There is a lot to experience on this little island in the Caribbean shared between France and the Netherlands. Ten days wasn’t enough.
Known as “The Friendly Island”, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten was divided between France and the Netherlands in 1648 with the Treaty of Concordia. This arrangement provided for mutual protection from belligerent states. Remains of stone forts built to guard the harbors in the French north and Dutch south still remain, as does the history of pirates that threatened them.
The 1.5 million cruise boat passengers and almost half-million other visitors that alight on this thirty-four square mile (eighty-seven square kilometer) speck of sand in the Caribbean every year often come here because it is one of the best duty-free ports in the Caribbean.
Alan was autographing copies of our book one afternoon at the Front Street outlet of the Shipwreck Shops along Big Bay in the Dutch capitol of Philipsburg, the major duty-free shopping precinct. He saw some of passengers from the day’s three cruise boats, along with longer term visitors, and a variety of locals.
A dense throng of people worked their way along the street from the direction of the cruise boat dock, mixing with the other shoppers. Curiously, this tide appeared to turn by mid-afternoon as the passengers began to make their way back to the ships. As departure time drew closer, the flow became a tidal wave of shoppers, some frantically darting in and out of shops, trying to find the last items to buy, and emerging with things like carved wooden parrots and miniature Caribbean steel drums.
But there is a lot more to this enchanting island than shopping. For one thing, there is a mix of over thirty cultures on the island, offering a staggering variety of food, culture, arts, and languages. There are festivals throughout the year celebrating these cultures, as well as active organization that promote the arts and culture.
While some visitors will stay in the popular and busy Simpson Bay, Maho Bay, or Orient Bay for the duration of their holiday, a drive around the island will lead you to other beaches like Friar’s Bay, Dawn Beach, Islet Pinel, plus many more. Be warned, though, that drivers must be aware of people walking along the narrow roads that pass through the villages, the enormous potholes in places, and the occasional cow, chicken, or goat that may wander into the street.
For those who enjoy other activities, there are plenty of opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving, as well as hiking, sailing, and paragliding. For serious sailors, there is the Heineken Regatta in early March that attracts an international fleet of competitive yachts, and Captain Oliver’s Regatta in May.
Whether you want to relax, shop, find adventure, or explore the natural history of this island, you can be assured of finding a treasure of opportunities in this lovely dual nation.