Caribbean Travelweb


Guide To St. Maarten



Special Note - While we maintain two seperate travel guides for St. Martin and St. Maarten, you will find many references including the entire island.


Description

With an area of only 37 square miles, the island of St. Maarten/St. Martin is the smallest land mass in the world to be divided between two governments. Its dual owners are the Dutch and the French, who have shared the tiny and paradisical island more or less peacefully for almost 350 years. This understated absence of conflict testifies to one of the island's most precious and attractive characteristics--its unusual serenity.

St. Maarten is known throughout the Caribbean for its eclectic nightlife. The evening ritually begins at sunset, when cafes and night clubs open their doors and the music of steel drum bands floats along the beaches. The island's festive spirit peaks during carival, a vibrant, two-week festival of feasting, street dancing, parties, and parades.

The island's sugary-white beaches are spiritually restive and abundant, and walkers who encounter them are often struck by their splendid seclusion. Off-shore, St. Maarten's life-rich waters provide superb boating and fishing, as well as excellent diving areas. The inland region, with its gentle valleys and hills, is ideal for biking, horseback riding, and exploration. All these offerings have made St. Maarten a famous tropical destination, and the island is dotted with world-class resorts. Private guest houses are also an increasingly popular form of lodging, catering to visitors seeking traditional Caribbean hospitality.

Getting There

By Air

Air service to Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten is provided by:

American
United
Delta
Spirit
Jet Blue

Entry Requirements

U.S. citizens require one of the following:

  • A valid passport and a return/continuing ticket.
  • A birth certificate with raised seal and photo identification and a return/continuing ticket.
  • Naturalized citizens must show an original naturalization certificate with photo identification and a return/continuing ticket.
  • Green Card holders must have a valid passport and a return/continuing ticket.


Canadian citizens require one of the following:

  • A valid passport and a return/continuing ticket.
  • A certified copy of birth certificate, a photo identification and a return/continuing ticket.
  • Canadian residents require a "Landing permit" with valid passport and return/continuing ticket.


European Community citizens require:

  • A valid passport and a return/continuing ticket.


Other Countries

Helpful Visitor Information

Getting Around

Most visitors rely on taxis and rental cars, but public transportation also is available to all points on the island between 6 a.m. and 12 a.m. Fares can be paid in U.S. dollars.

Taxi Service

Taxis are ready and waiting at Princess Juliana International Airport and at all major hotels. The cabs have no meters, but drivers must follow official rates for travel throughout the island. After 10 p.m., rates rise 25 percent, and after midnight, 50 percent. Also, hotel tour desks can arrange sightseeing tours by taxi, the only way to go for those not wanting to drive a rental car.

Car Rental

The best way to sample a selection of beaches, restaurants and shops is by rental car. Many companies rent cars on the island, and most require either a credit card imprint or a cash deposit ranging from $350 to $1,500, plus an additional collision damage waiver. Cars are delivered to any hotel, but cannot be picked up at Princess Juliana International Airport in order to protect the livelihood of island taxi drivers. However, rental car shuttles run between the airport and satellite lots. All foreign driver's licenses are valid for driving on the island. Motorists drive on the right-hand side of the street, and the roadways have been designed by the government to be easily accessible to physically disabled visitors.

Time

St. Maarten is on Atlantic Standard Time year-round. During the fall and winter, noon in New York equals 1 p.m. on the island. During daylight savings time in the U.S., the hour is the same on the Eastern Seaboard as it is on the island.

Electricity

Most hotels in St. Maarten are wired as in the U.S.: 110 volts, 60 cycles. On the French side, all run on 220 volts, 60 cycles so a converter and adaptor plugs are needed for travel appliances.

Radio and Television

Most hotels have radio and television broadcasts in English - There is cable TV with over 50 channels - all major US networks and some European channels are available. Most hotels have their own video entertainment and direct TV systems. Satellite television reception is also available for private homes. Including DirecTV, DISH Networks.

Newspapers

In addition to several local newspapers, visitors can pick up one or more of the publications directed toward them. These include St. Maarten Nature Magazine, St. Maarten Events, Discover St. Maarten, St. Maarten Nights, Ti Gourmet and Vacation St. Maarten.

