If you are looking for a unique place in the Caribbean to travel to, you should definitely check out St Maarten / Saint Martin! The island that has various landscapes with mountains, lush forests and picture-perfect beaches has a Dutch and a French side so visitors can experience two different vibes on one vacation! No matter what area you will stay at, there is fantastic snorkeling in St Maarten and Saint Martin too so if underwater activities are on your things-to-do list, keep reading to learn what beaches to visit!
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St Maarten snorkeling conditions
The tropical climate of St Maarten makes it a great year-round destination. The maximum temperatures range between 82-89 F/ 28-32 C, while the minimum is around 72 F / 22 C. The sea is pleasantly warm no matter the season with temperatures between 75-85F/ 24-29C. Trade winds blow the Atlantic Ocean bring more rain to the east coast, while the drier west coast has a drier, at some places almost desert landscape.
The best time to go on a St Maarten snorkeling vacation is from end of April till June, and from the end of October until mid-December. These periods offer the most stable weather conditions along with moderate accommodation prices.
From July to October there is hurricane season and although direct hits are rare, many places are closed in this period. The North American winter vacation season (from December till Easter) is another good time to visit the island. This is the driest period of the year and considered the high tourist season, so the prices can be pretty high at that time.
In 2017, Hurricane Irma hit St Maarten. The reconstruction of the infrastructure took a long time until the island started to operate at full capacity, but we can say there is business as usual again. Unfortunately, the surrounding reefs were damaged too, so when diving or snorkeling in Saint Martin or St Maarten, you will see how the reef is recovering (the dead structures are covered with the new coral growth).
The waters surrounding Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin are home to a variety of sea life including turtles, rays, many kinds of tropical fish and of course colorful corals. There are several beaches that offer fantastic snorkeling, let’s see our favorite spots!
Best St Maarten snorkeling spots
The golden sandy Cupecoy lies on the western side that features the island’s most beautiful beaches where long sandy stretches and limestone cliffs vary.
The beach area depends on the conditions (what time of the year you visit, how is the tide) so one day you find a very wide sandy beach here while on the other only a narrow stretch of sand. There are no shops around so probably this is the main reason why Cupecoy managed to remain quiet in comparison to other beaches on the Dutch side.
The snorkeling at Cupecoy is OK but not fantastic; a few types of fish can be seen so it is good for beginner snorkelers.
Note: since some parts of the beach are so secluded with often no people around, those areas of Cupecoy are considered clothing optional.
Mullet Bay Beach
Mullet Bay lies just next to St Maarten’s most popular beach, Maho, but somehow it is popular mostly among locals. The reason for this could be that the area seems a little abandoned with no facilities around except two small bar, Daleo’s Snack and Rosie’s bar besides a few seasonal mobile vendors, but this shouldn’t hold you back from visiting this spot especially if you prefer to have privacy while sunbathing.
The sea is usually calm at Mullet Beach with good visibility and there is plenty of marine life to see on the left side of the bay. The surf can get big when the trade winds are blowing and this is when surfers come here to catch the waves!
Regardless, Mullet Bay is a must-to-see beach in St Maarten where there is something for everyone. Swim, snorkel, surf or just to grab a Caribbean style snack and enjoy the sun!
Indigo Bay, this hidden gem between Simpson Bay and Philipsburg (previously known as Cay Bay) is a great place if you want to get away from the crowds and enjoy calm waters with soft sand. The area is managed by an eco-conscious developer that guarantees that the authentic Caribbean beach environment won’t be destroyed by non-ecological constructions.
The soft sand and calm waters offer a perfect setting for sunbathing (beach chairs and umbrellas are available to rent at indigo Beach Café) swimming and kayaking. There are numerous small coral reefs around, so this is a fantastic place to try snorkeling in St Maarten!
Dawn is a pretty white sandy beach on the eastern side of Sint Maarten with the amazing view of Saint-Barthélemy Island. We recommend this beach for those who seek out a relaxing place to stay as this area never gets as busy as Maho or Simpson Bay.
Dawn Beach is a good spot to snorkel too, however not for weak swimmers or kids as due to the fact that this side of the island faces the Atlantic there can be waves and currents. If you are confident in the water and have powerful snorkel fins, when the sea is calm you shouldn’t miss out exploring the nearby reef that is home to various sea creatures.
Tip: hotel recommendation here: Princess Heights Luxury Condo Hotel
Little Bay Beach
On the southern coast, between Simpson Bay and Philipsburg, next to Indigo Bay can be found this idyllic St Maarten snorkeling spot that is known as Little Bay or also Divi Bay (because of the family-friendly resort Divi Little Bay Beach Resort that lies here).
The bay is less touristy than the island’s popular beaches, usually only the resort’s guests and some snorkelers/divers come here. Thanks to its perfect white sand, calm and current free waters, it is an ideal spot for families with little kids to do some underwater exploration.
For snorkeling, the best area is the left side of the bay along the rocky shore of the peninsula. This is called The Tiki Hut, which is a floating tiki bar and underwater park with helicopter and submarine wrecks and fantastic aquatic life to see! When you are here, make sure to hike up to Fort Amsterdam historical place that offers some of the best views on the island!
