Information on St. Maarten

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Gingerbread House St. Maarten 

General Information 

 

Saint Martin is an island split between the French collectivity of Saint-Martin and the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten (formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles, but now a constituent state of the Kingdom of the Netherlands). It is one of the smallest land masses divided between two countries.

  

The northern, French side of the island is known as Saint-Martin, and is 21 square miles (about 54 square Kilometers). The southern, "Dutch side" of the island is known as Sint Maarten, and is 16 square miles (about 41 square Kilometers) . To avoid confusion between the three variations on the name, the two regions are commonly referred to as "the French side" and "the Dutch side".

Although this island is controlled by two different countries, there is no real border. There are only monuments and signs that delineate the border. Over 350 years ago the two countries decided that residents of either country could travel across both sides of the border without worrying about any trouble. The two countries live peacefully without difficulties, which helps tourism considerably. Any separation is more from separate and dissimilar utilities systems, e.g., power on French side is 250V 50 Hz, while the Netherlands side is 110/120 60 Hz. 

The Dutch side, Sint Maarten, has become a leading destination in the real estate market with more and more developments being constructed. There are high rise condominiums and waterfront communities, all of which are popular to buyers, especially American. The language on this side of the island is Dutch, but almost everyone speaks English.  

On the Dutch side, grocery stores and other businesses may have prices expressed in Netherlands Antilles Florins (NAF) which is the Local currency also called Guilders, but the US dollar and the Euro will be gladly accepted at these establishments as well. Many large resorts have been built and on many days cruise ships flood Philipsburg with their passengers. Philipsburg is one of the Caribbean's best shopping towns. If shopping's not your thing, you can sit out back on Philipsburg's harbor beach and have a drink. Or play at one of the casinos just down the street. There are nine on this side. When it all gets too mellow, go rip it up with a 4x4 excursion around the island. Visit the Maho and Cupecoy area for some of the best nightlife on the island and some of the best beaches.

The French side, Saint Martin, consists of the Northern two-thirds of the island. It is governed by the neighboring island of Guadaloupe, and is more European than the Dutch. The native language is French and has the same guiding laws as France. 

Language

 

Dutch and French are the official languages on their respective sides of the island. English is an official language of the Dutch side as well and is widely spoken on both sides, especially in tourist areas. Children on both sides of the island are educated in French, Dutch, English and Spanish so language is typically not a barrier when visiting the island.

Getting There 

 

By plane

Princess Juliana International Airport (IATA: SXM) (ICAO: TNCM), Tel: +1 (721) 545-2060. This airport on the Dutch side is the larger airport on the island and one of the Caribbean's busiest.  Planes land and take off unusually close overhead to sunbathers at Maho Beach. Maho Beach itself is a tourist draw for die-hard aviation enthusiasts for this reason, and the airport is something of a holy grail for them. You don't want your hotel too near. There were over 1.6 million visitors that came through Princess Juliana Airport in 2005. It is not only a beautiful airport, but a very busy airport, especially on the weekends when many timeshare owners are coming and going.

The other airport is near Grand Case on "French St. Martin" to the north, and primarly serves inter-island flights, commercial and private.

By boat

 

Last year, over 1.3 million people visited the island by cruise ship, landing mostly in Philipsburg on what used to be the "Dutch side". 

Those ships make the city of Philipsburg the busiest city on the island. In "high season", you may see 6 or so ships, offloading perhaps 18,000 or more passengers. In low season, one occasional ship is more common. 

The main cruise docks for Philipsburg are approximately a one mile walk to the east end of Front Street leading into the main shopping area.

Marigot port on the "French side" is limited to hosting one small-sized cruise ship at a time, but is also served by attractive marinas supporting many yachts of all sizes. 

Sun, Sea and Strand... 

 

Beaches are a main attraction on the island of Saint Martin. It has 37 beaches total, with hotels holding property on most of them. Beach Bars and Cafés are very popular attractions on the island. Many offer unusually good dishes with European and Caribbean inspiration.  

The island has a deserved reputation as an excellent place to shop, rivaling Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands for price, but with somewhat fewer stores. Both "sides" offer a wide range of quality. Shopping is duty free on both sides of the island, with no tax or duty paid directly by buyers. Merchants on the "Dutch" side" do pay a five percent "turnover tax" on all items they sell...recently (late 2010) increased from 3% by the new government. A few sellers may try to add it as a separate cost item on sales slips, despite instructions from the tax authority not to do so.

Food 

 

The island has some 300 restaurants with a wide variety of offerings available to both tourists and locals. The French cuisine and local fare is an exciting experience to most, but if you are apprehensive about trying new things, there are other restaurants. The island has restaurants that are American, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, vegetarian and more. If self-catering, you'll find large modern supermarkets with excellent selections of American, European and other products as well...all imported.

If you want to save some cash, eat where the locals eat on the cheap, both the french and Dutch sides of the island feature many Chinese restaurants, but the Dutch Side is the hands down winner with over 40 of them. In addition to the regular far eastern fare, these inexpensive eateries feature many local dishes, and "Caribbeanized" Chinese food.

 

 

Accommodation 

 

St. Martin's hotel rooms, almost without exception, rent for US$100+ per night and often much more, and generous taxes and service charges are then also applied. High season is from December through April. Accommodations are considerably less the rest of the year. If you are doing last minute travel when you call ahead ask for the "local rate" rather than what you will normally get which is the "walk-in rate", it can save you a considerable amount of money in some situations.


 



Source: Wikitravel

Copyright 2011 Information on St.Maarten. MHF | Leopard Rd #1, Cay Hill, St. Maarten | Phone: +1721-5421677 | Emergency: +1721-5205556 |
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