My yearly pilgrimage always takes place the first weekend in March. Why those dates, you ask? It’s pretty simple. For the last 15 years, I have been involved with the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. First as the assistant to the director, then as regatta director. Once I resigned as director, I became a volunteer and have spent the last nine years working in various positions for the event. I have been the press coordinator, all-around general volunteer, advisor to the sitting director, and social media manager. For me, the trip back home (I am originally from St. Maarten, or “I from here,” as they say) always takes place during the last week of February through the first week in March.
This year was no different, pandemic or not. I booked my flights, arranged my lodging, and was packed and ready when suddenly, the island government canceled the event. At that point; I hesitated for about five minutes before I realised that it didn’t matter; my trip would continue as planned. Many wondered why, seeing as we were still in a pandemic and technically in lockdown where I live. For me, the answer was easy, the island is open, they need tourism to survive, and I need my fix of tropical sun, fun, and friends.
So I continued as planned. I took my required PCR test, filled in my online EHAS forms, and paid for the mandatory COVID19 insurance. All of this was relatively easy, although, at the time, it felt a bit nerve-wracking. My thoughts were riddled with “Will the results be in on time” and “Will my application be approved,” but in the end, everything went like clockwork. The test results came in, I filled out the forms, and within 2 hours, I received my approval email. Please note that the official website states that you must allow up to 12 hours for processing.
Use a separate email for each applicant, including for children under the age of ten. It will come in handy when you receive the emails each day for temperature reporting.
Arrival in Sint Maarten
Once I arrived at the check-in desk for my flight, I needed to show my approval document and the COVID19 PCR test results. I highly recommend printing everything out as it was easier and more hygienic to hand over the documents instead of letting various strangers hold my phone and scroll through the pdfs. Once re-confirmed by the check-in staff, it was smooth sailing. I was sure to pack extra masks for the flight (my flight was 8.5 hours), and I brought a small pack of cleaning wipes to wipe down my armrests, tray table, and seatbelt buckle. I know, I know… many are probably thinking this is way over the top, but I figured, better safe than sorry.
Upon arrival, we sanitized our hands before entering the airport building, and then we cued up to see the lovely ladies and gentlemen at the COVID19 entry requirements desk. It all went rather quickly, and when it was my turn, I once again handed over the same documents that I had to show upon check-in. They checked them, were stamped, and I was on my way to the immigration desk. Everyone in line was patient and kept a respectable distance and those that didn’t received the side-eye a few times and got the hint! The nice thing about the extra paper processing step is that by the time you clear immigration, your luggage is ready and waiting, so I grabbed my bag and headed out to find my rental car.
Ravi was waiting for me outside, with his mask on, and he whisked me away to the rental car agency where we quickly filled out the paperwork, and I was able to hop into my rental and head on out to my accommodations. Now from everything you read, you might have noticed that other than a face mask, some extra paperwork, and hand sanitizing, not much else is any different from travel pre-COVID. The arrivals process took almost the same amount of time, and most importantly, the people were just as friendly as they always are. It is still the Friendly Island, after all!
While on St. Maarten, it was not much different than back home. Mask rules are in place for most places indoors, and outdoors it’s very easy to social distance, including restaurants and activities. I stayed at my favorite spot on Simpson Bay Beach, Colony Manor, which offered up a clean and sanitized apartment centrally located in the heart of Simpson Bay. The view includes stunning sunsets night after night, and you are 20 paces from the beach, which means early morning walks are practically required! While I did miss my annual regatta, it was nice to visit without any volunteering to do, and I was able to connect with many friends and family while I was in St. Maarten.
One requirement from the local authorities is a morning temperature check, where they email you with a link to report your temperature every morning. It takes all of 30 seconds between taking the actual temp and filling in the online form. You can easily do this from your cell phone via wifi.
Tip: bring a thermometer that you can use for the people in your travel group as monitoring is required for every day of your visit.
Usually, my schedule does not allow for beach and fun, but this time I made it over to Pinel island for the day (a definite must-do for St. Maarten). I also took a tour with Seaside Nature Park and enjoyed cooling off in the ocean with the horses. Add to that a hike to the Natural pool, countless meals in some of my favorite restaurants, several trips around the island to spot the various murals that keep popping up, and a total of 9 sunsets, and this trip was by far one of the best I have had in years. I was able to bring one of my favorite stemless wine tumblers (check it out here) with me, and it came in handy while at the beach! If you’re like me, you prefer your wine to stay chilled as you remain toasty warm in the sun!
The majority of people took precautions when they were in public, and it felt as if there was hardly any pandemic after all. So if you are concerned about traveling, or worried about whether or not to visit the island, don’t be. It’s incredible right now!
- Print out all your paperwork for the trip.
- Bring extra masks for the flight as well as for everyday use while out and about.
- Bring a reusable tumbler with you like this one so that you reduce the amount of plastic you use while in St. Maarten
- Bring a reusable straw so that you don’t have to use plastic or paper straws.
- Bring reef-friendly sunscreen with you to help protect the island’s waters.
- Book an excursion you have never done before, you may be pleasantly surprised, and it will help out the local businesses.