Looking for things to do in St. Maarten with kids? Read on.
If you haven’t already booked a flight into St. Maarten, you should know there are a few major differences between the Dutch and French sides of the island, but both are great and easily enjoyed by families. After a recent trip back from the island with my own four children (and we flew with an infant, two toddlers, and a third grader), I can tell you the Dutch side is a personal favorite for babies and kids alike when it comes to the list of things to do in St. Maarten.
Why the Dutch side?
There are so many things to do in St. Maarten that St. Martin, the French counterpart, can’t necessarily offer, even though the latter offers more land and gorgeous European architecture. The French side is a great, price-friendly alternative to a St. Bart’s trip offering picturesque villas, soft lounge music just about everywhere, the genuine feeling of having “escaped” the madness of your real life, but when it comes to kid-friendly activities, that side of the island just can’t compare.
So which things to do in St. Maarten are great for very small children, including toddlers?
Let’s start with where to stay. The Dutch side has a variety of family-friendly resorts, ranging from the most carefree all-inclusives all the way up to where the babies of jetset elites would love to stay. If you’re traveling to St. Maarten with two or more children and do have some level of budget to stay within, I’d recommend the Sonesta Maho Beach all-inclusive resort (I found especially affordable rates on this resort here), because they offer spacious rooms that can easily be combined, include food and drink so you never have to carry cash, endless cocktails (you’ll feel less guilty about having a cocktail while the kids play in the pool if you think it’s “free”), and a separate pool area just for children ages 3-11. This kiddie pool was an especially big draw for my little ones, aged from 9 months to 8 years old.
Most of the rooms offer both beach and pool views, and staying at this resort grants you access to a variety of other Sonesta properties on the island if you’re into changing up the scenery.
Go to Maho Beach to watch planes land, one of the most popular things to do in St. Maarten
If you’re already staying at the Sonesta Maho Beach, you’ll be a two minute walk from the world famous Maho Beach, but if you’re going to stay just about anywhere else on the Dutch side of the island, don’t fret. Getting to Maho is a cinch by taxi and never more than a few minutes away. In fact, if you’re staying at the Sonesta property, you don’t even need to head down to the beach because any ocean-facing room or on-site restaurant will grant you unadulterated views of both small and large jets landing on what seems like an impossible runway at Princess Juliana International Airport. This is by far one of the most exciting things to do in St. Maarten for little kids, and easily grants you some time in the sun and water simultaneously.
If your child is old enough to say “plane” they’ll love it, and I found both my 8 year old son and 46 year old husband completely taken by the experience. If you’re worried it’ll be too loud to bear, don’t worry — each landing only seems to produce about 10-15 seconds of thunder-like noise, and it’s really not that bad.
Shop at Marigot Market on the French side
Take a taxi, drive, or shuttle yourself and your little ones over to Marigot, an adorable downtown shopping district on the French side of the island. There you’ll find fresh juice stands using local Caribbean produce, handicrafts, the “I Love SXM” sign (pictured at the top of this post), and my favorite — the Caribbean spice lady who operates a small booth just off the main drag. The spices she sells are all from Caribbean islands, gardens, and mini-farms ranging from Dominica to St. Kitts.
Just about everything she sells is $5 USD for a sandwich-size Ziplock bag. You can’t do better than that at your local grocery store, and there’s something so much cooler about supporting a local businesswoman on a tropical island than popping over to a suburban Whole Foods, isn’t there? If you’re the healthy green juice type, this is one of the coolest things to do in St. Maarten to get your natural health vibes on. A bag of local soursop leaves makes a pretty cool souvenir for friends and family back home, too.
See Oyster Bay, one of the most Instagram-worthy things to do in St. Maarten
If you’re not the all-inclusive type, head over to the Oyster Bay part of the Dutch side, where you’ll find what I think is the best infinity pool in the Caribbean, hands-down, at the Oyster Bay Beach Resort. The resort is friendly for both families and people traveling without kids, which is basically unheard of to have a resort that seamlessly caters to both. It’s a smaller property facing the Atlantic Ocean side of the island, but the large pool area faces both pristine blue-green waters and deeper navy ones, making it the perfect place to sit and have a cocktail, lemonade, sparkling water, or bottle of apple juice depending on where you are in life.
The service at Oyster Bay was by far the best I’ve experience on the island, with servers and staff working at New York City speeds to please guests. One waitress, a lovely woman named Wanda, went above and beyond by preparing special variations of drinks and ice cream sundaes for my children as they played in the pool. While I would recommend staying on the property to small or average size families, it’s not 100% necessary if you’re traveling in a large group and need more space. The poolside restaurant can easily accommodate you just for meals and breathtaking views if you prefer.
If you are traveling with a larger family (more than two children or with additional relatives like grandparents or childcare helpers), you’ll want to consider the sister property to Oyster Bay Beach Resort, the Coral Beach Club, which is basically next door and offers spacious villas with beach access. Coral Beach Club guests can still access the Oyster Bay Beach Club infinity pool, so there’s no need to make any hard Instagram-related decisions.
