The island of St. Maarten/St. Martin provides amazing opportunities for exciting day trips or even shorter excursions by boat. From the various ports of the island, daily trips can take you to the neighboring islands of St. Barths, Anguilla, St. Eustatius and Saba as well as more localized trips to many of the tiny uninhabited islets surrounding the island.
For those with sailing experience, it is also possible to hire your own boat for pleasure trips within the safe waters of St. Maarten/St. Martin.
The Simpson Bay Lagoon, the Caribbean's largest salt water lagoon with a surface area of several square miles, connects the Dutch side of the island with the Northern French half. The lagoon is large enough to allow full size yachts to explore its waters, but being well protected, is ideally suited for small boats. During the winter months, hundreds of yachts are at anchor here and transform the lagoon in a busy community.
Please: don't expect a romantic South-sea movie setting – Simpson Bay Lagoon is not the Blue Lagoon – sorry. Its an active body of water, used by ferries serving the neighboring island of Anguilla and by individuals, who choose to commute by boat instead of car. The lagoon connects the French side capital of Marigot with the commercially active areas of the Dutch side. During times of heavy car traffic, it might be a 40 minute drive from the International Airport to Marigot, but it will only take 5 minutes by boat.
The lagoon is so large that water quality varies; while the Eastern end with the settlement of Cole Bay has pollution issues, the main part has great water quality (constantly checked by the French side's authorities!) with a healthy underwater flora and fauna and is absolutely fit for swimming and snorkeling. The lagoon is teeming with fish, shrimp and many other kinds of marine life.
On its South Eastern shore we find the bustling village of Simpson Bay. The former fishing settlement has been transformed into the entertainment and business center of Dutch Sint Maarten, only a mile away from the airport and the Maho district. The lagoon is connected to the open sea by a channel, running under a draw bridge. This bridge opens several times per day, allowing yachts of up to 180 feet to make their way to the numerous marinas inside. Small boats have no problem passing under the bridge at any time. Boats can be rented from several companies in Simpson Bay. Kayaks are available as well. Many bars and restaurants in this Dutch area can be reached by boat and allow docking.
Explorer Island is an enchanting sight in the center of the Simpson Bay Lagoon and is an ideal stop for a picnic or even a cocktail at sunset. This tiny, uninhabited island of a few acres has a lovely beach with palm trees and is occasionally visited by a pontoon tour boat. Further to the South West, residential developments line the shores, leading into the quiet off-shot, unofficially called 'Mullet Bay Lagoon'. Exploring the Western part of the lagoon, the beautiful million Dollar estate homes of Terres Basses can be viewed. This upscale neighborhood is part of France and most certainly a world class location.
To the North, Baie Nettle has been more densely developed by the tourism industry, taking advantage of the French 'Defiscalisation Laws'. Low rise condominium buildings and hotels line the sandy beach. Following the shore, passing along the settlement called 'Sandy Ground', a second channel with a drawbridge appears, allowing boats to leave the sheltered waters on the northern side of the lagoon. Shortly after the bridge is the capital of the French side, Marigot. The Marina Royal in Marigot is a European style yacht harbor, where a multitude of restaurants and elegant shops invite the boater to tie up at the dinghy dock and take a stroll. Small motorboats for day trips can be rented here as well.
The inexperienced boater should leave the protected and safe waters of the lagoon only in settled weather conditions. The constant trade-winds, which make the Lesser Antilles such an exciting region for ocean going sailboats, could create too much chop for a modest run-about. Especially on the Eastern coast of St. Martin which is exposed to the Atlantic and at most times not suitable for undersized pleasure craft. More protection against the prevailing wind can be found on the North coast of the island, allowing a boat ride from Marigot, along Friars Bay, to Grand Case on most days. In any event, don't venture out on the open ocean without a VHF radio. In case of engine problems you need to be able to call for assistance.
There are several ways to explore the Lagoon: ST. MAARTEN BOAT RENTALS offers Boston Whalers sportboats with out board engines for day or half-day rentals. The boats are very easy to operate and even an inexperienced can learn to drive them with some short instructions. The famous >>> Rhino Rider Safari is a guided tour through the Lagoon and along the coast with hard-bottom inflatable, outboard powered boats, which are a blast to operate. This highly rated excursion will also stop at the best snorkeling spots.