A unique island in the northeast Caribbean where it is divided into two nations. The northern part of the island belongs to France. The southern part belongs to the Netherlands. Because of that, it’s usually referred as St Maarten/St Martin.
St Maarten is the Dutch side that is considered as the ‘party’ side because of casinos, hotels, and nightlife . The St Martin is the French side that is more romantic, relaxing, and pristine beaches. The French kept their side untouched by development. So there are no casinos, not many nightclubs, and their hotels have more resort like than the Dutch side.
Whether you hire a taxi or a rental car, let’s explore this two nations in one island.
Get blasted by the airplane jet
Since the airport is on the Ductch side and the hotels are less expensive. So we flew in and stayed on this side of the island. St Maarten’s airport ,Princess Juliana International Airport, itself is considered one of the most extreme airports because the runway is so close to the Maho beach. It’s an attraction to do planespotting on the beach. The incoming plane comes in a very low attitude that you can almost touch it ( I may be exaggerating a bit but it’s really close, 10-20 metres). The bigger the plane, the more bizzare sight of the landing is.
The take off is fun too. You can get blown by the jet engine blast. You can’t get to close to the gate because obviously it’s dangerous but if you want to know what it feels like, hang on tight and remember to close your mouth because the sand will be flying everywhere.
If you don’t want to risk your life – seriously, people get hurt here, you can sit back and enjoy laughing at other people falling and trumbling at Sunset Bar & Grill at the end of the beach. They also post the plane arrival schedule for you to know when to expect to see the planes.
Get a tasty pastry with a view of Simpson Bay Lagoon
Not far from the airport is the Simpson Bay Lagoon. This lagoon locates inside the island with a small channel to the caribbean sea. We took the jet ski excursion from the bay, slowly make our way, passing million dollars yachts at the marina, went under the draw bridge and hit the ocean. Once you hit the ocean, we rode this bad boy around the island, passing many beaches and town along the way to Creole Rock on the French side for snorkeling. Though I wasn’t impressed with snorkeling but the day out in the sun and jumping over the wave on jet ski was pretty amazing.
The calm water of the lagoon is relaxing for an afternoon break also. We stopped at La Sucriere, a French Bakery shop for some pastries with cup of coffee/tea and sat out at the patio by the lake. Good pastries and good view. They also serve breakfast too.
Address:Welfare Road 130 ( Opposite the Cappuccino ), Cole Bay
Philipsburg, Netherlands Antilles
Hours: 6:00 am-7:00 pm
Get lazy at Dawn beach
If you feel lazy ( which is totally acceptable) and just want to lie on the beach all day, the island has plenty of beaches to choose from on both sides. From the quite to the clothing optional beaches. We chose “Dawn Beach” on the east side of St Maarten, (the Dutch side) facing Atlantic ocean , far away from the buzz and fuzz of the town. Dawn beach is less crowded than the adjacent Orient beach . It has a long stretch of white sand beach but the water is too rough to swim or snorkle. So ‘being lazy’ is a key here. just grab a book and a chair and watch the time goes lazily by.
Get a good panoramic view of St. Maarten
The main town and the capital of the country ,Philipsburg, is also on the Dutch side and also a port for big cruise liners. On our way there from the airport, you can stop at Bethlehem Bar Viewing Point on A.J.C. Brouwer Rd in Cole Bay, where you can see a panoramic view of Simpson Bay and the Lagoon.
Do some shopping at Phillipsburg
Phillipsburg is a typical cruise ship port. The town is full of duty free stores, restaurants, bars on a boardwalk. So plenty of opportunities for shopping, drinking, and eating.
But the most beautiful part of the town is on Old Street. This traffic free street is a passage between Front and Back Streets where on both sides, these delicious old Dutch Caribbean houses have turned into boutique shops, restaurants, and cafe.
One word to describe this little touristy town is ‘colorful’ from the streets (especially Old Street), buildings, and people. It makes you feel that you are finally in the Carribean.
Get Colorful at Marigot Market on Saturday
Now we’re heading over to the French side. You can feel the French spirit in the town of “Marigot”. Though the town is small but this capital of St Martin has the charm that you can find in any French town. It has colonial style houses, boutique shops, french bistros, pastry shops and cafes.
We specifically planed to explore Marigot on Saturday’s morning because of the Marigot Market. An open air market set along the wharves on the Blvd. de France, by the Marigot Bay. You can browse many goodies among these local vendors and neighbor islands. You will find sea shells, t-shirts, trinkets, local craft and artwork, food samples and many spices. It’s very colorful and lively experience.
Visit Fort St Louis
The market is just on the foothill of Fort St Louis. Just a short drive and steep climb to the top of the hill. It was built in 1789 to protect the habor warehouses where the expensive goods like sugar cane , rum, coffee were stored. What remains now are formidable wall and canons. At the highest point, you can see a panoramic view of Marigot Bay and the sea surrounding it.
Grab Delicious Lunch at Lolo
Anybody who comes to St Martin should know what a ‘Lolo‘ is. It’s basically an open air grill shack served with plastic cutlery , eating on a picnic table. The most important thing is, it’s really cheap. Just a short drive from Marigot, by lunch time we reached Grand Case. This fishing village is famous for ‘restaurant row’. The row of charming gingerbread style houses painted with pastel colors turn into restaurants on the curve of the beach. Though Grand Case is considered the Caribbean Culinary Capital well known for delicious French gourmet food, we skipped the fancy restaurants all together and went to a lolo instead.
Just order food from the menu board, grilled rib, chicken, or fish.Side dish ( in case and enjoy it with a spectacular view of the beach. Plus the exchange rate here is 1 Euro = 1 US dollar. It’s double score. I might say.
See the locals fish at Grand Case Beach
At Grand Case, you can check out cute shops along the Grand Case blvd or stroll down the Grand Chase beach. At the pier, you will find locals fishing right of the pier, kids jumping into the blue water
Cross between two countries at Border Monument
Though we stayed on the Dutch side but crossing the border between two countries was no fuss. There is no border patrol, customs, or check point. The only thing that indicates the border is a monument with two flags of each nation on each side. All in all this makes me think if every nation can live side by side peacefully, how different the world would have been. At the end, we all share the same land of hte earth and living under the same sky. We are no diffrent from one another after all.
There you have it. Things that you can do in St Maarten/St Martin. Have you been to St. Maarten/St Martin?
“Which side do you like the most? and Why”.
Share you thoughts with us.