Love St. Martin – St. Maarten?

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If you like St. Martin/St. Maarten,
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Climate

St. Maarten is a part of the West Indies, so its climate is pleasantly tropical throughout the year, with cooling easterly trade winds. The average daytime temperature is 27 C, and the mercury rarely strays beyond the 20 C to 30 C range.

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Climate cont'd

Year-round, the temperature doesn't vary that much. Along with your beachwear and casual clothes, you should only need to pack a long-sleeved shirt.

Water temperatures are ideal for swimming, scuba diving and surfing, hovering between 26 C and 29 C year round. The east side of the island gets less rain than the west side.

St. Maarten is one of the drier islands in the Caribbean, but it does have a distinct rainy season (July to January), when rainstorms tend to be short, but heavy. Summer is still a great time to visit St. Maarten – you'll find the beaches are less crowded and hotel rates tend to drop.

Weather chart

What makes it different?

If your travelling companion dreams of sunbathing on a sandy beach for days on end, while the thought of staying still for more than an hour makes you crazy, St. Maarten can keep you both happy.

The island's beaches are all technically public, although several of the more exclusive resorts won't make it easy for you to reach their stretches of sand from the road. The easily accessible beaches offer more than enough choice, ranging from busy spots like the Orient Beach (packed with lounge chairs and drink vendors) to quiet coves on small islands like Pinel Island and Tintamarre Island.

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What makes it different? cont'd

Love to shop? Visit the Dutch-side capital of Philipsburg to browse for jewelry, electronics and perfume in the duty-free shops. On the French side, Marigot offers art galleries and outlets of leading French retailers.

If outdoor adventure is more your thing, visit Loterie Farm and do the FlyZone Extreme course, which features ziplines, tightropes and more. Alternatively, put on your fins, masks and snorkelling gear and check out the schools of tropical fish around Creole Rock, offshore from Grand Case.

At dinnertime, you'll be spoiled for choice. You can try a superb seafood spot in Simpson Bay, a classic French restaurant in Grand Case, a fusion place in Philipsburg or a lolo (roadside barbecue stand) anywhere on the island. When the sun goes down, be sure to check out the non-stop action in Maho where Casino Royale and numerous clubs are open late into the night.

Almost everywhere you go in St. Maarten, you will be amazed at the diversity of the people who are drawn to this 87-sq. km bit of land. You can meet everyone from Czech boat captains, Indian jewellers, French restaurateurs and American perfume makers to Chinese grocers and more than a few Canadians.

For many residents here, the island's lively lifestyle is the key attraction. Experience the same energy and relaxing vibe when you visit, and you’ll see why St. Maarten is such a hot vacation spot.

Geography

St. Maarten is one of the northernmost islands in the Lesser Antilles, located east of the U.S. Virgin Islands and north of St. Kitts. It covers just 87 sq. km., making it roughly the same size as Burnaby, British Columbia. You can follow one major road right around the island. Yet, within this small space, the landscape is surprisingly varied.

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Geography cont'd

There is little settlement in the island's hilly interior, where twisting roads offer spectacular vistas of St. Maarten, the Caribbean and the neighbouring islands of St. Barts and Anguilla.

At Loterie Farm on the French side, you can hike to the top of Paradise Peak (Pic du Paradis), the island's highest point at 424 metres. The western side of the island gets slightly more rain, so the hiking trails lead through thick forests of mahogany and mango. On the eastern side, you're likely to spot cacti among the bougainvillea and hibiscus flowers.

Villages and resorts are clustered along the coasts, which are fringed with 37 white-sand beaches. The southern part of the island, from Marigot to Philipsburg, is the most densely populated area. Traffic jams are common, particularly around Simpson Bay Lagoon, one of the largest natural harbours in the Caribbean.

The island is dotted with salt ponds, where salt extraction was once a significant part of the local economy. Now, these ponds are more important as natural habitats for herons, brown pelicans, egrets, gulls and terns.

Culture

St. Maarten is the world's smallest sea island shared by two nations – in this case, France and the Netherlands. St. Maarten has a fascinating history that shapes the island's character to this day. Blink and you may miss the largely unmarked border between the French and Dutch sides. The differences will soon become apparent when you travel between the two sides of the island though.

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Culture cont'd

In St. Martin, many street signs are in French, prices are in euros and you need an adapter to plug your appliances into the 220-volt power outlets. In St. Maarten, most signs are in English, some prices are in the Netherlands Antilles guilder currency and electricity comes through a North American-style 110-volt grid.

When you make a phone call from one side of the island to another, you pay long distance charges since it is routed through international systems at least several islands away.

According to reports, Christopher Columbus first spotted the island – then inhabited by Amerindians – in 1493. However, European settlers didn't show up until the early 1600s. England, France and the Netherlands all jockeyed for possession of St. Maarten for a couple of centuries.

