Destination: St. Maarten

I had the opportunity to travel to St. Maarten with my family and we all agreed it was one of the best family vacations we've ever had. The culture on the island is incredibly rich. The people are diverse and embraced us with open arms. The island was live with events and fun things to do and the beaches were the perfect spot to relax. 

You can't talk about St. Maarten without bringing up Maho Beach, one of the world's most dangerous (and exciting) beaches. St. Maarten is a very small island. There is only one runway at the major airport and it's one of the shortest runways in the world. As a result the planes have to land as close to the edge of the runway as they can. When landing, you can wave to the folks at the beach because you are so close. People spend the day at the beach watching planes fly only a few feet above their heads. I'm an adrenaline junkie and I have to admit there isn't much in this world like having a Boeing-747 flying 5 feet above your head. The not so fun part of hanging out at Maho beach is watching planes take off in the opposite direction of the beach. Imagine having hot jet fuel blowing sand all over your body. It's hot and painful (and dangerous). The beach is also incredibly rocky, so it's hard to get a grip as the jet fuel is smacking you in the face. But you only live once, right?

Traveling to St. Maarten allows you to travel to several other countries affordably for the day. The island is made up of two countries of the same name (Sint Maarten/Saint Martin) with a fluid border. It is the smallest island in the world to hold 2 countries. The northern side of the island belongs to the Dutch and uses the Florin as currency, and the southern side is French and uses the Euro. The border is fluid, so people are free to go back and forth all day. 

A quick boat ride or flight will have you enjoying a beach in Anguilla, St. Barth, or Saba. Boats leave from both the French and Dutch sides of the island, making it relatively easy to go and come back. Tickets can be as low as $20 to Anguilla and as high as 75 Euros to St. Barth. 

Like many other Caribbean countries, folks in St. Maarten know how to have a good time. We happened to be traveling during the SXM Best Weekend, a 5-day long fete. The celebrations were so intense that it carried over onto another island. One night, my sister and I took a shower, headed out, and came across a huge party happening right next to our resort. We had a blast. There was a truck pouring out gallons of water while folks partied in a makeshift pool, there was colored powder flying everywhere, and the stage was lit with performances. We had so much fun. The next day, we took a boat to Anguilla and marched in the carnival. The fete walked all the way down to the beach where there was food, drinks, and more festivities.

The people were friendly and proud of their culture and their island. The food was delicious. My family is from the Caribbean so we are always looking for for some of the fruits that we're used to eating at home. My dad won't admit this, but they had the best mangoes I have ever tasted. My mom bought some passion fruit and made the best passion fruit juice I have ever had. I questioned my entire existence after a sip. That's how good it was. 

My family connected with a local who was from St. Lucia. He gave us a tour of both sides of the island. There is so much more to this gem than nude beaches and golf courses. There are mountains, schools, hospitals, markets, and hard working families. The island is extremely diverse. Many of the people I met were originally from current and former French colonies ( Haiti, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe). Everyone is proud of their culture and bringing different backgrounds together. There is a charm about the island that I have yet to see anywhere else. 

I never understood why people would travel to the same place every year until I traveled to St. Maarten. It was the most relaxing vacation I've ever had. Friends treated us like family and made me wish I didn't have to leave. Have you been to St. Maarten? Have you ever traveled somewhere that felt like home? Let us know in the comments below.

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