White sand beaches, crystal blue water, and proximity to some other gems of the Carribean St. Martin | St.Maarten is an island of just 37 square miles and has been rocking a split personality since 1648. This island is the smallest parcel of land to be shared (peacefully) by two countries: France and the Netherlands.
As you can imagine being an island of two personalities, each side has a personality all its own. St. Maarten, the Dutch side on the south is where you will find the bulk of your sprawling resorts, beach boardwalks, lively nightlife and beach bars as well as casinos. St. Martin, the French side has the same sleepy feel as a Mediterranean fishing village. Houses built up amongst the cliffs, harbors filled with brightly colored fishing boats all help to accentuate the feel of this area. Thanks to the French influence you will find some of the best food in the Carribean on the French side.
Don’t worry, despite being an island of two countries English is the primary language. The island, however, does have three forms of currency: The USD, The Euro, and The Guilder. Not able to wrap your head around that? Pay attention to the currency rates against the dollar. Still uneasy? Rest assured, you can use USD everywhere on the island.
When to go:
The peak season begins in December and starts to wind down mid-April. Travel drops off from July – October due to hurricane season. What I will tell you is don’t let the phrase ‘hurricane season’ scare you. When I visited the island, I choose to go in September. Believe it or not, I’m not somebody who likes to bet against the odds, but September offered fantastic deals on flights and hotels that I couldn’t pass up. After doing some research on how frequently this island gets hit by a hurricane (52 times in the last 145 years), I booked my ticket and went. The weather could not have been better.
What to do:
Diving, snorkeling windsurfing, jet skiing, sailing, shopping, people watching, fine dining; you name, St. Maarten | St. Martin has it. Here’s a peek at all this island has to offer you:
◊ Philipsburg: The capital of St. Maarten on the Dutch side, this area attracts the bargain savvy shopper who will no doubt be in heaven as they peruse the mile long commercial district of duty-free and sales tax-free stores known as Frontstreet. Shopping, not your thing? Enjoy the many art galleries, historic forts, Great Bay Beach (and it’s boardwalk) as well as restaurants that are as inviting as they are delicious.
◊ Maho Beach: Located in St. Maarten, aka the Dutch side of the island, this beach is most well known for it’s proximity to Princess Julianna Airport. Maho Beach is a must stop location when you visit this Carribean island but don’t plan on spending your entire day here. Depending on the time of year, coupled with a small beach area, Maho Beach can be several people deep of tourists waiting to get the experience of a plane seeming so low, you reach up to attempt to touch it. If the beach is too full or you want to sit back with your feet up then settle in at Sunset Bar and Grill located directly next to Maho Beach. They even go as far as to post the flight schedule for the airport that day.
◊ Pinel Island: A slice of paradise right across from Paradise, Pinel Island offers you the opportunity to take the word ‘relax’ and redefine it. There are a few options when it comes to getting here. The majority of the boat tours offered on the island include a stop at Pinel. You can also book day excursions here as well. The other option you have is to hop the ferry for $12.00 and get here yourself. Pinel Island is the type of place you can spend the entire day. Pack a cooler and bring your food or eat at one of two restaurants; the choice is yours. You can rent beach chairs and umbrellas for the day for $20.00 and have access to the waitstaff while you slumber. The customer service exceeds expectations here.
◊ Tintamarre Island: Located about 3 kilometers off the coast of St. Maarten | St. Martin, this tiny stretch of island has no human occupants. Because of this, it is a beacon for nature, vegetation, and cleanliness. Much like Pinel, there are a variety of options that you can use to get here. Once you’re here, soak it all in; both in and out of the water. If there is one highlight that you will remember for the rest of your life here, it is the sea turtles; the water in the area surrounding the area is flooded with them.
◊ Take a boat tour: Whether it’s the island of St. Maarten | St. Martin, the islands that surround it or over to Anguilla benefit from the boat services the island has to offer you. There is a package available for every desire, every timeline and every budget. Some of the boat tours are designed solely for you to remain on the boat and look from afar. Others have strategic spots that allow you to jump in and explore all this area has to offer. Depending on what you want to see and the amenities that the boat will provide you, the cost for some of these tours will leave a hole in your pocket. Don’t dismay though. Be sure to do your research, alongside whatever concierge service your hotel offers, to determine what the best fit is for you.
◊ Take an island tour: One would figure that since this island is divided into two different countries, that each side would have their style, feeling, and topography. You would be correct! An excellent way to see what St. Maarten | St. Martin has to offer you is to see it via a bus tour. Much like your boat tours, you can make a choice to keep the costs low, or you can spend a bit more on this. It all just depends on you and your budget. I would recommend doing this fairly early into your trip so you can make a note of where you liked so you can be sure to get back there before you leave the island. This is also a great option for those of you who prefer to get from place to place on dry land.
Where to Stay:
Despite the island being small in size, there is no shortage of places to stay whether you are in St. Maarten or St. Martin. Bear in mind as you begin to make your reservations that each side of the island is different from the other. I opted for St. Maarten and the Dutch side on my adventure here simply because I didn’t want the sleepy version of the island. Being within walking distance to nightlife and restaurants was important to me. Royal Palm Beach Resort is where I set-up shop for ten days and was not disappointed with this choice. The closeness to the water and walking distance to dining and nightlife options coupled with an affordable per night rate made this location fantastic.