Telephone

When dialing the Dutch side from the U.S., dial the international access code 011, the country code 599 and the local number. Special codes are required from one side to the other, though only a local number is required when calling the same side.

Pet Regulations

Animals are admitted temporarily to the island with the following papers: a health certificate dated no more than 10 days before visit and a record of inoculations, including a rabies shot administered no more than 30 days prior to the visit.

Medical Facilities

St. Maarten Medical Center in Cay Hill and L'hospital General de Gaulle. Airlift is available to Puerto Rico and the continental U.S. in case of extreme medical emergency.

Currency

As U.S. dollars are widely accepted on both the Dutch and the French sides, visitors do not need to exchange their U.S. money for a visit to the island. Official currency of the Dutch side is the Netherlands Antilles florin or guilder (NAF). Official currency of the French side is the Euro, as in France or in other French holdings around the world. Nearly all prices are listed in U.S. dollars as well as the local currency, so there's no need for calculating exchange rates.

Banks

Banks are normally open from 8:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. On Saturday, some banks open from 8:30 a.m. until noon.

Tipping

Most hotels and restaurants add between 10 percent and 15 percent to the bill as a service charge, and this is almost always posted in writing at the entrance, on the menu, etc. Travelers can tip more for special service. Taxi drivers expect 50 cents or $1 for short runs and more for an extended narrated tour. Airport porters should receive $2 per bag.

Activities and Attractions

Shopping

St. Maarten enjoys an unusual status as a commercial center: it is among the world's few duty-free ports. This means that no duty is paid on any item coming in or going out. Luxury items cost up to 50 percent less than in other countries, and it is a small wonder that shoppers and cruise ships from around the world head here to buy jewelry, electronics, perfume, crystal, and other expensive goods.

Most of Dutch St. Maarten's shopping is concentrated along Front Street in Philipsburg. Boutiques stretch along the entire length of the street, and stylish arcades lead off in either direction. A truly international center, Front Street offers top-of-the-line products from around the world. Prices are quoted in US dollars, saving shoppers the confusion of sorting out exchange rates.

Dining

St. Maarten's identity as a cultural crossroads is reflected in the many different types of excellent restaurants.

The island offers a choice of over 300 restaurants such as Italian, French, Indian, American, Argentine, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Creole and or Caribbean.

In the local island dishes, the ingredients are all thrown together in the same pot. Creole food blends local ingredients with French style, and is the most widely available fare on the island. Other West Indian stock dishes are based around cooking with salt-cod, okra, callaloo, coconut and Caribbean alcohol (rums or guavaberry).

Nightlife

St. Maarten has lots of evening and late-night action. To find out what's doing on the island, pick up St. Maarten Nights, St. Maarten Quick Pick Guide, or St. Maarten Events, all of which are distributed free in the tourist office and hotels.

Golf

The Mullet Bay Golf Course is the only course on the island and is open from 6am till 5pm everyday. With 18 holes of pure enjoyment, a putting range, driving range and exclusive pro shop.

Tennis

Many of St. Maarten's resorts have tennis courts available for both day and night games. All are open to the public who make reservations in advance and pay an hourly fee. You can play on your own, or enjoy a game with the resort tennis pro. Lessons are also provided at many resorts so you can get started.

Hiking

The best way to really appreciate the island is by exploring on foot. You'll meet the local people, learn the customs and above all see the scenery, flora and fauna that you will never see from the main road.

The deceptively small Dutch St. Maarten presents some interesting contrasts for the explorer. Wide beaches along the coast, full of sunbathers and watersurfers, seem a far cry from the quiet country roads and small towns of the hillsides.

Horseback Riding

Island stables offer riding packages -- from novice to expert -- for $25 to $40 per hour for a beach ride. Ask about full-moon and sunset rides. You can arrange rides directly or through most hotels.

