St. Martin – St. Maarten

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St. Martin
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Overview

The island of St. Martin – St. Maarten (often simply called St. Maarten) manages to pack a lot into just 87 sq. km., including 37 beaches, two distinct cultures and some of the Caribbean's best dining and duty-free shopping.

St. Martin, which makes up the island's northern half, is part of France. Small, low-rise hotels overlook serene beaches and candlelit restaurants run by Paris-trained chefs. It's the perfect setting for a romantic dinner for two.

St. Maarten, the island's southern half, is an autonomous country within the kingdom of the Netherlands. Livelier than the French side of the island, it's the sort of spot where high-rises, casinos, nightclubs and glittering boutiques compete for your attention.

On both sides of the island – which most locals simply call St. Maarten, for convenience – there are narrow roads that twist up and around dormant volcanic peaks. Keep your camera handy to capture the views of turquoise waters lapping against endless sandy beaches. At the most scenic viewpoints, there are small rest stops and even parking lots for travellers to stop and take pictures.

If you're the outdoorsy type, choose from just about every warm-weather sport imaginable, including snorkelling, scuba diving, hiking, mountain biking, sailing, golf, tennis, kayaking, ziplining and sailing. Families can enjoy everything from Segway tours and parasailing to visiting the Caribbean's largest zoo, St. Maarten Zoo.

If you prefer to relax, St. Maarten has plenty of beaches. It’s easy to find a lounge chair or hammock where you can spend days reading a book as the surf rolls in at your feet.

St. Martin – St. Maarten is a fantastic destination for:

  • beaches
  • snorkelling and diving
  • shopping and dining

Airport served by: St. Martin/St. Maarten (SXM)

Destination basics

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.

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.

Average monthly temperature and average monthly rainfall diagrams for St. Martin – St. Maarten

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.

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.

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.

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.

The small island of Saint Martin is technically home to two different European countries, both France and the Netherlands. For this reason, the island can sometimes feel like a little slice of Europe in the Caribbean.

The Dutch Side - Sint Maarten
Though Sint Maarten (St. Maarten) is the smaller side of the island, this southern Dutch half has more development than its northern French counterpart. The capital and main town of the Dutch side is Philipsburg, situated right on Great Bay. Philipsburg is the main commercial area of the island, with Front Street being the main shopping area. Popular items to shop for in Philipsburg include jewelry, electronics, designer goods, liquor, Dutch specialties like cheese and, of course, local souvenirs.

One distinguishing type of establishment you will only find on the Dutch Side are casinos. St. Maarten has more than 15 casinos, which are very popular nightlife options. The largest of these casinos is Casino Royale, located in Maho. Hopeful gamblers will find all the standard casino offerings on St. Maarten, from table games to slots and cards.

The island as a whole has 37 different beaches, so its no stretch to imagine that the Dutch Side has its fair share. Probably the most iconic beach on the island is Maho Beach. This beach is located right at the end of the airport runway, making for some spectacular images as planes take off and land directly over the turquoise waters and white sands of the beach. Mullet Bay Beach is another good beach option, usually less crowded than the unique Maho Beach.

The French Side - Saint Martin
The French Side of the island, St. Martin, has a lot less tourist development than then Dutch Side. It is also home to the majority of the island’s natural attractions and features. The main city and capital of this side is Marigot. Walking around Marigot, visitors will see French-style gallery houses and sidewalk cafes, lending the city a very European feel, while still being unmistakably Caribbean. Marigot is also home to Fort St. Louis, which today is a historic landmark.

As a French territory, St. Martin has a large number of amazing, authentic French restaurants. Many of the top restaurants on the island, French and otherwise, are located in Grand Case in on the north of the island, on what is affectionately known as "Restaurant Row".

The French Side of the island is also known for its amazing beaches, several of them clothing optional. One of these beaches is Orient Bay, which is also considered one of the most beautiful on the island. Most clothing optional beaches have a special area devoted to nude sunbathing, so none of them are exclusively nude, and it is easy to avoid those areas if desired.

Being both larger and less developed than the Dutch Side, St. Martin has most of the island’s natural attractions and outdoor adventures. Pic du Paradis is the highest point on the island, and on clear days the top provides amazing views of the island, the Caribbean and many of the surrounding islands, including Anguilla and St. Eustatius. Other outdoor-based attractions on this side include the Butterfly Farm on the east side of the island, and Loterie Farm in the center of the island, where visitors can zipline and hike.
St. Martin has many different ways for visitors to entertain themselves. Whether you’re looking to get out and commune with nature, find great duty free shopping or try your luck at blackjack, St. Martin has it all.

