The Island of St Martin, in the Lesser Antilles Archipelago, is a tropical dreamland with a mixture of three distinct cultures. This 87km2 island in the Eastern Caribbean consists of the French St Martin and the Dutch autonomous region of Sint Maarten. Tourists have the choice between lots of affordable St Martin vacation home rentals on both sides of the island. Here are a few essentials to help you plan the perfect getaway.
Some Facts About St Martin:
Few people know that the St Martin-St Maarten is the smallest shared island in the world. The Treaty of Concordia in 1648 is an agreement between the French and Dutch governments to abolish borders and allow free trade between both administrative regions. According to a legend, the border was drawn after two runners, one from each nation ran in opposite directions around the island. The border became the point where they met.
The Island of St Martin also shares a coastline with the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Decent waves from the Atlantic on the eastern side is a good spot for surfers. Shallow and gentle water along the Caribbean Sea is better for snorkelling.
Apart from having 37 beaches, some having clothing-optional rules, a mountain range and extinct volcano sit in the centre. Smaller, rural villages climb up the mountains, to give a less touristy and more authentic feel to the island. Visitors have the choice of relaxing on the sand or hiking the trails, which make the Island of St Martin a diverse travel destination.
Practical Things to Know:
The Island of St Martin has two airports: Princess Juliana International Airport and Grand Case Airport. The first is on the Dutch St Maarten and is the major hub for international flights. Passengers from North America, Europe, and South America arrive here. Daily flights from Paris and Amsterdam also use this airport. The smaller Grand Case Airport on French St Martin caters for flights between nearby islands. Passing from the Dutch to French sides of St Martin is hassle-free because of the open borders.
On St Maarten, the official currency is the Antillean Guilder, which is pegged 1:1 with the US Dollar. French St Martin uses the Euro. However, most businesses and all taxis accept US Dollars.
Credit cards are widely accepted and ATM machines are around the island. On occasions, the credit card machines do fail. This means you need to have a small amount of cash in case this happens. Credit card receipts may also contain all the digits rather than partially blocking some of the numbers out. Be aware and dispose of receipts carefully.
You should also know that, in accordance with Dutch law, foreigners need to carry a copy of their passport with them at all times. This is rarely checked and somewhat impractical at times, but it is the law and should be respected whenever possible.
When to Visit:
Peak season on the Friendly Island is in the North American winter and summer holidays. The busiest times are between December and April, which is the dry season and during July and August corresponding to the summer holidays. The Heineken Regatta also sees a spike in tourism and corresponding price hikes in March.
If you’re looking to escape the crowds and snap up a bargain holiday, visit during the low season. Fewer tourists visit in the rainy season from May to November (apart from the school summer holidays). Even fewer come when it’s Hurricane season from July to October. The low season has reduced prices and fewer cruise ships whilst still having sunny weather despite being the rainy season. However, expect tours and ferry services to be limited.
The Island of St Martin is tiny measuring just 13 kilometres north to south and 15 kilometres east to west. This makes it easy to get around independently. Tourists will often rent a car for the first few days of their trip to explore the main sights. Renting is affordable and several companies offer cars at Princess Juliana International Airport.
Public transport is reliable and inexpensive. But, relying on it for sightseeing may be an inconvenience. Buses tend to support locals in their daily activities, which isn’t necessarily near the attractions. Feel free to ride the bus for the experience, but it won’t take you directly to where you want to go. Taxis also line the streets and rarely use a meter. Prices are steep and you should always negotiate the fare before getting inside.
Some tourists rent a motorbike or bicycle. Motorbikes offer a great, carefree way of experiencing and enjoying the island. Nothing is quite like cruising along deserted coastal roads with the cool air from the trade winds blowing in your face. Cycling is another way to combine staying active and sightseeing. Philipsburg, the capital of St Maarten and Marigot, the capital of St Martin, are just 9 kilometres away.
Getting around on foot is also a convenient way to explore the island as most attractions are within walking distance of each other. Drive to the part of the island you’re going to explore, park up, and use your feet. Parking is limited in many parts of the island too. Visitors will typically rent a car for the first few days and then hang out on the beach after seeing the attractions.
Essential Things to Remember:
St Martin makes a fulfilling destination in the Eastern Caribbean offering a special blend of French and Dutch cultures. Now that you know the essentials, get online and plan your perfect holiday.