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St. Maarten

St. Maarten Travel Tips and Visitor Information

Great Bay Beach, Philipsburg, St. Maarten
Great Bay Beach runs beside the boardwalk and shopping district of Philipsburg. © 2016 Scott Bateman
St. Maarten travel tips start with an understanding that two countries control the island.

The Dutch side is Sint Maarten and the French side is Saint Martin, but the island is so small it's easy to see both.

The French side covers two thirds of the landmass, and the Dutch side, which includes both the airport and cruise port, cover the rest.

But it matters little to visitors. The island is so small and the two sides have lived together in harmony for so many centuries that they are highly integrated with each other.

The island is a popular cruise destination because of the Philipsburg cruise port, which combines a great shopping and dining district with Great Bay beach right by the city.

St. Maarten is the ninth most popular island for vacationers in the Caribbean. It attracts more than three times as many people by cruise than by overnight visits.

Like the nearby St. Kitts, the island is busy around the cruise port in Philipsburg and quiet on most of the 35 beaches and around the resorts and hotels. The famous

Similarly, St. Maarten is much more a things to do island rather than a things to see island. It is stronger on recreational activities than on historical and cultural attractions.

Use the following St. Maarten travel tips to help plan your trip.

Attraction Tips

St. Maarten MapSt. Maarten belongs in the same category of attractions as other small Caribbean destinations such as St. Kitts. It is low on unique attractions, although visitors are more likely to go because of cruises and for quiet stopover vacations.

Two of the most popular attractions on the island are the capitals -- the cruise port of Philipsburg on the Dutch side and Marigot on the French side.

Philipsburg is a popular attraction because of the many duty-free shops that line Front Street, which runs parallel to the boardwalk along Great Bay.

Cruise or day-trip visitors who are staying at nearby resorts also will find a nice beach on Great Bay that sits ride beside the city.

Unlike the busy Philipsburg, Marigot is a quiet and very French town on the other side of the island. It also has some nice shops plus a local craft market that shows up in the town center a few times a week.

While in Marigot, visitors may climb up to Fort St. Louise, which has panoramic views of Marigot and Marigot Bay. The French built the fort in 1765 to protect Marigot from the English.

More adventurous souls can take a ferry from Marigot over to the even quieter Anguilla for a day or snorkeling or relaxing on that island’s beautiful white sand beaches.

Two other attractions on the French side are worth mentioning. The town of Grand Case is known for the best restaurants on the island. The clothing-optional Orient Beach is one of the most famous -- and expensive -- beaches in the Caribbean.

Transportation / Getting Around

Getting from one place to another isn’t always easy, even though the island is small.

Plenty of car rental agencies reside in Philipsburg and the Simpson Bay area near the airport. But roads often become congested and lack traffic signs.

Taxis operate on fixed fees but do not have meters. Be sure to ask for the rate before getting into the taxi.

Minibuses that act something like a combination of taxis and public buses cover most of the island. They are inexpensive, do not have fixed schedules and stop at fixed locations. They usually accept Euros and U.S. dollars. Visitors should simply raise their hands at a stop when a minibus approaches.

Tourism / When to Go

St. Maarten lies within the hurricane belt. The most popular months to visit are December through April.

The least popular are September and then October during the height of the Caribbean hurricane season.

Passports are required of all U.S. and Canadian stopover visitors. Cruise visitors simply need to have their ship ID cards available when leaving the ship and returning.


Island weather has average temperatures in the 80s degree Fahrenheit all year long. It also has low humidity, gentle trade winds, brief, intense rain showers.

The average annual temperature varies by only seven degrees from month to month. The average high temperatures drop to 83 degrees Fahrenheit in January and increase until they average 89 Fahrenheit from June through August, according to historical data from the Meteorological Department of St. Maarten.

July through November is the official island hurricane season. Rainfall reaches a high point from August through November with November have the highest amount of any month.

Annual rainfall of 45 inches gives the island moderate vegetation in the same category as St. Kitts and others. In other words, don't necessarily go there for lush tropical rainforests.

Currency / Tipping / Taxes

Official currency is the Euro on the French side and Netherlands Antilles florin (guilder) on the Dutch side. But U.S. currency and major credit cards are widely accepted on both sides of the island.

Hotels usually add a 15 percent service charge on the Dutch side and 10-15 percent on the French side. Taxes typically are 5 percent on the Dutch side and a variable rate averaging 5 percent on the French side.

Culture / Geography

The official languages are French and Dutch on the respective two sides, although English and Spanish are commonly spoken.

The economy is entirely dominated by tourism, which employs 85 percent of the workforce.

The island, which is only one-third the size of Washington D.C., is the smallest landmass in the world that is shared by two nations.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

 > Category: Travel Tips   

December 21, 2016

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