St. Martin/St. Maarten Vacation - Travel Guide
St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation on the island with two different nations and no borders offers a tropical allure of fun, excitement, and thrill, and a taste of something you have never experienced before. Despite the island's small size, the possibilities in attractions and things to do are limitless, so don't hesitate to rent a car and set on a journey to explore the island's 37 jaw-dropping spectacular beaches, 70 km of picturesque coastlines and an inviting scenery that will keep you coming back for more.
No matter what side of the island - the Dutch or the French - you are on, the pleasures of the island are bursting with flavour and fun, so visit this tropical oasis to breathe in two great countries, two legends and two different traditions while being on one glorious St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation.
- St. Martin Resorts
- St. Maarten Resorts
- St. Maarten Activities
- St. Maarten Attractions
- St. Maarten beaches
- Shore Excursions
- St. Martin Activities
- St. Martin Attractions
- St. Martin Beaches
Why vacation in St. Martin / St. Maarten?
Here are the top reasons that attract tourists to St. Martin / St. Maarten:
Maho Beach, located on the Dutch side of St. Maarten, will give you the most thrilling experience of plane spotting. Located at the western end of the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport, this beach also has the most phenomenal sunsets. So have your camera ready to capture Boeing 747 gliding through and landing a few yards above your head.
The island is truly one of the most extraordinary Caribbean destinations in the world that gives its visitors a one-of-a-kind opportunity to experience the life and culture of two different nations while being on one beautifully remarkable island. The number of places to see, the forts and cays to discover, the cultures and traditions to learn, your vacation will definitely be the one to remember.© Eq Roy | Dreamstime.com
Duty-free shopping is another great reason tourists rush to get to St.Maarten. Front Street and Old Street in Philipsburg are the ideal places where all your shopping dreams come true, and even the pickiest tourist will be absolutely amazed at the wide selection of fine goodies like clothing, shoes, jewellery, home accessories and much more. Do not forget to check out the Philipsburg Market Place, there you will find some unique handcrafted treasures.The city gets busy and crowded especially when the cruise ships dock their boats at the shores of St. Maarten, allowing their passengers to have the best shopping experience with substantial savings!© Jennifer Pitiquen | Dreamstime.com
Stop at a local restaurant to taste the most succulent menu or quench your thirst with the island's legendary guava berry rum liquor made from oak aged rum, cane sugar and the rare guava berries that are only found in the center of the island. The choices are endless, the possibilities are tempting, the only thing this paradise is missing here is you. Welcome!
Pay a visit to the Butterfly Farm in St.Martin, and you will be rewarded with a kiss from these colourful and vibrant species. Saint Jean Plantation and Spring Sugar mill are two places in Marigot, St.Martin, you would not want to miss. Check out their ruins and remains while you are taken back to the days when they fully operated in producing a significant amount of sugar and rum. Loterie Farm, a former sugar plantation built in 1773 is now a popular tourist attraction with ziplining tours, many plant and animal species and an on-site cafe, this is a real tropical gem.
As for the water sports, this island is like no other and offers a range of exciting water activities during your St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation. Snorkeling fans will have the time of their lives exploring the Creole Rock, a massive rock peeking through the water with the most beautiful underwater scenery. For a more peaceful experience take a boat tour and cruise through the island and its breathtaking shores.
Pic du Paradis, located between the towns of Grand Case and Marigot on St. Martin, is a truly phenomenal hiking experience. The mountain is a whopping 455 meters high (1,492 feet) and has a heart-stopping view of St.Martin and St.Maarten and the surrounding islands of Anguilla, Saba and St. Eustatius that will conquer your heart.
Both French and Dutch parts of the island have a lot to offer, and it doesn't matter which side you go on St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation. Rent a car and cruise through the island to explore both countries, their stunning, majestic surroundings, exciting and fun attractions, dive into their culture and traditions and experience the top notch restaurants serving the most delectable cuisine that would please even the pickiest epicure.
Best time to go on St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation
The weather in St.Martin/St.Maarten is fairly consistent throughout the year, so choosing when to go will depend more on what you are looking for and of course your budget.
The St.Martin/St.Maarten's high season runs from December through April. There are barely any chances of precipitation during this time, and the weather is absolutely gorgeous, the resorts get crowded and accommodation prices jump sky high. Street parades, beauty pageants, dancing, festivals and carnivals keep the island alive and celebrating, so if you are looking for a fast-paced St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation with a lot of Caribbean rhythms, this is the perfect time to hop on a plane.
