St. Martin - St. Maarten Travel Guide
If you associate the Caribbean with a laid-back atmosphere, a tranquil beach and a quiet sunset, then you haven't been to feisty St. Martin and St. Maarten. What's the best part of visiting this dual-governed island? You can get a taste of two distinct, lively cultures all for the price of one vacation. This 37-square-mile dot is increasingly popular with travelers who like to eat well, party hard and duty-free shop in between ... continue»
- #1 Belmond La Samanna
- #2 Hotel Riu Palace St. Martin
- #3 The Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa, St. Maarten
The best time to visit St. Martin and St. Maarten is May and June or between November and mid December. These select weeks are times when hotels advertise their best rates. The island's weather is pleasant year-round, but these are times when rain showers are less likely. Summer and early fall are not good for a vacation; many hotels close in this off-season and there's a chance of hurricanes. Also avoid visiting in winter if you can. That's when St. Martin and St. Maarten milks its wealthy vacationers.Best Times to Visit St. Martin - St. Maarten»
St. Martin - St. Maarten Neighborhoods
You can travel freely between the two sides of this 37-square-mile island. In fact, the only indication that you've crossed from lively St. Maarten in the south to sleepy St. Martin up north is the "Bienvenue Partie Française" sign at the international border.
The French side is governed from the island of Guadeloupe, but it also has direct representation in Paris. The capital and main city of Marigot is described as having a very European feel, with numerous upscale shopping and dining options. Located on the island's central west coast, Marigot has a marina where travelers can catch ferries to and from Anguilla, St. Barths or other Caribbean islands.
Tourists are also attracted to the French side's Grand Case area, located north of Marigot. Crowned the "dining capital of the Caribbean," by TripAdvisor and others, Grand Case is the second-largest town on the French side. In addition to gourmet dining, Grand Case is also home to a lively art scene.
The Dutch side of St. Maarten is more developed for tourism. Its capital, Philipsburg, is located on a narrow strip of land that wraps around Great Bay, a popular stop for cruise ships. Philipsburg is home to several historic Dutch forts, including Fort Amsterdam, which sits on the peninsula separating Great Bay from Little Bay, and was the first Dutch fort in the Caribbean.
West of Philipsburg sits Simpson Bay, home to numerous luxury resorts, restaurants and St. Maarten's main marina. Nearby, Maho Bay's beachside restaurants, casinos, bars and clubs also draw in crowds. Maho is also located alarmingly close to the runway of Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM); crowds tend to gather in the afternoons to watch the planes arrive.
Crime reports have increased as St. Martin and St. Maarten have become more popular Caribbean vacation spots, but writers assure that the dual-nation island is just as safe as other island getaways. Crowds are denser in St. Maarten, however, so travelers should exercise common sense when moving around the tourist areas; leave your valuables at home, and only carry small bills.
St. Martin and St. Maarten's visitors should also be mindful of the jet blast when watching the planes take off and land at Maho Bay. Blasts of sand can be powerful depending on where you're standing, and spectators should prepare by bringing a brimmed hat and umbrella, in addition to plenty of sunscreen (the strong winds can make it hard to determine when you're sunburned).
The best way to get around St. Martin and St. Maarten is in a rental car. But really, outside of walking, just about any means of navigating between the French and Dutch sides of the island is manageable. Having a car will allow you more mobility and you'll find reasonable rental rates. Agencies are clustered on the outskirts of Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM), located in St. Maarten. Unfortunately, traffic can be pretty heinous on both sides. The island buses also cater to tourists and are fairly cheap to ride. If you don't like the idea of waiting on a bus, consider splurging on a taxi. And if you're feeling adventurous you might want to use a scooter; there's nothing like feeling the sea breeze in your hair -- ahem, helmet.Getting Around St. Martin - St. Maarten»