St. Martin/St. Maarten is a 37-square-mile, tropical island in the northeast Caribbean, unique in that it is shared by two different nations—the Netherlands and France. The island boasts the best dining and duty-free bargains in the Caribbean, as well as year- round temperatures in the 80s, spectacular beaches that encircle the island, and stellar options for recreation and entertainment.
St. Maarten - Dutch St. Maarten, on the southern side of the island, offers a lively atmosphere with an American feel, and fun that includes great beaches, fine dining, bars and nightclubs, and Vegas-style casinos. Nights are the time to experience true Caribbean limin' (steppin' out) on this little metropolitan island. Simpson Bay and the bustling capital of Philipsburg are where you'll find St. Maarten's dining and entertainment hubs. Philipsburg is also known for its long streets of quaint shops with terrific duty-free bargains.
St. Martin - On the north side of the island, French St. Martin exudes a chic European charm enhanced by sidewalk cafes, peaceful beaches, and an array of bistros and restaurants that cook up the most fabulous gourmet cuisine in the Caribbean. Certain nights at Marigot port and Marina Royale feature many local bands and avant-garde street entertainers. The Marina area is also a hotspot for several chic nightclubs. The capital of Marigot is slower paced than Philipsburg, but the duty-free shopping here and elsewhere is excellent, with French-inspired arcades offering a wide selection of European goods.Package includes:
- Choice of accommodations
- Hotel taxes and service charges
- Roundtrip transfers between airport and hotel
Frequently Asked Questions
Who should go?
With clear turquoise waters and 37 white-sand beaches encircling the island, sun-seekers are sure to find the sandy paradise of their dreams on St. Martin/St. Maarten—whether they prefer people-watching, nonstop action, or peaceful seclusion. Some beaches feature calm waters perfect for families, while others boast waves large enough for surfing. (Note that topless and clothing-optional beaches are more prevalent on the French, St. Martin side.)
The island has been called "the Caribbean shopping paradise" due to its duty-free status and great bargains on cosmetics, jewelry, liquors, cigars, electronics, and more, including designer goods offered for a fraction of U.S. retail prices.
Gourmet restaurants that feature the innovative cooking of talented chefs are especially plentiful on the French side of the island, and some chefs have expanded their delicious offerings to the Dutch side, as well. Gourmands will gravitate to the village of Grand-Case, which boasts more restaurants per capita than any other Caribbean island.
What's the climate like?
How do I get around town?
Transfers from Princess Juliana International Airport to your hotel are included with your hotel package.
The majority of visitors get around via taxi, using one of the Dutch or French cabs that serve the entire island. Since taxis are unmetered, always agree on the rate before getting inside. Fares from Princess Juliana Airport to Marigot are between US$15-20 and about US$15 from Princess Juliana Airport to Philipsburg. Luggage incurs a small additional fee.
A rental car is helpful if you want to experience both sides of the island or want to travel outside of the principal towns of Marigot in St. Martin and Philipsburg in St. Maarten. Roads are built for slow-to-medium speeds.
There are daily ferries between ports on the Dutch and French sides, as well as ferries to/from the neighboring islands of Anguilla, St. Barthélemy (St. Barts), and Saba.
What kinds of dining and nightlife are available?
One reason St. Martin/St. Maarten stands out from other Caribbean destinations is its status as a renowned dining mecca. The island attracts innovative chefs who serve world-class quality food in sophisticated settings with superior service. More than 400 restaurants offer an array of cuisines from around the world, in venues from beach bars to sleek, elite temples of gastronomy. The array of incredible restaurants in Grand-Case, St. Martin, has earned it the title of the culinary capital of the Caribbean, but lately it's experiencing healthy competition from a crop of new St. Maarten restaurants helmed by talented chefs. If a casual lunch on the beach appeals more than a fancy sit-down meal, try one of the lolos: little kiosks especially popular on the French side, which serve barbecue, local seafood, and tasty side dishes.
- L'Auberge Gourmande
Chef Didier Rochat delights Grand Case diners with appetizers like garlic escargots and coquilles St. Jacques with scallops and shrimp—as well as main courses that feature gourmet presentations of rack of lamb and filet mignon—all in an elegant, 120-year-old French house.