To avoid being on the jammed island, and to save some extra bucks, try to plan your St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation anywhere from June to November. Chances of rainfalls get higher, so visitors should expect light showers or even thunderstorms. The tropical storms generally happen at night, while the days are filled with sun, light breeze and warm Caribbean sea water. This is the ideal season to go on a fun, exciting yet peaceful endeavour while still enjoying all the local pleasures of a perfectly secluded and quiet Caribbean vacation.
Where is St. Martin / St. Maarten on the map?
St.Martin/St.Maarten is embedded between the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean sea and located 325 km (202 miles) southwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Situated northwest of Antigua and Barbuda, St.Kitts and Nevis and approximately 240 km south of Guadeloupe the island is 15 km (9.3 miles) long and 13 km (8 miles) wide at its longest point with a total area of only 87 km². This tiny island is super easy to navigate through by renting a car during St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation, and even though your lodging might be well situated on on the Dutch part of the island, you may freely tour the French side, and vice versa, as there are no borders, no custom checks and everything is very close.
Capital cities of St. Martin and St. Maarten
The capital cities of St.Martin and St.Maarten are two of the most exciting and enthralling places to visit with lots to do, see and discover.
Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side is a remarkable city that just breathes out love, fun and pure excitement. Its small yet beautiful narrow streets are inviting to peek into the island's most popular casinos, mouthwatering cuisine and activities you do not want to miss. Front and Back streets are ideal for duty-free shopping as they provide a variety of high-end merchandise like jewellery, bedding, clothing, shoes, home appliances and of course souvenirs. While you are here, check out St.Maarten Museum, it's a one-stop history landmark that has exhibits tracing back to the Arawak years. This museum holds many historical objects, local artifacts, photos and valuable historical information.
Fort Amsterdam is a must-visit attraction in Philipsburg on your St.Maarten vacation, as it is one of the oldest forts in the Caribbean that was build by the Dutch back in 1631. The west side of the fort is home to a breeding colony of brown pelicans that holds about 60 of their nests.
St.Martin's capital Marigot on the other hand, is a bit quieter, but with the same wide range of activities, tours, fascinating sceneries and impeccable French dining options no one can resist. As of 2016, the capital's estimated population is about 10,000 residents and many of them work in the island's tourism industry. To get to know the city closer, visit the Rue de la Republique, a street that boasts 19-century facades that retained their architectural authenticity quite well, or Prickly Pear Cay with the abundance of fun water sports. Tintamarre Island, located just 4 km (2.5 miles) off the coast of St.Martin, is uninhabited by humans with the longest stretches of white, unspoiled and completely deserted beaches that you have to visit on your St.Martin vacation. Here you will find an abandoned small railtrack, a cotton plantation and the remains of an airstrip.
Population in St. Maarten/St. Martin
The stunningly beautiful, with the most phenomenal beaches and spectacular surroundings, the island of St.Martin/St.Maarten is considered to be the smallest island in the world that is shared by two separate countries. And although these two distinctively unique countries have a lot in common such as cultures and traditions, the population is still divided into two separate parts. The estimated population on the Dutch side, St.Maarten, is 40,917 while the French side, St.Martin, is home to roughly 36,824 people making the total population of 77,741 islanders.
St.Martin/St.Maarten is so diversified that it's considered one of the countries in the world that is home to over 100 different nationalities. French, Dutch, Indian, Asian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, North and South American immigrants are all living here. Even folks from other Caribbean islands such as Dominica, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Aruba, Haiti, Curacao, St. Kitts and many others often immigrate to this welcoming tropical heaven.
Although at times similar in nature and customs, the French and the Dutch practice different religions. St.Martin's most popular and predominant religion is Roman Catholicism while residents of St.Maarten favour Protestant denominations especially Methodism. Including the primary faiths on both, the French and the Dutch side also carry other religions by many different ethnic groups such as Jewish and Seventh-day Adventist communities.
Local Languages on St.Martin/St.Maarten
Dutch, the primary and the official language of St.Maarten, is the language of instruction in all government, education and media operations. English is widely spoken across this side of the island as well as taught in many schools. A percentage of immigrants to St.Maarten are from Dominican Republic, and are of Hispanic decent, so don't be surprised if you hear a lot of Spanish around the streets during your St.Maarten vacation. Since St.Maarten was a part of the former Netherlands Antilles union, immigrants from Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao speak their native Papiamento, which is a Creole language, a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch, French and Arawak Indian.
Once you visit St.Martin, you will notice that English is less spoken here, so learning a few Fench terms and expressions before your St.Martin vacation would take you a long way. Many years ago, French was the only language on this side of the island. Over the years this side was adapted to fit more with the English-speaking tourists, so the French language took a back seat among the means of communication. Recently, Europeans started vacationing in St.Martin again, and brought in the French influence along with the language as the primary method of communication. French Creole is also used but more among the immigrated Haitian population rather than the French residents. French is the official language of St.Martin, and many residents that are involved in some way or another with the English-speaking tourists, are able to provide their assistance in English.
