St Martin is a two-in-one treat for tourists who want to experience a distinctive French and Dutch island culture. More tourists are taking St Martin vacations and almost all come away with a special experience. But, what’s the difference between Sint Maarten and Saint Martin, and which one should you visit?
Sint Maarten V Saint Martin
The island of St Martin is split into the Dutch and French parts. St Maarten is an autonomous region of the Netherlands and occupies the southern third of the island. St Martin is under the French and has the majority of the landmass. St Maarten gets more tourists and is a typical stop for cruise ships giving visitors duty-free shopping, entertainment and a decent nightlife. French Saint Martin is more about gourmet food and world-class dining.
According to legend, the border was created after two men, one French and one Dutch, ran in opposite directions around the island with the border being introduced at the meeting point. Apparently, the Dutch runner was drunk and kept falling down, which meant the French man gained more distance. The border was then drawn with the French having more territory.
The border between both sides isn’t really obvious and you won’t be asked to show your passport or fill in customs forms. However, the road signs will be in a different language and you’ll notice a clear cultural difference. Despite the laid-back attitude of both autonomous regions, a telephone call from Philipsburg to Marigot is actually an international call and international fees apply.
Experience Dutch St Maarten
Most tourists arrive and spend their time in St Maarten. Princess Juliana International Airport gets the majority of flights. The Dutch side has resorts, duty-free shopping, and casinos. Popular activities are to soak up the atmosphere in Philipsburg, the capital city, which has museums, bars, and a long boardwalk. Front Street has shops selling everything from jewellery to shoes and St Maarten Zoo is a favourite for young families. You can also visit the ruins of Fort Amsterdam located on a nearby peninsula.
But, by far the most popular activity is to head down to Maho Beach and watch the jets land and take off. Planes descend over the beach just 30 metres above the heads of tourists. This is a fun and unique experience for people of all ages. The daring tourists stand behind the runway when a plane takes off and hold onto the fence. Blasts of air from the engines are powerful enough to blow people away.
Enjoy the French St Martin
French St Martin has a different vibe and atmosphere to St Maarten. Tourist numbers are fewer and it hasn’t experienced the drive to attract cruise ships to its shores. As such, you’ll find fewer duty-free shopping and a quieter atmosphere.
Marigot is the capital of St Martin and has more in common with a large town than a major city. Strolling around the town, you almost feel as if you’re in France with the French style boutiques and cafes lining the streets. Fort Louis, a late 18th-century fort named in honour of the then king, sits nearby on top of the hill. Walking is the most convenient way to get around Marigot and finding a parking space is almost impossible. Eating options are numerous in downtown with restaurants serving French cuisine to suit any budget.
Grand Case is on the northern part of the island and has a reputation as being the Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean. Restaurants sell all types of cuisine throughout the day to cater for visitors. Open air barbeques for lunch and excellent fine-dining in the evening. Locals and tourists enjoy the ambience of the late night lounges too.
Grand Case is a short drive from either Marigot or Orient Bay. Apart from dining, the Grand Case Beach Club offers various water sports to tourists including kayaking, jet skiing, and snorkelling. Creole Rock, a few minutes off the coast, is one of the best spots on the Island of St Martin for snorkelling.
The Orient Bay Nudist Beach
Orient Bay, on the eastern part, is a famous beach with a clothing-optional approach to sunbathers. The beach is one of the busiest on the Island of St Martin and has a good tourist infrastructure. Several bars and restaurants line the beach, which is quite rare on the French side of the island. You can also rent equipment for water sports. But, it’s not the best place to go for a late afternoon soak in the water. Strong riptides can appear out of nowhere and are dangerous for weak swimmers. Entrance to the beach is free, but you do need to pay to rent an umbrella and sun lounger.
Some tourists are a little put off by the fact that they may encounter naked sunbathers. However, recent visitors claim it really isn’t as bad as you may expect. The Orient Club, a famous naturist club in St Martin, is in the southern part of the beach. You can expect to see nudists around here in public areas. On other parts of the beach, it’s less popular. Just be aware if you’re sensitive to these types of things. Families with children should also be more careful if they want to visit Orient Beach.
The Dual Nation Tropical Paradise
Both St Martin and Sint Maarten on the Island of St Martin are similar, yet very different places, giving tourists a unique combination of French, Dutch, and Caribbean cultures.
What do you think? Have you been to St Martin in the past? If so, what was your impression? If you haven’t been, would you consider going? Let us know in the comments below!