Caribbean Beat Magazine

Not just a shoppers’ paradise

Visit two countries and cultures for the price of one. On the one side there is Dutch St Maarten, on the other French St Martin. Fortunately, you don't have to choose. Judy Diptee is your guide

  • Photograph by Sean Drakes/ Blue Mango

Discover Sint Maarten and Saint Martin

Where else in the world can you get two countries and cultures for the price of one? Where you can cross a sovereign border without a passport or, if you wish, park on one side of that border and walk to a restaurant on the other? In St Maarten of course, the smallest country in the world ruled by separate powers, the French and the Dutch, which have co-existed harmoniously for the past 350 years.

As you set foot on the island, you’re overwhelmed by the many choices it has to offer. Surrender to all its influences, and you are guaranteed to have one of the most memorable holidays of your life. From simple souvenirs to exquisite jewellery, quiet secluded beaches to hectic night life.

You can wake up on the Dutch side, opt for an eye-popping duty-free shopping extravaganza through the streets of Philipsburg, the capital, where there are over 70 jewellery and electronic stores, fashion boutiques, crystal and china shops. If the assortment of exquisite gems leaves you exhausted, then head for the beach to cool off with the popular island drink made from the guavaberry.

It’s impossible to make a wrong choice among the 37 breathtaking beaches along the island’s 37-mile circumference. The longest beach starts at La Samanna Hotel and offers white sand with wild romantic scenery. You can curl up for a snooze or go snorkelling, fishing, and scuba diving at any of the 40 recognised dive sites. Or you can go sailing, parasailing, windsurfing, kayaking.

Orient Bay, referred to as the “little Riviera” of the Caribbean, is the happening beach. It is the place to see or be seen — with or without clothing! It never sleeps, and  changes from daytime water sports activity to a vibrant, pulsating entertainment nightspot. And whatever you do, keep your eyes open and be alert, for there’s no telling which celebrity you may rub shoulders with.

Feeling a little more curious? Then head for any of the several museums or art galleries, including a Rum and Plantation museum. Or witness a butterfly in all stages of its development at the Butterfly Farm, or visit the Parrot Jungle, with 120 species in a wonderful tropical setting at Cupecoy.

Any day in St Maarten could be your lucky day. Elegant casinos along Front Street in Philipsburg offer blackjack, poker, baccarat, slots, roulette and craps.

The northern, French section of the island (St Martin) has some of the best restaurants you could find anywhere, many of them in the charming capital, Marigot. Give yourself up each night to this gastronomic paradise. Whatever you feel like eating, the island’s got it. Complement your choice of dinner with an unending list of the finest wines and liquors from the world over.

And, if you happen to be in St Maarten on New Year’s Eve, don’t be shy about dropping by the liquor shops to sip and enjoy samples of their champagnes. It is expected of you! And later, with your special bottle of bubbly secured, take a walk along the Great Bay Beach or any of the more popular beaches where there is always a magnificent fireworks display to bring in the New Year. There are few other places better to see the dawn of a New Year than on a beach in St Maarten.

For those who wish additional adventure, hop on to one of the ferries or a take a short plane ride to the neighbouring islands of Anguilla with its British charms, St Barths with its attractive French style, Saba for its scuba diving, or have a restful day in St Eustatius, St Kitts or Nevis. But St Maarten is one Caribbean island to which you are guaranteed to return. Over and over again!