going twice a year. I decided to create this guide to St. Martin after receiving many requests for St. Martin recommendations from friends, fellow travelers, and Instagram followers. *Before we get into it, check out my Instagram Reel below for a video highlight of St. Martin, St. Barths, and Anguilla. If you watch the Reel on Instagram, the captions will also include some of my favorite spots.

 

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Things To Know about Visiting St. Martin

Is the Caribbean Safe for LGBTQ+ Travelers?

 

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First, I have to acknowledge that safety looks different for every person. As a queer Black American-born cis femme, my safety may look different than other queer and trans travelers who exist at different intersectional identities than me or who may present different than me, such as my partner who is white and more masculine presenting and is sometimes misgendered as male. When I travel, I not only want to feel like my partner and I are safe as a lesbian couple, but as a Black American, I want to avoid feeling like I could be pulled over and murdered at any time by American police, or as an Americans in general, we enjoy visiting places where we aren’t on constant alert on how to avoid becoming a victim of a mass shooting. I can say with certainty, I feel safe in St. Martin, St. Barths, and Anguilla, sometimes even more so than I do in some places in the United States.

Second, the Caribbean has a bad reputation for violence overall, but particularly for targeted violence against LGBTQ+ people. I want to address that the Caribbean islands are not a monolith and people really need to do a deeper dive into why they treat them as such. You cannot compare Puerto Rico with St. Barths, Anguilla with Jamaica, so on and so forth. Each island has distinctive cultures, food, music, cuisine, art, and social and political norms. I will get into some of the differences between St. Martin, St. Barths and Anguilla later, but for now, here are some interesting facts:

  • St. Martin, Barths, and Anguilla have been designated at level 1 safety, considered some of the safest Caribbean destinations. In comparison, The Dominican Republic and Cuba are both at level 2; Trinidad & Tobago is at level 3.

 

  • Gay marriage is legal in St. Martin/Sint Maarten (I’ll get into the spelling differences later) and in St. Barths. In Anguilla, only foreign same-sex marriages recognized. While I recognize that gay marriage does not equal true safety and liberation, it is a step forward and there are many LGBTQ+ people who visit the first two islands to celebrate honeymoons or stop through on gay cruises. Anguilla is a bit more conservative overall (travelers must take the history of colonialism and how this impacted each island’s culture), but since Anguilla is known as a luxury tourist destination, the vibe is that the tourist dollars matter more than who the tourists choose to love.

Saint Martin or Sint Maarten?

Saint Martin (French: Saint-Martin; Dutch: Sint Maarten) is a two-nation island. With an area of only 87 square kilometers (34 square miles), it has the distinction of being the smallest inhabited island that is divided between two nations. The island is divided roughly 60:40 between the French Republic and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

It is important to recognize the colonialist and slave trade history of the island, so I recommend visiting some monuments that stand as symbols of emancipation and abolition, including Lady Liberty and the Salt Pickers Monument.

Rent a car!

I fully understand that some people want a no-fuss vacation where they stay primarily at one resort. But, St. Martin has far too many beautiful beaches to just stay in one place, 37 beaches in fact! And, each beach has something special to offer, whether it is the secluded white sand beaches of Happy Bay, the limestone cliffs at Cupecoy, the party atmosphere at Mullet and Bikini, or the nude beaches at Orient. With a car, you have the option of visiting a multitude of diverse beaches, as well as see both sides of the island (you can drive the circumference of the entire island in about an hour and stop to sight-see along the way), thereby avoiding the big dilemma of, “Should I stay on the French side or the Dutch side?” While you do need a passport to cross between St. Martin, St. Barths, and Anguilla, you do not need a passport to cross between the French and Dutch sides on St. Martin.

Rent a car in advance from a major car company. When you arrive at the airport, the major car companies will have a free shuttle to the rental agency. Once you get your car, same driving rules apply as in the U.S., so for those who drive on the right hand side of the road (U.S. side), it’s a piece of cake!

Where to stay.

