Two countries, one island: Sint Maarten and Saint Martin offer the world a lesson in sharing. With the lively Dutch Sint Maarten to the south, the laid back French Saint Martin to the north, and no marked border in between visiting the friendly island is like getting a two-for-one deal. With dozens of beaches, excellent duty-free shops, countless land and water activities, and abundant world-class dining options, this tiny island is one of the leading destinations in the Caribbean.
Stop by the Guavaberry Emporium on Front Street to sample St. Maarten’s national beverage: guava berry liquer. And be sure to stroll down Old Street, a tiny pedestrian-only promenade located between Front and Back Streets. It’s home to colorful shops and open-air cafes with a yellow taxicab parked in the alley marking the shopping district. The streets are lined with ginger bread style homes with grand verandas overlooking the cobblestoned paths.
Before St. Maarten became a must-see destination for cruisers and tourists, the island was most popular for its must-have ingredients, salt! Back in the 17th century, Dutch settlers started harvesting salt from Great Salt Pond and sending ship loads back to Europe. Today, the island is split in half between France and the Netherlands Antilles, making both sides of the island unique. We cruised into Phillipsburg which is the capital of St. Maarten and immediately noticed the Dutch influence which dates back to the colonial days.
From the cruise port in Philipsburg, you can take a $7 water taxi (per person for all day travel) to the Captain Hodge Pier. In this neighborhood, you can find taxis to go to different parts of the island, lively cafes, restaurants and also duty-free shopping mecca, downtown Phillipsburg.
Some highlights and must see of this island are:
- Loterie Farm – This nature – lover’s paradise offers various hiking trails, a zip-line adventure course, and a multi level swimming area surrounded by tropical vegetation.
- Simpson Bay Lagoon – The largest saltwater lagoon in the Caribbean has a picturesque 2-mile harbor that hosts impressive luxury yachts.
- Orient Beach – Known as the French Rivera of the Caribbean, this clothing optional beach offers a full range of amenities, including beach chairs and water sports.
- Mount Concordia – The mountain divides the French and the Dutch sides. A monument sits here to represent the peace treaty that was signed in 1648.
- Maho Beach – If you haven’t seen photos or videos of the Princess Julianna Airport, then you are missing out! It’s a must experience on this island with planes taking off and coming in so close you can practically touch them. If you are up for it, get close to the middle of the beach so you can feel the thrust of the plane! When they take off, be careful as you may get sandblasted. The Sunset Bar is the place to go to grab a seat, or a drink, and watch the planes. There is a list of daily arrivals that you can view on the surfboard.
- Invisible border – Probably the most interesting and attractive fact about this island is that it is half French and half Dutch owned. The Dutch side is now the southern part of the island, and the French is the north. You can drive and cross the invisible border without any border control so go back and forth as much as you like!
- Reef & Wreck Diving – This has to be one of the best places you can go scuba diving. With endless reefs and a dozen wrecks, you are guaranteed to see some great sights.
- Fort Lois – Fort St. Louis, which overlooks the town of Marigot on the French side of St. Martin is the largest historical monument on the island. It was originally built in 1767 to protect Marigot from foreign invaders. In 1789, it was briefly occupied by the Dutch. It’s a hike up but so worth it not only for the history but the view as well!
- Ferry – When you go to St. Maarten, you can visit other islands as well and is very common (more so for people not on cruise ships). You can take a ferry to the islands of Anguilla and St. Barts. The trip will cost you less than $100 round trip (flights will go for much more than that).