Five Gayest Things to do in St. Maarten
If you consider yourself a Caribbean vet, chances are you've already been to St. Maarten? to get to St Barts. But while that glam-for-all speck of paradise has tons of Speedo-clad French men turning it into a homo hotspot -- as much as any Caribbean island can be called a homo hotspot -- the hilly Dutch/French outpost can get its gay on, too. Don't let the bifurcated island's party-minded, straights-gone-wild reputation fool you, nor the violent gay bashing of six years ago (which seems to have been an isolated incident). With gays repping heavily at some sublime beaches, drag-themed restaurants, and celeb-studded hotels, you'll wonder why you skipped out in the first place.
Flaunt your best assets at Cupecoy BeachClosed in by dramatic cliffs, this designated gay -- yet "straight"-friendly -- beach is secluded on the Dutch side of the island and is, shocker, clothing optional (not to be confused with Club Orient's fully nudist beach community that plays towards ma and pa, though gays are welcome there, too). Flaunt your best assets and erase those tan lines by basking in the tropical sun in full glory. Cruising is not uncommon here, both of the piercing-gaze and sailboats-docking-close-for-snorkeling-trips variety. Although tawdry it's not: Cupecoy is part of a burgeoning condo area where the massive Blue Mall is scheduled to open this year and a Christian Dior Spa already calls home, if that tells you how fancy this beachside 'hood rolls.
Drag it up at L'EscargotSome might call it a dive restaurant, but I like to think of L'Escargot as the island's best -- and only -- drag stop. This tiny institution in a historic, technicolored Creole cottage serves up some serious French food (as you would imagine, snail is on the menu) and also features cabaret and drag performances several nights a week. So when someone mentions Tina Turner, Queen Latifah, and Cristina Aguilera are in town, you'll know exactly where to go.
Get your vogue on at Maho BeachMaho Beach is literally at the foot of Princess Juliana Airport's runway, so every half hour planes will descend dangerously close (nearly 30 feet) to sunbathers upon landing. You feel the jet turbines' roar in your bone marrow. That said, this one-of-a-kind attraction and setting is the island's best backdrop for a unique photo opp you really can't duplicate anywhere else in the world. So strike your best Covergirl pose while the planes blast over your head. Then up, up, and upload away, and wait for the Facebook "Likes" to pile up. Too close for comfort? Get a balcony view at nearby Sonesta Maho Beach Resort or Sunset Beach Bar.
Check in at La SamannaWhile travelers love the all-inclusive option at Sonesta Great Bay or the memorable service provided at Westin Dawn Beach on the Dutch side, most gay travelers make a bee-line to le territoire fran?ais, St. Martin, and check into La Samanna, the only true high-luxe resort on the island. Everyone from Anderson Cooper to Donatella Versacci have checked in (and we imagine, reluctantly checked out) of this IGLTA-certified property, thanks to its contemporary-glam allure, two swimming pools, three tennis courts, terrific spa, massive gym with free classes, and proprietary access to cabanas on the pristine, uncrowded Long Bay Beach. All 83 rooms (from $950) face the ocean, most of which have been recently renovated. Splurge on Cliffside Villa No. 15, which has a rooftop with its own cabana, sunbeds, and Jacuzzi.
Spend some time on SabaSaba, the sister island of St. Maarten, a short 45-minute ferry ride or 10-minute puddle jumper away, is vying for the gayest island in all of Caribbean. Its slogan: The Unspoiled Queen. Its main town: The Bottom. Its creds: comfortable LGBT residents plus an openly gay commissioner, director of tourism, and member of the island council, who are all pushing to have same-sex marriage legalized, which given Saba is under direct jurisdiction of the Netherlands, should be any day now. There's not much to do here other than dive or hike and get away from the crowds, but that's the point: rest and romance. Check into Queen's Gardens Resort, a comfortably chic yet rustic 12-suite property with splendid sea views, run by a charming Dutch couple with mostly Dutch and American staff. Most suites average 1200 square feet and come equipped with their own outdoor Jacuzzi.
For more trip-planning info, visit the official St. Maarten Tourist Bureau.