What is the best way to support the local economy in the Caribbean? One way is to weigh the options of staying in a resort vs staying in private rentals owned by locals. For example, tourism accounted for 80% of St. Martin’s economy and about four-fifths of the labor force was engaged in the tourism sector prior to COVID-19 and Hurricane Irma. While the livelihoods of many depend on tourists’ dollars, staying at resorts does not necessarily mean that your dollar is having the largest impact. “Because all-inclusive visitors are discouraged from venturing outside the resorts to spend money in locally owned enterprises, this decreases the opportunities for local restaurants, taxi drivers, craftsmen, vendors and even farmers to earn a living from tourism as the money becomes exclusively concentrated within the hands of the foreign conglomerates that control the industry. This is referred to as ‘Zero Dollar Tourism’ where the destination experiences an increase in arrivals but a decrease in expenditure. The all-inclusive resort is, thus, another consequence of the colonial legacy, which encourages mass tourism tied to the colonial tradition of high-volume, low value-added, mono exports. The result is mass visitation but a lower multiplier impact within the host community “ – Dr. Wendy Sealy.

I very rarely stay at resorts (though I might crash one like Mia and Lucia “White Lotus-style” for the Gram), and as a result, I am often exploring nature and local restaurants, cafes, shops, and purchasing food to make at in my accommodations, which, whenever possible, I rent from locals.

If you do prefer resorts (no judgment), my one suggestion is to stay at La Samanna. It’s simply gorgeous and I often go there for a celebratory dinner. Be sure to make at least one plan to attend unique local experiences that get your dollars off the resort and into the local economy.

 

 

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If you are on a budget and cannot rent a car or stay in a resort, I recommend staying in Orient Bay Village or Cupecoy, where you can walk to restaurants, grocery stores, and beaches.

What to Do

Beaches

Of the 37 beaches on St. Martin, here are my favorites and why:

Happy Bay: One of my favorite beaches in St. Martin is Happy Bay! There is a short-cut to Happy Bay, but I prefer to drive to Friars Bay first and park in the Friars Bay lot and hike from there because the views from the 10 minute hike from Friars to Happy are spectacular. Don’t be fooled by the initial look of Friars Bay. It’s just so-so. Mostly for louder tourists and cruise ship day-trippers who want an umbrella, chair, and beach side drink service. Instead, walk to the end of Friars Bay, and then follow the 10 minute hiking trail to Happy Bay and you will not go wrong! There are no amenities at Happy Bay. Get there early to claim your spot. There was once more shade, but the destruction of palm trees due to hurricane Irma makes shade prime real estate. During the hike to Happy Bay, look up in the trees, and you will see Iguanas of all sizes lounging in the branches.

The only amenity at Happy Bay is an old shack where a local named Danny sells his own soft drinks, water, and liquor on the beach. He is super nice. Tell him that the woman from New York sent you. Since we stay in private rentals, we always pack a small cooler, freeze our waters overnight, and make sandwiches to eat at Happy Bay to save money. But, we always support Danny by purchasing a few beverages from him. And, his shack provides some shelter from passing rain showers and strong sun. Also note at Happy Bay: clothing is optional.

 

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Baie Aux Prunes/Plum Bay: This is a gorgeous stretch of beach, but like Happy Bay, there are very few amenities. My partner and I like it because it is secluded and we feel very safe. It is not known to many tourists because it is behind a very weathly, private gated neighborhood. Many people are scared away because you have to stop at the Terres Basses security gate so people think it’s a “private” beach. However, it’s a public beach, so just let the guards know you are there to swim and they will let you right in, no worries. The security is just performative for the rich people.

 

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Orient Bay:  Nicknamed the “Saint-Tropez of the Caribbean,” the beach of Orient Bay is one of the largest and post popular beaches on the island. It offers a vibe for just about everyone. If you love luxury, try Coco Beach Club or Bikini Beach Club. On the opposite stretch of the beach away from the party scene is a nudist beach, where many LGBTQ+ travelers swim and play. And, in between the beach clubs and nudist areas, you’ll find a range of food shacks, bars, and water sports for every type of traveler.

