In the Caribbean there is a smaller island that presents two faces to the world. Such diversity in one stop may be one of the reasons this destination – or should we say destinations – remains so popular with visitors. What is this place? It is the island of Sint Maarten and Saint Martin! Confused yet?
In this article we are going to list the main aspects of each. As you will see, they are quite different!
White sand beach (Image: Rajvinder Singh on UnSplash)
Marigot (Image: Bigstock)
Beach Hut Shop on Orient Bay beach (Image: Bigstock)
Saint Martin – It’s French!
Saint Martin occupies the north side of the island and more than half its square miles but with about a third less the population of its neighbor. It is part of the Leeward Islands and is an overseas collective of France.
It does not boast any cities or towns of any size: Marigot is the chief settlement.
There is no international airport nor cruise ship port.
Expect to use the Euro when shopping and though French is the language of the land, you will get service in English (sometimes begrudgingly as the French are very protective of their language).
Claim to fame? Saint Martin’s beaches are your quintessential white sand, crystal-blue-waters perfect – and often nude. Famous beaches are Friar’s Bay and Orient Bay. You can sunbathe in your swimsuit, go topless, or bare all: inquire first what is acceptable “attire”at each beach or part thereof. (Please don’t be that tourist who takes photos at the beach in case you accidentally capture someone au naturel – it is considered a no-no.)
Popular activities, as on most Caribbean islands, center on water sports such as swimming, diving, fishing, etc., and hiking, believe it or not, is also a popular past time. You can zip-line at the territory’s nature reserve, Loterie Farm Nature Reserve.
One of the other major attractions here is shopping. There are less opportunities here than in Sint Maarten but expect some famous brands. And what would a French territory be without a parfumerie?
History is found at Fort Louis which also sports a breath-taking view to reward you after the climb.
If you love French cuisine with a fab wine, this is the place to be. Or you can go casual with spicey dinner or lunch at a lolo (similar to a community barbeque: shared tables, often disposable plates and cutlery) and the local drink of choice: Ti punch (national drink of Guadeloupe made from rum, sugar cane, and lime).
There are no casinos or a great choice of any nightlife. Saint Martin prefers keeping the fun to their Harmony Nights (weekly on Tuesdays during the busy season of the winter months) or during their own celebration of Mardi Gras.
Shopping in Philipsburg (Image: Bigstock)
Maho Beach (Image:Pixabay)
Philipsburg (Image: Bigstock)
Sint Maarten – It’s Dutch!
Sint Maarten occupies the south side of the island and less than half the square miles but about a third more the population of its neighbor. It is part of the Dutch Caribbean and of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
It’s capital city is Philipsburg, named after the builder of its historic Town Hall.
There is a cruise port and an international airport, Princess Juliana Airport.
The official currency is the Netherland Antillean guilder but you can conveniently ignore that fact and pay for your purchases in USD. Same with the language which is of course Dutch but everyone speaks English too.
Most people visit Sint Maarten on a cruise ship and are there for a day. Philipsburg can be very crowded in the high season.
As on most Caribbean islands, you can enjoy a day at the beach and/or all the usual water sports. The beaches are not as spectacular as those on the other side of the island, and most importantly for the visitor to know, not nude.. The best is Mullet Bay but the most photographed is probably Maho. The runway for the airport is right there next to the beach so don’t expect a relaxing snooze in the sunshine.
One of the most popular activities of cruise visitors is shopping. Front Street is endless shops: brand names; jewellers; galleries and crafts. (There is also a Craft Market.) The secret to its success? Shopping is both tax and duty-free.
History here is found at the ruins of Fort Amsterdam (but who comes here for history).
If you love seafood, you are spoiled for choice: crab, cod, whelks, and conch. Be sure to order the callaloo, a Caribbean vegetable dish. Wash it down with a favorite Sint Maarten drink; the Guavaberry liquor.
Nightlife abounds. Casinos are open. Sint Maarten knows how to party.
Cruise Ships in Philipsburg, Sint Maarten (Image: Bigstock)
Which is Right for Your Vacation?
If you are vacationing on a cruise ship, you will dock in Sint Maarten. The only way to experience Saint Martin would be on an excursion or rent-a-car. Luckily for North Americans, driving is on the right and either a U.S. or Canadian drivers licence will do. You can pass easily from one side of the island to the other as there is no customs at the border, and no real”border” either.
Flying there by plane will land you in Sint Maarten as well but then you would be staying more than a day with more opportunities to explore both parts of the island. Where to stay? If you prefer the hustle and bustle of a busy destination with thousands of “day-trippers” each day from cruise ships, and access to more nightlife, you might prefer to stay in Sint Maarten. If you are looking for the more relaxing atmosphere with a French touch and gorgeous beaches, Saint Martin is where you should unpack your bags. But either way with the small size of the island and easy passage between the two territories, you can enjoy the best of both worlds no matter where you stay.
Contact your real travel expert to begin planning your visit to Sint Maarten/ Saint Martin.
Main & feature images courtesy of Pixabay. Check out other Caribbean islands here.
Like to see what is happening this year in Sint Maarten/ St. Martin? Here is a calendar of events.