Shopping
Shopping on St. Martin is duty free, so needless to say it is one of the top activities on the island. Jewelry and designer goods are particularly popular items to shop for on the island. The main shopping area of the island is generally considered to be Front Street in Philipsburg on the Dutch Side. Here you can find a surprising number of jewelry stores as well as the Guavaberry Emporium and the craft market for locally-made products. Right off of Front Street, is the narrow, colorful Old Street. This street is particularly good for souvenirs, gifts and local products.

In Marigot on the French Side, some of the best local shopping is at the Marigot Marche (market) on the Boulevard de France. Buy all kinds of local products like food items, rum, jewelry and apparel. Designer clothing and couture rule the boutiques along Rue de la Liberté and Rue du Génerál. These streets are also great places to find French specialty foods and wines. An interesting phenomenon in Grand Case is that many of the shops and boutiques are closed during the day, but open later in the evening when the dining crowd starts to arrive so they can do some shopping before or after dinner.

Beaches
Of course you can’t visit this island without logging some solid beach time. With 37 beaches on the island, visitors have plenty to explore. Of course the most iconic beach is Maho Beach, right next to the airport on the Dutch Side. Many visitors may even see it as their plane lands. Because of the location by the airport, it is very popular for watching the low flying planes come in for a landing while soaking up the rays on the sandy shore. Other, less crowded, beaches on the Dutch Side include Mullet Bay Beach and Dawn Beach, a beach that’s especially good for snorkeling because of its calm waters. The name Dawn Beach is not a coincidence, as it is one of the best spots to watch the sun rise.

The French Side has equally great beaches, and is also known for having a number of clothing optional beaches. The best known of these is probably the immensely popular Orient Bay Beach on the eastern end of the island. The southern end of the beach is the mostly the clothing optional part, and is also where the Club Orient nudist resort is located. The beach is part of a marine reserve, making snorkeling a great activity for this beach. Friar’s Bay is another great beach on the French Side which is walking distance from Grand Case. The beach is not as populated as many on the island and is protected from the wind by the surrounding hills.

Casinos
Nightlife on the island is mainly centered in St. Maarten, the Dutch Side of the island. One of the top nightlife activities on the island is gambling at one of the 13 casinos on the island. One of the most popular of these is Casino Royale, located In the glitzy Maho Village alongside many boutiques and restaurants, is good for craps and other table games, as is the Atlantis Casino and the Princess Casino. For sports betting and hundreds of slot machines, Paradise Plaza Casino is a good choice.

Outdoor Activities
The Caribbean is a treasure trove of natural beauty, and this island is no exception. There are plenty of great outdoor activities to enjoy on St. Martin. Hikers will enjoy a trip to Loterie Farm on the French Side of the island. This adventure park and farm is located right at the base of Pic du Paradis, the island’s highest point. There are a number of nice hikes in the area, starting at the farm, including the possibility of hiking up to the top of the peak for stunning views. Back at the farm, adrenaline junkies will have fun on the various zip lines. Another farm attraction on the French Side is the Butterfly Farm, where you can wander through the rainforest surrounded by these colorful creatures.
St. Martin is particularly renowned in the Caribbean for having an amazing dining scene. With over 300 restaurants on the island, visitors have their choice of everything from European to Asian to American restaurants. And make sure you stop in to one of the island’s “lolos”, small restaurants or stands that specialize in the local and Creole cuisine of the island.

The Dutch Side – Sint Maarten
The Dutch Side of the island is probably better known for drinking and nightlife than fine dining, but there are still plenty of delicious places to indulge on this southern portion of the island. As opposed to the French Side of the island where the majority of restaurants are French or French-inspired, most of the eateries on this side of the island feature different kinds of international cuisines. For delectable baked goods from croissant to baguette, make sure to pay a visit to La Sucriere in Philipsburg. One of the island’s most beloved lolos, Hilma’s, is located in Simpson Bay. This is really more of a food truck than actual restaurant, but make sure to try the Johnnycakes, Hilma’s specialty. Among its varied cuisine, Simpson Bay has a number of Middle Eastern restaurants, one of the favorites being Al Pasha. Dine on kebab, shawarma and mezzes in a friendly atmosphere. The famed Maho Beach has two popular beach bar and grills at either end, Sunset Bar & Grill and Guy’s Driftwood Boat Bar. Sunset is the more popular of the two, and can get crowded, but there’s no experience quite like sitting out of the patio with a drink and a burger, watching the planes land over the picture perfect beach. They even have a screen with flight times inside the bar so you can time your visit accordingly!

