Why Should You Visit St Maarten On Your Next Vacation?
One very popular port of call on an eastern Caribbean cruise itinerary is the culturally unique island of St. Maarten/Saint Martin. Half Dutch and half French, this small island of only 37 square miles is dominated by over 300 restaurants, 36 sugar-sand beaches, luxury hotels and resorts and a blending of four languages: Dutch, French, English and Papiamento.
St. Maarten has a history dating back to 550 BC. Tool and pottery artifacts belonging to the Amerindians have been unearthed at an archaeological dig on the Dutch side. Even though Columbus landed in St. Maarten in 1493 and claimed the island for Spain, due to the fierce and cannibalistic Caribs, the Spanish never developed the island. In the early 1600s, the Dutch raised their flag, followed by the French. Legend has it that a Frenchman and a Dutchman finally settled an argument over territorial rights by pacing off their shares. The French got the bigger slice, but the Dutch ended up with the more valuable real estate; the Salt Pond and the Harbor.
That said, St Maarten, or Saint Martin as it’s known to the French, is a Caribbean island split into two. One half is owned by France, and is known as Saint Martin. The other half is the Dutch Sint Maarten. Lately this particular island has been gaining prominence, despite its relatively small size, thanks to the growing number of vacation-makers choosing it as their destination. But why are they choosing it in such numbers? And why should you personally choose St Maarten as your next vacation spot?
There are a whole host of reasons to check the island out. The Caribbean island boasts a unique and enchanting mix of cultures: the sophisticated French cuisine and fashion and the laid-back, carefree Dutch way of life, all mixed together in a beautiful Caribbean landscape. The island is becoming well-known amongst tourists for its beautiful white sand beaches and stunning verdant cliffs, plus the wonderful sea views from its grand hotels.
Thanks to its Dutch and French heritage, St Maarten boasts an enviable variety of shopping destinations, with open-air markets selling all sorts of eclectic treasures to designer stores. The cuisine of the island is similarly exotic, with French and Dutch tastes combining with Caribbean cooking to create something not found anywhere else.
The island also boasts a fascinating history, having switched hands between the British, French and the Dutch many times before finally settling into a French-Dutch settlement. This exciting history is referenced in many St Maarten folktales, with many interesting – and sometimes amusing! – difference between the French and the Dutch versions of the tales. Many of these folktales reference the French-Dutch split down the island, with an element of healthy, light-spirited competition between the two sides. However, despite the split, it’s easy to travel between the two sides – so there’s no need to restrict yourself to simply French or Dutch if you can’t choose between the two!
Far from being your typical Caribbean holiday spot, the island boasts a number of unique quirks and differences that truly make it stand out. Aside from its culture, cuisine and long history, the island is home to a beach situated perilously – almost – close to its airport. A quick search on YouTube for this beach reveals videos filmed by excited tourists as planes soar over their heads! The beach in question is extremely popular with visitors.
Last but certainly not least, St Maarten’s Dutch influence lends it a welcoming, tolerant culture, making it a fine vacation spot for travellers of all kinds, from families to singles to LGBT couples, who have no need to worry about conservative attitudes during their stay. The island even has a number of popular nudist beaches for those who may find the Caribbean heat too hot to handle!
Affordable Restaurants And Shops To Visit On Your St Maarten Vacation
Upon arriving to the island, there are a few tips you want to keep in mind when searching St Maarten’s restaurants and markets. For instance, if you’re American and want to keep your money exchange in dollars rather than Euros, it’s best to stay on the Dutch side of the island. But how is a newcomer to St Maarten ever going to know the native secrets? To help you folks out with some insider tips, I’ve created the following guide to some of the best dinning and shopping deals you’ll find on the island.
While on the Dutch side of St Maarten, you’ll find some fantastic food markets and wholesale centers, such as Sam’s Club and St Maarten’s version of Costco, Cost-U-Less.
If it’s meats and vegetables you’re searching for, you’ll be happy to know that St Maarten shops are usually quite dependable at keeping their food good and fresh. One of the best places to shop is Grand Marche. It’s located at the round-about heading into Phillipsburg. Again, Cost-U-Less is another great option, as is Prime Cash and Carry, which is found in the Orange Grove section of Cole Bay.
For those who stay in the Beacon Hill Area or Mullet or Maho areas, Food Express is a nice little market. It’s right down the road from St Maarten Villa Vacations’ Casa Boco and La Casita Villas. Food Express items are fairly priced and you can save some time and gas by shopping there for basics. They even offer a number of prepared food dishes. The store is located under the Royal Islander Time share complex.