In fact, the official border between the northern and southern halves changed 16 times in St. Maarten’s history before the current border and joint French/Dutch ownership was established, once and for all, in 1816. The French got slightly more territory, but the Dutch side today has slightly more people (41,000 versus 36,000).

These days, the island is a unique mix of Caribbean, European, North American and international influences. On the Dutch side, you'll find branches of familiar Canadian banks and American fast-food chains, as well as bus stops designated by signs reading bushalte.

On the French side, a breakfast croissant and coffee in your hotel restaurant may well arrive with an international copy of the Miami Herald. Meanwhile, Marigot radio station La Voix FM 101.5 broadcasts calypso, hip-hop and just about everything in between. The songs are punctuated by birthday greetings, horoscope predictions and public service announcements in French and English and updates from the BBC World Service.

Since the French side of St. Maarten is an integral part of France, European Union nationals can live and work here with minimal paperwork. As a result, that side of the island has a somewhat more European feeling than the Dutch half, where ties to Europe are not as strong.

The best part for travellers is that all this diversity on the island makes St. Maarten exceptionally easy to navigate. Just about every traveller-oriented business accepts U.S. currency and many people working in the tourism sector speak both English and French.

Transportation

Cars, Motorcycles, Scooters and More

Many visitors rent cars here in order to quickly and easily travel between the Dutch and French sides of the island. Renting on the Dutch side (St. Maarten) is usually less expensive due to varying exchange rates. A small compact car will typically only cost you between US$30 to $50 per day. And the best part? Renters here get unlimited mileage.

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Transportation cont'd

To help you maximize your time at attractions and avoid getting lost, plan your route in advance whenever possible. Most roads don't have names or address numbers, but rather have signs with the names of destinations.

Mopeds are another common way to get around the island. On the French side (St. Martin), mopeds and scooters cost around €25 a day. Motorcycles tend to be slightly more expensive, typically renting at around €40 per day. If you'd prefer a larger leisure bike or Harley, check out the options on the Dutch side of the island or give the local Harley-Davidson dealer a call. Here, the larger bikes typically cost US$150 a day or $900 a week.

Taxis

Prefer not to rent your own vehicle? Taxis in St. Martin and St. Maarten are quite safe and government regulated. Licensed taxis can easily be identified by stickers in their windows on the French side of the island, or taxi license plates on the Dutch side.

Fares are the same for one or two travellers on the Dutch side but increase by US$4 per additional passenger. On the French side, base fare is US$4, increasing by $2 for each additional passenger. You'll also have to pay extra for luggage (usually around 50 cents a bag). Visitors should also note that fares increase up to 25 per cent after 10 p.m. and 50 per cent after midnight.

Currency

The official currency on the Dutch side of the island (St. Maarten) is the Guilder. You'll find supermarkets and gas stations here will quote in this local currency. Most other prices are quoted in U.S. dollars, which are widely accepted.

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Currency cont'd

The French side (St. Martin) uses the Euro. However, the U.S. dollar is also accepted in most places. Major credit cards are also widely accepted across the island and ATMs can easily be found throughout in the event you need to take out more cash.

Travel requirements

Arrival

Welcome to Princess Juliana International Airport on the Dutch side of this beautiful island known as St. Maarten. To travel here, you'll need a passport valid for at least three months beyond your expected departure date. You'll also want to have your return ticket handy since proof of departure date is required by immigration officials. Please complete the customs forms given to you while onboard your flight – you will need these when you go through immigration.

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Travel requirements cont'd

If you've booked a transfer to your hotel through WestJet Vacations, you'll need to first go through incoming immigration and retrieve your bags. Next, look for an Island Reps N.V. Airport Transfers representative. Identify yourself as a WestJet Vacations guest and you'll soon be on your way to a relaxing vacation on this peaceful island paradise.

Departure

There is a departure tax from Princess Juliana International Airport, but for your convenience this tax is included in the price of your airfare when you fly with WestJet.

Vaccinations

Staying up to date on all standard vaccinations is recommended. You should also take care to wear mosquito repellent to protect yourself from Dengue Fever – a viral condition spread to humans through mosquitoes. This disease can be fatal, so it's important to protect yourself.

Voltage

On the Dutch side, outlets are the same as those in Canada and the United States.

On the French side, outlets are the same as those in France and will require the use of an adapter. These plugs have a safety feature where you must press both prongs into the plug with equal pressure in order to connect to the socket.

Travel requirements

Welcome to Princess Juliana International Airport on the Dutch side of this beautiful island known as St. Maarten.

Learn more

Currency

The official currency on the Dutch side of the island (St. Maarten) is the Guilder.

Learn more

Transportation

Many visitors rent cars here in order to quickly and easily travel between the Dutch and French sides of the island.

Learn more