With hundreds of duty-free shops, an eclectic array of restaurants, casinos and loads of water sports, St. Maarten is for action-oriented vacationers.
With its blend of warm hospitality and European style, St. Maarten is one of the Caribbean’s more attention-grabbing spots. The destination is part of an island with a split personality, thanks to an international border between its two sides: Dutch St. Maarten to the south, French St. Martin to the north.
Dutch St. Maarten is smaller than the French side, covering 16 square miles with an abundance of rolling hills. Dutch is the official language, but you’ll hear English everywhere, with African and French influences tossed in.
Its capital, Philipsburg, began as a Dutch trading center, and forts around the city are reminders of its strategic importance in St. Maarten’s history. Fort Amsterdam, built in 1631 on a peninsula between Great Bay and Little Bay, was the first Dutch military outpost in the Caribbean; it provides a panoramic view of the city and neighboring islands. The Spanish captured the fort soon after it was completed and kept it until 1648, when they abandoned it. Fort Willem, today topped by a television transmission tower, is great for a hike. The British built this structure west of downtown in 1801 and the Dutch nabbed it in 1816.
Phillipsburg still has touches of its colonial past. The St. Maarten Museum is stocked with items that tell the story of the Dutch island’s history and the culture of its diverse peoples from prehistoric times to the present. You’ll see pottery from the Arawak Amerindians and items salvaged from a British ship that sank more than 200 years ago. Phillipsburg’s grand courthouse was built in 1793. It’s white and topped with a cupola. The city’s waterfront is a popular stop for cruise ships.
Today tourism is king; with so many options for pleasure-seekers, this destination is the opposite of an out-of-the-way, undiscovered place. Instead, you can shop ‘til you drop on bustling Front Street in Philipsburg, which beckons bargain hunters with close to 500 duty-free shops, many offering significant discounts on items such as Swiss watches, Italian leather, Japanese cameras and French perfume.
St. Maarten has 37 white sandy beaches. One favorite strip is Cupecoy Bay Beach near the Dutch-French border, which is dotted with caves and cliffs. Maho Bay Beach, located near the airport popular for the low flying planes. One of St. Maarten’s more private strands is Simpson Bay Beach, a long half-moon of white sand set between a fishing village and the sea. Simpson Bay Lagoon is enclosed, making the water a natural for water skiing. Dawn Beach, Mullet Bay, Oyster Pond and Guana Bay are favorites for snorkeling and windsurfing. Greatbay beach with the boardwalk is popular for cruise passengers.
Divers have visibility up to 100 feet, and one of the most-talked-about scuba spots is an 1801 British frigate, the coral-covered HMS Proselyte, which sits a mile off the coast.
While the sun shines, visitors can lounge on the beach or spend time mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, playing tennis, or participating in water sports. Adventurers may want to try kite boarding, a take-off on waterskiing that is especially popular with teenagers and young adults. Operators on the island can also arrange for parasailing, windsurfing and Wave Runner excursions with instruction.
Sailing is a big part of St. Maarten’s culture. Many visitors sign up to experience the thrill of racing in St. Maarten’s daily 12-Metre Challenge, a three-hour staged version of the America’s Cup race, in which participants race yachts. Sailors of every skill level can serve as a member of the crew aboard the boats.
Visitors can peek under the sea in the Atlantis submarine, or cruise above it on sunset sails, lagoon cruises, dinner cruises, snorkel trips to deserted islands or hydro cruiser jaunts to neighboring islands. Deep-sea fishing expeditions may reap wahoo, marlin, sailfish or tuna.
Several spas have upped the pamper factor, Indulgence by the Sea and The Good Life Spa among them. Masseurs can also come to your villa, as can four-star chefs.
It’s easy to drive around St. Maarten and you’ll find much to explore. In the Madame Estate area, St. Maarten Park, a part of the St. Maarten Zoological and Botanical Garden, is filled with Caribbean and South American animals, plants and birds. You’ll spot sleek ocelots and bush dogs, parrots and toucans and owls, boa constrictors and marine toads, even land crabs and giant land snails. Bright pink bougainvillea spill onto the walkways, accompanied by alamanda, ixoria, sea grape and yellow poui.
On Cole Bay Hill, just west of Phillipsburg, you can step into the observation platform and get an outstanding Caribbean panorama. Expect to spot Saba, St. Eustatius, Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis. A leisurely one-hour hike will bring you to Cay Bay.
Food from Around the World
After dark, more fun cranks up. Dinner is an international affair, with more than 300 restaurants offering French, Dutch, Caribbean, Italian, Chinese, Indonesian, creole and West Indian menus. Later in the evening, consider visiting one of 14 casinos. Gaming on St. Maarten is “European mode,” quiet and sophisticated.
Music fans will find hot sounds at nightclubs: Bliss, Tantra which has a dance floor on two levels, Prive Lounge and Sky Beach.
In terms of lodging, St. Maarten has more than 7,000 rooms in properties ranging from grand hotels and resorts to intimate guesthouses and apartments, villas and condos.
Dinner/Dance. Musical revues. Discos. Casinos. Concerts.
Air France. Air Caraibes. Dutch Antilles Express. American Airlines. Caribbean Airlines. Corsair. KLM. LIAT. US Airways. Winair. Windward Island Express Delta Airlines. United Airlines. Jet Blue. Spirit. Insel Air. Tek Air. Air BVI. Air Sunshine. Sunwing. Sun Country. Air Canada. St.Barths Commuter. Private Charters.
Private Handlers: TLC. Signature
Airports: Princess Juliana International Airport – SXM.
U.S. citizens may stay up to three months providing they show proof of citizenship in the form of a valid passport.
All US citizens traveling by air to and from St. Maarten and the Caribbean are required to have a valid passport to enter the United States.
Visitors who intend to stay more than 90 days must fill out an extension request form and submit it to the Immigration Department for an Approve Extend of stay. All visitors must have an onward or returning ticket.
Historic Courthouse-built in 1793 on Front Street. St. Maarten Museum. Baker’s Island Liquors. Guavaberry Shop. Historic Fort Amsterdam in Philipsburg.
Contact the St. Maarten Tourist office at Tel:1-721-549-0200. Fax:1-721-542-0664.