Saint Martin City Guide
About Saint Martin
St Martin/Sint Maarten is a 37 square mile island situated in the eastern Caribbean shared by two nations, France and the Netherlands. The origins of St Martin/Sint Maarten can be traced to Christopher Columbus who arrived on the island on the day of the feast of St Martin of Tours on 11th November 1493.
Several nations then quarreled over the possession of the island. However, in 1648 the French and the Dutch decided to divide the island amongst them. There exist several myths and stories about how the island came to be divided. For the last 350 years France has governed over 21 square miles of the island, while the rest of the area is under the control of the Netherlands.
The Dutch section of the island lies in the south and has its capital at Philipsburg, which is famous world over as a Mecca of duty free shopping. The French section of the island has its capital city at Marigot, and is known for its many first-rate restaurants. Both the French and Dutch sections of the island are popular as vacation destinations and offer a host of popular attractions, such as pristine beaches, great resort hotels, excellent restaurants, fantastic shopping and numerous nightlife options that include lively clubs and busy casinos.
Where to stay in Saint Martin
The choice of your stay on the ‘friendly island’ of St Martin/ Sint Maarten is governed largely by your own individual preferences, and, of course, which largely depends on your budget. The island of St Martin/ Sint Maarten is often considered to be a playground of the rich and famous, though it also offers accommodations to meet all travel budgets. A visit to St Martin/Sint Maarten also gives the visitors an opportunity to experience the two distinct cultures as the border between the two sections of the island is largely porous allowing the travelers to cross over easily during their St Martin/ Sint Maarten vacation.
Grand Case Hotels
The town of Grand Case lying on the northern part of French section of the island was earlier a fishing village. The place is renowned for its numerous restaurants in traditional huts and wattle houses, and has a unique Creole charm. If the focus of your vacation on this eastern Caribbean island is to sample the many delicious preparations of these restaurants, then perhaps you should stay at one of the many hotels located in Grand Case.
Orient Beach Hotels
Orient Beach, which is also located on the French side, is yet another popular accommodation option with the visitors on a vacation to St Martin. This area is believed to resemble the immensely popular French Riviera town of St Tropez. Orient Beach offers fantastic water sports facilities and good restaurants along with charming boutique hotels, villa hotels and extended stay apartment hotels.
Simpson Bay Hotels
Simpson Bay is a wide, one-mile-long beach near Philipsburg and the St Martin/Sint Maarten airport. This beach front area offers a variety of accommodation options along with many beach-side activities and good eateries, and hence is a popular accommodation choice with visitors on a vacation in St Martin/Sint Maarten.
St. Martin/Sint Maarten is an old island that was settled in the 17th century, and as a result it still has some old plantation properties now converted to hotels and guest house inns. If you like your vacation abode to have a bit of history and a charming ambience then you should better consider staying at one of the many quaint hotels of Philipsburg, with some of them also offering beach front access.
Places to see in Saint Martin
Main towns – Philipsburg and Marigot
The two main towns on the island of St Martin/Sint Maarten are Philipsburg (the Dutch capital) and Marigot (the French capital). Both these towns offer many attractions.
Philipsburg is located on a narrow plot of land that lies between the Great Bay and the Great Salt Pond, a huge marshy area. The town is a major port of call for many cruise ships. Philipsburg offers a plethora of duty free shopping options at its two main streets, Front Street (Voorstraat) and Back Street (Achterstraat). You will also find many cafes, hotels, colonial buildings and pretty flower decked courtyards in these areas.
Marigot is located along Marigot Bay and has a harbor from where ferries take off for the other islands. Marigot has the ambience of a pretty French market town, and is equipped with duty free shops, designer goods stores, cafes, bistros and bakeries.
The town of Philipsburg is home to two old historic forts. Fort Amsterdam, the first Dutch military fortification to be built on the island in 1631, is located on a peninsula between the Great Bay and Little Bay. Fort Willem is another fort lying west of downtown Philipsburg, and today hosts a television transmission tower. Both the forts are worth visiting on any trip to St Martin/Sint Maarten.
Both sides of the island are equipped with spectacular white sandy beaches where you’ll find many beach resorts and wide array of water sports recreational activities. Dutch Sint Maarten offers beaches like Simpson Bay, Maho Bay, Mullet Bay and Cupecov (a nudist beach). The French section offers beaches, such as the famous Orient Beach (the southern end of this beach is a nudist enclave), Prune Beach that is popular with surfers, and Rouge Beach offering great snorkeling and believed to be the most scenic beach on the island.
