Special Note - While we maintain two seperate travel
guides for St. Martin and St. Maarten, you will find
many references including the entire island.
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
Air service to Princess Juliana International Airport
in St. Maarten is provided by:
citizens require one of the following:
valid passport and a return/continuing ticket.
birth certificate with raised seal and photo identification
and a return/continuing ticket.
citizens must show an original naturalization certificate
with photo identification and a return/continuing
Card holders must have a valid passport and a return/continuing
Canadian citizens require one of the following:
valid passport and a return/continuing ticket.
certified copy of birth certificate, a photo identification
and a return/continuing ticket.
residents require a "Landing permit" with
valid passport and return/continuing ticket.
European Community citizens require:
valid passport and a return/continuing ticket.
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
This crowded street is a popular tourist center for
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
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,
This small village, located between Grand Case and Marigot,
is famous for its beautiful serene setting.