A trip to this Caribbean island provides a two-for-one experience as it is home to two nations, one French and one Dutch. The border separating Dutch St. Maarten and French St. Martin is open and may be freely crossed. It may be the most peaceful border situation in the world. The island was originally partitioned by the French and the Dutch in 1648 when, according to legend, the two groups held a contest in which each would start walking west from Oysterpond on the east coast, and where they met would be the dividing line across the island. The French walked along the northern part of the island, while the Dutch walked along its southern edge. It is said that the French fortified themselves with wine, while the Dutch chose gin. As the Dutch suffered some ill effects from the gin, the French were able to cover a greater distance to claim a larger portion. In reality, the French had a large naval presence just offshore and won concessions from the Dutch through the threat of force. The border was changed 16 times over the years until 1815 when the Treaty of Paris set the boundaries for good.
There are differences between the island’s two sides. On the Dutch side, English is the predominant language, while on the French side, it is French. The currency used on the Dutch side is Guilders and sometimes US dollars, while the French side chiefly uses the Euro. Marigot is the capital of the French side. Philipsburg is the capital of the Dutch side. Each side has its own airport.
That said, the island offers many enjoyable experiences on both sides.
7 things to do and see on St. Maarten
The dual nature of the island offers a wide variety of places to see and unique experiences to enjoy. In addition to the island’s spectacular beaches, the island offers opportunities for hiking and other adventure activities, in addition to duty-free shopping. Seven of the best things to do are listed below.
1. Visit Orient Bay (St. Martin)
This beach was damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017, but it is still worth a visit for its clear water and fluffy white sands. Vendors on the beach offer food and beverages, and Club Orient, a popular hotel spot, operates several concessions. This is a free beach, with umbrella and beach-chair rentals available.
2. Cupecoy Beach (St. Maarten)
This beach is located on the southwest tip of the island. It is actually three beaches that are surrounded by limestone cliffs. It is the last beach on the island’s Dutch side. Visitors praise the spectacular sunsets with views of Saba in the distance. There are beach cars offering cold beers to make walks on the sand especially enjoyable. This is an LGBT-friendly beach. It is free, but fees are required for parking in the lots at the adjacent beach clubs.
3. Explore Loterie Farm (St. Martin)
At the farm, visitors can relax in a pool cabana or take a zip line through the trees on its 135 acres of forest and farmlands. Located at the foot of Pic du Paradis, the farm impresses visitors with its amenities and service. The Hidden Forest Café received some hurricane damage but is serving lunch and snacks by the pool while it rebuilds. It is open Tuesday through /Sundays and is popular with cruise ship passengers as it is just 30 minutes from the terminal.
4. Relax at Mullet Bay Beach (St. Maarten)
This relaxing beach offers an alternative to the noise and crowds of Orient Bay. It offers crystal clear waters and its waves are perfect for surfers. As it is close to the cruise ship terminal, it can be crowded when the ships are docked. Umbrella and chair rentals are available.
5. Go Plane Spotting (St. Maarten)
The Julianna International Airport on the Dutch side near Maho Beach is world-famous for its spectacular, low-altitude runway landings. The beach is perfect for watching the plane’s come in, and it is the only place in the world where thrill-seekers can stand about 100 feet or less under the direct path of a landing aircraft. The planes can be seen from hundreds of miles away, and the experience of watching them become larger and larger as they approach and to finally hear the roar as they pass overhead is a one-of-a-kind experience.
6. Shop on Front Street (St. Maarten)
This location is one of the best for shoppers because of its duty-free status. The best bargains are found in jewelry, china, and electronics. Especially recommended is the Guavaberry Emporium and its popular local liqueur. his is a crowded area, especially when the cruise ships dock, but window-shopping is always a pleasure here, and shoppers can take a break by visiting Great Bay for a quick swim nearby.
7. Enjoy the Views from Pic du Paradis (St. Martin)
Accessible by taxi, the top of Pic du Paradis, a mountain reaching 1,482 feet above sea level, offers breathtaking views of the entire island, as well as Anguilla, Saba, and St. Eustatius. The mountain is also known as Paradise Peak and is especially popular with visitors who want to hike into the heights for its panoramic views. As the peak is accessible by both taxes/cars and by hiking, it offers an excellent experience for all types of travelers.
5 Foods to Try in St. Martin / St. Maarten
The cuisine of St. Martin has been influenced by many cultures over the centuries, with French and Dutch influences especially notable. The town of Grand Case on the French side is known as the “gastronomic capital of the Caribbean” and is home to some of the best chefs in the region. The main street of Grand Case is lined with restaurants featuring foods illustrating how traditional French cuisine combines with Italian and Indian flavors. European flavors combined with the Caribbean’s traditional tropical flavors to make dining here a great pleasure. St. Martin offers excellent French pastries and the barbeque and stuff crab from one of the numerous “lolos,” inexpensive open-air food stands found on the beach, are not to be missed. Try the following foods when visiting the island.
1. Chicken Locri in St. Martin
This is the national dish of St. Martin, and it is one of the simplest. It consists of rice and chicken made in a single pot so that all the flavors mix to provide this special dish that has its roots in Dutch cuisine. Ingredients include boneless chicken, tomatoes, garlic, brown sugar, thyme, celery, onions, cabbage and hot sauce. A vegetarian version is also popular.
2. Johnny Cake in St. Martin
A staple for any food lover on St. Martin. The Johnny Cake, sometimes known as the Journey Cake, is made of corn and is slightly sweet and fried. It can be served as a side dish with any meal, or it can be used as a quick snack. The cakes are eaten and served in ways similar to the way French fried potatoes are eaten in the US.
3. Spare Ribs in St. Maarten
One of the most popular dishes on the Dutch side of the island. These pork ribs are soaked in lime and cider vinegar and then marinated in barbeque sauce with onions, garlic, and more lime juice. There are many variations on this basic recipe, depending on the location and the cook
4. Conch and Dumplings in St. Maarten
A true island delicacy. This dish is often linked to the celebration of Carnival as it occurs on the Dutch side of the island. The conch is pressure-cooked, and the savory dumplings make a perfect accompaniment. The ingredients mix to provide a spicy and flavorful meal. Plenty of conch sauce is recommended for the most authentic version.
5. Guavaberry Liqueur
This liqueur is the national liqueur of both the Dutch and French sides of the island. It is served in nearly all restaurants, which each have their own cocktails made with the liqueur. as the guavaberries grow abundantly in the region.