Dare I say that I had never been to Pinel Island before last weekend?
It’s true. Despite having lived nearby for 3 1/2 years and in spite of having a deep love for venturing to off-island cays for a serious desert island-inspired afternoon, Pinel always sat on the back burner. That was mostly the case because we simply haven’t put the time and effort into seeing St. Martin as a real ‘vacation’ destination.
Pinel Island, Îlet de Pinel if you’re delving into the authentic Frenchness of its location, sits just a short ride from Cul de Sac on St. Martin’s French side. Boats heading to Pinel depart every thirty minutes with vessels full of visitors (and a spattering of locals) headed over for the day. The last boat returns to the mainland at 4PM. You’ll pay the roundtrip fare before boarding the boat on the mainland: $12 or €10 per person. The boat ride is short, around 5 minutes in total, and once you’ve arrived on the island, you’re free to return on any boat headed back to the mainland so you can structure your day in whatever way works best for you. Pinel Island is part of the surrounding marine preserve, so jet skiing and fishing are no-nos, but for more active travelers kayaking to Pinel is an option. We opted for something far less active, and spent the day lazing on beach chairs and dining in the sand.
There’s a boutique on the island and pretty stretches of beach to wander if you want to explore beyond your beach chair. For those looking for a brush with nature, there’s a large sandy stretch overrun with iguanas for a classic Pinel Island snapshot.
Once you’ve landed on Pinel Island, you’ll walk down the wooden pier to the beach, where you’ll have your choice of restaurants: Karibuni Restaurant or Yellow Beach. Scott visited previously on a staff trip where they ate at Karibuni per the recommendation of locals who frequent the off-island cay. We opted to stick with what he knew to be good and situated ourselves in the middle of the beach with two chairs and an umbrella. Chairs are $10 each (at least during low season) payable when you sit down, and from what we could tell there was no time limit on use – stay for an hour or stay for the day, the choice yours. We opted for the latter.
We chose to start the afternoon in full vacay mode, with a ti punch for him and a caipirinha for me (so predictable). I always have a morsel of doubt in the back of my mind visiting places that are big tourist draws: will the food and drinks actually be good or are they banking on their postcard-worthy location?
I was absolutely impressed with our time at Karibuni. The drinks were great and the food ended up far exceeding my expectations. French St. Martin has a pretty notable food scene, and that seems to extend to Pinel. The island could easily serve up a BBQ-heavy menu with lots of frozen cocktails, but the food vibe is a bit more posh than that, with hearty portions of French cuisine a la Antibes, and cool cocktails (or bottles of wine) to wash it all down.
Using brightly colored boards on the beach, the restaurant showcases their cocktails and their food options for guests. For those that find dining on the sand off-putting, there’s an actual restaurant with seating when you’re ready to escape the sun. We were all for the sunshine and beach time while we dined on the beach, and our order was perfection: a salad and a tartare to share. Portions are sizable so men with appetites will be pleasantly surprised.
We spent upwards of four hours on Pinel before hopping on a boat to make our way back to the mainland to continue our overnight in the ever-charming Grand Case. The verdict? For a quickie day trip from St. Martin (or even a half day!), Pinel is a fun – albeit, touristy – escape. Go early enough to settle into your favorite beach chair and enjoy a long afternoon with a ti vieux in hand.
Have you been to Pinel Island before? Do you think it’s worth the day trip for visitors to St. Martin?