Region & Time Zone: Atlantic Time Zone, UTC/ GMT -04:00
Passport Required: Yes to enter, but not to cross between the French and Dutch sides
Languages Spoken: English, Dutch, French
Currency: Netherlands Antilles florin (NAf), Euro, and U.S. Dollar is widely accepted
St. Maarten -- 110-120 Volts 60 Hz, North American plug
St. Martin -- 220-250 Volts at 60 Hz, Power Converter and plug adaptor needed
A little background
As the smallest island in the world to be shared by two sovereign nations, Saint Martin provides a unique opportunity to experience two different cultures in just one trip. The island is home to Sint Maarten (Dutch) in the south and Saint Martin (French) in the north. Don't be fooled by the similar names because the two sides of the island are vastly different in terms of what they are known for. The Dutch side is famous for its party atmosphere and great nightlife. The French side is more quiet and laid-back, and as a result many of the luxury resorts are located here. Perhaps more importantly, the French side also encompasses secluded, almost deserted pristine beaches.
Anse Marcel Beach
Sitting at the Northern part of the island, Anse Marcel is a great, quiet beach suitable for families. The beautiful cove is protected by hills on each side, with soft sand stretching along the narrow beach. The shallow and calm water makes Anse Marcel Beach a great spot for swimmers of all ages and abilities. It is also an ideal place for snorkeling, diving, and boat tours. If you climb up the hills from either end of the cove, you will be rewarded with a panoramic view of Anguilla Channel.
Just as its name suggests, Long Bay is the longest stretch of white sand beach on the island. Rested along the southwestern edge of French St. Martin, it is also one of the most uncrowded beaches. Visitors can enjoy the natural charm of Long Bay without the hustles and bustle of other major beaches. Its reef-protected waters are ideal for snorkeling, but beware the undertow can be strong sometimes.
Built in 1789 as a military facility to defend the harbor warehouses in Marigot, Fort Louis has been destroyed and restored several times. Still, the historical landmark attracts visitors from afar to learn about the battles against the Dutch and the English. At the edge of the plateau, rusty cannons are still in place, demonstrating the important role of Fort Louis in protecting the coast against foreign intruders. The climb up to the summit can be steep, but once there, visitors can enjoy a spectacular coastal view over Marigot, Simpson Bay, Anguilla, the Lowlands, and Nettle Bay.
While you may imagine that most of the activities offered on the island are centered on water sports and the beaches, there are actually many exciting options for active travelers. The zip line canopy tour includes an elaborate traverse course through the treetops as well as incredible view over the tropical forests. Visitors can also experience the thrills walking through suspended bridges and canopy walks as they explore the forests.
Philipsburg has been a bustling center of international trade for St. Maarten since it was founded in 1763. A stroll through the town is the easiest way to feel its charm. Philipsburg also has a great mix of culture and history. One of the most prominent landmarks is the courthouse, an over 200-year-old white wooden structure topped with a cupola. If you want to learn more about the history of St. Maarten, we recommend you to visit the Simartin Museum that showcases local history and artifacts.
If you are an aviation fan just as we are, you must not miss Maho Beach (on the Dutch side), where you can feel the blasts from approaching airplanes. Because of the Princess Juliana International Airport's unique geography, the runway is shorter than at most airports, meaning pilots have to touch down as close to the beginning of the runway as possible. To achieve this, they fly as low over the beach as possible, resulting in spectacular pictures and views of inbound airplanes. Some bars on the beach even post the day's flight schedules. It is surely the best place to watch the planes, but it doesn't mean that you can't enjoy the white sand and warm water on the beach.