St. Maarten is the Dutch half of an island split between the Dutch and the French. In a rare instance of international peace, this island has been divided for nearly 350 years. The Dutch side is to the south with Philipsburg as its capital and a population of 37,000.
The island, originally named San Martín by Christopher Columbus who discovered it in 1493, was of little interest to the Spanish. The Dutch and the French, on the other hand, both sent colonies to the tiny island as it represented a strategic location between other colonies for both nations. After the island’s importance in the salt trade was discovered, the Spanish began to covet the island and took it as bounty during the Eighty Years’ War. During the 1600s, the Spanish abandoned the colony and the French and the Dutch both returned to the island. After realizing that the French were not going to give up their half of the island easily, the Dutch entered into the Treaty of Concordia in 1648, thus creating the smallest divided island in the world.
Today, the border between the French and Dutch sides on this tiny island is quite fluid. People cross back and forth between the two countries without ever 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 Dutch side, in particular, is bustling with commercialism. This area has long been known as a center for both trade and tourism. Sint Maarten 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.
Sint Maarten 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. Maarten’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.
Sint Maarten is a Caribbean paradise known for its wide range of activities. Visitors can enjoy the 37 beautiful beaches scattered around the island. 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 seaside restaurants will keep you full morning, noon and night. Speaking of the night, St. Martin’s discos are known for their quick calypso rhythms and rum-spiked drinks.
Between days of diving and colorful evenings spent watching Caribbean sunsets, your St. Maarten vacation is sure to be unforgettable.
Princes Juliana International Airport (SXM) in Phillipsburg 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 of the island known as Grand Case Airport.
It is also possible to arrive in St. Maartin by boat. Many visitors come by the ever-present cruise ships which dock in Philipsburg. 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.