And even though the border between the two nations is indiscernible and both St.Martin and St.Maarten share many cultural and traditional aspects, they were able to cultivate their own language, heritage and national distinctions making them as two separate countries sharing one spectacular island.
How easy is it to get to St. Martin / St. Maarten
Several nonstop flights are available to St.Martin/St.Maarten from a number of US cities including Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, as well as charter service from Boston. Non stop flights to St. Maarten/St. Martin are available from Toronto in Canada, and from Amsterdam and Paris in Europe, as well as from Panama and Caribbean countries like Puerto Rico and Jamaica. Passengers needing a connection, will need to travel to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to make their transit stop and catch a flight to St.Martin/St.Maarten from there.
Travellers coming from Europe or North America will land at the international airport in St.Maarten, namely Princess Juliana International Airport. A small Aeroport de L'Esperance on the French side of the island, caters only to island-hoppers, propeller planes and small jets that serve the neighbouring Caribbean destinations like Anguilla, Curacao, St. Barths and others.
Since there are no borders between the two nations other than a few road signs saying "Bienvenue dans la partie Francaise" (Welcome to the French Side), and "Welcome to the Dutch side", travelling between the Dutch and the French sides is virtually unnnoticable. The border is visibly marked on the maps only, but one thing to keep in mind while driving in St.Martin, is to buckle up and put your cell phone away. The fines are significantly high and not necessary to incur. After all you are on your vacation and the least you want is to break the laws.
A cruise ship port in St.Maarten's capital Philipsburg was acknowledged as a leading port in the entire Caribbean region, and along with millions of tourists it also welcomes cargo ships and yachts. Boat and ferry service is also available for your convenience if you are visiting other tropical places nearby such as Anguilla, St. Barth's or Saba. St.Martin/St.Maarten is a suitable hub for multi-island trips, but check with the boat company of your choice first to inquire about the prices and schedules of your expected St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation.
St. Martin / St. Maarten vacation options
Although the island of St.Martin/St.Maarten is not large, it is quite developed and offers a vast selection of lodging options. The Dutch side provides its tourists with the opportunity to choose between large resorts and time shares while the French offers properties with more intimate settings. All the popular fine dining restaurants are situated on the French side, but unfortunately they are a long drive from St.Maarten to be visited often. Be aware of accommodations that are priced suspiciously low, as they could be considered for temporary workers, low-end tour companies or just not in their greatest shape.
The French side of the island offers exclusive lodging amenities famous for their comfort, authenticity and breathtaking locations. Although there is currently only one all-inclusive resorts here - Riu Palace St. Martin, the beautiful properties that do operate on the French side provide top hotel amenities, flawless, jaw-dropping coastlines with the clearest emerald waters, elite shopping, a vibrant nightlife and fine dining options.
St.Martin also offers other accommodation options that might be suitable for travellers looking for a different and a more private experience during their St.Martin vacation. These include privately owned villas and guesthouses for rent, that are becoming very popular for their secluded yet affordable way to enjoy St.Martin.
St.Maarten vacation, the Dutch part of this majestic paradise, brings some of the most superior all-inclusive resorts that just boast with the unique Dutch ambiance and charisma. Choose between adults-only or family-friendly properties, or if you are not into all-inclusive packages, non-inclusive resorts, villas and guesthouses are available for everyone's taste and budget. St.Maarten is also known for its festive nightlife, extensive shopping, never-ending velvety-sand beaches, grand casinos and last but not least the famous exotic drinks made with rum-based guava berry liquors.
Weather in St. Maarten/St.Martin
Just like all other Caribbean islands, St.Martin/St.Maarten enjoys a tropical climate with little variation in temperatures throughout the year.
The period from December to mid-April is both the high and the dry season here, as there is practically no precipitation during these months. Temperatures stay at 27-28 degrees Celsius (82-84 degrees Fahrenheit) and the weather is pleasurably enjoyable with less humidity and no rainfall. During the dry season, mornings and nights are usually cooler than in the summer season, but they never drop below 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit).
May to November is a summer season in St.Martin/St.Maarten, and the temperatures rise all the way up to 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) with light trade winds, making it the best time to enjoy the island.
While some Caribbean spots have rainy seasons, St.Martin/St.Maarten does not. However, June to December is the time most prone to more precipitation than usual, with chances of a hurricane significantly higher. That doesn't mean you cannot enjoy you St.Martin/St.Maarten in the summer months, in fact these quick showers mostly occur in late evenings and during the nights, while the days are filled with a lot of sunshine, local tropical breeze and Caribbean atmosphere.
