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 St. Maarten/St. Martin

Philipsburg, St. Maarten Panorama

St. Maarten/St. Martin Information
Contributed by
Nancy Norris
Updated May 1st, 2005
Tom Ogg

Language and Currency
What is
St. Maarten/St. Martin Like?
What is the Weather Like?
Where Does the Ship Dock?
Where is the Shopping?
What is There to Buy?
What is There To Do?
Is There Anything of a “Don’t Miss Quality?
Are There Any Great Restaurants or Bars?

St. Maarten/St. Martin Port Reviews

Language and Currency

The Beautiful Water that Surrounds St. Maarten/St, Martin

As this is an island of 2 different countries, French is the official language of St. Martin and Dutch is the official language of St. Maarten, but the main language used on both sides of the island is English. Currency in St. Maarten is the Netherlands Antilles florin (the guilder) and it is the Euro in St. Martin, but the US dollar is accepted on both sides. Stores will have prices listed in both local currency and US currency, with change given in like currency.

What is St. Maarten/St. Martin like?

View of a Ship Docked in St. Maarten (Taken From Philipsburg)

St Maarten/St. Martin is 144 miles southeast of Puerto Rico. At only 37 square miles, this is the smallest land mass in the world to be divided between two governments. In the early 1600’s both the Dutch and the French established small settlements on the island. They fought together to prevent a Spanish invasion and decided to share the island. According to local folklore, the island was divided by a walking contest between a Dutchman and a Frenchman. The Dutch control 16 square miles, and the remaining 21 are under French control. Duty-free shopping, 12 European style casinos, and lively bars keep Philipsburg, the capital of Dutch St. Maarten, bustling with activity.

Marigot, St.Martin Sidewalk Cafe

Marigot, the capital of French St. Martin, on the leeward side of the island, is much quieter and secluded. This quaint town, only four streets wide, emanates the romance and ambiance of a small French village. Grand Case, a little fishing village, on the northern tip of St. Martin, is quite picturesque and provides yet another component of this complex island. The island was heavily damaged by a hurricane in 1995, but extensive restoration has made for a fresh, rejuvenated island. The lush landscape of verdant, rolling hills, miles of beautiful sandy beaches, salt ponds and placid lagoons is a tropical delight.

What is the weather like?

Temperatures year round are idyllic. In the summer, temperatures range from the mid to upper 80’sF. Gentle trade winds cool things off and keep the high humidity at bay. In the winter temperatures fall to the lower 80’s. Occasional showers occur in late summer and early fall. Water temperatures are quite pleasant also, as it is 78-80° in the winter and 82-84° in the summer.

Where does the ship dock?

MSC Lirica Docked at A.C. Wathey Pier in St. Maarten

Most ships dock on the Dutch side, in Great Bay, at the A.C. Wathey Pier in Point Blanche. The pier is about 1 mile from the center of Philipsburg. Some ships anchor in Great Bay and tenders will transport passengers directly to the center of town. Taxis are readily available at the pier. Although taxis are not metered, fares are required to be posted on the Dutch side. Fare to Philipsburg is $2 and $10 to Marigot. Downtown Philipsburg is an easy 15 minute walk from the pier.

Where is the shopping?

St. Maarten Front Street Shopping

The entire island is duty-free, but most shopping is done in Philipsburg along Front Street.

Just One of the Many Shopping Alleyways in St. Maarten

This mile long main street, as well as the numerous alleyways and flower laden courtyards that run between Front Street and Back Street are a shopper’s paradise.

Marigot Shopping Street

On the French side, the best shopping is at the West Indies Mall along the harbor at Marina Port la Royale, in Marigot.

The Shops Along the Marina's Water Edge in Marigot

Marigot also sports a wonderful outdoor marketplace right on the water's edge by the marina that offers numerous items of interest to visitors.

A Few of the Shops Located at A.C. Wathey Pier

Don't forget the many shops right at the cruise pier itself. Many of the Caribbean's largest retailers are found here.

What is there to buy?

A Dazzling Array of Products Available in St. Maarten/St. Martin

Everything from watches and jewelry to linens and swimwear can be purchased on this duty-free island. Electrical products and Italian leather goods are also “good buys”. Some of the best prices in the Caribbean can be found in St. Maarten. In fact, I found on numerous visits that the liquor on St. Maarten is cheaper than in St. Thomas. Be aware, however, that the same generous customs allowance permitted for goods purchased in St. Thomas does not apply here. Speaking of liquor, guavaberry, an island liqueur made with rum and rare local berries, can be purchased at the Guavaberry Company and makes for a unique island purchase. Plan to do your shopping in Marigot if you are looking for European fashions and haute-couture.

What is there to do?

A.C. Wathey Pier Visitor Information Center

This is another of the island gems that lends itself so well to dividing your time between power shopping and lounging at a world-class beach. You will find a wonderful visitor information center right at the foot of the A.C. Wathey Pier where you can find tours and local visitor information.

I have already spoken of the shopping opportunities, so let me expound on the beaches. On the Dutch side, Simpson Bay and Mullet Bay are the most popular. Water sports equipment can be rented at Simpson Bay.

Great Bay Beach, Downtown Philipsburg, St. Maarten

For convenience, Great Bay and Little Bay are right downtown, but do not offer the most pristine conditions.

St. Matin's Orient Beach

Although there are numerous beaches on the French side, Orient Beach stands out as stellar.

Orient Beach Parasailing

Alive with energy and activity, Orient Beach is the best location for para-sailing, beach bars, people-watching and just limin’ (“hanging out” Caribbean style). On my list of “party beaches”, this definitely makes the top 10. Although Orient Beach is known as a clothing optional beach (as are many beaches in Europe), it is very possible to spend the day at Orient Beach without feeling the necessity to shed your bathing suit.

Beach Chairs in Front of a Restaurant on Orient Beach

The south end of Orient Beach, near Club O, is reserved for naturists. If you venture to the other end of the beach, it is very doubtful that you will encounter any nudity. If water sports, such as windsurfing, kayaking, and jet-skiing, snorkeling or diving do not interest you, then you can always try your hand at a little black-jack at one of the European-style casinos. Horseback riding, golf and hiking are other alternatives. As for plain old-fashioned sight-seeing, a visit to the Butterfly Farm provides an opportunity to see rare and exotic butterflies amidst flowers, waterfalls and music.

Is there anything of “Don’t Miss” quality?

I have to include a trip to Orient Beach as something that is not to be missed, and if given the opportunity should be experienced at least once.

Are there any great restaurants or bars?

A Wonderful "Lo-Lo" located in Grand Case, St. Martin

Any of the “Lo-Lo’s”, small shacks along the pier on the French side of the island, are great places to sample jerk chicken, grilled fish or johnny cakes. They may not look like much, but for a fast, cheap bite of excellent

The "Lo-Lo" Ladies Busy at Work

Caribbean cuisine they can’t be beat! Unfortunately, I have never been in port long enough to linger leisurely over one of the exquisite French meals for which many of the island restaurants are so noted. I would love to hear from you if you have a particular favorite you would like to share.

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