The Dutch side’s environmental protection group is called the Nature Foundation St. Maarten and on the French side it is the Réserve Naturelle Saint-Martin that is in charge of the protected areas. Get acquainted with local environmental initiatives and learn about the island’s natural treasures on their respective websites. Visit www.naturefoundationsxm.org or www.reservenaturelle-saint-martin.com for more details.
No, we’re not talking about the “clothing optional” activities for which this island can be famous! This “au naturel” means eco-friendly outings that help you to get close to nature while having a terrific time.
The new sport of stand-up paddling (SUP) is all the rage these days, and now you can do it here, too! This island has some great spots with optimum conditions for SUP, and it’s a fun workout for all levels of expertise. Sea kayaking is also a wonderful way to explore the coastline and mangroves of this island paradise; the ability to serenely glide through the waves without disturbing wildlife allows you to get very close to it. There are activity operators offering rentals, guided tours, and expert instruction, and some combine snorkeling opportunities as part of their eco-tours as well.
Swing through the trees
If zip-lining through a treetop canopy like Tarzan and Jane is on your bucket list, then head for Loterie Farm. It’s not a typical “farm”, but rather a magnificent preserve of towering trees spanning over 135 lush acres at the foot of Pic Paradis, the island’s highest summit. There are different levels of zip-lining courses from beginners to extreme, and after you’re done flying through the branches you can refresh in their new swimming oasis L’eaulounge or sit back, relax, and enjoy a snack and their signature cocktail in the TreeLounge and Hidden Forest Café.
Îlet Pinel is one of the island’s premier snorkeling spots and the healthy reef there is part of the French side’s nature reserve. The only company allowed to operate in the protected area is Wakawa Eco Klub and they offer a very unique snorkeling experience that includes an underwater guided audio narrative leading you along a marked underwater trail. The sound is naturally conducted (no batteries) through your mouthpiece to your ears through Amphicom technology. So very cool! Your expert guides will also teach you about the reef creatures, supply identification charts, and even slather you with specially imported, environmentally friendly sunscreen. There is also a wonderful beach on Pinel where the beach bars get their power in an eco-friendly way from stand-alone generators. For an even more intense snorkeling experience try the new sport of extreme shallow snorkeling now being offered on the island.
Hike, bike, or run
There are over 25 miles of hiking trails that wind through both sides of the island and visitors are welcome to join local hiking clubs for their regular jaunts that range from easy walkabouts to strenuous mountain climbs. It’s a good idea to participate in a guided hike since many of the trails cross private land and local guides know their way around best. The same goes for mountain biking. Local outfitters like Tri Sport offer bike rentals and guided tours. Some of the best trails can be found in the hills on the French side around Bellevue, Colombier, Pic Paradis, Friar’s Bay, Grand Case, and Anse Marcel. On the Dutch side, the residential areas of Guana Bay, Belair, and Pointe Blanche are quiet places to ride. Or, if you’re a jogger, you are welcome to join a local runners club.
There are many first-rate stables and tours for all levels of experience and it’s a great way to get to natural spots that are inaccessible by car or on foot. Your guides will enlighten you about your surroundings along the way and some outfits have enchanting rides by the beach. Some even offer tours that allow you to ride your steed right into the sea!
Wind and the waves
Windsurfing is always a great eco-friendly option and there are scads of windsurfing schools and equipment rental operations in Orient Bay and at Le Galion Beach. Galion is also a popular place to kitesurf, body surf, and board surf due to its big waves. You can also harness the wind in your own little dinghy; many resorts have these small sailboats as well as instruction. And of course there are lots of big sailboat and catamaran tours and charters to help you sail away.
Cool creatures and winged wonders
Visit the St. Maarten Park, a zoo and botanical garden on the Dutch side for the chance to interact with some of the island’s coolest creatures and enjoy some beautiful blooms. Or you can witness the marvels of metamorphosis up close and personal at the Butterfly Farm on the French side with hundreds of species of butterflies flitting around their tropical gardens. Go early in the morning (the farm closes at 3:30 p.m.) to view these winged wonders when they are most active. Repeat visits during your stay are free.