Sint Maarten - The Dutch Side
Independent since the 10th of October 2010 (10/10/10), but still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the 'Dutch Side' occupies about one third of the island's landmass. This part always has been led by politicians with a strong pro-business philosophy, turning St. Maarten into the Caribbean's most open economy. With a booming economy and relatively tolerant immigration policies arrived both the blessings and the problems of development; without dwelling too deeply into these topics (we might elsewhere on this website), it was the Dutch side which put the island on the map as a major player in the Caribbean tourism landscape.
You'll find Sint Maarten somewhat Americanized, with fast food places and other conveniences of civilization. Yet it is the combination of the Dutch and French side which turn our island into such a fantastically exciting vacation spot.
Saint Martin - The French Side
The 'French Side' is neither an independent state, nor a colony; it just is... France. This is a fully privileged European Union territory and follows the big country's rules and laws more or less strictly, a bit depending on the administrators send from Paris.
The fact that Marigot, the capital, is not a cruise ship port preserved the small-town feel of a charming French-Caribbean settlement.
The French side is home to many of the must-see spots on the island: there is Pic Paradis, the tallest mountain with Loterie Farm, a private nature reserve with the last remaining rain-forest. Orient Beach is without a doubt the number one beach, and the gourmet village of Grand Case is unique in the world with its number of top-class dining places.
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The French Lowlands or Terres Basses are a neighborhood of million-dollar estates, build on the rolling hills of St. Martin's westernmost region. There is only one resort in this exclusive area, but it happens to be the island's 5-star flagship La Samanna.
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The quaint Gallic town of Marigot is the administrative center of French St. Martin. Both the French/European and Caribbean cultures are represented here and create that unique blend of the French Caribbean, with the castle of Fort Louis overlooking town and creating a permanent sense of history.
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Only a few years back, the urbanity of Cole Bay would not have been given space in any publication geared towards island visitors. The area had an overwhelmingly industrial flavor, with ware houses and machine shops lining ungroomed alleys and with blocks of untidy housing for transient workers. The few presentable neighborhoods were only of interest to local residents and didn't provide short-term, vacation-rental type accommodations at the time.
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There is a hidden village in the mountainous center of the island, not known to many visitors: Colombier. The narrow road leading to the settlement is opening up in green pastures, with cattle grassing, and one wonders if this is still St. Martin. The region is tropical lush, because Pic Paradise is diverting more rain and moisture to this valley than any other spot on the island. No, there is not much to do in Colombier for the casual visitor, but the little Creole village and the local flora is so different from the rest of the island that its worth the 10-minute detour.
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Orient Beach is St. Martin's flagship beach and is often referred to as the "French Riviera of the Caribbean". This expansive one mile beach is home to numerous beach bar/restaurants, who offer various menus, from formal French to pizzas, burgers and local fare. No matter what the cuisine, its party time all the way, from one end of the beach to the other. Bikini Beach, Coco Beach, Kakao Beach, Wakiki Beach and Kontiki Beach are the most established beach restaurants with great food, great service and even greater ambiance.
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Only thirty six square miles in size, but with an amazing variety in landscapes: that's St. Maarten-St. Martin! From the secluded, white sand beaches of the French Lowlands (Basses Terres) to the lush, mountainous center of the island around Pic Paradis and Loterie Farm, from Simpson Bay Lagoon as a large inland body of water to beautiful Oyster Pond, the smaller lagoon on the east coast - our island is a collage of the best the Caribbean has to offer.
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Close to the International Airport, the Maho area's most famous attraction is famous Sunset Bar and Grill. Nowhere else in the world are you able to witness take-off and landing of Jumbo-jets as closely as here, all while sipping on a tropical cocktail. The photos published here have not been “photo-shopped”, but give a precise impression. No wonder that aviation fans from around the world rate St. Maarten's airport, Sunset Bar and Grill and the small strip of Maho Beach as their number one “plane spotting” destination!
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Philipsburg, the capital of Dutch St. Maarten, fills a narrow stretch of land between Great Bay and the Great Salt Pond. Founded in 1763 by John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch navy, it soon became a bustling center of international trade. Today it is as bustling as ever, with lively shopping streets, cafes, and hotels.
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The area from Mullet Bay to Cupecoy Beach (which is also the border to the French side) has become one of the most attractive areas of the Dutch side. Mullet Bay itself is the quintessential Caribbean beach, popular with both visitors and island residents and runs along the island's only 18-hole golf course.
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It's no false hype: Grand Case IS the culinary capital of the Caribbean! This charming village on the northern coast of St. Martin is home to an amazing number of restaurants, ranging from basic local eateries to temples of 'Haute Cuisine' of almost every nationality.
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The tourism district of Baie Nettle or Nettle Bay has the unique distinction of having ocean and lagoon beaches. Driving towards Marigot, the hotels and condominium buildings to the right all have wonderful lagoon waterfront. With perfect water quality in this area, the Lagoon is well suited for water-sports and swimming. As there is no surf and the water is shallow for a long way, Nettle Bay's lagoon-side is a safe spot for children to enjoy the water.
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On the island's eastern coast is the location of a second lagoon: Oyster Pond. Though much smaller than Simpson Bay Lagoon, Oyster Pond is at the center of one of the island's most desirable neighborhoods. The pond is home to Captain Oliver's Marina, home to some yacht charter companies. Boats can leave Oyster Pond through a narrow channel through a coral reef.
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Bring your camera! As you drive over the mountain from French Cul de Sac to Anse Marcel, breathtaking panoramic views enable even the most amateur photographer to appear the expert. Nestled between the northern peaks of St. Martin, this secluded beach front valley is home to a 5 star hotel and Marina.