A beautiful place to visit, but don't drive - leave it to the locals!
Thinking about renting a car in Sint Maarten? There are several things to take into consideration.
The first thing, renting a car is a somewhat risky business in the Caribbean. As I provided my credit card to Henry and his Car Rental service, I realized I hadn’t seen the car yet. As I reflected on the situation after a Guavaberry and Rum concoction, it did not matter as there were probably no other choice of car. Our hot ride was a 20 year old Camry and Henry seemed quite proud of this dirty run down beast and the slightly used map he provided.
We were barely out of the Port of Phillipsburg and the fender skirt began loudly scraping against the tire. Fortunately, the tire was warn smooth and did not damage the car any further. If I only had a roll of duct tape, I could have stopped people from staring and pointing at the noise generator.
Things soon became adventurous as we twisted and turned around mountains on the island along the coast. Passing several villages with frustratingly long lines of traffic, we began to realize that this tiny island may be a bit overpopulated. However, with Covid still raging in some countries, we were the only cruise ship in town that day. I cannot imagine if the port had been full of ships. After all, our ship was only 40% full.
As we made it to the French side of Saint Maarten, the road signs quickly changed from Dutch to French. Luckily we understood a few words and we found a tiny blue sign, just south of the small village of Rambaud displaying: Rue de Pic Paradis.
Never shying away from an adventure, we took the narrow mountain road from sea level up to 424 meters or almost 1400 feet. As our little rented Camry chugged up the tiny rugged warn out mountain road, we harrowingly pulled to the right edge, allowing several vehicles to pass on the way up.
On top, we found lush trees and La Villa Hibiscus, a lovely restaurant and hotel. Finding no where to turn around, the lovely proprietor of this small and secluded Villa helped reorient our treadless car. We were very thankful as the rain began to fall on the steep hilltop slopes.
Seeing not only monkeys but beautiful fauna, we began to creep down the mountain while my lovely wife fortunately still had some wit about her. The monkeys are invasive and are not considered to be friendly.
My lovely wife fortunately still had some wit about her.
We found our way back to port, ready to turn our luxurious ride back to the owner. Unfortunately, Henry was no where to be found. Now becoming concerned with the ship‘s impending departure, there was nothing to do but enjoy a G&T while we waited. We found him some time later, turned in our keys to the jalopy, and got on the boat in time for departure.
At dinner our new found friends at the table next to us described their lovely day with their own guide and nice vehicle. All this for just a few dollars more than we had paid Henry for our broken down rent-a-wreck!
Lessons learned - Use a cab, take an excursion, stay on the ship, but don’t rent a car in the Caribbean.