St. Martin & Sint Maarten
Population: 75,000 residents (combined)
Size: 37 square miles (combined)
Language: Saint Martin – French, Sint Maarten – Dutch & English
Like a refreshing exotic Caribbean cocktail, the island of Sint Maarten and St. Martin is a blend of Dutch flavor and French style. Could you ever image such a small island could be shared by two separate and completely different countries? It is the only island in the Caribbean that does just that and the smallest land mass in the world to do so. On the Dutch side of the island is Sint Maarten known for its beaches, intense nightlife, exotic drinks, rum guvaberry liquors, and non-stop activity.. Its French neighbor to the north is St. Martin which is popular for its rich cuisine, clothing optional beaches, and shopping. Each side of the island is unique in many ways and vacationers can visit both sides of the island since there are no real border or document requirements between the two. On a clear day you can see the neighboring islands of St. Kitts, St. Barths, and Anguilla.
As one of the most popular Caribbean destination, the island of St. Martin and Sint Maarten are easily accessible. Visitors to the island will find it offerings full of exceptional beaches, diverse and eventful dining, duty-free shopping at its best, vibrant markets, and energetic nightlife charged with Caribbean style. The excitement to this island destination extends in to the sea with water activities that will surely bring pleasure to any traveler. Excursions to nearby islands are also easily arranged.
Sint Maarten has become a leading destination for development in contrast to St. Martin’s simpler and laid back appearance. Resorts, condominiums, commercial real estate, and casinos are continuing to be added to the Dutch side of the island. Time share developments are very popular on this island and visitors are frequently approached with regards to the properties.
On cruise ship days, this island becomes energized with one of the most popular attractions being a visit to the capital city of Philipsburg in Sint Maarten. Philipsburg cobblestone streets is one of the top spots in the Caribbean for shopping and if that is not your style, then relax at one of the harbor city’s beaches and have a tropical drink.
When to go
You’ll find that the weather on the island remains fairly consistent throughout the year with temperature difference between the warm season and cool season being less than 5° Fahrenheit. During the warm season temperatures will average near 87° Fahrenheit with low humidity. Since temperatures are fairly consistent throughout the year, travel to St. Martin/Sint Maarten at anytime will be pleasantly warm. Rain showers are typically brief and are more common during the “rainy” months of May to November. Rarely do you find rain showers that linger for multiple days. The later end of this period is also the identified hurricane season. If looking to travel in style but on a budget, looked to travel during the summer months when hotels and restaurants are less crowded.
Like most Caribbean destinations, hotels will charge their peak rates during the winter season of mid-December to mid-April. The highest of these rate will commonly be found the weeks around Christmas and again in Easter. Be sure to plan months in advance if planning to travel during these times. Hotels on all three islands charge their highest rates during the peak winter season, from mid-December to mid-April. Christmas week rates may double those tariffs. You should make reservations months in advance for Christmas and February, especially over Presidents' Day weekend. Off-peak rates can save you as much as 50%.
Sun, Sand, Sea & Shopping
With pristine white sand blanketed over 39 beaches the sun soaked fun comes at no shortage in St. Martin and Sint Maarten. You can choose to stroll for miles on powder white sand, snorkel in clear glass water, or sip on rum punch cocktails beachside. You will find the beaches on both sides of the island everything you would expect in a premiere Caribbean paradise full of tropical life, action, and sun. However, if it is secluded stretches of sand you desire, you best option will be on the French side. Also keep in mind when on the island that the Atlantic sides will be a bit winder with stronger currents. On the Caribbean side you will find beaches a bit more suited for snorkelers, swimming, and families wading in the waters. One such beach that is secluded from strong currents and winds is Great Bay in Philipsburg. The most popular beach on the island and lined with white sand, Great Bay is extremely festive especially on days cruise ships are in port. If its adventure you like to experience at the beach, no other compares to that of Maho Beach. When approaching the beach you will notice a sign that warns of low flying planes. It is here that the islands passenger jets fly literally just a few hundred feet above the beach onto the run way. Not exactly tranquility but intense and exciting. Take caution as the take off and kick the jets into overdrive, the jet wash is strong enough to knock over onlookers standing on the beach. Check out more on Maho Beach http://www.sint-maarten.net/St-Maarten-Beaches/MahoBay.html
Snorkeling and scuba diving is ideal in the waters that surround the island. Protected by numerous coves and reefs there are an endless number of locations to get up close with the aquatic wildlife. Visibility is typically between 100 to 125 feet. The protective coves and reefs provide conditions that make this destination an exceptional choice for snorkeling with young children and entire families. You will find plenty of well equipped outfitters that will provide you with both all of the equipment you would want and some great suggestions as to where the conditions are best to see the some amazing marine life. If travelling with children they can provide you with some excellent choices to begin the sport of snorkeling.
Duty-free shopping in the Caribbean at it finest, St. Martin and Sint Maarten continue to be one of the top destinations to go for a little paradise shopping. Offering a warm festive atmosphere to shop in the likes of Tommy Hilfinger and Tiffany, you will surely find a bargain or two to your liking. Looking for jewelry, liquor, electronics, or cosmetics, then Front Street in Philipsburg is a shoppers paradise and a must do for cruise passengers. Bring a sturdy bag for shopping and be aware that some stores operate on a cash only basis. Most shops on the Sint Maarten side are open Monday through Saturday between 9am and 6pm. In St. Martin, generally the shops will be open at 8 or 9am until noon and then again between the hours of 2pm and 6pm. On days in which cruise ships are in port you will find that many of the shops will extend their hours.
Many visitors to St. Martin/Sint Maarten come to absorb the sun and relax on the world class beaches, however there is an entire menu of activities on the island that will excite the even the most demanding traveler. Watersports, hiking, golf, boating, tree top zip lines, and casinos are also some of the other offers of the island. The Dutch side of Sint Maarten has more than a dozen casinos and is known as one of the top destination in the Caribbean for casino entertainment. Relax at your favorite table game or slot machine while sipping on a refreshing rum punch. Check some of them out for yourself:
Dining & Entertainment
Known as the “gastronomic capital of the Caribbean”, Grand Case’s main road is stacked with cafés and open air restaurants colored with vibrant themes defining what you could only describe as the French Caribbean. All across the island you can find a wide selection of dining experiences. Whether it is a romantic hideaway with waterfront tables or roadside shacks, known as “lo-lo”s, serving local flair out of beat up metal drums…a delicious meal is easy to find. Dining alfresco choices are most popular in Philipsburg, beachfront resorts, and the lagoon near Simpson’s Bay. Dining in St. Martin is an incredible experience because it offers the quality and class of dining in France with the beauty of the Caribbean and without the expensive prices.
Whether it be authentic rum shops with the locals the electric nightclubs of the resorts and casinos, nightlife and bar hopping is an experience all its own in St. Martin/Sint Maarten. Calypso music, salsa dancing, or reggae rhythms, it’s all here. Your two prime spots for a Caribbean nightlife at its best is at Simpson’s Bay Lagoon (Sint Maarten) area and the Orientale Beach (St. Martin). With so much to do in St. Martin/Sint Maarten it would beneficial to ask your front lobby publications that highlight the local events and nightlife. One popular publication is K-Pasa. Popular ways of taking your entertainment out to sea are the numerous dinner and party boat cruises.