St Maarten Restaurants
Affordable St Maarten dining is very easy to find. There are so many restaurants on the island that offer the perfect combination of quality food, fun atmosphere and economical prices.
Lal’s is a small Indian restaurant just across the street from where the old airport building used to sit. You can’t lose with the chicken and spinach or the Nan. Another bonus: great drinks at reasonable prices.
Marty’s Gyro is another great, affordable St Maarten restaurant that’s located next to the Dolphin Casino in Simpson Bay. The food is simple, good and always well priced. Obviously their gyros are terrific, as is their fried fish. And if you’re looking for a place with a casual, laid-back atmosphere where you can watch a ball game, then Marty’s Gyro is your ideal match. If the gyros sound right, but you’re more in the mood for enjoying dinner on the terrace with a sunset view, there are a number of gorgeous St Maarten villas that can certainly accommodate.
Who doesn’t love pizza? In Simpson Bay you’ll find Pizza Galley, conveniently located directly across the street from the Royal Palm Hotel. Pizza Galley’s thin crust pizza is delicious and they’ve got quite a selection of toppings. But be warned. If spicy isn’t for you, then stay clear of their spicy sausage and pepperoni!
Right next door to Pizza Galley you’ll find Lady C, a floating bar. If a great dining deal is what you’re looking for, then look no further than Lady C’s all-you-can-eat rib special. The ribs have been dubbed “a do not miss” St Maarten treat.
Another great St Maarten bargain is the buffet at Port de Plaisance. For about $10, you get a number of great choices, including two different kinds of barbecue. Be aware that prices do occasionally rise during prime Caribbean vacation season.
Be sure to check out some of these affordable and fun restaurants while staying on St Maarten. And if you uncover any other interesting and reasonably priced places, please let us know, as we’re always looking to make our guests’ stays on the island as enjoyable as possible.
When To Go To St Maarten
Visitors to the island’s 37 beaches will find year-round warmth, but they also will find the usual heavy rainfall later in the year when the Caribbean’s annual hurricane season takes place. The hurricane season officially runs from June through November, but the worst weather usually hits in the fall.
St. Maarten Temperatures
The average monthly high temperature is about 86 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Meteorological Service of Netherland Antilles and Aruba. The average monthly low temperature is about 77 degrees.
The peak highs are usually in the daytime while the lows take place at night. Like most Caribbean holiday destinations, the temperatures are usually predictable each month while average rainfall varies greatly. Those monthly high temperatures reach an average of 88 to 89 degrees from June through October.
Winter months are only slightly cooler. St Maarten weather in December through March has an average monthly high temperature of about 84 degrees. These average highs make the island one of the warmest in the Caribbean year-round, which is why it remains a popular place to visit even in winter.
The island receives an average of 3.4 inches of rain per month, but with distinct peaks and valleys during the year.
Rainfall averages about two inches per month from January through April, spikes to nearly four inches in May and drops in June and July. Rain picks up in August and exceeds five inches in September, four inches in October and more than five inches again in November.
In fact, St Maarten is unusual among Caribbean destinations for receiving more rainfall in November than in October or September.
Best Months to Go
St Maarten weather in March and April makes those months the most popular times to visit, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. The least popular month is September, followed by October.
Based on rainfall totals, the riskiest month to visit St Maarten is November followed by September and then October. The best months to visit with the lowest risk of heavy rainfall are March, April, June and July.
Unsure About The Difference Between St Maarten Or St Martin?
One of the more unique Caribbean islands is the tropical beauty Saint Martin. Or is it Sint Maarten? Well, it’s both – and that’s one of the things that makes this paradise so special.
The island is shared by two countries, France and The Netherlands – therefore there is Dutch Sint Maarten, and French Saint Martin.
Once on the island you can enjoy both cultures, crossing the borders freely without needing to show your papers as you drive from one side to the other.
What’s the Language?
While Dutch is the official language of Dutch Sint Maarten, English is widely understood and spoken. In French Saint Martin, French is the primary language; however, most individuals in the tourist industry do speak English. On your Saint Martin vacation (or Sint Martin vacation) Papiamento, Spanish and Creole are also spoken.
