ISLAND HOPPING FROM ST. MAARTEN

Going to St. Maarten is a teeny bit like going to Luxembourg or Lichtenstein:  you’re only a few miles from another country.  But, St. Maarten is a whole lot sunnier and way more fun. One of the great things about St. Maarten is that part of the fun of going there is going someplace else. But, just for a few hours.

Take a quick boat ride north and you’ll dock in Anguilla.  Head southeast and find St. Bart’s. Sail due south and there’s Saba. Each island is very different from its neighbors and, therefore, worth a day trip.  Saba is as rustic as the Caribbean gets. St. Bart’s is oh, so French in every way. Anguilla plays host to the funky and the refined all on a little sliver of sand 3.5 miles wide by 16 miles long. Someone somewhere some time ago named it eel – thankfully in Italian (and Spanish); proof once again that some things sound so much better in a foreign tongue.

Here’s something else that’s great about St. Maarten:  Eugene Durand, activity director at Divi Little Bay in St. Maarten.  The all-knowing Eugene sits in her office over in the Divi shops delightfully and knowingly dispensing advice on what to do when in St. Maarten and dialing up her contacts at various excursions and activities.

Fast ferry it over to St. Bart’s if you’re wondering what it’s like to “jet” into the French Riviera for the day. This island is pure French – cuisine, chic boutiques and culture.

You’ve probably heard about the sensational beaches of St. Bart’s, and taxis are available at the ferry to take you to them.  But, if bistros rather than bikinis are your interest, stick to town. There are more than 20 good restaurants lining the dock area. The shopping district, with nary a touristy tote bag in sight, also hugs the harbor. If you believe that no Caribbean island is ever truly worth its passport stamp unless you’ve wiggled your toes on a beach, stroll 10 minutes over to Shell Beach. It’s a fine place to spend a glorious few hours and have lunch at the little beachside cafe.

The fast ferry trip leaves Simpson Bay at 9 AM, zooming across the Caribbean Sea in just 45 minutes. The return departs promptly at 4 PM (I do mean promptly, from my experience.) That gives you plenty of time to max out a credit card or simply enjoy the sights. I went there to window shop, lunch and relax on the beach and enjoyed every minute of it.

The vibe is a world away on Anguilla. In addition to stellar white sandy beaches, Anguilla is known for its food, running the gamut from barbeque to haute cuisine. Smokey’s at Cove Beach is legendary beach barbeque. After a lunch there, just hang at the beach. Mats, umbrellas and floats are rented for the day there. Or go deluxe and have lunch at Cap Juluca, a stellar and stunning Moorish-themed resort. The setting is extraordinary.

A 15-minute ferry ride (one every half hour) from Marigot is one way to get over to Anguilla. Catamaran is another. Eugene recommends Blue Beard Catamaran for its all-inclusive day of sailing, lunch and snorkeling. What a way to go.

And, then there’s Saba. Pristine, unspoiled, steep and rocky. Hikers welcome here. Ferries from St. Maarten leave at 9 every morning. Once there, a taxi can whisk you from the terminal over to the bottom of Mount Scenery, where a hiking trail with 1,064 stone and concrete steps takes you to the 2,855-ft summit. It’s easy to figure out how it got its name.

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