St. Maarten/St. Martin
St. Maarten/St. Martin Overview
Two countries for the price of one are exactly what you’ll get when you visit St. Martin. Call it Saint Martin or Sint Maarten – it all depends on whether you’re on the French side or the Dutch side of the smallest island in the world ever to be divided into two countries! Although technically one landmass, the two sides of the country like to play up their distinct personalities. The French side likes to boast their European roots, emphasizing chic comfort and elegance. You'll find that the beaches are secluded, the resorts are luxurious, and you'll finally get to understand why the cuisine has earned this little island the title of "Gastronomic Capital of the Caribbean." Now the Dutch side, on the other hand, bustles with commercial activity, from its busy cruise port to dinging casinos; it’s always abuzz with life and nonstop action. Between the laid-back luxury of St. Martin and the flurry of activity in St. Maarten, you have all it takes for the ideal Caribbean vacation.
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Mapping Out St. Maarten/St. Martin
Like siblings vying for attention, both sides of St. Martin aim to please you with their distinct cultures and personalities.
St. Maarten, the Dutch side of the island, is known for its dinging casinos, high-rise luxury resorts and non-stop cruise ship activity – perfect if you want to let loose and live it up.
If you want more rest than recreation, head to the French side of the island, St. Martin, instead. This side is less developed, with a naturist attitude featuring pristine beaches, wildlife and gardens. The chic boutiques here ooze European luxury and exclusivity while foodies will fall in love with their streets lined with cafes and gourmet bistros.
Whether you want action and excitement, secluded beaches or succulent food, you’re sure to find it somewhere on the island of St. Martin.
Time Travel at the St. Maarten Museum
Step back in time to the oldest museum in St. Maarten! Even finding it will be an adventure. First, you'll have to look for Front Street, which won't be hard. Once you get there, you'll see an alley where there's a very old house (a 100-year-old house, to be exact) tucked away. That's the St. Maarten Museum!
Once inside, you'll find an amazing display of St. Maarten's history. You'll get a a glimpse into the life of the Arawak Indians, explore the island’s industrial period, and see original engravings from Fort Amsterdam.
There’s also an exhibition of dried herbs and shells for nature lovers to gaze at. The tour closes with a huge collection of articles and photographs of major hurricanes that have struck St. Maarten, so you'll really come to appreciate this tiny island’s remarkable past!
Ready to feel like you're frolicking through France (without spending all that cash on a European vacation)? Then head to Marigot, on the French side of St. Martin.
Once you arrive, you'll see colonial houses peppering the streets next to quaint cafes, delicious bistros, fragrant pastry shops and elegant boutiques. Oh la la! Wandering through Marigot feels just like exploring a real market town in France.
Oh and by the way, on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday mornings, the colorful open market on Market Square offers an assortment of goods and groceries, including local fruits and vegetables. The entire city is only four streets wide, so you can easily see it all.
Open your Mind at Orient Beach
Feeling a little risqué? Good, because clothing is optional at this popular beach. And that’s not the only attraction.
You see, Orient Beach is protected by a coral reef, so when you decide to go snorkeling or swimming, you'll be treated to calm, clear waters. Not only that, but there are several watersports and equipment rental stations available (for those who’d rather stay clothed).
When you're all tuckered out, you'll find several outstanding beach bars and restaurants, all lining the white sands with colorful tiki huts and lounge chairs.
There’s plenty to see here – and we’re not just talking about the lack of swimsuits!
Take Home the Gold at America’s Cup Yacht Racing
Ever dreamed of sailing the ocean breezes in a fast-paced, yacht cup race? Well now, here's your chance! You don’t even have to be a pro.
You can thank four-time America's Cup winner Dennis Conner for starting up this business. What they do is organize several regattas with champion yachts every single day during the high season. That means you get to join in on a sailing crew and experience what it's like to race a yacht.
With the salty sea wind running through your hair as you soar over the calm, blue waters, you'll be feeling like a yachtie in no time. 4-8 crew members are needed for each yacht, so don't be afraid to join in and try it.
Boulevard de Grand Case
If you aren’t a believer in the foodie mystique, you will definitely understand it once you spend a few hours here.
Stretched along Boulevard de Grand Case are dozens of lovely restaurants housed in quaint, colorful wooden cottages. They're completely unassuming yet completely gourmet.
St. Martin prides itself on being known as the cuisine capital of the Caribbean, and this is why. You can pick your type of experience, from expensive luxury dining to the “lobos,” small open-air restaurants run by locals.
Feast on traditional French and spicy West Indian Creole. If that doesn’t make you a believer, the fresh seafood, local rum drinks and fine French wine will.
St. Maarten/St. Martin Quick Facts
French/Dutch, but those in tourism can speak English
US Dollar widely accepted but official currency on the French side is the euro and on the Dutch side, the Netherlands Antilles florin or guilder.
French side is 220 volts. Dutch side is 110 volts, same as North America.
All U.S. citizens must have a valid passport when traveling to and from St. Martin.
Drink only bottled water
Atlantic Standard Time (UTC/GMT -4 hours)
December to April