Popular St. Martin Shore Excursions
Shopping in Marigot: The city, an intriguing blend of small French town and Caribbean city, houses chic boutiques with fashions ranging from trendy to couture, as well as stores selling duty-free perfumes, crystal and jewelry. Don't miss the stunning architecture and interior design of Le West Indies Shopping Mall across from the terminal. It features bars, restaurants, a spa and 23 designer shops in the three-level facility. Other highlights include L'Occitane for Provencal soaps and lotions, Goldfinger for Rolex and Cartier jewelry, and Christian Lacroix, Lacoste and Diesel fashions throughout. Marina Port La Royale, a five-minute walk from the harbor, is a boutique shopping mecca for tourists and locals alike.
Marigot Waterfront Market: This daily event along the harbor features a craft market, souvenir stalls and, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, a Caribbean food market where West Indian women in batik dresses and big straw hats sell spices, fruits and other produce. You can also watch fishermen scale their catches (mostly red snapper) using a broomstick lined with beer bottle caps.
Fort Louis: With so many colonial powers involved, the islands in this region experienced more than their share of conflict. The French built this fort overlooking Marigot Bay in 1789 but didn't use it for battle until the 19th century, when English from nearby Anguilla came over to raid harbor warehouses. From the ruins at the top, enjoy unrestricted views of Marigot, Anguilla and Simpson Bay on the Dutch side. (Be warned, it's a steep walk from town.) For more history, check out the Musee de Saint Martin , which outlines the history and culture of the island going back 1,500 years. (7 Fichot Street; open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday)
The Butterfly Farm: Not only does the farm house hundreds of species of butterflies -- a narrated tour will teach you about them -- but the landscaping is as dramatic and photogenic as it gets. Pose your family for pictures in front of waterfalls and forest grottos. (Le Galion Beach Road; open 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily year-round, with the last tour starting at 3 p.m.)
Loterie Farm: For those who have had their fill of tropical marine ecology, Loterie Farm, near Friar's Bay, is an eco-preserve that focuses on Caribbean forests and mountains. Though cruise ships offer zip-line tours there (see below), independent explorers will find plenty of enticing activities, including horseback-riding, hiking, mountain-biking, ecotours and even meditation and yoga. (Pic Paradis 103; open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday)
Anguilla: This peaceful, British-affiliated island -- about a 25-minute ferry ride from Marigot -- is known for its gorgeous white-sand beaches and phenomenal gourmet restaurants. At the ferry terminal, you can catch a taxi to take you around the island. Most folks head straight to Shoal Bay East, full of activity and barbecue shacks that front tranquil waters. Another option, especially for foodies, is to ask a taxi driver to take you to Trattoria Tramonto, a fabulous waterfront Italian restaurant on Shoal Bay West. (The restaurant offers free lounge chairs for lunch guests.) Just make sure you arrange for the cabbie to pick you up again! Logistical note: Ferries operate between Marigot and Blowing Point (Anguilla) every 45 minutes, with the first ferry leaving Marigot at 8:15 a.m. and the last ferry at 7 p.m. Returns to Marigot from Blowing Point start at 7:30 a.m. with the last ferry at 6:15 p.m. The $15 ferry fee each way is paid in cash onboard. Both St. Martin and Anguilla charge small "departure" fees. It's critical that you bring your passport, or you'll be denied entry.
Philipsburg, St. Maarten: If shopping is your thing, then the main routes (Front and Back Streets), side streets, alleys and boardwalk of the Dutch side of the island are for you. These areas are filled with duty-free stores. Highlights include jewelry, electronics and liquor. (Be sure to check out the Guavaberry Emporium for a true taste-of-the-island souvenir.) If gambling is your thing, and you haven't gotten enough on your ship, you can try your luck at a host of casinos throughout St. Maarten.
Most Popular: Almost every island tour includes a stop at Orient Bay, one of the Caribbean's more famous beaches. The curious can visit Club Orient, the naturist side of the beach. The rest of the beach is more conventional, and you'll find it packed with beach bars, watersports providers and souvenir shops.
Best for Seclusion: With its nearly two miles of extra-wide sand beaches, Baie Lounge is gorgeous, never crowded and well-suited for the sun-worshipper who prefers privacy and quiet. Visitors can also take in million-dollar views of stunning villas or check out the ultra-chic La Samanna hotel.
Best for Naturists: Laid-back Baie Rouge offers up a deserted pink-sand beach with calm waters perfect for swimming. The eastern end, near the entrance, is more popular, and bathing suits are the norm. The farther west you go, the fewer people (and suits) you'll see.
Most Unique: French Cul de Sac is a little gem on the east (Atlantic) coast of St. Martin, perfect for a couple looking for a romantic getaway or a family looking for a kid-friendly beach experience. But the real draw there is Ilet Pinel, an uninhabited tiny island. (Some cruise lines offer shore excursions there.) Shuttle boats regularly make the five-minute crossing throughout the day. You can kick back on the beach, enjoy snorkeling on the near-shore reefs on either end of the island, and enjoy lunch in one of the island's two restaurants. Better yet, get your food to go and take it out on the beach for an impromptu picnic.