St. Martin - St. Maarten Neighborhoods & Towns
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).