 

 

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Mullet Bay Beach:  Similar to Orient Bay, Mullet is one of the more popular beaches on the island. It’s a smaller, but still a nice sized stretch of beautiful sandy beach. You can rent chairs and umbrellas from the snack bars on the south side, which tends to get very crowded, or head to the northern end, which is more secluded but does not offer beach chairs or amenities. I recommend staying for sunset! I mean, look at my girl in this golden hour light!

 

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Cupecoy: This beach offers stunning limestone cliffs, beautiful blue water, and breathtaking sunsets (tip on where to watch below). It is by far one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve traveled to in the world. Also a clothing-optional beach, Cupecoy is frequented by LGBTQ+ travelers. There are many entrances to the coves, but the one cove that is home to the notorious Insta-worthy cave is known as “boys beach,” where secret the gays (trademark) go for secret cruising and hookups. This beach is located not too far from Mullet, so you can enjoy both beaches on the same day. However, be warned that Cupecoy’s waters are rougher than Mullet, so unless you are a strong swimmer, I would recommend enjoying the views from the shore.

 

 

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Baie Rouge: This beach is home to one of the most famous Instagram spots on the island: a colorful set of stairs created by artists from the Wall Art St. Martin Association that leads to a beautiful streach of beach that is popular with locals.

 

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See the Plans Land at Maho Beach

Princess Juliana International Airport is home to one of the most famous runways in the world. Not only do I recommend booking a window seat on your flight in order to view your own landing, but also make sure to carve out time to watch the planes arrive at Maho Beach. It is a bucketlist travel experience. I did not include this beach under “beaches” because the beach is really crowded and  smells a bit too much like jet fuel to make a full day of it.

 

 

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Hike to Natural Tide Pools

Hike up the Back Bay trail to Devil’s Cupper, a sparkling tide pool protected from the crashing waves by stunning and striated boulders.

 

 

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Book a Cabana at a Private Nature Reserve/Pools

My partner is not a fan of swimming pools, especially if we have access to extraordinary beaches. But even she is a fan of spending a day in the pools at Loterie Farm, a private nature reserve that protects 54 hectares of  beautiful countryside set deep in the interior of the island. You can rent daybeds, cabañitas, cabanas, a VIP cabana or the Jacuzzi cabana and lounge by the pools, sip on cocktails/mocktails, and go for hikes that are great for spotting local birds and green monkeys.

 

 

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Go on a Daytrip to Anguilla, St. Barths or Pinel Island

Pinel Island: This teeny tiny St. Matin oasis of sand, rock and coastal heathland is the easiest of the three daytrips, with no passport required. It can be reached by shuttle boat from the Cul-de-Sac jetty. The island offers shallow blue waters, umerella rentals, and a couple of bars and restuarants by the water.

 

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St. Barths:  Saint-Barthélemy Island, also known as St. Barts and St. Barths, is probably both the most LGBTQ+ friendly and luxurious of the three islands. A day trip is worth it, but if you can stay two days, I highly recommend at least an overnight stay. When I stay a night or two on the island, I like to book accomodations at Salines Gardens Cottages. And, whether you stay overnight or just for a daytrip, I also recommend renting an ATV or car.

 

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The vibes on the island are glam, high end, see-and-be-seen, as made famous by all of the celebrities that vacation there and the notorious Nikki Beach Club where tabletop dancing TikTok influencers shine.

But, as you can probably tell if you’ve gotten this far in the post, I like more of a quiet luxury, and St. Barths offers plenty of secluded beaches and wonderous hiking trails where you can spot turtles and goats while taking in the seabreeze before heading to a fancy dinner in town.

To get to St. Barths, you can purchase tickets for the 45 minute ferry in advance (highly recommended) from Great Bay Express for the boat leaving from Philipsburg (the Dutch capital) or from the Voyager for the boat leaving from Marigot (the French capital). Book the earliest boat to St. Barths and the latest boat back to St. Martin to get the most of your day. Do not forget your passport!!!

