Between Marigot and Grand Case, Pic du Paradis is the island’s highest point. About halfway up the hill, Loterie Farm is a 135-acre nature reserve on a former sugar plantation. Visitors to this lush hillside hideaway can wine, dine, climb, hike, and glide over the treetop canopy. Various vantage points provide mesmerizing views of the island landscape as it slopes down to the aquamarine waters and surrounding islands. Loterie Farm is also home to three treetop zip-line adventure courses: Ti-Tarzan for the little ones, the Fly Zone for adults, and the Fly Zone Extreme for gutsy thrill-seekers.
The island’s tropical climate and rolling hills make it a prime location for an array of exotic wildlife. The St. Maarten Zoo—the largest zoological park in the Caribbean—houses bird, mammal, and reptile species, including bats, peccaries, bush dogs, ocelots, and several species of monkeys.
The nearby Butterfly Farm (La Ferme des Papillons), which opened its doors to the public in 1994, was the first of its kind in the Caribbean region. Soothing sounds of running waterfalls and spa music set the tone. Visitors can walk among more than 40 species of butterflies from around the world, which flutter freely around the landscaped tropical gardens. They can also be seen in all stages of the life cycle, from microscopic eggs to pupae to caterpillars hatching, growing, and forming their chrysalis.
The farm is close to the island’s oldest settlement, Orléans, known to locals as the French Quarter. This quiet fishing village, located just north of the Dutch border, was founded by the French in the 17th century. Because this part of the island is not as developed as the rest, many of the classical West Indian-style structures still stand. There’s not much to do in terms of activities here, but it’s worth a drive-through to see how the island’s original French settlers lived.
The waters surrounding the island provide plenty of options for exploration. The Man of War Shoal Marine Park, St. Maarten’s only legally protected area, is a sanctuary for whales, dolphins, sea turtles, a few different shark species, plenty of species of tropical fish, coral reefs, and other intriguing underwater creatures. The 7,660-acre park is just south of Great Bay, where the Man of War Reef claimed the frigate ship HMS Proselyte in 1801. Divers can explore the wreckage, which is strewn with anchors, cannons, and cannonballs.
Even noncertified divers can get in on the underwater action thanks to options like Sea Trek helmet diving and Snuba. Both systems are lightweight, easy-to-use, and allow you to experience the wonders of the undersea world to depths of 20 feet. There’s also the opportunity to become certified by an expert PADI diving instructor. After a course teaching the basics of diving, the instructor leads beginners on their first-ever dive.
A handful of guided sailing excursions travel to some of the prime snorkeling sites around the island. Favorite spots include Creole Rock, Pelican Rock, Green Cay, and Shipwreck Cove. To participate in a time-honored Caribbean tradition, sign up for the America’s Cup Sailing Regatta shore excursion, which has been consistently voted one of the best excursions on St. Maarten. Start out the morning by learning the basics of sailing, and by noon you’ll be heeding your captain’s orders in a euphoric adrenaline rush on your way to crossing the finish line in a 40-foot-long America’s Cup yacht. An expert team of guides will show participants exactly what to do in their “crew member” positions before it’s off to the racecourse. Grind a winch; trim a sail; punch a stopwatch; or just sit back, relax, and enjoy the complimentary refreshments.
To explore below the surface without getting wet, board the Seaworld Explorer. This state-of-the-art semi-submarine was developed in Australia for use at the Great Barrier Reef. The vessel doesn’t submerge itself, rather the participants do. There’s an observation deck about five feet below the water’s surface, where windows provide crystal clear views of the colorful marine life during an hour-long cruise around the coral reefs surrounding Creole Rock.
You can also angle for snapper, grouper, marlin, tuna, and wahoo during deep-sea fishing excursions. These big-game species aren’t reeled in without a fight, which makes for an exciting day on the water.