Fly or sail: Your guide to traveling between St. Maarten Airport and Anguilla
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The quaint and unassuming Caribbean island of Anguilla can be a hike to get to, as its airport doesn’t have many direct connections to the U.S. The only nonstop flights between the mainland and Anguilla Clayton J. Lloyd Airport (AXA) are out of Miami (MIA) — and that route currently only operates three times a week (which will switch to daily in April 2022).
For most travelers, the best option is to fly into nearby St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana Airport (SXM), which is easily reachable from a number of major U.S. cities. From there, you’re just a short boat ride or regional flight away from Anguilla. But which option should you choose? And if you choose to go by water, should you take the public ferry or a shared charter?
Faced with the choice on a recent trip to Zemi Beach House on Anguilla, I decided to try both — flying in one direction and sailing in the other. Let’s take a closer look at my experience with each method of transportation and see which makes the most sense for you.
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The most cost-efficient way to travel between the islands is by public ferry. However, it isn’t the most convenient option, so you’ll need to decide for yourself whether the savings are worth the hassle. Unfortunately, this was the one option I didn’t get to try since it wasn’t operating at the time of my trip.
The public ferry leaves from the port of Marigot on St. Martin (the French side of the island), while SXM Airport is on St. Maarten (the Dutch side). There’s no physical border or customs checkpoint between the two sides. However, you must leave the airport (which requires going through immigration) and take a cab to get to the ferry port, which costs you time and money. The ferry disembarks at the Blowing Point Ferry Terminal in Anguilla.
The ferry takes about 25 minutes and departs St. Martin approximately every 45 minutes from 8:15 a.m. to 7 p.m.. The return from Anguilla runs from 7:30 a.m. to 6:15 p.m. It costs $20 one-way for those 12 years and older and $10 for those under 12. The taxi ride between the airport and Marigot takes about 15 minutes and costs around $20 for two passengers.
You will also need to pay departure taxes when leaving Anguilla. For tourists, the fee is $28 for passengers 12 years or older, $15 for those ages 5 to 11 and $3 for those under 5.
Between the ferry tickets, taxi rides and taxes, an adult can expect to spend $88 to $108 round-trip for this connection, depending on if you’ll be sharing the cab with a companion. You cannot make advance reservations for the public ferry.
Another option is to take a charter boat (normally shared, but you can pay extra for a private one). These cost more than the public ferries but can save you time because they leave from the Dutch side of the island, right by the airport. I tried this option on my way back from Anguilla.
The four main charter operators are Funtime Charters, Calypso Charters, GB Express and Link Ferry Services. They all operate out of the St. Maarten Ferry Terminal, located just across from SXM Airport, with the exception of GB Express, which operates from the Simpson Bay Police Station Port, about five minutes away.
Regardless of which company you choose, you’ll have ground transportation between the airport and dock included in your fare. All charters disembark at the Blowing Point Ferry Terminal in Anguilla.
The schedules and pricing vary slightly from one company to the next. However, the charter boats run fairly frequently and generally cost around $65 each way for adults and $35 each way for children.
As mentioned, ground transportation between the dock and SXM is included, but you are still responsible for the departure taxes. Anguilla’s departure taxes are slightly higher if your destination is the Dutch side, rather than the French side, of the island of Saint Martin: $36 for passengers 12 or older, $23 for ages 5 to 11, $11 for ages 2 to 4 and $8 for children under 2.
An adult can expect to spend around $166 round-trip, including the fare and taxes. You can make your reservations directly through the company or through your hotel’s concierge, as I did.
My hotel booked me on Funtime Charters because it offered the most convenient departure time for me. Check-in was a breeze — I just needed to show my passport and Electronic Health Authorization System (EHAS) form to enter St. Maarten.
Porters were available to help lift bags on and off the boat. Just note that they’re not employed by the ferry terminal and work solely for tips.
The boat itself was fairly basic but comfortable enough for the roughly 25-minute ride. Don’t expect a fancy yacht.
The weather was beautiful during my trip, so I got to sit at the bow of the boat and enjoy the views. That said, I’ve heard the ride can get bumpy when the weather turns sour.
The biggest hurdle of the transfer process was that we still needed to go through immigration upon arrival in St. Maarten. It would have been great if there was a program that had allowed us to clear immigration before departing Anguilla.
My favorite option was definitely flying. It was by far the fastest and most seamless — and the cost was comparable to taking a shared charter boat.
Flights between St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana Airport (SXM) and Anguilla Clayton J. Lloyd Airport (AXA) are offered by Anguilla Air Services. This is the world’s shortest international flight, with a flight time of only 10 minutes. But the real timesaver is that you don’t need to clear immigration upon your initial arrival at SXM.
Even better, Anguilla Air Services times its flights to align with the schedules of the major carriers. Round-trip adult fares are about $200 to $240 and include one free checked bag. Unlike the ferries, all taxes and fees are already bundled into the airfare.
Anguilla Air Services doesn’t have any codeshare partnerships, so you’ll need to book your flights separately from your U.S. flights. I recommend leaving at least 90 minutes between flights in case your inbound plane is delayed. Nevertheless, the transfer process is still almost as simple as a normal connecting flight.
Upon deplaning at SXM, you’ll be met by a representative from the airline who will guide you straight to the transfer desk. Unlike with the ferry options, you do not need to go through immigration.
After verifying your identity, you’ll be handed your boarding pass and asked how many bags you checked. The airline will then collect your bags for you and transfer them to your next flight. You’ll need to clear security because you arrived from an international flight, but that’s it — no need to deal with immigration, as you aren’t actually entering St. Maarten.
Unfortunately, the same doesn’t apply when returning from Anguilla to St. Maarten. Since Anguilla Air Services can’t issue boarding passes for other airlines or transfer bags to them, you will need to go through immigration and recheck your luggage on your return.
The flight itself is 12 miles long and takes 10 minutes on a small Britten Norman Islander with just four rows of two seats each. Given the limited space, a second plane usually follows to transport the bags.
The legroom is tight but is manageable given how short the flight is. Note that due to the smaller size of the aircraft, turbulence may be more noticeable.
The real highlight of the flight for me was the scenic views. Flying was not only a timesaver but a sightseeing experience.
The two ways to travel between St. Maarten Airport and Anguilla are sea and air. The best option for you ultimately depends on the time ytou have available, along with how you value comfort, price and convenience.
Many travelers choose the charter boat option since it’s moderately priced and the hotels recommend it. However, my go-to would be flying, as it allows you to maximize your time on the beach for only a small price premium.
Featured photo by ©thierrydehove.com/Getty Images.
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