Once you arrive, if you booked a car or ATV, you can arrange to have the rental company pick you up at the port. If you decide to use a taxi, make sure to book in advance. Then, your adventures begin.

Spend the first few hours exploring the glittering main town of Gustavia. After a quick exploration (you’ll have time again by the port around sunset) fuel up on some carbs and caffiene. My favorite place to grab a quick French snack and coffee on the way to the beach is Eden-to-Go. My two favorite beaches are Salinas Beach and Colombier beach. For more recommendations, check out the Reel at the top of this post. The captions will list some of my other favorite stops in St. Barths.

 

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Anguilla:  Michelle Jana Chan once wrote of Anguilla, “They say you go to St Barth’s to be seen, and to Anguilla not to be.” Anguilla can be just as expensive as St. Barths, but it is a quiet luxury, it is a stealth wealth. Where St. Barths is exuding in-your-face extravagance, Anguilla is serving Nantucket wealth, if you know what I mean. Even down to the fashion. Anguilla is more conservative than St. Barths, and part of that is due to both of the islands’ colonial histories. Anguilla was under British rule and is a British overseas territory. Even though the two islands are a stones throw away, Anguilla is more “British buttoned-up.” There is no nudity on the island, and a lot less tabletop dancing.

However, Anguilla is a stunning island and worth the trip to experience the food, culture, white sand beaches, and clear blue waters.

 

 

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To get to Anguilla, you can take a 30 minute ferry leaving from the port in Marigot. You do not need to book your tickets in advance like you would for St. Barths, but you will need your passport!!! Daily schedules are posted at the ferry terminal, and as with St. Barths, I recommend taking the earliest ferry to Anguilla and latest ferry back to St. Martin to make the most of your day. Be sure to get to the port at least one hour before your desired departure time.

Anguilla is probably the most chill of our trips because we do not rent a car there, since driving is on the left side of the road (U.K. side) on the island and I just simply do not want to take that risk. There is an abundance of cabs that will be waiting at ferry arrivals. Just jump in and tell them what beach you want to go to.

Shoal Bay is always listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but our personal favorite is Meads Bay because it is a little more low-key and I love grabbing breakfast at the spectacular Malliouhana resort at the end of the bay.

 

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We usually rent lounge chairs in front of Blanchards beach shack. The umberella/chair rentals are super affordable (usually $10/chair, which is unheard of on expensive islands), and you can use their restrooms all day. The food is also really delicous and Wi-Fi access is available.

 

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Where to Eat and Drink in St. Martin

I highly recommend eating at lolos that feature local flavors centered around BBQ. You can find some of the most popular lolos on the main strip of Grand Case. Food options are endless and probably require a separate post. But, I want to feature three options that offer amazing views.

Dany’s Beach Bar: Located on Cupecoy, this is a no-fuss bar where the you’ll often find “family” sipping cocktails while taking in the most breathtaking sunsets the island has to offer. Just grab a drink and head over to a limestone rock and watch the sky change color.

 

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Sunset Cafe: This cafe offers a standard breakfast that is pretty tasty, but enjoying the coffee with these views is nothing short of amazing.

 

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Le Temps de Cerises: Also known as LTC, this gem is a hotel, beach club, bar, and restaurant. Located in Grand Case, you can rent beach chairs here for the day and enjoy the Grand Case beach. While the beach during the day is a bit busier than I prefer, at sunset, LTC offers a gorgeous view of the water for dining. Be sure to reserve a table overlooking the water. They also often host indoor and outoor special events, such as movies and DJs.

 

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Gelateria Milano: What’s a beach vacation without ice cream or gelato? Gelateria Milano, located in Phillipsburg, serves the best gelato on the island. But what makes it even more special are the views. Most people do not know, but there is an allyway on the side of the gelateria that is home to the most beautiful garden and outdoor seating surrounded by lush plants.

 

 

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Queer travel guide Saint Martin; Gay travel guide Saint Martin; LGBTQ travel guide Saint Martin; LGBT travel guide Saint Martin.

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