ST. MARTIN, W.I., February 18, 2016, The Caribbean Island of Saint Martin is actually two countries in one: The north administered by France and the south (St. Maarten) by the Kingdom of the Netherlands. While the Dutch side has lots of resorts, casinos and a bustling nightlife, the “French side” is more laid back. Here you’ll find cozy B&B’s, lazy beach-side bars and sidewalk boulangeries ideal for coffee and people-watching, along with plenty of restaurants serving cuisine renowned throughout the region.
The major cruise lines all stop on the “Dutch side” and tourists flock to the bustling and colorful town of Phillipsburg. Marigot, the capital on the “French side,” is quite popular as well, but you have more of a chance of meeting locals here.
While taxis are readily available, you may want to rent a car while you’re here in Saint Martin. But, be aware that the attitude of the St. Martiners to the rules of the road is rather insouciant. Keep your eye out for scooters doing wheelies as they pass you on either side of the road!
A beautiful spot to visit is Rotary Lookout Point. There you’ll meet Calvin, the “Sea Urchin man,” who will share information about the sea life of Saint Martin and even let you touch some starfish and sea urchins.
Orient Bay is one of many places to see iguanas. These large marine mammals are vegetarians, and it’s fun to watch them gather around to eat lettuce from the hand of anyone brave enough to offer it to them.
Then there’s a private chef named Jewel Daal, who also gives lessons on how to cook local island cuisine. Ms. Daal started out as a caterer 25 years ago and has developed quite a reputation on the island. Talk to your hotel concierge if you’d like her to cook a meal for you and your guests, or if you’d like to learn how to cook red snapper the way the experts do it!
There are plenty of beaches on Saint Martin, of course, with alternating coves and bays. So there’s always a panoramic view of sailboats and small private yachts. Water sports here include swimming, snorkeling, parasailing, and scuba diving.
Of course, there’s more to do in Saint Martin than enjoy the beaches and water sports. Loterie Farm, located atop Saint Martin’s highest peak, Pic Paradis, deserves a visit if you are of an adventurous bent. You can zipline through the treetops while your children maneuver through a tree-top obstacle course. Afterwards, dine at the Hidden Forest Café.
The development of Loterie Farm over the centuries offers an interesting insight into the history of the island. Back in the 1700s, England used the lottery system to apportion land to colonists, and the parcel containing Loterie Farm was awarded to Richard Bailey in 1721.
Bailey clear-cut the land for a sugar plantation. When Saint Martin’s slaves were freed in 1865, the sugar plantation went out of business and nature quickly reclaimed the land. Today, its 65 hectares are devoted to ecotourism.
You’ll also want to visit the remains of Fort Louis, a colonial era fort that was originally built by the French, when the island was being fought over by them—as well as the British, Spanish, and the Dutch—hundreds of years ago. The top of the hill where the fort is perched has commanding views of Marigot and Caribbean Sea.
On the “French side,” Carnival is held in mid-February. Hundreds of people put on costumes (featuring as little material as possible!), paint their faces with intricate and beautiful designs, and then go dancing through the streets to the delight of audiences lining the route. The Dutch side holds its Carnival at the end of April.
As mentioned earlier, Saint Martin is famed throughout the Caribbean region for its eclectic restaurants. Foodies in particular will want to experience Grand Case, a small district on the outskirts of Marigot, whose main street is lined with notable restaurants including L‘Auberge Gourmande and La Villa Royale. The latter offers excellent seafood, and for dessert, their coconut mousse is out of this world.
Le Pressoir is another popular restaurant, owned by Chef Franck Mear. The cuisine, presentation, and friendly service will provide patrons with a memorable taste of French Saint Martin.
Whichever restaurants you visit, make sure you try a guavaberry colada, a concoction made from the island’s famous guavaberry. Saint-Martin is one of the few islands in the Caribbean that cultivates these berries in order to make their famous folk liqueur.
As you can see, there’s more to do in Saint Martin than simply relax on a beach and soak in the sun. There’s history, adventure, and great food aplenty. Check it out for yourself. You may never want to leave.
Taxis are readily available between Marigot, Philipsburg, the other areas of the island and the airports. They charge a fixed fee as opposed to the meter system and some may only accept U.S. Dollars. The charge from Princes Juliana Airport and Marigot is approximately $18 for two.
The official currency is the Euro on the French side and the Florin on the Dutch. Most shops, however, accept U.S. Dollars as well as credit and debit cards.
Time difference from New York is + 1 hour in winter (end of October to end of March)
French side: 220V / 60Hz. European sockets
Dutch side: 110V / 60 Hz. American sockets
Bottled water is available (both spring and mineral) throughout the island.
At the date of this writing, the island only had one confirmed case of the Zika Virus but take precautions such as bringing long-sleeve clothing and mosquito repellant. Also, wear sunscreen as it is easy to get sunburned in the tropical climate.
There is some crime on St. Martin but most of it is petty including crimes of opportunity, notably theft. As with anywhere you visit, never leave valuables in your car or where they can be easily seen. This would also apply to wearing expensive jewelry, carrying iPods, laptops and camera equipment.