Wall art in Philipsburg

Do As the Locals Do

Slow down and savor this slice of paradise.


If you really want to get to know St. Maarten/St. Martin, ask the locals. Here they offer you some insider tips for making the most of your island holiday.


Going to the beach is a mainstay. Environmental activist Jadira Veen goes early to “worship the sun” and immerse herself in cool, crystal-clear waters. “I go before the crowds come in, so the beach is all mine,” she says. “As soon as the sun starts to rise, I get up with it. That sets the tone of my day.”


This island gained its moniker of “Culinary Capital of the Caribbean” not only because it’s home to so many restaurants but also because locals love to cook together and share meals. It’s unlikely you could visit a home without being offered something to eat or drink.


Johnnycakes (or journey cakes, depending on whom you talk to) with cheese or salt fish are popular with locals. Some of the best journey cakes, as she calls them, come from the kitchen of Jacky Barry, an enthusiastic Caribbean cook always ready to feed hungry visitors. You can also seek out local fare at several restaurants, including Emilio’s Restaurant, Mark’s Place, Shieka’s Bistro and more.


Tranquility is prized. Real estate developer Astrid Gartner-Plantz is happy at the beach, enjoying savory bites and a glass of wine. It is her time to get away from the hustle and bustle and read a good book.


Hiking is a favorite activity of many islanders, who see this as a way to connect with the beauty and tranquility of their home. Members of SXM Trails gather together for several hikes a month, ranging from gentle walks to extreme hikes and moonlight trails.


For teens, there is no better hangout on Friday and Saturday nights than Caribbean Cinemas. Youngsters flock to see the latest movies (new ones open here every Thursday — a full day before stateside previews). Seeing a movie is not the only reason the cinema is so popular; teens love it as place to meet up and be seen.


At the end of a long night of partying, when most restaurants are closed, the food of choice is shawarma, a Middle Eastern meat preparation based on the doner kebab of Ottoman Turkey. This dish is served in pita bread, making it easy to eat.


And, to really claim that islander badge, you have to appreciate stopping traffic. Not at crosswalks, but anywhere along the road. Islanders joke that if you are annoyed by drivers who abruptly stop to chat with a neighbor, then you are not yet a full-fledged islander. It’s a Caribbean tradition to stop and chat, even though smartphones aplenty can be found throughout the island.