The island split in two: the northern half of the island is called St. Martin and belongs to the French whereas the southern half is called St. Maarten and belongs to the Dutch. Despite being ruled by two different countries, the two “sides” of the island have an open attitude and citizens can move freely from one side to the other, thus making life for the islanders and tourists that much easier. Even more fascinating, almost everybody on the island speaks some level French, Dutch, English, and Spanish, thus making it a multi-lingual country and easy for tourists from most anywhere to easily communicate with the locals. This unique blending of cultures has helped shaped one of the most vibrant and energetic communities in all of the Caribbean!
Attractions of St. Maarten
For those interested in exploring how the history merges with the present, you can explore the Emilio Wilson Park on the Dutch Side. The park acts as an outdoor museum. The preserved grounds of a colonial sugar plantation educate visitors about the gruesome beginnings of the colonial rule while a restaurant right on the edge of the park showcases the modern flavor of the island. The atmosphere does a good job of representing just how far the island has come.
Richie Diesterheft from Chicago, IL, USA / CC BY-SA
Situated on the southern banks of the Dutch Side, Fort Amsterdam sits just outside of present-day Philipsburg. The fort was built in 1631 and today, visitors can explore sections of the ruins to learn more about the naval and military history of Dutch involvement on the island. The fort is also a breeding ground for brown pelicans, the national bird of the island! The view at the top is a must.
For those interested in learning more about the French Side’s military and naval history, you can visit Fort St. Louis in Marigot. Built-in 1789, the fort overlooks Marigot Bay, a prime docking point for the French side of the island. Several of the archaeological societies on the island and in the Caribbean are working together to keep the Fort from falling into ruin.
For the traveling grown-ups, a trip to the Topper’s Rhum Distillery on the Dutch Side is a must-do. You can take a tour and learn about the rum distilling process, taste a variety of their blends, and even try your hand at making some yourself! If you do this early enough in your trip, you won’t have to worry about packing the full bottle!
There are innumerable discos, nightclubs, and bars on both sides of the island that will have you partying all night long. Rhythms of Techno, live Rock and Roll, classic Jamaican Reggae, Merengue, and Souk are just some of the sound sensations of St. Maarten/St. Martin. Casual attire is usually permitted, though some nightclubs require shirts with sleeves and no bare feet.
St. Maarten is also home to several casinos that are sure to provide plenty of entertainment. Just don’t forget, the house always wins!
The island has a 6-plex movie theater, showing the latest releases. The fact that St. Maarten/St. Martin provides such a wide choice in entertainment means a night of fun need not cost the earth!
From the outside, Loterie Farm may look like a simple forest preserve intent on maintaining some of St. Martin’s older forests from deforestation. However, Loterie Farm is so much more than that. At the Farm, you will be able to see local animals living in their natural habitat, get a bite to eat or even an adult beverage, and even zip lines where you can cruise through the forest! There’s also a hiking trail set up and suspended in the forest canopy to give you an even better understanding of this beautiful ecosystem.
As from the latest COVID-19 Report (August 29, 2020), the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) maintains the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to the Caribbean Region to Very High. The level is based on international risk assessment guidelines, particularly in keeping with a risk assessment for MERS-COV and pandemic influenza. CARPHA Member States (CMS) must continue interrupting the virus progression, reducing mortality associated with COVID-19, and continue a phased lifting of in-country restrictions down below.
St. Maarten has their own travel requirements for entering the island. The latest update (July 27, 2020) includes entry requirements for visitors, and safety measures at the Princess Juliana International Airport (SMX Airport).
Before Departure to St. Maarten
A Self-Health online form must be completed: link here.
A COVID-19 (PCR) Negative Test Result completed within 72 hours before arrival.
Show your Self-Health online form & COVID-19 Negative Test Result.
Follow the guidelines.
Wear the face mask, and maintain social distancing (2 meters or ~6 feet).
Sanitize & wash hands frequently.
If you plan on taking a flight to St. Maarten, you will land at the Princess Juliana International Airport on the Dutch Side. If you’re traveling from North America, your best options will be American Airlines and JetBlue. However, chances are you will either have to change plans elsewhere in the Caribbean or even transfer over to a regional airline, such as Liat Airlines.
For the traveler who would rather indulge in a more leisurely way of travel, you can board a cruise ship and visit the dual island that way. Most cruise liners dock on the Dutch Side of St. Maarten. Your best options for booking a cruise will be Carnival Cruises and Royal Caribbean.
Taxis are everywhere. Inform yourself on the rates (during the day, before and after midnight, and for additional weight).
Rentals cars are another option. They have their kiosks located in the airport. Both International and local chains like Budget, Aviz, and Hertz are available.
On a budget? Public bus. Runs from 5am to midnight. They serves major locations unlike private buses that tend to follow specific routes.
Wildlife And Nature
Situated on the Dutch Side, the Parotte Ville Bird Sanctuary is a great place to see some local birds of paradise. The birds are kept inside an indoor forest environment and are cared for by the staff. You’ll receive a cup filled with birdseed upon entrance and are encouraged to feed the birds. You can even take a tour where one of the keepers will tell you even more about the birds.
If you want to enjoy the edges of the island, head to the Orient Beach on the French Side. The area around the beach isn’t as built up as many of the other beaches around the island; however, you are still near a variety of snack shacks and bars. You’ll be able to enjoy the sun, surf, and sand as you unwind and forget all about your troubles.
Eugene Holiday: The current, and first, Governor of St. Maarten. When the country gained its country status in 2010, he was put in power to help guide the country.
Her Excellency Sarah Wescot-Williams: The first Prime Minister of St. Maarten. She was selected as Prime Minister after St. Maarten became a country in 2010. She served until 2014.
For the history buffs out there, you can head to the Dutch Side and spend a day at the St. Maarten National Heritage Foundation. The committee houses a museum that showcases the rich history of the island. You can learn about the prehistory of the island, the early colonial era, and how the island has progressed since then. With paintings, artifacts, and photographs to help you learn, there is so much to see at the museum.
Nature lovers will want to head north to the French side of the island to the National Nature Reserve of St. Martin. Here, you can spend a day hiking through the forest, hiking along the coastal “desert”, and even along the rocky cliffs. There are so many different habitats and biomes rolled into this one park that you are sure to feel as though you aren’t in the Caribbean anymore!
For those interested in doing something a little different, you can reserve yourself a spot at once of the local helmet diving tour groups. You’ll get your own helmet hooked up to an oxygen supply and then head underwater for a tour of the ocean floor. Who knows what you might see and what marine friends you may make along the way!
For those who want to help keep the natural gems, like St. Maarten, as natural and healthy as possible, you can donate to the Nature Foundation St. Maarten. With their sole goal to be environmental protection, you know your funds will be in good hands.
St. Maarten and St. Martin were greatly affected by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and the island is still in recovery. RebuildSXM works to help members of the local community re-establish themselves after the devastating hurricane.
Capital: Marigot, St. Martin/Philipsburg Population: 32,000 Language:French, English Currency: Euro Religion: Catholic National Bird: Brown Pelican National Flower: Hibiscus National Dish: Callaloo; a soup made from pork, collard greens, peppers, okra, and chicken stock. Motto: “Semper pro grediens” à “Always for progressing” The National Flag:The French side uses the French flag. The Dutch sides uses a flag with a white equilateral triangle on the left side, with the remaining top half of the flag being red and the bottom remaining half being blue, symbolizing the colors of the Dutch flag. The St. Maarten coat of arms is within the white triangle.
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