Kim Sha Beach
This well-protected beach in Simpson Bay is our top pick if it comes to action: Kim Sha offers activities for all types of beachgoers including kayaking, sailing, but sunbathers will also enjoy themselves here. Moreover, it is a great spot to watch the sunset while enjoying a refreshing cocktail at one of the beach bars (Buccaneer Beach Bar has delicious food and drinks).
Kim Sha is also an ideal beach to go snorkeling in St Maarten for children too. The water is shallow quite far out and the small reef protects the bay from waves.
Tip: thinking about staying here? Then make sure to check out the Simpson Bay Resort Marina & Spa!
Best spots to go snorkeling in St Martin
Friar’s Bay Beach
A beautiful little beach near Grand Case is Friar’s Bay that on top of the soft sand and shallow waters offers a spectacular view to the neighboring island, Anguilla and also superb snorkeling!
Although there is nothing exceptional here, but Friar’s is one of the best beaches to relax on the French side of the island. The on-site restaurants, Kali’s Beach Bar (actually this is a reggae style bar that makes bonfires and hosts Full Moon Parties too) and Friar’s Café have yummy food and cold drinks, sunbeds and cabanas to rent, there is plenty of parking around, what else could you ask for a perfect beach day?
Happy Bay Beach
Just a stone’s throw away from Friar’s Beach one finds the island’s other hidden gem, Happy Bay Beach. It is considered a ‘secret beach’ so that sometimes not even the locals know about it.
The easiest way to get there is walking from Friar’s through the trees on the path behind Friar’s Bay Café. After like 5-8 minutes of walking you will arrive to Happy Beach! This remoteness explains why Happy Beach is one of the cleanest and most relaxed beaches of St Martin. If you are lucky, you will have the entire beach for yourself!
There are no facilities here just nature’s pure beauty with bright sand and turquoise water. There are even some sea grape trees that provide shade. Occasionally a mobile vendor selling snacks on the path before the beach, but don’t rely on this so bring water and some sandwiches! For snorkeling, the right corner is the best, but there are lots of fish on the left side too near the cliffs
Le Galion is probably the best snorkel beach in the French Saint-Martin. It is a protected nature preserve, so boats have to stay out and no fishing allowed. Thanks to these strict rules, the marine life is extremely rich here with plenty of fish and nice corals. The beach is busy at weekends only when locals use to come here making barbeque.
Getting to Le Galion (also known as Coconut Grove) needs some effort, since you need to drive on a dirt road past the Butterfly Farm and Bayside Riding Club, but if you are ready to walk the extra mile your reward will be the possibility to enjoy the soft sand and beautiful blue waters at this family-friendly beach. There is a little snack bar here (Tropical Wave) where you can get snacks and drinks and rent umbrellas and chairs.
You may not think at first sight that a tiny uninhabited rocky islet is among the best St Martin snorkeling spots, but well, this is the truth. Creole Rock is situated near Grand Case, and actually you can even swim there from the beach too if you are an experienced swimmer. If not, join an organized trip or get a private boat.
At the rock, the crystal-clear water is teeming with life including trumpetfish, angelfish, rays and turtles. Some boats drop snorkelers a little further from the main snorkel rock where the corals are even more vibrant and there is even more fish around!
Baie Rouge (Red Bay) is known as the pink beach of Saint-Martin because the color of the sand has a reddish-pinkish glow from the crushed coral pieces. The beach is wide and long (approx.2 miles) so it never gets crowded. There are restaurants nearby (Chez Raymond and Gus’s Beach Bar) to get snacks or lunch, however renting chairs or sunbeds can be a problem so it is better to bring your own gear.
But this is not only just another beautiful beach, but also a superb spot for snorkeling in St Martin, the French side of this pretty Caribbean Island. A vibrant reef extends out from David’s hole, a collapsed sinkhole on the eastern end of the beach that is definitely worth checking out if you love swimming among colorful fish!
The uninhabited Île Tintamarre is the largest of the rocky islands around Orient Bay and also a nature reserve that makes it a fantastic spot for snorkeling in St Martin.
Visiting Tintamarre is a full day sailing excursion that includes sunbathing on the island’s white sandy beach, sunbathing, having a picnic lunch and of course snorkeling! Besides the common Caribbean fish species, you will see turtles and rays, and if you are lucky also nurse sharks and dolphins. Remember to bring sunscreen and clothes that are UV protective since there is very little shadow!
It would be a shame not visiting Îlet de Pinel, the Pinel Island marine reserve when on St Martin! To get to this picturesque islet that lies near Orient Bay you need to take a ferry that departs from Cul de Sac.
The island’s west side (where the main beach is) has calm waters, while the east side can get choppy due to the trade winds, so definitely the west shore is better for snorkeling. It is possible the snorkel on the north-east side of the island too because there is also a coral reef, but only when the weather is calm.
We recommend following the snorkel trail, the Pinel Island marine trail (marked with white buoys) that takes you along the reef while you can observe various fish species such as wrasses, parrotfish and maybe stingrays and turtles too in shallow waters (approx. 2-5 m/6-16 ft deep).
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