Ask almost anyone on the island how to speak a few phrases in his or her native tongue, and your request is certain to be met with enthusiasm! It is no coincidence that the license plates on island cars read, “The Friendly Island.” And, people everywhere appreciate knowing that others are taking an interest in their language and culture.
Where Should I Stay?
Vacationers who have never visited St. Martin/St. Maarten often wonder whether it is better to stay on one side or another. There is no right or wrong answer to this question; rather, it truly does depend on your preferences. This writer has stayed on the island several times, and on both sides – so here are a few observations that have appeared to be constants.
The French Side: The French side seems more European in style, and in some hotels there is only French television (which, in some cases is limited to only a few channels). While there are numerous hotels offering efficiency suites, you will not find timeshare rentals on the French side. In Orient Bay, especially, life seems a little more quiet (although night clubs are plentiful island wide!). The beach in Orient Bay is marvelous, and bathing suit tops are optional. Cushioned beach lounge chairs are common.
A St. Martin villa rental often overlooks the gorgeous scenery below – especially at Orient Beach. As you continue driving to the other side of the island, the town of Marigot (the capital of the French side) boasts wonderful shopping, and many acclaimed restaurants on the island are in Grand Case (between Orient Bay and Marigot).
The Dutch Side: Perhaps you’ve heard of the famous Saint Martin casinos. Ah! These are actually Sint Maarten casinos – The Dutch side is well known for its casino gambling (which is not found on the French side), and one can find marvelous and diverse cuisine here as well. Locals are delighted to point you in the direction of your favorite types of restaurants. This writer, who happens to favor Indian cuisine, was thrilled to be directed to a dockside open air Indian restaurant just across the street from Princess Juliana Airport (the largest and most frequently used airport on the island). As it turns out, this almost invisible restaurant is a favorite stop for celebrities and folks coming from their yachts.
Dutch St. Maarten timeshare rentals are plentiful – as are other beautiful condominium complexes. These resorts have all the comforts of home, are spotlessly clean, and usually have several pools, restaurants and lounges. Some have shops on site. Most have beaches specific to that particular resort complex. Some have casinos adjacent to or on the property. Television shows and channels appear to be more American in nature.
How do the Prices Compare?
The official currency in French Saint Martin is the Euro – which, at the time of this writing was fairly expensive against the American dollar. On tourist beaches – such as Orient Beach, there are numerous beach grills, bars, and shops – some of which give a more favorable exchange rate for cash transactions.
With goods being priced in Euros, items such as groceries may appear quite a bit costlier on the French side.
The official currency in Dutch Sint Maarten is Netherlands Antilles Florin (N.A.F.). Generally speaking, this writer has found groceries, shopping, and restaurants to be a bit less expensive on the Dutch side. However, since currency rates fluctuate, be sure to check the rates before you travel.
The capital of Dutch Sint Maarten is Philipsburg – an absolute haven for shoppers – and on days when cruise ships are docked, the town plays host to thousands of tourists who enjoy the shopping, dining, and gambling in this bustling and colorful town.
So – in a nutshell:French St. Martin: French language, Euro, smaller resorts (in general), nice beach at Orient Bay, pricier than the Dutch side. Well known restaurants. Appears to have limited TV, largely in French (at least where this writer stayed).
Dutch St. Maarten: English a little more widely spoken, Florin, larger resorts, fully equipped condos, smaller beaches, and in general a bit less expensive than the French side. Terrific restaurants and shopping. Casinos. Appears to have more TV choices, in English.
Hopefully this short article about some of the primary differences noticed between the French and Dutch sides of St. Martin/St. Maarten has been useful in helping you weigh your preferences. The purpose of this article was merely to offer some observations that this writer has noticed in visits to the island.
Please do an internet search for “St. Martin” or “St. Maarten,” and visit the numerous websites which offer in-depth and important information about the island – because there is a lot to know before you go (government, taxes, customs, business hours, driving, etc.).
It’s a small island – and you can drive around it in no time at all! So there is no reason why you shouldn’t get out there and enjoy ALL of what this wonderful and friendly island has to offer – regardless of where you stay!
In conclusion, our article was geared to tell you more about St Maarten rather than St Martin, now you have all the info and if you’re thinking about a vacation this year it’s well worth adding St Maarten to your list of places to consider. Whether you want to explore a historic place and soak up the culture or just relax on a beautiful beach and listen to the waves rolling in, St Maarten has a lot to offer.
Visit the Caribbean destinations category to learn more about best Caribbean islands to visit!