The island’s zoological and botanical gardens are located north of Philipsburg in the Madam Estate area. The St Martin Zoo is home to about 250 animals belonging to about 60 species, including endangered species like Golden Lion Tamarins, Bush Dogs and Scarlet Macaws. The Philipsburg Zoo is a recommended attraction in St Martin/St Maarten if you are on vacation on the island accompanied with your children.
If you would like to know more about the history of St Martin/Sint Maarten then you should visit the tiny Simartin Museum housed in a century-old home on Front Street in Philipsburg. This small museum showcases various artifacts, such as the pottery created by the original inhabitants of the island, the Arawaks, and treasures salvaged from a British ship that sank off the coast of the island in 1801.
Paradise Peak rises from the center of the island to a height of 424 meters. The summit of this peak hosts a communications tower and two observation decks. Visitors and locals like to go on a hiking tour to the summit through the densely forested pathways to get the picturesque view of the island.
Best time to visit Saint Martin
The island of St Martin/Sint Maarten experiences tropical climate all the year round. The weather on the island hardly varies throughout the year with temperatures ranging between 72F and 86F (22-30C). This balmy weather makes St Martin/Sint Maarten an all-weather destination perfect to be visited during anytime of the year. If you are itching for a beach holiday then you should perhaps consider a vacation in St Martin/Sint Maarten. Think of connecting with Fare Buzz on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to know more about hotel and flight deals for your St Martin/St Maarten vacation.
Getting around in Saint Martin
The island paradise of St Martin/Sint Maarten is accessed via its Princess Juliana International Airport located nine miles west of the town of Philipsburg. This airport is served by many international airlines providing incredibly easy access to St Martin/St Maarten. The French side of the island is also equipped with an airport near Marigot, called Aéroport de Grand Case, which is mainly used by smaller aircrafts.
The Princess Juliana International Airport is served by taxis regulated by the island’s Airport Taxi Association. However, the best way to get around St Martin/Sint Maarten is to hire a car for the duration of your stay on the island. The St Martin/Sint Maarten airport is equipped with car hire desks of all the big car rental agencies. However, it is always good to have better car rental rates beforehand so that you may reserve your car rental for St Martin/St Maarten prior to embarking on your vacation. Fare Buzz can be of a great help to you as it offers an assortment of affordable car rentals for St Martin/Sint Maarten, which can be booked via its normal travel channels.
Where to shop in Saint Martin
Shopping is a big attraction on the island of St Martin/Sint Maarten. The island enjoys duty-free status and thus offers truly attractive prices for desirables like cosmetics, fragrances, jewelry, liquor, cigars, electronics and more. Both the French and the Dutch sides of the island host bustling shopping enclaves frequented by cruise passengers and other visitors.
On the Dutch side of the island, the main shopping area is Front Street in Philipsburg. The entire length of Front Street is lined with myriad shops offering a whole host of duty-free goodies including various high-end watches and jewelry. Old Street also located in Philipsburg, hosts several art galleries and gift and fashion stores while Philipsburg’s Back Street is home to a colorful local market and it also hosts several stores offering souvenirs and inexpensive apparel.
On the French side of the island, the entire downtown Marigot area constitutes a shopping hub which is littered with charming Creole style buildings, bistros, bars restaurants and stores offering fine jewels, fragrances, French fashions and more.
Also worth perusing are the supermarkets located on either side of the island, while supermarkets on the Dutch side offer mainly American products, the ones located within the French quarter offer a wide variety of European gourmet foods and beverages.
Where to eat in Saint Martin
Both the Dutch and French sides of St Martin/ Sint Maarten host a wide variety of restaurants offering local and international eats. Popular and well-ranked eateries currently include establishments like Johnny B under the Tree (a roadside barbecue joint in Sint Maarten), Khush (offering Asian inspired cuisine in St Martin), Le Bistro Nu and Le Tastevin (both serving French cuisine in Marigot), Rosemary’s (a beachside restaurant in Marigot), and Oualichi Beach Bar & Restaurant (a beachside restaurant in Philipsburg).
Nightlife in Saint Martin
Trendy beach bars, dance clubs, casinos, themed bars and pubs scattered all over the island offer visitors ample opportunity for nocturnal fun when the sun sets in St Martin/Sint Maarten. Maho Village situated close to the Princess Juliana International Airport, is a mini-Vegas of sorts on the island and brims with many casinos, night clubs and other buzzing nightlife haunts. Similar to Maho Reef is Simpson Bay with its own casinos, bars and its various adult entertainment spots.
It’s worth keeping in mind that most nightclubs on the island don’t open their doors until 10pm while beach bars usually stay open from 12pm until 12am.