The French Side – Saint Martin
Though for shopping and nightlife, the Dutch Side of the island has most of the action, the French Side cannot be beat for dining. As you might suspect, the main specialty on this side of the island is amazing, authentic French cuisine. For the best restaurants on the island, head to Grand Case’s “Restaurant Row”, the Boulevard de Grand Case. You could easily just pick any restaurant walking down this street and have an unforgettable experience. Sol e Luna, located in the boutique hotel of the same name, serves contemporary French food using fresh, local ingredients, as does the renowned L’Auberge Gourmand. For a menu that has both traditional French dishes, modern creations and local Caribbean flavors, the open-air, beachfront patio of L’Effet Mer is a perfect choice. Le Tastevin also does contemporary French with a lovely patio and warm, elegant dining room. St. Martin is not just fine dining, however. There are also causal local spots like Rosemary’s, a lolo located in Marigot, does authentic local dishes like seafood and goat curry, while another Marigot lolo, Enoch’s Place, is popular for lunch and breakfast.
Saint Martin - Sint Maarten


Region: Collectivity of Saint Martin; Sint Maarten


Country: French Republic (Saint Martin); Kingdom of the Netherlands (Sint Maarten)


Saint Martin - Sint Maarten By The Numbers

Saint Martin Population: 36,824
Sint Maarten Population: 40,917
Elevation: 4 meters / 13 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 1047.1 millimeters / 41.22 inches
Average January Temperature: 25.5°C / 77.9°F
Average July Temperature: 28.3°C / 82.9°F


Quick Facts

Saint Martin Electricity: 220-250 volts AC, 60 Hz, European two round pin plugs
Sint Maarten Electricity: 110 volts, 60Hz, standard two pin plugs

Time Zone: Atlantic Time Zone, GMT-04:00

Saint Martin Country Dialing Code: +590
Sint Maarten Country Dialing Code: +1 721


Did You Know?

The island of Saint Martin is the smallest island shared by two countries in the world, at only 88 square kilometers (34 square miles) total.

The island was named by Christopher Columbus when he claimed it for Spain in 1493.


Orientation

The island of Saint Martin is located in the Caribbean Sea, about eight kilometers (five miles) south of the island of Anguilla, across the Anguilla Channel. Saint Martin is also about 300 kilometers (190 miles) east of Puerto Rico.

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.

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.

The island of Saint Martin has evidence of being occupied by Amerindians – most likely the Ciboney – up to 3500 years ago. In about 800 C.E., the Arawak people migrated to the island from the Orinoco Basin. These people were mainly a fishing and farming community, with sturdy villages that could withstand the tropical hurricanes the area experienced. With the arrival of the Carib Indians, who are also thought to have migrated from South America, the island saw the Arawaks and other native people’s populations basically disappear. By the time Europeans first landed on the island, the native population was almost exclusively Carib.

The first recorded European mention of the island is a spotting by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1493, where he sighted the island and named it Isla de San Martín. He claimed the island for Spain from afar, never actually landing on the island.

During this era of Caribbean exploration and colonization, both France and the Netherlands had a great interest in the island due to its central location to the other island territories of both nations. In 1631, the Dutch started a settlement on the island and constructed Fort Amsterdam for security from invading forces. Shortly after, commerce and government started on the island, with salt mining by the Dutch East India Company, and French and English settlements appeared on the island as well, as with most of the Caribbean.

During this time, the Eighty Years’ War was waging between the Netherlands and Spain, and Spain saw Saint Martin as a good opportunity, and seized control of the island in 1633. They maintained control of the island for 15 years, but with the end of the war, they lost interest and abandoned the island. The Dutch and French were quick to regain control of the island. After initial conflict between the two nations, they signed the Treaty of Concordia in 1648, splitting the island in two.

Local lore about the division of the island says that two men waged a contest, where one man from each country would start at the same point and walk around the island in opposite directions. Wherever they met back up would be where they would draw the border line from west to east. According to legend, the Dutch man was drinking strong jenever while the French man was drinking wine, and the Dutch man ended up getting drunk and stopping to nap, so the French ended up with a larger portion of the island. Of course this is just legend, and in reality the French used their naval fleet to negotiate a larger portion of the island.

From the second half of the 19th Century until the 1930s, the economy of the island was in decline, but with the declaration of the island as duty-free, the economy and tourism began to pick up a bit. The Dutch half of the island began to concentrate on promoting tourism, although the French half waited another 20 years to start promoting tourism on their side. Today, tourism Is the major industry of the island.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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^Total price one-way per guest. See terms and conditions.

*Prices are per guest, based on double occupancy and are limited; may not reflect real-time pricing or availability. See terms and conditions.

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