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Is the island of St. Maarten, and town of Philipsburg, safe for visitors and has it recovered from hurricane Irma?



We've visited the island of St. Maarten (the Dutch side) three times in the past year, with our last visit in September, 2018 and our next visit scheduled for April, 2019. St. Maarten is safe, but don't visit without reading our travel tips below to get the most out of your visit!

Is St. Maarten safe for visitors? That's a question that would require no hesitation in early 2017. However, the eastern Caribbean island of St. Maarten was devastated by hurricane Irma in September of 2017 and was somewhat slow to recover. Winds of up to 182 mph battered the island and torrential rains flooded most low-lying areas.

Is St. Maarten safe for visitors? That's a question that would require no hesitation in early 2017. However, the eastern Caribbean island of St. Maarten was devastated by hurricane Irma in September of 2017 and was somewhat slow to recover. Winds of up to 182 mph battered the island and torrential rains flooded most low-lying areas.

We were a bit hesitant at first when we booked a trip back in November of 2018 that included a stop in the popular cruise ship destination. We learned a lot about the island and the people in our 2018 visit to St. Maarten. Here are a few of the things we learned from our recent visit.

We visited Philipsburg St. Maarten in both the spring and fall of 2018.

My family and I visited Dutch St. Maarten via a spring break cruise in March of 2018. It wasn't my first visit to the island, but it also hadn't been long since hurricane Irma struck the island.

Before our visit, we couldn't help but wonder, "Is St. Maarten safe?"

Photos and videos shared from locals during and after the hurricane show wide-spread devastation, so it's natural for visitors to the island to be mindful of safety. The US State Department currently has St. Maarten at the "normal precautions" level for US travelers.

I can say with 100% confidence that we felt safe during our visit to St. Maarten, but the impact of hurricane Irma could definitely still be seen and felt, pretty much everywhere you looked. There were more than a few buildings that were still boarded up and missing key features, like their roof.

A few of the businesses along the beach boardwalk were displaying signs that they didn't yet have credit card processing service, but that it would be returning by the end of April, 2018.

We set off on a walking exploration of the island, seeing much of the town of Philipsburg in the area around the beach. We went inland a few blocks, walking around for a few hours before returning back to our ship late in the day. Below are a few things we learned while exploring Philipsburg. We hope these tips make your next visit to the island a deeper, more enjoyable experience for your family, too!

Our first tip for visiting St. Maarten: Get to know the people.

Don't talk to strangers.

That's what my mom used to tell me when I was a child. But if we never talk to strangers, how will we meet new people?

Our walking expedition of Philipsburg, St. Maarten introduced us to a few people that we never would have met otherwise, but we're glad we did.

We spoke with the owner of The Art Craft Cafe, an art gallery and school in St. Maarten, that told us about his experience during hurricane Irma. Their art gallery was devastated by the storm, but there ended up being a silver lining. They re-built their gallery and added an art school for children above the gallery.

He told us about how they were providing free art classes to local children, helping them to build a new creative outlet while also coping with their feelings after the storm.

The people you meet in your travels can change your entire experience. Don't be afraid to talk to strangers. Your mom would agree to this exception to the rule.

[bctt tweet="Travel tip: when visiting St. Maarten, #TalkToStrangers and take the time to get to know the people. #ExploreStMaarten"]

St Maarten Tips - Art Craft Cafe

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Our second tip for visiting St. Maarten: Go beyond the beach.

Don't get me wrong, the beaches of St. Maarten are some of the best in the world. The water temperature is near perfect and the colors range from deep blues to light colored turquoise and almost every shade in between.

But there's way more to see on St. Maarten than just the beach. Spend some time in one of those umbrella lounge chairs, but be sure to make it a point to explore other parts of the island as well.

In our walking exploration of Philipsburg, we came across quite a few unexpected findings. From Chinese restaurants to crowds of school children just getting out of school, our walk let us see a few shops, restaurants, people and sights that were just a bit "off the beaten path" enough for us to feel a bit more of a connection to St. Maarten than just the sand that was stuck to our feet.

Go to St. Maarten for the beaches, but stay for a while and explore inland as well. You won't regret it.

St Maarten Tips - Children Leaving School
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Our third tip for visiting St. Maarten: Walk, don't drive and buy local.

Okay, so this may actually be two tips rolled into one, but they are closely related. There are more than just a few good reasons to walk and not drive - especially if you have the soup of the day at the bar (ahem - rum).

Walking is not only great exercise, but it also means your surroundings pass you by much more slowly than if you're on a tour bus.

One of my favorite things to do on my family vacations is to walk our destinations together as a family, at least for an hour or two. You'll have a chance to see and remember the details that you wouldn't have had if you were driving.

Walking, instead of driving, is also a great way to discover local favorites that some travelers may just skip right over. You can go to a chain restaurant or bar almost anywhere. Why not visit places you can't find where you're from and you may never visit again?

St Maarten Tips - Our New Friend Zichael
St Maarten Tips - Our New Friend Zichael

All original photos from St. Maarten, edited in Luminar 2018.

All of the photos you see on this post are originals taken by Dadtography photographer Daniel and edited using Luminar 2018 (af) photo editing software.

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Our fourth tip for visiting St. Maarten: Tip more than they expect.

Local is almost always better in my experience. I'd much rather patronize a locally-owned establishment than one owned and operated by a giant corporation.

Eating and drinking local has always resulted in a better experience while on vacation for me. The staff of the establishment work hard when they own the place, or when they know the owner personally.

That level of service is worthy of acknowledgement. We made it a point to over-tip on our travels to St. Maarten. We knew many of the locals that were working in the restaurants, bars and hotels were still struggling and we were more than willing to reward great service.

Why not try out that small mom-and-pop restaurant and leave a 50% tip? A few bucks extra may not be a huge deal to you, but it could make someone's day on St. Maarten still trying to get back on their feet.

St Maarten Tips - Bar Tenders and Patrons
What do you think - what tips do you have for visitors of St. Maarten? Have you been to the island since hurricane Irma struck in 2017?

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