St. Maarten Travel Diary
This April my boyfriend, Johnny, and I had the absolute pleasure of traveling to St. Maarten to stay in one of the prettiest places we’ve ever been (which was actually on my recent international travel bucket list!). It’s the first time I’ve felt safe traveling internationally in over a year due to the pandemic (we’re vaccinated now), and I’m delighted to report that it was not nearly as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be.
Instead, we found it to be quite the opposite– and the trip proved to be a really great way to ease back into traveling, by staying with our group of friends and being in all of that fresh island air. Of course, everyone’s timeline varies based on their own comfort level, experiences, conditions, etc., so if you have any concerns at all it’s best to consult with your doctor and do what’s right for you. But if you’re open to it, then renting a house with your loved ones is a great way to go to only be with those you know but still get that vacation feel. And boy do I have the villa for you…
But first I’ll share a little bit about our experience traveling there with the Covid regulations, in hopes that it helps answer some questions and shed some light on our experience. I promise that it was not too difficult and 100% WORTH IT.
Throughout the process of gearing up for the trip, I stayed in close communication with the owner of the villa where we stayed, Gabi. Gabi has visited the island during the pandemic, so she was extremely helpful in guiding us through the process of traveling there.
She walked me through the steps of getting approved to travel to St. Maarten, and below I listed them out for simplicity’s sake. Of course, these are always subject to change (and they do!), so your best bet is to closely follow the instructions on the St. Maarten Electronic Health Authorization System website.
This page on that site shares the most recent travel requirements. Here are the steps to travel there and back to the U.S.:
1. Schedule an appointment wherever you live to get a RT-PCR test within 120 hours of departure OR an antigen test within 48 hours of departure. 2. Print a copy of the test results to bring with you on the trip and have a saved PDF version of the file on hand (like on your phone in your photos). 3. Once you receive your negative Covid test, fill out the EHAS form here: https://stmaartenehas.
5. Once you’re on the island you will have to show your negative Covid test results in customs. Then you have to take your temperature every day (there’s a thermometer at the villa) and fill out a form that’s emailed to you each morning (it seriously takes 1 minute to do every morning and was the easiest process). 7. Then you have to get an antigen test on the island within 72 hours before leaving, which costs $65. We got our antigen tests done at the St. Maarten Laboratory Services, which you can make an appointment for online. I would book it for right when they open so you don’t have to wait in line. We got Antigen tests on Friday morning (and we departed on Sunday afternoon)– and they emailed the test results to us. We did not need to print them for our trip back, and just had them screenshot on our phone to show anyone who asked when we were in the airport in St. Maarten.
A few additional notes:
We were all vaccinated, but still had to do the tests to get into St. Maarten and then back into the U.S. (no complaints there– it made me feel safer about the whole trip!). We also rented a 12 person van (lol) from the Hertz at the SXM airport and used that to get around the island, which wasn’t too difficult as they drive on the same side of the road as we do in the U.S. (thank goodness!). We met the villa’s property manager, Daryl (he was the BEST), at the airport when we landed, and then we followed him in our van to a grocery store (which we thought was like the Costco of St. Maarten) to pick up our groceries, alcohol, etc., and then we followed him to the villa where he gave us a full tour. Highly recommend having him meet you at the airport, since the villa is about a half hour/45 minutes from the airport.
I promise that if you take it step by step, like we did, it’s very easy to do. Also, Gabi is your go-to resource for anything you may need or any questions you may have, so you can always reach out to her through the VRBO message portal on Villa Fantome’s VRBO listing as well! If you look on the bottom right of the page it says ‘Contact Host’ and you can reach out to her that way.
Where We Stayed
Villa Fantome— Ah now let’s get to the best part of the trip… our insanely gorgeous villa!!! I connected with the villa owner, Gabi, about a year ago, and we stayed in touch ever since. She has started to rent out the villa on VRBO, and asked me to honestly review and share it all with you in exchange for the stay. Of course I was all in on this idea, and could tell from their story and the photos that it was a really unique and special spot (also, not to mention the touches of Lilly Pulitzer that she has throughout the villa– it’s my dream!!).
Gabi had mentioned that the villa was perfect for larger groups (it can easily fit twelve adults), so we rounded up a few of our siblings and closest friends to experience it for ourselves. The verdict? OMG what a phenomenal villa!!! It has six bedrooms (including a separate apartment area that has its own kitchen), seven bathrooms (all of which have their own bathrooms & showers), and was recently completely redone after Hurricane Irma. Gabi and her husband purchased the property when it had been sadly almost entirely destroyed by the hurricane, and they spent a year pouring their love into the restoration process. They kept the original charm of the villa’s structure, but revamped everything so that it is now brand new, state-of-the-art, and stunning. You can see more of the villa’s before/after photos in my ‘St. Maarten’ Instagram story highlight on my Instagram profile.
