I had an expiring Delta certificate from a flight bump a year ago and the New York JFK – St. Maarten flight was nearly the exact amount left on the cert. Off-season Caribbean here I went. If you have been following me on Instagram, facebook or twitter you’ve seen the pictures as I darted around the islands.
In this series:
- Northern Caribbean Island Hopping Itinerary
- St Maarten – Caribbean Vice
- Video – Maarten Airport Golf Cart Tarmac Transfer
- St Martin – The Quiet Side
- Anguilla – Discretion Island
- Saba – Kong Island of the Caribbean
- Video: Landing at Saba Airport, Shortest Commercial Runway in the World
- St Barth’s – Gorgeous People, Pricey Hamburgers
- St Kitts – Plantation Splurge and Mega Fortress
- Nevis – Is An Hour Enough?
I am not a beach person and not much for chilling out, so my goal was a rapid-fire survey of the islands, see what might qualify for a languid trip with my wife, and scoop up a few Travelers’ Century Club locations. This is not the recommend way for most people to see the Caribbean, quite against the spirit of doing nothing, however I had a lot of fun.
What was clear is to avoid cruise ships and peak season. These are small islands with limited infrastructure. I can’t imagine St. Kitt’s with a bunch of mega ships at dock. They taper off by April, so May-June, ahead of hurricane season, is a nice time to visit.
The challenge was to scoop up as many places as possible without attempting to fly LIAT, which everyone with Caribbean experience says to avoid at nearly all costs. In my short visit I saw plenty evidence of their massive delays. So I turned to St. Maarten-based WinAir and ferries. WinAir really impressed me with every flight on their fleet of four DHC-6 Twin Otter planes arriving early and the flexibility to change to earlier different flights as needed. Being offseason some flights had only a couple people but none were canceled.
Booking WinAir was more of a challenge. Trying to book all my flights together had the allure of savings through ITA and Hipmunk but I never was able to get any to ticket. I played the Orbitz “this fare has sold out” game for a while as well as at other sites. Eventually I had to book the first segment as a one-way on Priceline and the rest as a multi-city on Expedia, in total $60 less than booking on WinAir but $150 more than the theoretical savings on Hipmunk. It would have been even pricier to book each roundtrip separately. If you book them, play with some combinations to see what works.
- New York – St Maarten (SXM) on Delta, arriving 13:05.
- Original plan was to try to catch the 13:20 WinAir to Saba (SAB) rather than the 17:45 I booked, but WinAir took off 20 minutes early, which is typical for them.
- Alternate: taxi to the French side of the island, St Martin, for the ferry to Anguilla.
- 1.5 hour taxi tour of Anguilla.
- Ferry back to St Martin, taxi to St Maarten, 17:45 flight to Saba.
- Overnight at budget guesthouse El Momo Cottages on Saba.
- Dawn hike up to Mt. Scenery (took a nasty tumble on the way down, spent the morning bandaging up and washing my clothes).
- 10:55 flight back to St Maarten, connecting to St. Barth’s (SBH).
- Walk from St. Barth’s airport to Gustavia and around the town. Rarely wear sandals and forget to put sun block on my feet: ouch!
- 14:05 flight back to St Maarten (originally booked 16:10 but I had seen enough of $18 crepes and hamburgers).
- Overnight at Travel Inn Hotel in Simpson’s Bay near St Maarten airport (only recommended as a cheap, transit hotel; no beach).
- 08:15 flight to St Kitt’s (SKB).
- Rental car with Hertz and drive to UNESCO-listed Brimstone Hill Fortess and around the island plantations.
- Found ripe soursops to eat: if I ever live on a tropical island by base reuqirement is ample supply of soursop, passion fruit and coconut.
- Unplanned addition: ferry to Nevis and back, just in case they ever exercise their independence option. The ferry was most pleasant than sitting in St Kitt’s heat.
- Walking tour of Charlestown, Nevis, including the Alexander Hamilton birth house.
- 19:25 flight from St Kitt’s back to St Maarten via Nevis (at one point I had looked at booking from Nevis, however that was breaking my fare. I did call WinAir and they said I could probably walk up at Nevis and get it sorted for a $35 change fee).
- Overnight at Travel Inn Hotel again.
- Already visited Anguilla so morning was clear and I stayed at hotel and caught up on work.
- 14:15 Delta flight back to New York.
In the following posts I will give my thoughts on each of the islands. In this cluster I only missed St Eustatius. Preview: Saba was my favorite.