Perched in the northeast Caribbean, the island of St. Martin is small tropical paradise that is divided between France and the Netherlands. French influence is seen in the northern part, while the southern section is referred to as “Sint Maarten” and reflects Dutch ownership. This unique cultural blend combines with stunning beaches and natural scenery to make this a favored destination for travelers from all over the world.
Budgeting by Season
As is the case with many other Caribbean destinations, discussion of how to visit on a budget begins with season. January through early April is considered high season in St. Martin, and visiting during this time means crowded beaches and significantly higher prices for hotels, restaurants, and virtually all services.
Travel during the off-season, however, and you’ll be rewarded with a lot more than just reduced hotel rates. You’ll find extra nights for free, complimentary spa treatments, and even vouchers for free meals.
What’s the catch? April through December can be a bit unpredictable in terms of weather, although major tropical storms are somewhat rare and tend to come with advance notice these days.
Room and Board
Where you choose to stay is also a major budget factor, so it’s important to consider what is most important during your stay. Do you plan on spending most of your time exploring outside? This cuts down the amenities you’ll need from your hotel or villa. Consider how badly you really need that sweeping ocean view from your room if you plan on spending most of your time down in the water anyway.
The next budget consideration is food. In French St. Martin you’ll find some of the best cuisine in the Caribbean, and prices overall tend to reflect this. An effective solution is to limit the total number of times you eat out at restaurants. Many hotel rooms and villas in St. Martin come with functional kitchens, so you can shop at the markets and prepare some of your own meals.
Another delicious and economical option is to sample the island’s lolos, which are essentially roadside barbecue stands. If you’re in Cole Bay, try the legendary lolo known as Johnny B Under The Tree. Here, former five-star hotel chef Johnny Bridgewater grills perfect lobster and baby back ribs with plantains, rice, and peas. Combine a few of these budget food tips, and you’ll save enough to splurge on the occasional dazzling restaurant meal.
Navigating St. Martin
As for getting around, look into renting a car, as it can end up being significantly cheaper than paying for taxis everywhere you go. This is especially true of you’re interested in venturing out and exploring all the island’s natural beauty.
If you find yourself bored or unhappy with one beach, simply hop in your car and go find another. The island, after all, is not huge, and driving from one location to the next shouldn’t take long.
Lastly, in the spirit of “every little cost adds up”, we should talk about cocktails and general alcohol consumption. The costliest option is to run up a bar or restaurant tab, with cabana boys delivering cocktails to you on the beach all week.
High quality Caribbean rum is plentiful and cheap. So consider buying a bottle and a few mixers to have on hand in your room. You could even make a pitcher to take down to the beach with you, for a liquid picnic. Also, thanks to the French influence, you’ll find plenty of quality, affordable wine on hand at the local markets.
As you can see, a Caribbean vacation doesn’t have to drive you bankrupt. With a little extra planning, you can save a bundle on costs like food and transportation.
In the end, time of year is perhaps the most important factor, as it directly affects prices of flights and accommodations. Take care of the cost issues, and you’re on your way to a worry-free vacation in the Caribbean.