Located in the northeast Caribbean with a landmass of just 98 square kilometres, St. Martin is one of the more exceptional places in the world despite its small size. Divided roughly in half between France and the Netherlands, it holds a remarkable dual status as part of the Netherlands Antilles and the French region of Guadeloupe.
The island’s early history is poorly documented, yet it is claimed that the first inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, were conquered by their Carib counterparts, known for their warlike and cannibalistic tendencies (from whence the term is derived). Legend has it that the first European involvement in St. Martin was courtesy of Christopher Columbus, who supposedly anchored in the island during his second voyage to the New World in 1493. The following centuries were marked by Spanish, Dutch, British and French interference, even after the decisive decision to divide the island into Saint-Martin (French) and Sint Maarten (Dutch) was taken in 1648.
The oldest treaty still in force today, the island’s very recent history has nevertheless seen strides towards independence, with plans to make both halves independent parts of their respective kingdoms. However, for the visitor, the island’s division only adds to its charm, both areas being blessed with special qualities.
St. Martin’s official languages are French and Dutch, but English is commonly spoken and Creole can be heard in Saint-Martin.
Officially, Sint Maarten deals in the Antillean Guilder (ANG) and Saint-Martin uses the Euro (EUR). However, the US dollar is widely accepted on the island. The following rates are accurate as of August 2006:
1 USD : 1.79 ANG and 0.78 EUR1 GBP : 3.38 ANG and 1.47 EUR1 EUR : 2.29 ANG
St. Martin enjoys a tropical climate, with temperatures between 75 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. The tourist season falls between December and April.
There is an occasional hurricane threat in summer and early fall.
Monuments to the city’s past can be found strewn across the island in the shape of forts, the most important being the Dutch and French occupied Fort Louis, built in 1789 and providing a marvellous panoramic of the Bay of Marigot.
Additionally, a number of museums and local galleries provide the island with some high culture, the most impressive being the Sint-Maarten Museum in Philipsberg and the Saint-Martin Museum in Route de Sandy Ground, both surveying the history and culture of the island from prehistoric times and beyond.
If you’d prefer a stroll outside, be sure to check out the Sint-Maarten Zoological and Botanical Garden, with a wide array of wildlife on show.
St. Martin is renowned for providing sun and sand in abundance and, with 36 beaches catering to all types of tourist and taste, it is easy to see why. For pure relaxation, the calmer waters of the Caribbean Sea on the leeward side of the land (to the west) are the place to go. However, the eastern windward side next to the Atlantic Sea is great for water-sports. For families, the best activity beaches are the Oyster Pond Beach and Friar’s Bay. Optional clothing beaches are also a feature of the island, particularly in Saint-Martin, the most popular being the Orient Bay Beach, Rouge Bay and Long Bay.
Two carnivals are held each year, with the French one during Lent and the larger Dutch carnival held in a specially built 'Carnival Village' over a 17-day period. Festivities finally conclude on Queen Beatrix’s birthday (January 31st).
Sports fans will find facilities available for golf, tennis, fishing and horse riding as well as water-sports.
The home of duty free shopping, the Saint-Martin side is better known than its Dutch counterpart. The best places to visit are the West Indies Mall on Marigot waterfront and the French Market in Marigot itself.
Sint Maarten makes up for the relative lack of shops by providing the best in nightlife. As well as an incredible 13 casinos, there are a range of bars and nightclubs. If you’re looking for a fun night out, check out the Bliss Bar near the airport.
Saint-Martin also offers a few places for drinking and dancing though, such as Club One near Marigot.
Remarkably, the Dutch side of Sint Maarten has no official law prohibiting drink driving according to Blood Alcohol Content (BAC). However, Saint-Martin adheres to the French drink driving limit of 0.05% and it is highly recommended for your safety that you consider this applicable to Sint Maarten as well (conforming to the Dutch drink driving limit).
Food and Drink
St. Martin has some of the best restaurants in the region, specialising mainly in French and Italian cuisine even on the Dutch side of the island and making great use of seafood. However, some establishments provide regional Creole dishes like callaloo soup.
You can find some outstanding eateries such as the Pizza Pasta Trattoria Italiana near the Casino Royale, as well as gourmet restaurants like Le Gaïac in Le West Indies and Tropicana and Le Chanteclair, both in Marina Port La Royale.
Tourist InformationSaint-Martin Tourist Office (French Side)Route de Sandy-GroundPort de Marigot97150Saint-MartinTel: +590 590 876 721www.st-martin.org
Sint Maarten Tourist OfficeW.G. Buncamper Road, 33PhilipsburgSint MaartenTel: +599 5 422 337www.st-maarten.com