It’s a tale of two cities. This is one island governed by two different countries. Visitors get completely different cultures and two types of vacations when moving between St. Martin and St. Maarten. It’s truly a two-for-one sale.
The dual-country island is the place to party, roam the beaches, and engage in some duty-free shopping. The finest restaurants are on the St. Martin side, while St. Maarten has the wild nightlife of casinos, exotic clubs, and bars. Visitors can cross from one side of the island to the other at will. Enjoy a juicy steak for lunch and sneak into a wild bar that same evening.
About St. Martin and St. Maarten
The St. Martin half of the island is French, while St. Maarten is officially Dutch. Both are a wonderful playground for anyone looking for over 300 fine restaurants, luxury resorts, and 36 stunning beaches. With seven thousand hotel rooms, the island is a prized vacation destination. Phillipsburg is the largest city in St. Maarten, while Marigot is the capital of St. Martin.
According to local legend, both the Dutch and the French wanted the island territory. Two men, a Frenchman drinking wine and a Dutchman imbibing gin held a contest. Both became drunk, with the Frenchman marching north and the Dutchman heading south, with the intention of dividing the island at whatever point they met. The Dutchman fell asleep, allowing the Frenchman to cover a greater share of the island. Thus, St. Martin is the larger of the two island portions. They legally split the territory, and each gave a name to its own side.
Phillipsburg is a duty-free shopper’s haven. Marigot is a bit more costly, a tad more laid back, and very French, with sidewalk cafes serving cappuccino and authentic French pastries and some lovely art galleries.
St. Martin has the finest beaches, such as the popular Orient Beach, which has been compared to the beaches of St. Tropez. Its beachfront restaurant, Kakao, has excellent fresh mussels. Visitors should be aware that fabulous Orient Beach is clothing optional. Life in St. Martin is quite tranquil when compared to its neighbor, St. Maarten.
Language Spoken in St. Martin and St. Maarten
Both regions speak English, although with dialects varying from West Indies to the precision Oxford English. French is also widely used in St. Martin, and its use has increased during the past few years. Residents of St. Maarten officially speak Dutch. Due to a large influx of immigrants, Spanish and French Creole are also quite prevalent.
Currency in St. Martin and St. Maarten
The legal currency of St. Maarten is the Netherlands Antilles florin, which exchanges at 1.79 florins to the US dollar. St. Martin uses the euro, which is exchangeable at $1.20 per U.S. Dollar. The U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere.
Things to Do in St. Martin
The Flying Dutchman in Philipsburg, St. Maarten
The Flying Dutchman – Steepest Zipline in the World is not for the faint of heart. At a drop of 1,066 feet at 56 miles an hour, it offers an incomparable view of the rainforest below and several neighboring islands. The Flying Dutchman is located in the Rockland Estate Park, and they provide tours of the rainforest, as well.
Topper’s Rhum Factory in St. Maarten
Billing itself as having the “World’s Best Tasting Rhum,” Topper’s provides tours that include the history of Caribbean rum and the process of creating their 50 different types of rum. Taste their product and bottle your own rum to take with you.
Shop Till You Drop
This is where people come for duty-free haute couture shopping. Many luxury items cost less than half of what they do in some other countries. Cruise ships stop here specifically for the jewelry, perfumes, electronics, and expensive clothing.
St. Maarten’s Philipsburg has the famous Front Street and Old Street, which are filled with exquisite boutiques. Front Street stretches for a mile and is brimming with jewelry stores such as Cartier and boutiques carrying Liz Claiborne and Coach products. Old Street is lined with irresistible French bakeries and Belgian chocolates.
St. Martin’s Marigot has a French/Caribbean aura, with bistros, French boutiques, perfumeries, and plenty more duty-free items. Visiting Marigot is like taking a stroll along Paris’ Left Bank. For some true haute couture, wander to the Rue du General de Gaulle by the waterfront.
The name Loterie Farm in St. Martin is a misnomer. It is more like a deluxe special club built on a former plantation. Here, visitors can hike a lush tropical forest, enjoy a treetop canopy tour along with ziplining, or just relax in one of the luxury poolside cabanas after lunch at the onsite restaurant. The cabanas include a bottle of wine, and the service can be upgraded to premier (translation: exclusive) wine, a private deck with daybeds, treehouses, and huts, all with private Jacuzzis. Like so much in St. Martin, it is exquisite self-indulgence.
