Visiting St Maarten/St Martin is a unique experience: an eastern Caribbean island divided between two sovereign states (France and the Netherlands) with an unpoliced border cutting through its southern portion, visitors can sunbathe in French St Martin in the afternoon, and stroll over to dine in Dutch St Maarten in the evening.
The French and the Dutch have peacefully shared this Caribbean gem for more than 350 years, ever since (as legend has it) a gin-drinking Dutchman and wine-imbibing Frenchman walked around the island to see how much territory they could claim for their country in a day. The Frenchman gained two-thirds of the island, but the Dutch maintain that their representative claimed the prize part of the property.
The Dutch portion is in the south, with the capital Philipsburg being a duty-free shopping paradise that draws thousands of tourists every day of the year. Dutch St Maarten arguably has the best (certainly the most developed and crowded) beach resorts, clustered along the southwest coast near the island's international airport. French St Martin is less developed, but more scenic and just as popular as a holiday destination.
The island is renowned as being the gourmet capital of the Caribbean and for providing the liveliest nightlife, mostly centred on the island's 35 enticing white sand beaches. The small island's main attractions are shopping, relaxing on the crowded beach or dipping in the clear turquoise waters; there is little of historic, cultural or architectural interest or natural attractions beyond the sand and sea.
On the Dutch side the currency is the Netherlands Antilles
Guilder or Florin (ANG), where one guilder is divided into 100
cents, but US Dollars are also widely accepted and prices are
usually quoted in Dollars as well as Guilders. On the French side
of the island the Euro (EUR) is the local currency, although
establishments will also accept US Dollars. There are numerous
bureaux de change and banks throughout the island and ATMs in the
main towns in both national sectors; travellers cheques and major
credit cards are widely accepted.
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.
No vaccination certificates are required for entry into either St Maarten or St Martin, however a yellow fever certificate is required for travellers arriving within six days from infected areas. The Manchionneel tree that grows all over the island, mainly along the beaches, is extremely poisonous: the sap and fruit, which look like small green apples are caustic and burn the skin. The water in the Netherlands Antilles is safe to drink. Medical care on the island is good, but patients are likely to be transferred to the US for anything serious. Medical insurance is strongly advised.
On 10 October 2010, the Netherlands Antilles were dissolved, however St. Maarten will continue to function as an independent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. All tourists must have return or onward tickets, all documents needed for next destination and sufficient funds (generally calculated as $500 per week). Passports must be valid for the length of stay. As part of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), all travellers travelling between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean region are required to present a passport or other valid travel document to enter or re-enter the United States. If departing from the USA a valid passport will be required by immigration authorities. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
St Maarten and St Martin Tourism
St Maarten Tourist Office, Philipsburg: +599 (0)5 22337 or www.st-maarten.com
Foreign Embassies in St Maarten and St Martin
St Maarten and St Martin Embassies
Philipsburg is the capital of Dutch St. Maarten and the only town of consequence on the island. It has two main streets, Front Street ( Voorstraat) and Back Street ( Achterstraat), connected by several bustling thoroughfares, and filled mainly with duty-free shops, cafes, hotels and courtyards overflowing with flowers.
The town has an unusual setting, sitting on a narrow stretch of land between Great Bay, on the south coast of the island, and the Great Salt Pond (a huge marsh). It is the port of call of hundreds of cruise ships, filling the primary need of the day-tripping passengers who come ashore mainly to shop for everything from Italian leather goods and Japanese cameras to native crafts. The town's nightlife is regarded as among the liveliest to be found in the Caribbean.
Architecturally the town, founded in 1763 by John Philips (a Scots captain in the Dutch navy), is quaint, with characteristic pastel-coloured West Indian houses lining the streets, and a few Dutch colonial landmarks, including Fort Willem, built in 1801, and Fort Amsterdam, constructed nearly 200 years earlier.
French at heart, but cosmopolitan Caribbean in style, St Martin's capital city of Marigot is cluttered with traffic, shops and people in a small area that is only four streets wide. The town stretches along Marigot Bay, its main focus the harbour at the bottom of Rue de la Republique from where ferries depart to surrounding islands and fishing boats come and go.
Originally a fishing village, Marigot became the capital of St Maarten in the sugar period and became a bustling town. Marigot's buildings are largely colonial, sprinkled with several smart cafes, bistros, pastry shops and luxury boutiques reminiscent of real French market towns. There are several colonial landmarks, including Fort St Louis.
The main shopping centre in Marigot is at the southern end of the town near the harbour, and is a paradise for shopaholics with elegant stores carrying the latest designer fashions and jewellery, all tax-free. More adventurous shoppers will enjoy browsing the Wednesday and Saturday markets, located in a kiosk area near the port.
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