St. Maarten/St. Martin

St. Maarten Philipsburg Old Town copyright M. Timothy O'Keefe-

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St. Maarten/St. Martin


Two different governments, 2 different languages and 2 very different cultures share this 37-square mile island divided into Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin.

Although they are spelled differently, St. Maarten and St. Martin are pronounced the same.

This is the smallest island anywhere shared by two nations. Dutch St. Maarten occupies about 17-square miles, French St. Martin a hoggish 20.
See map)

One reason the 2 groups of settlers were able to live together so harmoniously is they essentially ignored each other as much as possible. Since only an invisible line divides the two territories, it didn't demand a lot of engineering skill; more the final acceptance that each other existed.

Amazingly, a road connecting the two sides wasn't built until the 20th century.

The division of the island occurred in 1648 when Dutch and French settlers decided to peacefully partition the island even though their homelands were at war. Once it was done, the locals went back to business while English, French and Dutch troops fought over the island until 1817 when the original partition finally went into effect.

Today, only simple road signs let you know that you've crossed from one country to the next. There are no formal border crossings. They would only hinder the thousands of tourists who daily search out the best beaches and best bargains on both sides.

There are quite a few good beaches to choose from, too; 37 in all. On the Dutch side, Maho Beach is alive with activity, lots of swimmers, wet bikes and the opportunity to watch airplanes passing overhead as they land at the nearby airport.

All of St. Maarten's beaches are equally distinctive, which is why I call them Beaches with Attitude. Here's a detailed description of them and the resorts nearby.

St. Maarten's Carnival is held at the end of April--right after hotel prices drop.

The French beach everyone wants to visit is Orient Beach, which easily accommodates the demand with its numerous chair, umbrella and watersports rentals, along with plenty of snack and t-shirt huts.

Equally good but usually less crowded are Baie Longue (Long Bay) and the wide sands of Baie Rouge (Red Bay). Topless sunbathing is the norm at all St. Martin beaches.

St. Maarten/St. Martin are also famous for their  impressive shopping variety. On the Dutch side, Philipsburg's Front Street is packed with items from all over the world. A favorite on the French side favorite is Marina Port la Royale, situated on a picturesque lagoon with many sailboats. The French capital of Marigot also has many fine stores.

For truly exceptional French or continental cuisine, the small restaurants clustered in the town of Grand Case are acknowledged as the best.

St. Maarten Facts & Map
Courtesy of the CIA

St. Martin Facts & Map
Courtesy of the CIA

Search St. Maarten Hotels

St. Maarten Weather
Current temps & conditions

St. Martin Weather
Current temps & conditions

Island Map
Both sides of the island

Arrival Briefing
What you need to know if you go

Island History
More about St. Maarten's/St. Martin's split personality from a historical perspective.

Getting Married in St. Maarten
Good place to have a wedding consultant

Getting Married in St. Martin
Forget it, until the laws change

Major Attractions

Beaches with Attitude
St. Maarten has a beach for your frame of mind

Carnival in St. Maarten
Conveniently timed, at the end of April

Loterie Farm Walks
A small nature preserve on the French side

Marigot, St. Martin
The capital of the French side is less frenzied than Philipsburg with all its cruise ships

Philipsburg, St. Maarten
The capital of Dutch St. Maarten offers lots of shopping but pay close attention to "the deals"

Walks around Paradise Peak
Paradise Peak Hike
La Sucre Paradis Trail
Paradise Peak-Concordia Pass