The Butterfly Farm: Less than 5 minutes south of where we stayed in Orient Bay was a butterfly farm. At the time of writing this, the farm costs about $12 per person for adults and about half that for children and it includes a guided tour pretty much any time of the day you stop in. You can’t miss the sign from the main road.
The farm was small, but really have a wonderful array of butterflies and plants on display. If you get there between 9 and 9:30 am, you will be able to see the new butterflies hatch But don’t think it’s a quick process, you may just want to set up a camera and fast forward through the replay later. It is open every day of the year, so there’s no excuse not to get there.
One nice feature is that they will sign a card for you upon entry and any time you visit in the future, you can go for free whether it’s during the same trip or any subsequent trip to the island. The first time we went it was in the afternoon when the butterflies were a bit tired. So a week later we came back in the morning to see the new ones hatch from their chrysalis.
The Beaches: Pinel Island, Anse Marcel, Le Galion
These three beaches were the best we found for visiting with children. My little one was only 19 months at the time of our trip and as much as she loves bathwater, she hates the beach — particularly the waves. However by the time we got to Pinel Island, she started to warm up to the idea because the water is so calm on these beaches.
This is what you need to know. Anse Marcel is a nice beach on the French side. To get there you hang a right at the roundabout just before getting to Grand Case. The sign will say something about a ferry. Drive all the way down that road until you see a sign for the Radisson Hotel. Follow that all the way. You will drive up a really windy and steep hill and upon descending on the other side, you will see parking lots in front of you and a guy controlling the flow of traffic in and out of the beach area. Park in one of the lots and walk down to the beach. Drinks and presumably food are quite expensive there, so you may want to pack your cooler with some pâté sandwiches, fig bars and water bottles like we did or just buy drinks from one of the hotels that are on the beach.
To get to Pinel Island follow the same ferry sign as you did to get to Anse Marcel, but instead of turning left towards the Radisson, continue straight down to the right. The “ferry” that takes you to the island is more like a refugee boat. If you have a fear of water, you may not like it. I think it was 6 bucks round trip for the boat and the ride was less than 10 minutes. They leave every 30 minutes with the last one coming back before sunset. Pinel Island is uninhabited, so all you will find there are some restaurants. As with all the beaches on St. Martin, you can rent lounge chairs and umbrellas, but this beach actually has a better stretch of sand than most, so finding a place to lay out isn’t a problem at all. It seems that the restaurants and even the shops there are somewhat reasonably priced, so you can bring your lunch like we did, or sit down and not blow the bank.
Le Galion was the closest beach to where we stayed. It is just past the Butterfly Farm. Again, you can’t miss the turn off from the main road, just south of Baie Orientale. I’m not sure what was so great about it, but I think it was my personal favorite beach. It had a good mix of just regular people hanging out having a good time. One thing that kids like at this beach is the raft anchored a few feet out. They can walk or swim out to it, climb up and then jump off. The wear was nice and warm at this beach too!
One thing to note about beaches on the island is that they are topless (not forced, just an option). So if you’re prudish or otherwise don’t want your kids exposed to the human body, then you may want to avoid the beaches altogether.
Things to think twice about if you’ve got kids
Zoo: I wouldn’t recommend this zoo to anyone. It is located on the Dutch side, costs $11/pp to get into and is depressing. It’s bad enough that the whole thing can be done within a half hour, but there’s really not much to see there other than a bunch of macaws. They had some guinea pigs, a few reptiles, a prairie dog of some sort and a cockatoo. It was really a waste of time and money — not much time, but at least the money.
Lottery Farm: Lottery Farm is a gorgeous resort nestled on the slopes of a hill toward the interior of the island part way between Grand Case and Marigot (actually, this was the only source of fresh water we found on the island). Follow the signs for Pic Paradis (Paradise Peak) from the main road to get there. If you are continuing to Pic Paradis, make sure you have a 4×4, anything else might get severely damaged on the steep, rocky roads.
As beautiful as Lottery Farm is — seriously, it looks like a getaway vacation place on the Travel Channel, you may not want to do it with children unless you plan on staying at the restaurant and having a few drinks which is totally cool. If your kids are slightly older, you can do one of their many the zip lines or hike their trail. The trail, however, is quite treacherous. It costs 5 euros per adult whether you do the short or long trail. And basically you walk up a slippery trail along ledges.
At some point, they put a rope, which was helpful, but then at the very end before you get to the overlook, you’d wish you had brought your rock climbing gear. When you get to Chewbacca Rock, you’re at the first summit (actually you’re quite close to Pic Paradis at this point) you can head down the other side. If you have extra time (another hour) you can continue on to the next section which takes you to a cell phone tower.
Don’t be fooled into thinking the walk down is any easier. Well, you don’t have to make the rock climb down, which is good, but it’s quite slippery and muddy the whole way down.
We were really annoyed at the experience simply because we asked the woman at the desk if the trail was doable with a baby and if our shoes were sturdy enough for it and all she said was “You’ll have to carry her,” which we figured, but she clearly had never walked the trail or she would have told us that Daisy’s flip flops were totally inadequate for such a walk. Of course, we were half way through when we realized that it was getting treacherous and almost done by the time we realized going down the way we had gone would have been really really hard!