Nestled in the turquoise waters of the northeast Caribbean, the island of St Martin or St Maarten is famous for offering beautiful natural landscapes, relaxed tropical living, and an interesting cultural heritage. Nicknamed The Friendly Island for its inviting atmosphere and warm people, St. Martin is the smallest island in the world that exists divided between two different countries. Made up of the Collectivité de Saint-Martin in the north of the island and the Dutch constituency of Sint Maarten in the south, a visit to this isle combines a Caribbean retreat with an intriguing geographical insight.
To help you along with planning your tropical adventure, we’ve assembled some of our key tips for a trip to St. Martin. Make the most of your vacation in the Caribbean with our advice on must-see destinations, the best beaches, and practical details.
Crystal waters and tropical living
Combining a relaxed, Caribbean tempo with an exotic vibe and the peace of mind that comes with a safe environment, St Martin provides the ultimate vacation opportunity. With its lush green and turquoise landscape, you’ll find yourself immediately transported into a peaceful haven from the stresses of modern life. Water sports, ecotourism, world-class duty-free shopping and vibrant nightlife all await travellers. Equally, if all you wish to do is simply bask upon one of the island’s white sandy beaches, you’re in for a blissful treat.
One of the main reasons that countless tourists flock to St. Martin year after year is its plethora of beautiful beaches, with an impressive range of wide bays down to tiny secluded coves on offer. For such a small island (37 square miles), St. Martin has a total of 37 beaches (indeed, one beach for every square mile). St. Martin is also the leading Caribbean destination for nudists, with Orient Beach the top pick for those who prefer to bare all. A year-round tropical climate ensures that the island is always a safe choice for those seeking the ultimate beach side retreat.
Island of riches
Although many will be happy to while away the heat of the day lounging on the shore, there are also many options on offer for those seeking to spice up their holiday. The Caribbean is famed for its snorkelling opportunities and other watersports, and St. Martin is no exception. Discover surfing, wakeboarding, jet skiing, kayaking, sailing and deep-sea fishing amongst others, and make the most of the exquisite sun and sea. For those preferring to remain on dry land, the island also offers a variety of ways to discover its natural riches of flora and fauna, with hiking, horse riding, bike touring and quad biking all available. St. Martin has a network of beautiful landscapes, historic sites and traditional cultures that are well worth discovering, and is a perfect option for anyone with a slightly adventurous edge. There are also many opportunities to enjoy the velvety nighttime air, as St. Martin is famed as one of the best Caribbean islands for nightlife hotspots.
A vacation without borders
Although the island’s division into two different constituencies is an interesting geographical detail, this partition can also worry travellers who are concerned that they might not be able to travel from one-half to another without extensive border control. However, there is a total absence of passport control between the two sides, with the only indication of the border taking the form of a road sign. Tourists are free to cross from one side to another as they please.
While Euros are the preferred currency on the French side, the Netherlands Antillean Guilder or Florin are the standard in Sint Maarten. Although American dollars are accepted island-wide, it is worth noting that certain places can use unfavourable exchange rates when dealing in this currency.
When it comes to electrical outlets, it is worth coming prepared with power connectors; while the Dutch side follows US technical standards, the French part uses European regulations. Alternatively, it is possible to buy electrical adaptors once you are on the island (or avoid doing so altogether by switching off, forgetting the technology, and fully immersing yourself in the beautiful surroundings!).
As St. Martin enjoys a completely duty-free status with no customs duties, VAT or other indirect taxes, its shopping opportunities are a continual source of attraction to holidaymakers. With very loose rules on importing assisting the island’s availability of luxury goods, shoppers are guaranteed great deals on cosmetics, liquor, cigars, and electronics. St. Martin’s jewelry shops are also among the best in the world.
No visit to St Martin is complete without stopping at a “lolo,” which is a roadside food shack that specializes in barbecue and island dishes. They’re all over the island, but you will probably find it easiest to discover one on the main boulevard in Grand Case.
While cabs and public transit are both options available to those seeking to get about on the island, the very best way to explore is by renting a car. Drive slowly (and carefully! – Caribbean driving standards are famously relaxed -) and take in the sights, sounds and laid-back rhythm of this sun-kissed paradise.
St. Martin is strikingly multicultural, with over 120 nationalities present in this melting pot of different countries. As is generally the case worldwide, English speakers will find themselves catered for, as both St. Martin and Sint Maarten are proudly bilingual alongside their own French and Dutch language traditions. Spanish, Creole and Papiamento are also widely present on both sides of the island.
When it comes to figuring out more precisely where to stay, where to eat, where to shop, what beaches to explore, or what excursions to sign up for, individual preference always has a great say on where exactly you will find your happiness. St. Martin’s information portal offers a wealth of helpful information for those planning a trip to the island, while Rental Escapes is always ready to assist with advice for your luxury vacation.