Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Horseback Adventures, Undersea Snorkeling & Surfside Sunsets

Once upon a time, when I was 4 years old, I was thrown from a horse at a family friend’s ranch. Though I was young, I remember this experience vividly, from the sound of the skateboard that spooked a normally gentle animal to my crashing to the earth as my parents struggled to catch me. Though I’d never have the makings of a jockey after this experience, I luckily wasn’t traumatized to the point that I never wanted to ride again.

That’s why 24 years later, when choosing our excursions in St. Maarten, Stephen and I were incredibly excited to see the option of riding horses on the beach. After signing up and traveling to family-run Bayside Riding Club on the French side of the island, we set out with our guide for a private hour-long tour on Aztec and Wizard, two of the gentlest horses in the stable.

As novice riders, we both had some mishaps to start out. First, we weren’t holding the reigns the right way, and the horses kept stopping to snack on plants and trees growing alongside the trail. This made us fall behind our guide, who kept admonishing us to keep up. Add in a pop-up rain shower that left us all soaked, and this trip could easily have turned into more of a hazard than an exciting trek along the shore.

Luckily, we continued having fun in spite of these few hang-ups, becoming better at guiding our horses as the tour went on and actually enjoying the rain, which cooled us off after a hot and humid afternoon in the sun. And, of course, we were far too mesmerized by the stunning views to really care about much else!

Yes, I'm riding barefoot because the only shoes I packed for this trip were -- what else -- flip-flops!  

The next day, we set out on another adventure – snorkeling with Captain Allan, an outfit popular with resort and cruise tourists alike. Heading out on a catamaran with a group of about 10 other visitors, our guides took us to two different snorkeling spots, interspersed with stops at Happy Bay Beach for a skin-softening mud bath and Pinel Island, a small tourist enclave that's home to restaurants, shops and the most massive iguanas I’ve ever seen!

Relaxing beside crystal blue waters at Pinel Island. 
Post-snorkeling, hair a mess, covered in mud & feeling silly at Happy Bay Beach.

Isn't he huge? 
After we arrived back at the dock, we waited out an afternoon rainstorm with lunch at a local beachside café and then headed to our resort for a little beach time, followed by dinner in Grand Case, St. Maarten’s culinary capital. 

Though we had planned to eat at a specific Italian restaurant we’d read about in a magazine, once we arrived, our taxi driver recommended instead a local hangout called Calmos Café, where the tables extend right down to the water’s edge and a live band plays island music late into the night. This unexpected detour ended up being perhaps my favorite experience of the entire trip, as we enjoyed a gorgeous sunset, fresh shrimp and scallops, and a couple samples of the restaurant’s homemade banana rum.

All in all, it was an amazing highlight of a truly amazing trip. I can’t wait to head back to the Caribbean again sometime soon, maybe to one of the next hotspots on my must-see list – Puerto Rico!

Travel Tip of the Day: While it's good to plan ahead, stay flexible and take locals' suggestions to heart when in a new place. Had we not listened to our cab driver's advice about Calmos Café, we would have missed out on a truly incredible experience! 

Which places top your vacation wish list right now? 


  1. Horseback riding on the beach sounds so fun! I'd love to do that. I love snorkeling and also highly recommend Puerto Rico. The food there is so good!

  2. Awesome advice! I call it the Rick Steves' method of travel. Find the touristy place, turn right and walk until they no longer speak English. Sit down at a restaurant and order whatever the local next to you is eating :)

  3. Wow, you guys definitely did a lot of fun activities! and I love the photo post snorkeling! :)

  4. I've never ridden a horse before! It looks like you had an amazing time. And I agree with your travel tip - locals always know best about where to eat.

  5. Would LOVE to ride a horse on a beach!! That looked AMAZING!!!

  6. I rode horses for years when I was younger it is such an amazing experience

  7. Your sunset pictures are gorgeous and I'd love to ride a horse some day!

  8. horseback riding on the beach looks so fun!! and what a great thing to experience on vacation. i need to go horseback riding now.

  9. You and Stephen are so cute, and I have never been on a horse either, they scare me too..but a horseback ride along the beach sounds just perfect!

  10. Gosh it's so beautiful there. I got to ride a horse on the beach in Mexico once and it was amazing (once I got over the initial fear of the horse stopping/dropping/rolling in the sand). It looks like you guys had so much fun!

    I LOVE the new blog!!

  11. The horseback riding and sunset pictures are great! So fun!

    My hubby took me on a surprise trip to St. Thomas when he proposed and I think that has been by far the most dream vacation we've both taken! We loved it! I think it even topped our honeymoon to Hawaii! :)

  12. These are beautiful pictures! I would LOVE to ride horses on the beach someday!

  13. Looks like an amazing trip and congrats on this blog :)


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