Getting Around Sint Maarten/St. Martin
So you are looking for ways to get around the island of Sint Maarten/St. Martin. Well, you have come to the right place! Below I listed the four transportation options that are available in this country and provided details on each. Before we dive into the transportation options in Sint Maarten/St. Martin, however, there is some important information you should know about the island.
The island of Sint Maarten/St. Martin is divided into two sections that are considered “collectivities” of two separate countries: France and the Netherlands. The larger, northern side, is part of France. This is the section known as “St. Martin,” and is referred to as the “French side.” The most popular area here is Orient Bay, which you can read about in this post.
The smaller, southern side, is part of the Netherlands. This section is known as “Sint Maarten,” and is referred to as the “Dutch side.” This side is where the main airport, Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM), is located. Right behind the airport is the famous Maho Beach (read about the beach here). The Dutch side is where many tourists stay when they come to visit. Philipsburg, the main cruise port for the island, is also located on this side.
There are distinct differences between the Dutch and French side, however, none of them relate to transportation and getting around the island. The border between the two sides is marked by a stone monument on the side of the road, surrounded by the flags of both France and the Netherlands. There is a sign on either side of the monument that welcomes you to each collectivity. The Dutch sign is in English, the French sign is in French. This setup on the side of the road is the only indication that you entered “another country.”
Otherwise, there is complete free movement between Sint Maarten and St. Martin, no border control or toll booths. This is quite convenient, as you can drive from one end of the island to the next in less than 30 minutes (with no traffic), and explore both sides of the island with little hassle. For a list of things to see and do in Sint Maarten/St. Martin click here.
Transportation Options in Sint Maarten & St. Martin
So now that I got the background information out of the way, here are the ways you can get around the island of Saint Martin.
There are not many options for public transportation on the island of Sint Maarten/St. Martin. The only form of inter-island public transport is the bus system. Otherwise, there are no trains, subways, trams, etc. The buses are actually more like minivans that have license plates that read “bus.” Unfortunately, as far as I can tell from my research, the buses in Sint Maarten/St. Martin do not follow a set bus route. They run from sunrise until an hour or two after sunset.
One town to the next will cost you between $1 and $2USD on the bus. Not only can you use US currency, but I found it’s encouraged, especially on the Dutch side. Be aware that you will likely need to transfer to a different bus if you are looking to travel across the island. The final destination of each bus is on a sign in the dashboard. However, the driver will answer any questions on how to get to your desired location.
There are a few bus stops found throughout Sint Maarten/St. Martin where you can wait for a bus or be dropped off. I saw several in Marigot and Phillipsburg. They are few and far between in the other areas of the island so you will need to flag them down to get on and ask the driver to stop to get off (don’t worry this is customary).
This is certainly the cheapest mode of transportation in Sint Maarten/St. Martin, but it’s not convenient. You can easily wait for twenty minutes in the more rural areas of the island before a bus comes by. For this reason, I chose to forgo the bus and spend a little extra money to make my trip more convenient.
It is important to note that there are no rideshare services in Sint Maarten/St. Martin. Many of us are accustomed to using Uber or Lyft to get around from place to place, especially on vacation. Unfortunately, that is not an option in Sint Maarten/St. Martin. Taxis do exist on the island and frequent the airport and resort areas. They are harder to come by in more rural areas, and if you plan to do much exploring, it may be hard to rely on them. Taxis are also extremely expensive. My trip from the SXM airport to Marigot (a 9-minute drive) cost $20 USD.
You want to keep in mind that after dark, taxis become more expensive and less frequent. If you plan on using taxis during your trip I would request your taxi driver’s name and number on the way from the airport so you can have access to someone to pick you up, should you need it. Read about my experience using the taxis in this previous post.
Renting a car is the easiest way to get around the island of Sint Maarten/St. Martin. All of the major rental companies, including Enterprise, AVIS, Sixt, Alamo, Thrifty, Hertz, and Dollar, have locations at the SXM airport. A small compact or economy car will cost between $30 USD and $45 USD a day. My travel companion and I rented an economy car from Dollar for $35 USD per day. The process was fairly straightforward and we had no issues with the rental from start to finish.
Driving on Sint Maarten/St. Martin is quite simple if you are coming from the United States. You stay on the right-hand side of the road and the speed limit generally stays around 50 km/hr (30 mph). There are no traffic lights on the island and only the occasional stop sign. Instead, there are roundabouts, in which you are required to yield to the oncoming vehicles within the circle before merging. The only frustration I found was there is a lot of traffic, especially in the middle of the day. A 5-kilometer drive could easily turn into a half an hour commute. Just make sure to take that into account as you are planning out your trip.
Other "On-Land" Options
Bikes and mopeds are both available for rent in Sint Maarten/St. Martin. Both options are somewhat pricey when comparing it to a car rental. I saw a number of locals on mopeds, though no tourists. They seemed to navigate the roads fine and had no issues with the traffic. I would be wary about riding a bike on the roads though. They are narrow and congested, with very little shoulder to ride on. I personally wouldn’t risk it.
A Note About Boats
You may, of course, get from one bay area in Sint Maarten/St. Martin to the next by boat. There are no public ferries to take you from, say Orient Bay to Simpson Bay. However, there are private charters with a professional skipper you pay by the day or week to take you around the island. Or you may rent and navigate a private boat yourself with a valid boating license. There are also group boating tours, like the one I went on (read about it here) with Aqua Mania Adventures. Lastly, there are ferries that take you from Sint Maarten/St. Martin to the other nearby islands such as Anguilla or Saba. However, they are on hold at the time this post was written due to COVID-19 restrictions.
My Final Thoughts on Getting Around Sint Maarten & St. Martin
So there you have it: my comprehensive list of options for transportation in Sint Maarten/St. Martin. We originally arrived in Sint Maarten/St. Martin with the plan of renting a car and forgoing the other options. However, due to some travel delays you can read about on this post, we ended up using taxis for a part of the trip. The expense and inconvenience of arranging a taxi certainly makes renting a car more preferable for me. I found that once we secured our rental car, getting around the island was a breeze. Minus the traffic of course, which is unfortunately unavoidable regardless of transport method.
If you are looking to this post for a recommendation, based on my experience, I would say rent a car while visiting Sint Maarten/St. Martin. Even if you are staying at an all-inclusive resort, there is so much to see and do (check out my suggestions here), you’ll want a convenient way to get around. Please feel free to contact me if you want any more advice on the car rental process and driving on the roads in Sint Maarten/St. Martin. I’d be happy to answer any questions or even help arrange a trip for you! Please don’t forget to comment below if this post was helpful to you in any way, I would love to hear from you!