The caribbean island of St Maarten is part of the Dutch Antilles group. The island is actually divided into two countries – the southern half is Sint Maarten and is Dutch, the northern half is known as Saint Martin and is French. Although they use different currencies, speak different languages and have different flags, the two halves co-exist in complete harmony and as a day visitor, the cruise ship passenger probably won’t be very aware of the split.
Most cruise ships call at Philipsburg, the main town for St Maarten. The port is a little way from the town, so you’ll need to get a taxi to travel by road, or a water taxi across the bay. You can buy a single or return ticket and are given a coloured wrist band as your ticket – less chance of losing it! The colour determines which company you travel with, but both are the same price.
What to do on the island:
Shopping! Philipsburg has fabulous duty free shopping on the two main streets – Front St & Back Street. It’s reputed to be particularly good for electronics & there are plenty of opportunities for you to practice your haggling skills. If you want to check prices at home, there is free wifi in Macdonalds – so for the price of a coffee, you can sit in there and check out where to start with the bargaining! Also look out for Saba Lace – made in the traditional way on the Island of Saba, 30 miles south of St Maarten.
Walking & Looking: This is a very pretty town and make sure that you take time to look down the side streets that connect the two main streets. We recommend that you take the water taxi option from the port to the town as the view as you approach is just lovely. There is plenty of West Indian architecture to admire, including the courthouse.
Simartin Museum is found on Front Street and gives a good overview of the development of the island including information on the Arawak indians who were the original inhabitants.
Savvy Review: We love Philipsburg and unashamedly devote ourselves to shopping when we’re here. The locals are very friendly, have a good sense of humour and the ones that we talked to in the camera shops seemed to really know their stuff and be happy to answer all our questions. It’s also such a lovely town – we end up taking loads of photos because it is so unbelievably pretty!
Plane Spotting: As planes approach the Princess Julianna airport, they come in very low over the Maho beach – the airstrip is just on the other side of the beach. You’ve probably seen photos or videos of this, but we saw one land as our ship sailed away from the port – it was an amazing site!
Marigot, St Martin : Marigot is the capital of the French side of the island. It is a pretty port, filled with little boutiques, patiserries and cafes – very french and very chic. Taxis are available from the port – $9 each for a one way trip if you are a party of 1 or 2; for parties of 3-5 it drops to $8 each, and when there are 6 or more, it drops to $7 each.
Orient Beach: One of the more famous beaches. It’s one mile long, is advertised as ‘French Riviera of the Caribbean’ and famously has one end designated as a nudist beach or ‘clothing optional’ section. Again, this can be reached by taxi from the port – $9 each for a party of 1 or 2, $7 each for 3-5 of you or $6 each for groups of 6 or more.