A culturally rich retreat that’s roughly half French, half Dutch, and 100 percent Caribbean, St. Martin is a destination filled with hidden gems and unexpected moments. Its population—some 80,000 people—is wonderfully diverse, a mélange of African, Creole, Carib Indian, Europeans, and expat Americans. A dynamic and diverse nightlife is a major draw too, along with the island’s three dozen beaches and cosmopolitan location: British Anguilla, French St. Barts, and Dutch Saba and St. Eustatius are just day trips away.
Places of note: St. Martin’s attractions include Loterie Farm, an 18th-century plantation turned nature retreat on the slopes of Pic Paradis, the island’s highest peak. Day trips to other surrounding islands, such as the Ilet Pinel, start with a five-minute ferry ride from the pier at French cul de Sac and for offshore views of both sides of the island, join Rhino Safari for a two-and-a-half-hour excursion in a two-person inflatable dinghy. Most of the shopping on this duty-free island unfolds in Marigot and Philipsburg. In the latter, head to Front Street for a lineup of jewelers and diamond merchants, and visit the Guavaberry Emporium (721/542-2965) to pick up a bottle of guavaberry liqueur. In the capital of French St. Martin, be sure to visit the stalls at Marigot Market, which is at its most colorful on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
When to go: Visit between May and June to get some of the island’s best rates, or between December through April to get the best of the weather (although the island enjoys generally great weather all year round).
How to get there: All overseas flights (major carriers include KLM, Air France, and United) land at Princess Juliana International Airport at Simpson Bay on the Dutch side of the island.