Carnival

Two carnivals are held on the island each year - the one on the French side (St. Martin) takes place during Lent, keeping the tradition of the French Creole Mas, while the other, the largest of the two, is celebrated on the Dutch side (St. Maarten) over a period of 17 days and nights with its main parade scheduled to coincide with the birthday of Her Majesty the Queen of the Netherlands, Beatrix.

A large open area is converted to a center piece for sights, sounds, shows, and local culinary treats, called 'The Carnival Village'. This is where all the fun takes place during these 17 days. In the 'village' more than 100 booths are erected and patrons keep themselves busy preparing mouthwatering dishes like conch and dumplings, Johnny cakes, barbequed chicken, and a host of spicy soups which are said to all have aphrodisiac qualities.

In the village, there are shows and performances by local, regional and international performers. Calypsonians from all over the Caribbean compete for the title of King and Queen. After the crowning of the Calypso King and Queen, the revelers hit the streets for the Jouvert Jam - this is a parade of music and dancing through the streets which starts at 4AM and goes until sunrise.- but it doesn't end there, more parades, parties and pulsating tropical rhythms fill the day.

Beaches

There are many excellent beaches to be found. The most popular, Orient Beach features a clothing-optional area on one end. You can find beaches that are crowded, quiet with few other people, or totally deserted.

Boating

St. Maarten is a mecca for sailor plying caribbean waters and offerer plenty of excellent anchorages. Fully equipped marinas welcome visiting boats and rent everything from speedboats to canoes. Day trips can also be arranged for deep-sea fishing or for visits to secluded nearby islands. Every March, hundreds of participants from Europe, the United States, and the Caribbean visit St. Maarten to compete in one of the world's biggest sailing events --- the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta. The event has come to symbolize the island's prominence as a sailing venue, and St. Maarten is one of the few places in the world where the average person can sail on a world-class racing boat.

You can also enjoy the thrill of sailboat racing with the daily St. Maarten 12-Metre Challenge (Bobby's Marina, Philipsburg. PHONE: 599/542-0045 or 800/786-2278). Participants compete on 68-foot racing yachts, including Dennis Connor's Stars and Stripes, the actual boat that won the America Cup in 1987, and the Canada II. The cost to participate in the two-plus hour race is $65, but the thrill of it makes it worth every penny.

Boat Trips

Sail on one of the big catamarans, or power on over, to the surrounding islands. Swaliga sails daily to St. Barths. Voyager and The Edge go daily either to Saba or St. Barths. Cruise to a deserted island on a picnic sail and snorkel among the coral reefs aboard Lambada, Blue Beard, Random Wind or Scoobidoo.

Many charter companies offer day trips from Philipsburg to Saba and St. Eustatius (the other two islands that make up the Dutch Windwards group), Anguilla and St. Barth's.

Fishing

Deep-sea fishing is a popular St. Maarten activity, with full-day and half-day charters available year-round. The best fishing grounds are conveniently near the island, meaning less time spent traveling and more time fishing. Charters usually include tackle, bait, food, and refreshments. Bareboat charters are also available. The day's catch can include yellowtail, snapper, grouper, and marlin. Tarpon, barracuda, snook, bonefish and jacks can be caught year round.

Windsurfing

Orient Beach and Coconut grove, two beaches on the windward North East coast of the island, situated side by side but divided by a peninsula. The best months for windsurfing are in the winter months. Brisk southerly trade winds offer consistent conditions averaging 15 knots all the way up to July. The best place for beginners and intermediates is undoubtedly Coconut grove with its flat water and easy launching.

Scuba Diving

The water temperature here is rarely below 70°F (21°C), and visibility is usually excellent, averaging about 100 feet. Beginners and night divers will appreciate the tugboat Annie, which lies in 25 feet to 30 feet of water in Simpson Bay. Off the north coast, in the protected and mostly current-free Grand Case Bay, is Creole Rock. The water here ranges in depth from 10 feet to 25 feet, and visibility is excellent. Other sites off the north coast include Ilet Pinel, for its good shallow diving; Green Key, with its vibrant barrier reef; and Tintamarre (Flat Island), for its sheltered coves and geologic faults. One of the most popular sites is Proselyte Reef, named for the British frigate HMS Proselyte. The ship, initially a Dutch frigate, was captured by the British in 1796 and sank about 1 mi (1½ km) south of Great Bay in 1801. Today the hulk lies 15 feet to 45 feet below the surface and is almost completely covered with coral.

