St. Martin, or St. Maarten, is an island of two nations. It has been divided between the French and the Dutch for nearly 350 years in a spirit of neighborly cooperation.
The border on this tiny island is quite fluid. People cross back and forth between the two countries without every realizing it. Four main boundaries exist, namely Belle Vue and Cole Bay, the French Quarter and the Dutch Quarter, Low Lands and Cupecoy as well as Oyster Pond. Peaceful cohabitation is the impressive outcome of the powerful treaty that makes this strange arrangement possible.
Although it may seem like one whole island, each side manages to retain its own cultural flavor. The French of St. Martin put pride in the comfort and elegance offered by their secluded beaches, luxurious resorts and gourmet restaurants.
On the other side of the island, in St. Maarten owned by the Dutch, bustling commercialism is the name of the game. This side of the island has long been known as a center for both trade and tourism. It welcomes cruise ships regularly throughout the year and is therefore more developed than the raw beauty of the French side. At the same time, it is more informal and very culturally Dutch.
Saint Martin is located midway through the Antilles in the Caribbean Sea. It is approximately 190 miles (300 kilometers) east of Puerto Rico and marks the point at which the chain of islands begins to curve to the south. St. Martin’s climate is temperate year-round with average temperatures of 82 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. Cooling trade winds blow throughout the year keeping things comfortable. Rainfall is also minimal with about 45 inches occurring annually between late summer and early fall.
Both sides of Saint Martin offer plenty to keep you busy throughout your stay. Visitors can enjoy the 37 beautiful beaches, some of which qualify as ‘clothing optional.’ There are also a variety of hiking trails that can be enjoyed on foot, by horse or zip line. Boat and catamaran charters allow you to enjoy above the water views of the island while some of the best dining in the Caribbean will keep you full morning, noon and night. Speaking of the night, St. Martin’s discos are known for their quick calypso rhythms fueling singing and dancing until the early hours.
Between diving all day and enjoying the gorgeous Caribbean sunsets in the evening, your St. Martin vacation is sure to be both idyllic and memorable.
Princes Juliana International Airport (SXM) in Phillipsburg on the Dutch side of the island is the main entry point for most international visitors arriving by plane. There is an additional, smaller airport mainly used for inter-island flights on the French side known as Grand Case Airport.
It is also possible to arrive in St. Martin by boat. Many visitors come by the ever-present cruise ships which dock in Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the island. There is also a small port near Marigot on the French side which mainly services private yachts.
Once on the island, it is easy to move around and visitors often cross the border without even knowing they have moved into a different country. Rental cars, taxis and buses are available for your convenience.