- Cheri's Café
A lively and popular open-air bar/café that features affordable American favorites such as 18-ounce steaks and burgers as well as grilled fresh-fish platters and nightly live music. Maho Beach, St. Maarten.
- Claude Mini-Club
This little restaurant overlooking the harbor is a local favorite, serving Creole dishes such as stuffed crab with Creole sauce and conch stew with hot spices, as well as classic desserts and crowd-pleasing buffets featuring roast suckling pig and Caribbean lobster. Marigot, St. Martin.
- Taloula Mango's Caribbean Café
Offers a convenient location for a great lunch or dinner on the beach, featuring tasty sandwiches, seafood, beef, pasta, and fine vegetarian entrees housed in a striking new building. Philipsburg, St. Maarten.
Showcases fantastic, original nouveau Caribbean dishes that audaciously marry island flavors with Spanish, Cuban, Indian, and other influences. Scrumptious desserts and an excellent wine list round out the menu. Cupecoy, St. Maarten.
- Turtle Pier Bar & Restaurant
Features fabulous fresh seafood, such as lobster prepared many different ways, Creole-style conch soup, and grilled, poached, or blackened fish, plus duck, chops and steaks. Simpson Bay, St. Maarten.
- La Vie en Rose
A classic French menu, balconies, and ceiling fans evoke bygone Paris, with specialties including lobster bisque, roasted rack of lamb, duck, and grilled filet of red snapper. Marigot, St. Martin.
St. Maarten is renowned for its Las Vegas- and Monaco-style casinos—many found in major hotels—as well as a party atmosphere fueled by a wealth of beach barbeques, live music, and high-energy clubs and nightspots. St. Martin's nightlife is centered in Marigot and exudes a more low-key, European flavor, from leisurely dining at cosmopolitan restaurants, to avant garde street performers, sidewalk cafes, piano bars, and Euro-style clubs.
Where should I go shopping?
Shopping is a big attraction on the island due to its completely duty-free status and the sheer number of goods imported, which guarantees great bargains on cosmetics, jewelry, liquors, cigars, electronics, and much more. Philipsburg in St. Maarten is a popular cruise port, and Front Street boasts a multitude of stores with competitive prices. The capital of the French side, Marigot, offers some elegant duty-free shopping in original boutiques and shopping arcades highlighting the sophisticated styles of Parisian designers as well as European merchandise and luxury items such as Lalique crystal and Vuitton handbags.
If you're looking for local products, don't miss the Marigot market on the port road, which is open daily and sells unique, locally made souvenirs and gifts.
When are the local events?
Every Tuesday night, January - April. The main street of Grand-Case becomes a pedestrian zone for an evening of fine dining, street entertainment, music and fun. St. Martin.
St. Martin Carnival
Varies - the week before Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday. Fantastically colorful parades tour the streets of Marigot until nightfall, when everyone meets at the Carnival Village to enjoy concerts and events.
Art Lovers' Weekend
March. Artists from around St Martin showcase their art and their galleries to the locals and visitors.
St. Maarten Carnival
Weekends, mid-April - May. This infectious celebration mixes dancing, music-making and parades for kids, teenagers, and a grand parade for all, along with a "jump-up" parties where bands entertain thousands of revelers.
June. Held on the waterfront in Marigot, St. Martin, this 2-day event celebrates local and international music with ongoing concerts by professionals and amateurs.
St Martin/St Maarten Summerfest
July. This 2-week festival showcases international and local musicians who gather to play Latin, gospel, jazz, reggae, R&B, and soca, dedicating an evening to each genre.
Caribbean Comedy Festival
August - September. Held annually in St. Martin, the Caribbean Comedy Festival promises 3 days of laughs, music, and beach parties.
What are my sports and recreation options?
Something's always biting around St. Martin/St. Maarten, whether it's sailfish, marlin, wahoo, tuna, or other game fish. Fishing yachts take eager anglers on half- or full-day expeditions.