Snorkeling

Some of the best snorkeling on the Dutch side can be found around the rocks below Fort Amsterdam off Little Bay Beach, in the west end of Maho Bay, off Pelican Key, and around the reefs off Dawn Beach and Oyster Pond. On the French side, the area around Orient Bay, Caye Verte (Green Key), Ilet Pinel, and Flat Island is especially lovely and is officially classified, and protected, as a regional underwater nature reserve.

Parasailing

Orient Beach is the place for parasailing. This two mile long beach offers water sports locations next to the many restaurants right on the beach. Strap yourself into the parasailing rig and soar 30-50 ft above the ground - taking in the spectacular view.... and don't worry about the landing - the professional parasailing team-members bring you down nice and dry, onto the launch pad where you first lifted off.

Attractions Around the Island (Both Dutch and French sides)

Orient Beach, Grand Case
The island's most popular beach features a clothing-optional area on one end.

Loterie Farm, St. Maarten/St. Martin
Hiking trail; Farm; Nature reserve

The Butterfly Farm (La Ferme des Papillons), Philipsburg
Farm; Nature center. This popular attraction is home to numerous species of rare butterflies.

12 Metre Challenge, Philipsburg
Visitors can participate in a mini-America's Cup boat race in actual boats from the 1987 competition, including Dennis Conner's famous Stars & Stripes.

Oyster Pond, Marigot
This pristine mile-long beach offers great swimming and scuba diving and is less known than some of the island's more popular beaches.

Maho Bay, St. Maarten/St. Martin
Maho Bay, on the southwestern shore, is Sint Maarten's main resort area. It feels a bit like the Las Vegas Strip: while little more than a block long, it's dense with multistory buildings housing exclusive jewellers, boutiques, art galleries, restaurants and a huge resort and casino. Maho Bay has a nice enough beach except that it's at the very end of the airport runway. The area is even marked with a sign warning beach goers that 'low flying and departing aircraft blast can cause physical injury!'

St. Maarten Museum, Philipsburg
This small museum, in a converted 1800s house, covers the culture and history of the island.

Cupecoy Bay / Beach, St. Maarten/St. Martin
If you're looking for a beach that's quiet but not totally secluded, Cupecoy is a good choice. Its white sands are backed by low sandstone cliffs that have been eroded in such a way that they provide a run of small semiprivate coves.

Frontstreet, Philipsburg
This crowded street is a popular tourist center for duty-free shopping.

Orient Bay, St. Maarten/St. Martin
Very nice beach.

Red Bay (Baie Rouge), Marigot
This large beach has very gentle waters.

Museum of Saint Martin: On the Trail of the Arawaks (Musee de Saint-Martin: Sur la Trace des Arawaks), Marigot
This museum explores the history and culture of the island, beginning with the Arawak natives who inhabited the island before European contact.

Dawn Beach, Philipsburg
A popular tourist beach on the island's east coast.

St. Maarten Zoo, St. Maarten/St. Martin

Concordia Hill, Marigot
The site where the Treaty of Concordia was signed in 1648, establishing joint control over the island by the French and Dutch.

Prickly Pear, Marigot
This small pristine tropical island is perfect for a relaxing afternoon of snorkeling.

Paradise Peak, Marigot
Those who hike to the top of the island's highest mountain are rewarded with wonderful views.

Fort Amsterdam, St. Maarten/St. Martin
Historic site

Wathey Square, Philipsburg
The unofficial town center, featuring an 18th-century courthouse and a tourist information booth.

Proselyte Reef, St. Maarten/St. Martin
This reef is perhaps the best known dive site on the island and was the site where the H.M.S. Proselyte, the remains of which are still buried within the reef, once crashed.

Colombier, Marigot
This small village, located between Grand Case and Marigot, is famous for its beautiful serene setting.

 
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Caribbean Travelweb