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Sint Maarten, Netherlands Antilles

6 Ways to Explore the Splendor of Dutch Sint Maarten

Jump-start your Caribbean getaway with these tropical things to do

The Vacationeer
Palm trees and umbrellas on the beach of Simpson Bay in St. Maarten

Find the Caribbean destination of your dreams and head to the island of Sint Maarten on the northern end of the Lesser Antilles. Sint Maarten is uniquely dual-governed — the north by the French and the south by the Dutch.

If you stay on the Dutch side, make your home base at either Royal Palm, a Hilton Vacation Club, or Flamingo Beach, a Hilton Vacation Club. Enjoy historic landmarks, restaurants and outdoor adventures with a laid-back 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

A plane landing at Princess Julianna International Airport near Maho Beach on St. Maarten 

Hold on to your hats at Maho Beach as jumbo and junior jets take off from the adjacent Princess Juliana International Airport. Relax on white sand or splash in the ocean as arriving and departing jets fly overhead. 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? Head to the nearby Mullet Bay and explore the reef by snorkel.

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 from 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 should note that this landmark is a sanctuary for brown pelicans that nest on the cliff's west end. Bring binoculars for a closer look without disturbing the breeding colony.

3. Fly the World's Steepest Zip Line

An aerial view of the lush green hills and blue waters of St. Maarten 

If you have a flair for adventure, 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 Estatesis an eco-adventure park with activities to keep your heart racing. Tour Emilio Wilson Museum to learn about the property's past, then take the Sky Explorer chairlift to the summit of Sentry Hill, one of Sint Maarten's highest peaks. Enjoy vistas of neighboring islands before soaring through the air on this thrilling ride. Finish your adventure with the Schooner Ride and careen back down the mountain on an inner tube.

4. Go Horseback Riding

Trot on trails overlooking Sint 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 one of the island’s lookouts, or cool off by wading into the crystal clear Caribbean waters atop your steed. When the horses aren't taking guests for a ride, they freely roam the park, like most of Seaside's animal residents. After your ride, stay to hand-feed the ducks, pet miniature goats or spot sunbathing green iguanas.

5. Take a Kayak Tour and Snorkel in a Lagoon

Colorful buildings on the beach near Philipsburg, St. Maarten 

Paddle the Caribbean's 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 following your tour.

6. Taste Local Specialties

Sint Maarten is an adventurous foodie's paradise. 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 Sint Maarten's national dishes. The stew brings together kale, spinach and its leafy green namesake, callaloo. If you're craving something sweeter, johnnycakes are the perfect treat. These pancakes are made with cornmeal and served for breakfast or as a side dish with dinner.

Read “The Best of Sint Maarten: Beaches, Beverages and Bites” for travelers’ top favorites around the island.

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The Vacationeer

The Vacationeer is a collective of Hilton Grand Vacations storytellers whose goal is to inspire travelers to go further. We're always on the lookout for new destinations to explore, useful travel tips, and unique ideas to help you plan the most memorable vacations possible.

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