What could be more delightful than the Caribbean island of Saint Martin? The 34-square-mile island is two islands in one: the northern 60 percent is the French Collectivity of Saint-Martin; the southern 40 percent is Sint Maarten, one of four constituent countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The French and the Dutch divided the island between them in 1648, living happily, side-by-side, ever since.
Both sides of the island have hills and mountains cloaked in greenery, traced with hiking trails and edged with lovely beaches. Both have lots of charm, too. And yet, they are surprisingly different.
- If you want to party, Sint Maarten is waiting for you. The cruise ship port is in the capital of Philipsburg, which bustles with activity. There are lots of restaurants and clubs, casinos, and great duty-free shopping. At the south end of Princess Juliana International Airport, watching the planes is a very popular pastime: they fly as low as 30 feet over Maho Beach in order to land on the short runway.
- If you’re looking for a more laid-back experience, try the relaxed vibe of Saint-Martin’s beach cafes, sidewalk bistros, pastry shops, high-end shopping and outdoor markets. The busiest area is Orient Beach (read on for more about that).
- If you’ve always wanted to sunbathe in just your skin, head for Saint-Martin. Both sides of the island have wonderful beaches, but a portion of the beautiful and famous Orient Beach is officially “clothing optional.”
- If you want to make your spending money go further, you can do so in Sint Maarten. Both sides of the island accept dollars, but the official currency of Saint-Martin is the euro; so, exchange rates make Saint-Martin more on the expensive side for visitors from the U.S. and Canada. Of course, you might be lucky and find a happy hour in Saint-Martin where the bartender will accept the dollar as equal to the euro.
The official language of Saint-Martin is French, and in Sint Maarten it’s both Dutch and English, but English is widely spoken all around the island. And, there’s no physical barrier between the two sides of the island, go from one country to another as often as you like.
If you’re intrigued by the world’s smallest island shared by two nations, talk with your Cruise Holidays personal cruise expert about cruise itineraries that visit Saint Martin.