With a dozen glitzy casinos to choose from in Dutch St. Maarten, you can take your pick of games of chance, from big table games to slots, horse racing, bingo, and sports nights. You must be 18 or older to drink and gamble on St. Maarten.
Scuba diving is excellent around St. Martin, with reef, wreck, night, cave, and drift diving. Dive sites include Ilet Pinel, Green Key, and Tintamarre. St. Maarten's many bays and coves provide good diving, with underwater visibility from 75-125 feet. Divers also can explore the 19th century wreck of a British warship resting a mile off the coast.
The island's calm waters, shallow reefs, and small coves create snorkeling nirvana, especially within the regional underwater nature reserve, Réserve Sous-Marine Régionale, off the northeastern shores of St. Martin.
From sailing, swimming, waterskiing, and parasailing to windsurfing and jet-skiing, watersports rule on the 37 beaches of St. Martin/St. Maarten, with plenty of outfitters happy to get you out on the water.
The Fly Zone Extreme at Loterie Farm in St. Martin offers a zipline course through hundred-year-old trees in a private nature reserve, complete with obstacle challenges such as rope bridges.
A number of beaches on the French side of the island are clothing-optional, but Orient Beach is the island's only official nudist beach. Beaches on the Dutch side are a bit more conservative.
Excellent supermarkets abound on both sides of the island. The Dutch markets tend to stock mostly American brands, while the stores in Marigot offer a wide variety of European groceries. In Marigot you'll also find some fabulous gourmet stores.
The Butterfly Farm in St. Martin offers guided tours of tropical gardens where hundreds of butterflies from all over the world flutter freely. If you come early in the morning it is possible to see the birth of a butterfly and watch the new fliers take their first flight.
Loterie Farm nature preserve on the French side is another popular family choice, with a new attraction—the Fly Zone Extreme (adults) and Ti'Tarzan (kids)—that offers the whole gang the chance to soar and climb above the tropical forest canopy via a series of ropes, cables, and suspended bridges.
The island's population embraces a melting pot of people from more than 70 different countries, with common languages that include English, French, Dutch, French patois (a dialect mixing French with African and other influences), Spanish, and Papiamento.
Good to Know
|Princess Juliana International Airport
||December - May
||May - November
||Dutch St. Maarten: Netherlands Antilles florin (NAf)
French St. Martin: The Euro
U.S. dollars are widely accepted in St. Martin/St. Maarten. Traveler's checks and most credit cards are accepted in hotels.
||Dutch, French, and English
English is widely spoken on the Dutch side, but French predominates on the French side of the island.
||Atlantic Standard Time. However, St. Martin/St. Maarten does not follow Daylight Savings, so from April – October, the island follows Eastern Standard Time.
|Proof of Citizenship:
||Government legislation requires all people traveling via air to and from the United States and Canada to have a valid passport. For details on passports, visas, and health requirements, see Entry Requirements.
||Most hotels on both sides on the island add a mandatory 10% or 15% service charge to your bill. Most restaurants automatically add a service charge to your bill; otherwise, it's customary to tip about 15%. Taxi drivers also expect a 15% tip.
||Casual, lightweight clothing is accepted and suggested for most events, however, swimwear is only appropriate at the beach. If going out at night, men should wear long pants and a collared shirt; women should wear long pants or dresses.
||Electrical outlets on Dutch St. Maarten are identical to those in the U.S.A., and outlets will accept the standard 2- and 3-pronged plugs found in the U.S.A. (suitable for 120 volts at 60 cycles).
Outlets on French St. Martin require a converter/plug adaptor suitable for 220 volts at 60 cycles, i.e., the standard European 2-cylinder plugs.
||Calls from a local phone between the French and Dutch sides of the island are considered international. If you wish to make a call from French St. Martin to Dutch St. Maarten, dial 00-721 plus the local number. To make a call from Dutch St. Maarten to French St. Martin, dial 00-590-590 plus the local number. When calling from a U.S. phone line to the Dutch side of St. Maarten, dial 011-721 and the phone number, when calling from a U.S. phone line to French St. Martin, dial 011-590-590 and the number.