It’s located in a safe, gated community on the Dutch side of the island, in a less-touristy area. The other homes in the neighborhood are also beautiful, but Villa Fantome objectively stands out as the most spectacular. All four levels of it are built into a cliff (which you can see in the below images), so it was sweeping view of the ocean and a variety of islands (St. Barths, St. Kitts, Anguilla, to name a few!) from every single window. The decor is bright, airy, and islandy– nearly everything is white with pops of natural textures and tropical turquoise. I could go on and on about it so I’ll list out a few of our favorite features:
- The infinity pool with the built-in bar seats
- Insane views from EVERYWHERE
- Professional resort-like cleaning service that can service the villa while you’re there
- The kindest, on-island property manager, Daryl, who took such great care of us and answered all of our questions (he also met us at the airport and we followed him to a huge grocery story & then to the villa, where he gave us a tour)
- It’s a 10-minute walk to Dawn Beach, right below the villa, where you can take a dip, snorkel, or have a drink at the Dawn Beach Club’s beach bar
- Paddle boards, snorkel gear, beach towels, etc. are all there at the villa ready for you to use!
- Two full sized washer and dryers for anything you may need to wash
- A chic movie room with the biggest couches I’ve ever seen and a DVD library on hand for a rainy day (which we had none of!)
- Literally anything that you might need or be looking for in a rental vacation property– bluetooth speakers, ping pong balls, blender for tropical drinks, multi-colored pool lights, any items you may need for cooking or grilling… I could go on!
I’m telling you honestly, I would go back to this villa (and I say that about very few places, because there are so many destinations on my bucket list!). It would be ideal for a family trip/reunion, a group of friends, or an epic Bachelorette trip. The nightly rate varies by the time of the year that you visit (and whether or not it’s over a holiday), but it averages at $1400/night, which is usually around the price of one five-star hotel room. And if you were to split that between 12 people, it would only be around $116/night per person!
You can book the property through VRBO and then contact Gabi through there and tell her you saw the villa through me! She usually books it for a week, but if you’re looking to book a fewer number of nights, reach out to her and she will see what she can do, depending on the time of year and availability.
What We Did
Hanging at the villa— As you can probably imagine, we really enjoyed just hanging out and lounging at the villa. For the first whole day of our trip, I didn’t book any excursions so we could fully relax and explore the villa’s property. We woke up and worked out on the deck that’s adjacent to the workout room on the highest level (which has yoga mats, weights, and a stationary bike), and then spent the rest of the day taking it easy. The villa’s pool has seven lounge chairs, and multiple places to sit in and around the pool/pool deck so we could all be together outside.
Snorkeling/swimming at Dawn Beach— Additionally, on our first full day there (and in the days following that!) we were constantly walking back and forth from the beach that’s about a ten minute walk from the villa. It was a great place to take a dip, do some snorkeling, and even have a drink at The Dawn Beach Club’s beach bar that’s right there. There were only a small handful of other people there whenever we went, as the Westin which used to be open on that beach has been closed since Hurricane Irma (only the condos on the beach have reopened). The close beach access was probably Johnny’s favorite part of the trip, as he’s an avid snorkeler and swimmer.
Beach Day at Anse Marcel Beach— On our second full day there, we went to Anse Marcel, which is a private beach located on the property of the Anse Marcel resort and restaurant. It was an absolutely stunning beach, with calm turquoise waters and a chic restaurant/bar steps from the sand (more on that below). I DM’d the restaurant beforehand on their Instagram to book chairs and umbrellas for us (because I couldn’t get ahold of them via email) and they were responsive that way. I’m pretty sure you can also just show up and rent the chairs there (they were only a few Euros to rent), but since we had a group of nine I wanted to make sure they were reserved beforehand, and I also made a reservation at the restaurant for us then too. It was such a relaxing and ideal way to spend the afternoon– we swam around, lounged, and kept refreshing our drinks from the beach bar… is there anything better?!
Boat Trip with Captain Jo Boat Charters— Ok, I booked this excursion for our last full day on the island and it was the absolute highlight of our trip! This was another recommendation from Gabi (she never failed us with her recs, they were all exceptional!!) and was an insanely fun experience. We met Captain Andrew (who works for Captain Jo) at the Anse Marcel Marina, where we had been previously the day before when we were at the Anse Marcel beach, and hopped on a brand new Boston Whaler, complete with a cooler full of boozy and hydrating drinks at our disposal. He put on the best island playlist and toured us to four different stops throughout our half day boat tour– a crystal clear swimming spot, Creole Island for snorkeling, Tintamarre Island for some more swimming (and where I snorkeled with the sweetest sea turtle!), and then finally Pinel Island, where he dropped us off for lunch and where we spent the rest of the day.
