Guide to St. Maarten / St. Martin
- Overview of St. Maarten / St. Martin
- What language is spoken at this port?
- What is the national currency?
- How do I get around?
- How can I stay in touch with home? Either via Email or phone?
- What are the must-sees? How long will it take me to get there and to explore?
- What are the must-eats?
- What are the must-drinks?
- Which are the best souvenirs? Where can I get them?
- What is the weather like in St. Maarten / St. Martin?
Saint Maarten (Dutch) and St. Martin (French) is a very unique island - it is divided and shared by two different countries, France and The Netherlands. With a land mass of just 37 square miles, this island is the smallest area in the world to be ruled by two countries. With over 300 restaurants on the island, St. Maarten/St. Martin is known as the “Gastronomic Capital of the Caribbean”, particularly in Grand Case on the French side.
Most cruise ships dock in Great Bay, at the A.C. Wathey Pier in Point Blanche. It is about a mile from the downtown Philipsburg area of the Dutch side of the island.
Marigot, the capital of the French side, has a dock that can accommodate a medium-sized cruise ship.
Check out this video. St. Maarten is beautiful even when you're leaving.↑ Back to Top
Dutch is the official language on St. Maarten, the Dutch side of the island. French is the official language on St. Martin, the French side of the island. English is spoken widely on the both sides of the island. You should have no trouble understanding the local people on either side.↑ Back to Top
The national currency is also split on this island. It is the Netherlands Antilles Florin (also known as the Guilder) on Dutch side and the Euro on the French side.
Do they accept US Dollars around the port?
US dollars are accepted widely across both sides of the island, as are major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard and Am Ex) and traveler’s checks.
Where can I get or exchange money?
There is no need to exchange money for your travels in St. Maarten/St. Martin, if you are using US dollars. However, if you feel more comfortable paying in the local currency, banks are the best place to make an exchange.
Visa, Mastercard and American Express are also widely accepted in the tourist regions. Remember to contact your bank and credit card companies to let them know you will be traveling, so that your cards will not be blocked by your card's fraud provention
- Banks closest to Port: If you do decide to exchange money, the closest bank to the port area is RBTT at #24 Cannegieter Street (see map) or Windward Islands Bank at Clem Labega Square (see map), both about a mile north of the port.
If you are on the French side, try Banque des Antilles Françaises on Rue de la République or Banque Française Commerciale on Rue de Hollande, both in Marigot.
- ATMs closest to Port: The banks noted above all have 24-hour ATMs. In addition, RBTT Bank has one at the end of Front Street in Philipsburg. Most ATMs accept cards in the Cirrus, MasterCard, Plus and Visa networks. ATMs on the Dutch side dispense either NAF or US Dollars. On the French side, ATMs dispense only Euros.
If you wish to walk from the dock area to Philipsburg, it will take you about 15 minutes as it is about 1 mile north of the port. As you should in any unfamiliar place, be extra cautious of cars, scooters, etc. driven by confused or distracted tourists.
The island is generally safe to walk around, but use extra caution at night and don’t walk alone, particularly after dark. There has been a lot of petty theft, especially from locked cars and/or directly from a beach. Don’t leave any valuables in your car (even in the trunk) or on the beach unattended. Don’t park at a beach or any area where there are no other cars; these are prime locations for criminals to prey on tourists and/or their cars.
Taxis are readily available at the pier area and are unmetered, so be sure to confirm the fare before stepping into the cab. Make sure you know which currency is being quoted as well. An additional 25% is added to the base fare from 8 pm to midnight; an additional 50% is added from midnight until 7 am.
There are water taxis at the dock area and run to both sides of downtown Philipsburg.
Vans holding 12 or 14 passengers run on both sides of the island, to and from the major destinations. You can wait at a designated bus stop or simply flag down a passing van with the correct destination noted in front.
A rental car is one of the best ways to get out and really explore the island. There are several rental companies, including AVIS operating in the Dock Maarten Parking area adjacent to the port. Driving is on the right-hand side, so most tourists are comfortable driving on the island. The roads are in fairly good condition, but be cautious of the many “sleeping policeman” (speed bumps) in residential areas. One fun rental option is a little two seat buggy-style car, which are a fun way to get around town.
