St. Martin - St. Maarten Travel Guide

Caribbean  #6 in Best Family Vacations in the Caribbean
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St. Martin - St. Maarten Area Map

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 shelters a marina where travelers can catch ferries to and from Anguilla, St. Barts or other Caribbean islands. Marigot is also where you'll find one of the island's most luxurious hotels, Belmond La Samanna.

Tourists are also attracted to the French side's Grand Case area, located north of Marigot. 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. You'll also find numerous luxury resorts in Philipsburg.

West of Philipsburg sits Simpson Bay, home to a handful of luxury resorts, casual 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; crowds tend to gather in the afternoons to watch the planes arrive.

The desirable Oyster Pond area sits northeast of Philipsburg and is home to Dawn Beach, as well as several resorts, including the island's Westin outpost.

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). For that matter, sunscreen and a hat should always be worn, since the island is located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator, receiving the full force of the sun. A good pair of sunglasses is also a good idea. 

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