The average annual temperatures on the island clock at 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Fahrenheit) with their highest at 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
Public Transportation in St.Martin/St.Maarten
Public transportation in St.Martin/St.Maarten is a great way to get around the island at a minimal cost. There are no large buses, rather there are minivans that operate as buses and take their passengers practically anywhere on the island. Depending on your destination you might need to switch buses as each one of them has its own routes that are posted on the front window. Buses do not run at night and very seldom operate after 11:00 p.m. There are no specific bus schedules or even bus stops, so if a bus is your means of transportation during your St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation, just wave down a minivan, and it will stop to take you onboard.
Although car rental is the most popular way to get around the island of St.Martin/St.Maarten, many tourists choose taxis to navigate through local towns and districts, but this type of getting around can get quite expensive. Taxi fares are set by the government and are determined by how far you need to go. And although all cab drivers are required to provide a list of fares, it is recommended to agree on the price before getting into the vehicle. For those that have more luggage, extra passengers or are travelling at night a surcharge will apply on top of the initial price. Licensed taxi drivers are identified by a "taxi" license plates on the Dutch side, and a window sticker on the French side.
Rent a car in St.Martin/St.Maarten
If you are planning on exploring the beauties of St.Martin or St.Maarten by car, book your rental before going on the trip rather than directly on the island, as the rates are more reasonable.
Driving is on the right side in St.Martin/St.Maarten, with international road signs all throughout the island. Foreign and international driver licenses will allow you to operate a vehicle. Find out what your car rental's age limits are and be on your way of exploring these two distinctively fascinating nations. The roads on the Dutch and the French parts are in fairly good condition, just be alert of potholes, bumps, sudden turns and quite heavy traffic in the downtown core. Even though both sides of the island belong to their overseas countries, is it still a laid-back Caribbean destination, so do not expect super fast service and well-moving traffic on the roads.
Since there are traffic jams and the speeds are generally slow, renting a scooter or a moped is another fun way to get around. Rates vary depending on the dealer, so inquire about their price list way ahead of your St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation to budget your trip properly.
While driving look out for livestock and wild animals crossing the streets. You might be surprised, but cows have right of way over cars here, respect them and allow to cross the roads safely. Locals also have the habit of stopping in the middle of the road to chat with a friend or drop off a delivery, so be cautious and always pay attention. Another thing to consider is that the Dutch car rentals have license plates that start with a letter "R" to indicate the vehicle is rented out. It can be a good indicator to the locals, so they can be more forgiving of new drivers on the road trying to find their way around.
Speed limits in St.Maarten are set at 60 km/h (37 mph) on the open roads, 40 km/h (25 mph) in town and you are allowed to speed up to 80 km/h (50 mph) on the hightways. St.Martin's speed limits slightly differ at 50 km/h (31 mph) in town, open roads are at 100 km/h (62 mph) and motorways are set at 115 km/h (72 mph). Parking is easy to find on most streets, hotels, the airport and along the beaches.
Money in St.Martin and St.Maarten
Since St.Martin and St.Maarten are two completely different ruling powers sharing one island, the official currency in each part of the island is different.
St.Maarten's (the Dutch side of the island) official currency is Netherlands Antilles Guilder (also known as Florin) but U.S. dollars are widely accepted by almost all of the restaurants, shops, hotels and other tourist establishments. You may still use euros in St.Maarten, but the exchange rate is not favourable, so it's best to pay your way through the St.Maarten vacation using local or american money.
St.Martin, the French part's official currency is Euros; however, most places accept U.S. dollars just like in its neighbouring constituent country St.Maarten. US currency is used less here, so it's advisable to exchange them for euros before going on tours, shopping and other local tropical adventures.
Both Dutch and French banks operate under their own schedules, so check them prior to going over there to conduct your business. ATM machines are available for your convenience at the banks and all main public places like the airport, major shops and restaurants. St.Maarten's ATM machines dispense US dollars as well as euros, while ATMs in St.Martin only dispense euros. You may freely use your credit cards on both sides of the island on your St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation, as they are gladly accepted practically everywhere.
Tipping in St.Martin/St.Maarten
While visiting Caribbean islands, many tourists ask themselves the same question "How much do I tip?". Keep in mind, that knowing the right amount to tip will ensure a better service as well as a more enjoyable vacation. Tipping between the French and the Dutch side of the island of St.Martin and St.Maarten slightly differs. We have combined all of the necessary facts related to gratuity so you are fully equipped before starting your St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation.