As with most Caribbean islands, renting a scooter is for experienced riders only. Too many confused tourists, coupled with the condition of roads on the island, make navigating a scooter a bit dangerous. On the French side of the island, helmets are mandatory.
Experienced riders, who have a motorcycle license, can rent a Harley on the island (see map.) Be extra cautious of the winding roads and unpredictable stops of the locals – it is not a rare occurrence to see a car stop abruptly just to say “hi” to someone they know.↑ Back to Top
How can I call home? Are there call centers?
- Landsradio, in Philipsburg (see map), has a USADirect phone – you will be linked directly an operator who will accept collect or credit-card calls.
- The Mailbox is an Internet café in Simpson Bay (see map) that also has 4 telephone booths, in addition to the 16 high-speed computers.
Where are the Internet cafes?
- Bubble Tea (see map) and Pineapple Pete’s (see map) offers free Wi-Fi hotspots, which are both a little over 5 miles west of the port.
- Cyber Link (see map) in Phillipsburg and the Internet Corner (see map) in Marigot also have public internet access.
What are the cell phone rates?↑ Back to Top
- The America’s Cup Regatta is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to race on an America’s Cup Yacht. You will be on either Dennis Conner’s Stars & Stripes boat, the Canada II or the True North boat. Sailing from their home port of Bobby’s Marina in Great Bay (see map) you will experience a thrilling 3-hour race in a 12-meter regatta. You can choose to be one of the very active crew sailing the boat or a less-active timekeeper, etc. Be sure to wear soft-soled shoes, and be aware that there are no restrooms (heads) on the boat. The minimum age for the regatta is 12, unless the child is an experienced sailor.
- Grand Case (pronounced Cass), on the French side of the island, is a quaint little village that is world-renowned for its dining. It is just 11 miles north of the port (see map) and is chock full of wonderful restaurants to sample. Particularly fun is their Tuesday night Harmony Nights (January – March only), which is a street fair with live music, dancing, local hand-crafted items to purchase, and food and beverages to try.
- The Butterfly Farm (the Orleans area on the French side of the island, see map) is a family favorite on the island. There is a guided tour outlining the entire life cycle of a butterfly – if you visit in early morning, you might witness the “birth” of a butterfly firsthand. The owners advise guests to wear bright colors and a lot of perfume to attract the butterflies. There is a café with refreshments, as well as, a butterfly-themed gift shop.
- Fort Lewis, built in 1789, overlooks Marigot Harbor and was built to defend the cargo warehouses in town. Years later the fort was used to defend the city from the English, who often raided the warehouses. ↑ Back to Top
- Dawn Beach, which lies 5 miles north on eastern coast (see map), is almost a mile long and quite wide. Dawn Beach is a bit challenging to get to, but well worth the trip! Excellent snorkeling, a beach bar, and several restaurants to choose from make this an excellent stop on your tour of the island. Many new resorts are being built in what was once a very quiet area – note that all beaches on the island are public, so you can walk past all the new resorts and not intrude on a private beach area. Beach chairs and umbrellas are available for rent here.
- Maho Beach, located 8 miles west of the port on the southwestern coast of the Dutch side (see map), is one of the more popular resort areas. One of the main attractions of the beach area is its proximity to the airport – low-flying planes quite often seem low enough to touch from the beach. Note that the beach drops off quickly, so be cautious with small children or those who are not strong swimmers. Maho Bay has many restaurants, casinos and nightclubs that are very popular and can get quite crowded, especially at night.
- Mullet Bay Beach, located about 9 miles west of the port (see map), has excellent waves for surfing and there is plenty of water sports equipment for rent. The beach has plenty of shade, but if you cannot find any you can rent an umbrella and chair for some serious beach bumming. A small snack bar provides food and beverages as well.
- Orient Beach is a two-mile-long “clothing optional” beach located 7 miles north of the port (see map), which boasts one of the best snorkeling sites around. Just off the beach, Caye Verte (Green Cay) is an underwater marine reserve for snorkeling. The beach area in front of Club Orient (aka, Club “O”) is the only area where nude sunbathing is legal, but you will see it elsewhere on the beach as well, so do not be surprised to see a few “birthday suits” even in the beach-side restaurants.
- Harbour Point Village has about a dozen shops and some street vendor stalls. The main shopping on Front Street is about 1.5 miles northwest of the port, which is a 15-minute walk (or quick water taxi ride) away. The shops on Back Street, just one block north are often where the better bargains are found.
