St. Martin/St. Maarten Travel Guide
St. Martin/St. Maarten Summary
- Pristine, beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters -- on all sides of the island
- More than 300 restaurants throughout the island
- Choice between the more isolated St. Martin and the Dutch's more developed Sint Maarten
- Many duty-free shops, especially in the Dutch Philipsburg
- Diverse nightlife options, from beachside rum huts, to flashy casinos, to steamy salsa clubs
- Almost 40 different choices in beaches
- Adventure sports: parasailing; windsurfing; jet skiing
- Plenty of quality lodging options, including charming and isolated cottages as well as all-inclusive, popular resorts
- Easy to get around; taxis travel between the Dutch and French sides without any issues; no immigration or customs.
- Some of the best snorkeling in the world, and numerous good snorkeling spots
- Family fun, such as the Butterfly Farm in Quartier D'Orleans and Pinel Island, accessible by ferry from the French side
- Fairly expensive hotel options
- Petty crime in Sint Maarten (but safe otherwise)
- Regular construction in Sint Maarten
What It's Like
Split between the French and the Dutch, but with no real boundary marks, St. Martin and Sint Maarten each have different governments, languages, cuisine, currencies, and attitudes in general. Although there isn't a strict border, once you've crossed over into the other country's land, you'll soon know it.
The Dutch Sint Maarten offers high-rise condos and timeshares that are popular with Americans. Dutch is the official language, but English is widely spoken. High-end shops such as Tommy Hilfiger line the cobblestone streets in Philipsburg, while nightclubs pulse long into the night. Saint Maarten is a busy cruise port, and has long been a lively trade and tourism hub.
St. Martin, the French side, takes up the northern two-thirds of the island. The native language is French, and the island is subject to French law. Less developed than the Dutch side, St. Martin offers plenty of natural attractions, including the beautiful (and clothing-optional) Orient Beach, and Loterie Farm's tree-to-tree zip-line.
Both sides of the island offer excellent beaches, from small, tranquil stretches of sand (such as Happy Bay) to family-friendly beaches such as Baie de l'Embouchure/Galion Beach (where the water is protected by a reef).
Where to Stay
The French St. Martin offers more secluded, intimate accommodations. On the Dutch side, visitors will be able to find large, all-inclusive resorts with lots of entertainment options. Shoppers might want to check out the Dutch capital of Phillipsburg, where great duty-free shops abound. Those looking to be close to major restaurants and bars should look for accommodations around Simpson Bay. Maho, on the Dutch side, is the heart of the island's party scene, and offers plenty of nightclubs, casinos, and bars. Visitors seeking a more relaxed pace might want to check out Marigot, the French capital, which offers a European feel and a very laid-back vibe.