Restaurants and other establishments in St.Maarten, the Dutch side of the island, add a service charge of 15% to their final bills. Sometimes the service charge is not added and in that instance the patron is expected to pay 15% in gratuity. Inspect your bills carefully, so you do not end up paying twice the amount. If the tips are already included in the bill, you are not expected to tip anything on top. Tipping in St.Martin, the French part of the island is customary, and final bills do not automatically include the service charge, it is left up to the customer. In that situation it's best to leave between 10%-15% for the server.
Hotels and other accommodation options on the Dutch side add 15% service charge to their bills as well as a 5% government tax. Hotels in St.Martin (the French side) as well add 10%-15% on top of final bills plus a 5% government tax. Other service personnel in and outside of the resorts expect gratuity and appreciation for their service as well, so be generous if you see they went out of their way to make your stay on the island pleasurable. Bellhops and porters normally receive $1 per each bag they help to carry, the chambermaids in the hotels as well as housekeepers in the villas and condos get about $2-$5 per day, and the cab drivers expect a tip of 10%-15%.
Solicitation in St.Martin/St.Maarten
Vendors in St.Martin and St.Maarten can be found in many places on the island. They are scattered throughout the beaches and streets, selling some fascinating items like handcrafted jewellery pieces, hand-made homewares, custom bikinis and much more. Local vendors are quite friendly, approachable and will never harass you. If you are not interested in their merchandise, be polite and say "No Thank You". Although, selling is every vendor's way of survival, they do appreciate and respect the tourists, and will try their best not to make you feel uncomfortable.
Safety in St.Martin/St.Maarten
Safety on the island of St.Martin and St.Maarten is as important as anywhere else in the world. Although real and serious crimes rarely occur, it is still wise to take some safety precautions into account when going on St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation.
If you are travelling outside of the resort or plan to peek into different establishments in the evening or at night, have someone accompany you, travel in groups, but definitely not alone. Watch out for your belongings, or best, store them in the hotel's safe. Car rental agencies always advise to leave the cars unlocked and empty of your belongings if you need to get to your destination by foot. The only reason is that fixing a break in of the vehicle is quite costly on the island, and even if someone does decide to break into the car, the damage would be minor. To minimize unnecessary attention, exercise common sense, do not be too flashy, and avoid carrying large amounts of cash with you or any other belongings that are of value to you.
Because of their sharp spines, filled with venom, sea urchins that inhabit the shores of the east side of the St.Martin/St.Maarten island are poisonous. Their extremely long, hollow spines penetrate deep into the skin. Although the spines fall right off, this bite is fatal. Sea urchins are very unique-looking sea creatures, but to stay safe, appreciate them from a distance during your St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation.
Scolopendra, that also lives on the St.Martin/St.Maarten island, has a very painful bite. It is the largest centipede, and is found in South America and the Caribbean. It prays on mammals, reptiles and arthropods, and is mostly found in deserted areas, far from the tourists' resorts and people's gatherings. However, watch out for it if you are exploring the wildlife and the nature. It is not poisonous, but the afterbite feeling could be quite uncomfortable.
Families should take note that although the island's stretches of gorgeous beaches are perfect for relaxation and playing in the sand, in some places clothing and swimwear might be optional. Orient Bay on the island's eastern coast in St.Martin is a place to see and be seen, and those travelling with children on St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation should expect to see some nudity, especially in the Club Orient nudist resort nearby.
Last but not least, protect yourself from a continuous sun exposure as well as the mosquitoes during the rainy days, and bring lots of sunscreen, after sun lotions and a mosquito repellent.
Water in St.Martin/St.Maarten
Tap water in St.Martin and St.Maarten is absolutely safe to drink and most hotels, restaurants and other large establishments offer their guests desalinated water. Bottled water is widely available and is not expensive to purchase.
If you have a sensitive stomach and know that your body will not work out the immunity to the local water, purchase water bottles. For your convenience, they are available in all cafes, shops and restaurants. Otherwise the local tap water is pure, filtered, safe and tasty to drink.
Electricity in St.Martin/St.Maarten
Electricity on the Dutch side of the island (St.Maarten) is 110-120 volts with 60 cycles, just like in the United States and Canada. All of the hotels, resorts and other establishments have American sockets with three prone plugs. The French side (St.Martin) accommodates European electricity needs and, therefore, its voltage is 220-240 volts with 60 cycles and two cylinder plugs. Both, European visitors travelling to St.Maarten and American travellers staying on the opposite, French side of the island, will require plug adapters, transformers/converters and chargers along with their appliances and devices, so plan your St.Martin/St.Maarten vacation according to where you will be staying.