We took the ferry back from Pinel Island at 5:00 pm, where our van was waiting for us in the parking lot– Captain Jo’s team had transported it from the Anse Marcel Marina and gave the keys to our waiter at the restaurant where we had lunch on Pinel Island– amazing logistics by them (this is literally my love language). This was the best way to see the islands from the water and the Boston Whaler was perfect for nine people– but if your group is any bigger then I’d opt for their Powercat. Also, I would of course recommend that you add on the drone to your package– Andrew took the most insane photos and videos for us with it!
Everything I’m wearing in this post is linked in my St. Maarten packing list!
Where We Ate
Big Fish— This was the ideal spot for dinner for our first night on the island. It was only about ten minutes from the villa and had such a swanky, lively atmosphere! We all sat at this gorgeous table in the middle of the restaurant and had the most incredible bread, olive tapenade, cocktails, and then entrées and wine. I got the ‘pretty in pink’ seafood pasta which was divine! I believe I just called them before our trip to make our reservation.
Barranco— This had the best, most lively vibes out of anywhere else that we ate on the island, and had a very St. Barths feel to it (probably because it was on the French side of the island). We had a 7pm dinner reservation and were the first ones in the restaurant (lol) so maybe shoot for an 8pm reservation. The waiters were lovely and put together the most over-the-top appetizer board of every appetizer they had on the menu– so we enjoyed that along with a fashion show of the items that they sold at the restaurant’s boutique, and the live DJ that was in there as well. We had really delicious meals all around (I had the risotto and scallops!) and then they brought out sparklers and espresso martinis and it all went wild from there. This would be the ideal dinner spot for a Bachelorette party (we even saw one while were were there!). Gabi made the reservations here for us, and the owners of the restaurant introduced themselves to us because they said they knew of and loved Villa Fantome!
Anse Marcel— This is where we ate when we spent the afternoon on the Anse Marcel private beach, and it was such a luxurious and pretty al fresco dining experience. You can look out over the gorgeous beach and enjoy anything from a beautifully curated fresh fruit and sorbet salad to chicken fingers and fries. We indulged in rose, aperol spritzes, and their ‘AMB Signature’ cocktail which was dangerously good. It was a tad pricey, but worth it for the experience.
St. Martin Private Chef— For our second to last night in the villa I knew we would be tired and probably not want to drive to dinner, so we hired Chef Romain and treated ourselves to a fine dining experience in! He came to the villa, set the table, and made and served everything for us there (we sat at the 14-person table on one of the villa’s decks). He couldn’t have been kinder and was incredibly professional and made the yummiest fresh tuna appetizer, crab and avocado salad, lobster bisque, fresh fish, and flambe bananas for dessert. It was the ideal way to spend the night in but not have to lift a finger for dinner!
Karibuni— Ok this may have been my favorite meal of the whole trip– it’s the little Gilligan’s Island-esq dockside restaurant on Pinel Island, where we were dropped off after our Captain Jo boat trip, though you can take a ferry there as well. We sat at a huge wooden table under a shady canopy of driftwood and palms, and enjoyed truffle tuna crostini, conch fritters, and rounds of painkillers, my absolute favorite tropical cocktail. I had the poke bowl which was unbelievable. Captain Jo’s team made the reservations for us there, and reserved beach chairs for us to enjoy on the beach of Pinel Island afterwards. I’d highly recommend the whole experience!
Villa Fantome— We enjoyed all of our breakfasts, some lunches, and then dinner on our final night on the island at Villa Fantome. The kitchen on the main floor (there’s another one in the apartment on the lowest level!), had a large island that we all gathered around for card games, cooking, and snacking. When we first arrived at St. Maarten we followed the villa’s property manager, Daryl, to a grocery store that was like a huge Costco, and they had everything we could have needed– gluten free options, fresh fruit, wine, liquor, White Claw (!!!), hamburgers, juices, etc. We went in with a tentative grocery list and filled two HUGE grocery carts with everything we could have possibly needed. It came out to about $800 for nine of us, which is substantially less expensive for what all of that would have been in the states! It was a great way to stock up on food and drinks, and we got more than enough to last us through all five days. We ended up grilling out on the last night and making burgers, hot dogs, and sausages on the stainless steel grill that’s located right outside of the kitchen on the main floor of the villa! It was the perfect way to round out the trip.
In full transparency, my only regret is not staying longer so we could hang out at the villa for more time. If you’re looking for even more things to try and explore, I’d look into seeing the colorful walls of Baie Rouge Beach, having lunch and relaxing at Coco Beach, or having a rowdier time at Roxxy Beach (all places that were on my list but we didn’t make it to!). And if you need any additional recommendations, feel free to message Gabi through Villa Fantome’s VRBO listing, as she has a plethora of hidden gems that she knows and loves! xx