- The West Indies Mall houses higher-end boutiques and smaller souvenir shops in the waterfront area in Marigot. Note that most stores in Marigot are closed on Sundays and close daily between noon and 3 pm. Most upscale boutiques are found right on the waterfront almost 8 miles northwest of the port (see map.)
- At Simpson Bay, which is 6 miles west of the port (see map.)
- At Oyster Pond, which is approximately 5 miles north of the port (see map.)
- Aqua Mania Adventure Tours, based just 6 miles west of the port at the Pelican Marina in Simpson Bay (see map), offers tours to St. Barts, Anguilla, Statia, Saba, and Prickly Pear Island. You can also book a deep-sea, horseback riding or a lagoon cruise.
- Swagila Charters, operating out of BlueBubbles Watersports at Bobby’s Marina in Philippsburg just a mile north of the port (see map), offers fast, power catamaran snorkeling/diving excursions and/or shopping trips to Anguilla and St. Barts. They also have jet skis, parasailing, banana boats, and other water activities to enjoy. Other options, such as ATV, kayak, Rhino Rider (inflatable power boats), and Harley Davidson tours are also available.
Check out this video. Wonderful photo montage of Grand Case (a little long, but worth it.)
Check out this video that shows just how low to the beach these planes fly.
Note: Beaches on the French side allow topless sunbathing and some have entirely nude sections as well.
The island of St. Martin/St. Maarteen is entirely duty-free.
The Mullet Bay Golf Club was once home to a large resort that has been closed since 1995 due to devastation wrought by Hurricane Luis. This course located 9 miles west of the port (see map) was designed by Joseph Lee and is fairly challenging, featuring ocean views and lagoon holes. However, the course itself is not in the best condition, so you might want to save your greens fees for a different port.↑ Back to Top
Scuba divers can choose from over 30 dive sites with excellent visibility in the waters around the island. You will find coral reefs and 11 sunken ships (one is Tugboat Annie in Simpson Bay). Dive boat operators on St. Martin will also take you diving in the waters around St. Barth and Anguilla. There is wall diving at “The Moonhole”, a large crater in the waters off the east coast of the island.
The Scuba Shop has two Retail, Rental and Service stores on St. Maarten / St. Martin:
Check this video out. Scuba diving in the crystal clear waters of St. Maarten/ St. Martin↑ Back to Top
- Dutch Gouda is a popular buy in supermarkets in Philipsburg. Make sure to check that the cheese is completely sealed for freshness and saftey.
- Stuffed Antillean Crab is a specialty at Captain Oliver’s in the Oyster Pond area of the island, right near the border between the two sides (see map.) The restaurant has a glass floor, and is above an aquarium filled with marine life – sharks, turtles, tarpon, and a lobster tank.
Old Man Guavaberry Rum, which is produced on the island, is a popular ingredient in cocktails on the island. Try a Guavaberry colada or a drink called “Dances with Wenches”, which is a combination of the rum with lemon or lime juice and cranberry juice, garnished with mint leaves.
Visit their Emporium on Front Street in Philippsburg to sample some of their products, which include Old Oranjestad Orange & Guavaberry Rum Liqueur and Sint Maarten Vaanilla Rum Liqueur.↑ Back to Top
The Guavaberry Rum Liqueur noted under “Must Drink” is an excellent, and delicious, reminder of your trip. It was available for purchase on-line for a time, but now is available only on the island. Fans of the brand offer “rewards” for people to bring them home a bottle.
Conveniently located in several locations on the island, including at the Harbor Village Cruise Ship mall, the Lord & Hunter Shipwreck Shops offers a line of Antilles Spice Clipper products including hot sauce, cookies, candy, and other unique items.
A special opportunity in Grand Case is both fun and gives you a wonderful and unique souvenir of your visit. Tijon Perfumery, 1 L'Esperance Road near the airport (see map), across from Spiga Restaurant, offers classes in perfume making as well as gift items for purchase. Classes range from 30 minutes to 3 hours depending on the complexity. After attending the class and creating your own scent, you take home a bottle of your personal scent and a t-shirt.
Available for purchase are candles, soaps, jewelry, clothing, glassware, and more.↑ Back to Top