Cruising St. Martin and St. Maarten
Visitors come to the island to enjoy its beauty. One of the best ways to experience the sights, smells, and sounds of St. Martin and St. Maarten is by taking one of the many available excursion cruises. These include lunch, dinner, dance/dinner, sunset cruises, diving and snorkeling cruises, half-day and full-day trips, and cruises to neighboring islands.
Best Beaches to Visit in St. Martin and St. Maarten
St. Martin and St. Maarten have the most incredible beaches. Be aware that most of them consider topless sunbathing the norm, and many allow clothing-optional. Visitors with children are fine at these beaches since the “undressed” bathers usually keep to a section of their own.
Mullet Bay Beach in St. Maarten is a striking white sand topless beach surrounded by photogenic greenery and mountains. Stroll up the nearby cliff for a great view of the bay. Mullet Bay Beach offers great surfing. It is relatively quiet, especially when compared to St. Martin’s party beach, Orient Bay. Ranked as one of St. Maarten’s top beaches, it is bordered by palm trees and a golf course.
Maho Beach is famous for being next to St. Maarten’s airport and the planes flying so low over the beach, that it feels like you can stretch up an arm and touch them. Kids love the heart-pounding overhead roar. It is also a great beach for surfing, snorkeling, and jet skiing. Maho Beach is lined with bars that offer a fantastic view of the sunset.
Orient Bay Beach is the St. Tropez of St Martin. A part of it is clothing optional. The Perch Bar (clothing optional but try not to spill any sauce) is known for its fabulous barbeque dishes. The beauty of the bay is stunning, as is the snorkeling and swimming. There are numerous major restaurants adjacent to the beach with incredible food and live entertainment. The bars offer plenty of fun.
The two-mile stretch of Great Day Beach in Philipsburg has a boardwalk with an abundance of shops. There are restaurants, bars, and the Rouge at Noir Casino lining the beach. If you rent a lounger, they toss in a cold bucket of beer.
Cupecoy Beach is said to have the island’s most spectacular sunsets. A cold brew can be had at any of the bars or from one of the strolling vendors. Cupecoy Beach is LGBT-friendly.
Kimsha Beach near St. Maarten’s Simpson Bay is wonderful for watersports. Not far from the beach, there is the Topper’s Rhum Factory, and the Buccaneer Beach Bar is right on the beach. Visitors can enjoy a beachfront massage, or they can stay at the luxury Atrium Beach Resort and Spa.
Visitors come to secluded Happy Bay Beach for privacy. Here, it is quiet, with only a small outlet selling barbeque foods. Bring a picnic and enjoy a day of swimming and snorkeling.
Best All-Inclusive Resort or Hotel in St. Martin or St. Maarten
Sonesta Ocean Point Resort
The all-inclusive, adults-only Sonesta Ocean Point Resort overlooking Maho Bay features private cabanas, magnificent suites, some with butler service, all-inclusive dining, entertainment, and three pools. For absolute physical and mental relaxation, the serenity spa offers superior services. It is also home to St. Maarten’s largest casino, the Casino Royale. The total result is one of the most enchanting and sophisticated getaway resorts in St. Maarten.
The resort will arrange for snorkeling and scuba tours, as well as sunset sailing cruises and other area sightseeing opportunities.
Best Resort or Hotel for Couples in St. Martin or St. Maarten
La Samanna in Philipsburg has its private beach with loungers and umbrellas for a perfectly lazy getaway. The suites and rooms come with balconies and a beautiful ocean view, and some of them have their own plunge pool. There are also two outdoor pools with cabanas. Cupecoy Beach, Mullet Bay Beach, and the Starz City Casino are a short walk away.
For a bit of romantic relaxation, the spa offers couples massages in the indoor spa or outdoors, as well as beach yoga. Enjoy a game of golf, aerobics classes, and tennis. The hotel will arrange kayaking and scuba diving equipment.
The La Samanna’s special romance/honeymoon package includes an all-inclusive four-night stay with meals and beverages, a welcome package, breakfast with champagne in bed, and a 50 minutes couples massage.
Best Resort or Hotel for Families in St. Martin or St. Maarten
Bleu Emeraude Hotel
The Bleu Emeraude Hotel in St. Maarten is a small, oceanfront boutique hotel by Grand Case Beach with one and two-bedroom suites, perfect for a family. All units enjoy a stunning view of the Mediterranean Sea. They offer in-rooms cribs and childcare while the parents are occupied elsewhere. A breakfast buffet is included, as is a grocery shopping service, although there are several nearby French restaurants. The resort can arrange for kayaks, snorkeling equipment, and paddleboards. Couples can indulge in an in-room massage.