Have cocktails with celebrities at Big Fish
Big Fish is one of the hottest restaurants and bars in St. Maarten, and the celebrity presence is all the proof you need. I ran into one of my favorite late 90s and early 2000s music stars, Ja Rule, there last week. He was dining with his family while I was having a drink with my husband and new friends, and was gracious enough to take a photo with us. The restaurant is famous with locals and celebrities alike for their top notch high end seafood menu, extensive cocktail and wine list, and modern, sexy ambiance.
If you’re wondering how this is good for kids, they also have a childrens menu, encourage families to dine with them, will happily adjust to your child’s dietary needs within reason, and offer the bulk of their seating in a semi-outdoors courtyard that gives little ones a bit of space to roam as they wait for their fish n’ chips.
Check out Divi Little Bay Beach Resort
This property is part hotel and part timeshare, so a lot of the guests you’ll see are there over and over again each year. Why is that important? Because people get to know each other, form friendships, and there’s a small sense of community amongst guests that you’ll be hard-pressed to find at most ordinary hotels. What makes this hotel one of the best things to do in St. Maarten though is the access to their exceptionally calm Caribbean beachfront. The water there is calm enough that I felt comfortable sitting on a lounge chair next to the water and letting my eight year old snorkel close to the edge on his own.
The resort also offers two separate pools (but don’t worry, they’re adjacent to each other) for adults and kids, fast access poolside food, beachside drinks and lounge chair service, a freshly-renovated lobby that feels more like a spa than a reception desk, and friendly staff. The property itself is removed from the hustle and bustle of downtown areas and the airport, but has just about everything you need from an on-site sundry store to loads of kid-friendly activities.
Snorkeling for kids
If you thought I was kidding about how calm the waters by Divi Little Bay Beach Resort are year round, I promise you, I’m not. Check out Aqua Mania Adventures will you’re there to get your kids suited up for snorkeling around the gorgeous patch of crystal clear Caribbean beach. Just make sure you’re all loaded up with sunscreen because the area offers direct sunlight without much shade.
My eight year old spend a solid three hours snorkeling around the rocky reef that stretched from the beach, only coming up for regular breathing when he realized he was hungry. He reported seeing several schools of fish, crabs, sea urchins, and other totally exciting sea life. Snorkeling at Divi is by far one of the best things to do in St. Maarten, and has to be added to your list if you have children able to swim at an intermediate or beyond level.
Scuba with Aqua Mania
While scuba lessons aren’t right for the youngest children, if you have teenagers, taking a scuba lesson with Aqua Mania Adventures will hit high marks. Even if you don’t have kids able to do a scuba tour, you should try the experience, because the instructors are warm, helpful, easy to get along with, and the dive sites they offer (a short swim away from the Divi resort) include a sunken helicopter wreck, an ancient-looking cannon, a wrecked submarine, and even a downed airplane. The sites are far and away more exciting than the typical scuba adventures off the coast of Florida and other warm USA locations.
My husband said he saw a lot of butterfly fish, a large octopus, gorgeous corals, and even a variety of puffer fish during his two hour dive. He is a certified as a master scuba diver, but two other people joined him on his dive, both first time novices, and he said everyone enjoyed the adventure at their own pace. If you’re looking for other adventurous things to do in St. Maarten, the company also offers SUP board rentals and cruise tours.
Head over to the St. Maarten Zoo
If you’re on the island with small children and looking to fill an afternoon without water-based activities, the St. Maarten Zoo is a fun way to see local wildlife with small children. The zoo itself is sort of a time capsule of another era, with hand-painted signs and early 1980s style relics, so be prepared for a trip into tropical nostalgia. If you’re an animal enthusiast you’ll be happy to know there are no lions, tigers, or bears on the property — the owner, Brice Gobert, only features animals that might live on the island or neighboring islands naturally.
The animals are well-cared for and loved (it’s not unusual to see him personally cleaning animal pens and feeding them). Guests are encouraged to interact with some of the animals like baby ducklings, black swans, vervet monkeys, and giant lizards. At the end of the zoo tour there’s a playground area geared at children ages 10 and under, so if all else fails, some time monkeying around the monkey bars will win.
Watch for giant iguanas all around the island
It doesn’t matter if you’re on the Dutch or French side of the island, one of the best things to do in St. Maarten for little kids and grown ups alike is to check out the large wild iguana population. Locals say they aren’t native to the island, but were introduced to the land in recent generations and have spread like wildfire ever since thanks to an absence of natural predators.
The iguanas aren’t particularly dangerous, tend to move slowly (think turtles with tails), are often about two feet long, and are downright cool to watch. Local residents think of them the way Americans might see raccoons — garbage-eating pests, but that doesn’t stop them from being cute animals and a cool attraction if you ask my family and me.
We were shocked to find literally dozens of the normally-vegan iguanas feasting on a tipped over garbage can near the Westin hotel on one sunny day. Iguanas of all ages and sizes were chomping on Cheetos, Doritos, and potato chips. My four year old daughter looked at me and quipped, “Wow, they eat like American kids.” Weird but true, and I’m staying tuned to see if there’s an iguana obesity epidemic that eventually hits the Caribbean.
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