> Six weeks of island hopping across St-Martin, Sint Maarten, Anguilla, St-Barts, Guadelope, and Antigua & Barbuda <
The islands in the Limestone Arc are not fallout of volcanic activity but limestone coral islands that boast the classical Caribbean beaches known from the postcards: turquoise waters, palm trees and coconut-milk-colored beaches. In a world of marketing and obsession with lists of superlatives, many of these islands were quick to exploit the potential to raise their profile as a paradise destination for the sun-lounging, go-slow type. Obviously, we had to see this with our own eyes - especially after having visited +10 other Caribbean islands on other island hopping tours. During Autumn, we therefore designed a 6-week itinerary across St.-Martin / Sint Maarten, Anguilla, St-Barthélemy, Antigua & Barbuda, and the Guadeloupe archipelago, and designed it to take place in January into February. As we wanted to deeply explore these islands (as we always do), we decided to stay for several days on each island in houses through AirBnB and have our own vehicle on each island to be able to do maximum exploration. To this date, this was one of the most expensive tours that we’ve designed. It would have been much cheaper to visit via a cruise ship or to simply stay in only one or two locations, but then again: when we weighted costs against the desire to “go deep”, the desire to explore came out as the winner.
St.-Martin / Sint Maarten was the starting point where we stayed for 10 days, exploring every corner of the island. As an island split between nationalities we’d might expect tension, but the island has none of the bitterness inherent in the dissection of islands such as Cyprus, for instance, or Ireland. The big difference between the two parts lies in the degree of development. The St.-Martin part is more rural, mountainous and colorful – and in our opinion therefore also more charming – while Sint Maarten is not much more than a strip of land with endless beaches and salt flats. The predominant mood of the island is sun, sea and snorkeling. The island is very touristy, but the soul of the island can be found in the many small villages in the interior. Two highlights worth mentioning: the extremely good street-food and hiking across the northern coast. Anguilla is just a hop away from St.-Martin, but few travelers bother doing this hop. That is sad, since Anguilla is very much worth exploring. Actually, Anguilla got lucky. Since the 1650s it has been more or less bypassed by major development of any kind. It was too arid for plantations, and early efforts to export cotton, salt and tobacco failed. The result today: thirty-three white sand beaches, a laid-back atmosphere and the sleepy charm of letting goats wander on the lonely roads. We stayed on the north coast on a stretch of sand offering crystal, transparent waters and got around the island in a small rental. The many small villages are very cozy. Without doubt the entire island is a purist’s paradise, where the wind brings the scent of sea, salt and coral sand of which the entire island is made.
From St-Martin, a very expensive ferry brought us to St-Barthélemy. Being from Scandinavia, this island was a special experience for us due to its Swedish past. For nearly a century Sweden ran the place and their influence remains very evident in the capital of Gustavia, where Swedish and French street names rub shoulders. The island is small and hilly with twenty to thirty picture-perfect beaches, and it has thee Swedish forts. Again, renting a car and zig-zagging its many roads was our formula for examining the island. We continued to the two almost-touching islands of Guadeloupe that looks like a Butterfly. Yet, the two parts are very different. This time we concentrated on exploring the flat, eastern Grande-Terre limestone island, whereas on another trip we visited Basse-Terre, the volcanic western part (see our other island pages). We found the beaches to be absolutely fabulous, and it was easy to jump off to nearby islands in the archipelago. Our trip ended in Antigua, a flat and almost treeless island, with no rivers or springs. It is however no secret that the twin islands of Antigua & Barbuda enjoy an international reputation as one of the most exotic and romantic islands on the planet. Antiguans like to boast that their island has 365 beaches, one for each day of the year. Well, we did not explore all of them, but during our two weeks here, where we stayed in three different locations in north, west and south, we managed to see quite a few. Other highlights were the spice market and fish market in St. Johns (where we went every morning to stock up for dinner), hiking in the hills across the island, and chartering a helicopter to circumnavigate the island and see it all from above.