The Friendly Island
Another day passing, and onto another island in this cruise through the Eastern Caribbean islands right after the previous base at Saint Kitts and Nevis. This time onto the smallest of the islands we would visit in the trip, Sint Maarten, and even considering such a small piece of land, yet divided in two, the French and the Dutch sides. The Dutch in this case, the part we would visit, which is nevertheless, the one that houses the main international airport and the cruise terminal.
Discovered in 1493 on the second voyage of Christopher Columbus, and named as such as it was Saint Martin’s day when was first sighted, 11th of November. While claimed to the Crown of Spain as a territory, it was never settled and was a low priority. Instead the Dutch and the French saw it as a key location among their other territories in the Caribbean and North America who made it very profitable mining salt, moment in which the Spanish saw again an interest and captured it from the Dutch for 15 years, losing again interest and completely abandoning it in 1648.
The French and the Dutch returned, and although there was never a war between them two, the borders shifted dozens of times over the next 200 years. Still, it was a very pacific agreement that lasts ever since. And while at first it was all about slavery, with the abolition and the following decades, both sides turned into heavy tourism dedication; the principal economy is the island.
The time you are given while on a cruise in the island is well more than enough to enjoy most of its sights. Distances are small, and after all, there is not really much more outside of Philipsburg and the beaches towards the west coast. Plus when coming and then going onto different islands, believe me then when I tell you, Sint Maarten will not be that much special compared to the others. Still, these white sand paradise beaches are something unforgettable.
For more information about Sint Maarten check Wikipedia site. The Dutch Caribbean currency is the Dutch Guilder, although the USA Dollar widely used. Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Sint Maarten/Saint Martin
- Philipsburg The capital city of the Dutch side, principal and largest city in the entire island home to the international airport and main cruise terminal. Some nice Dutch architecture can still be seen in the older colourful buildings.
–Cruise Terminal At the southeastern side of the city, not far from downtown.
-Great Bay Beach The main beach aligning the entire front of the city.
-Courthouse Located in Front Street, the main artery parallel to the beachfront.
- Fort Amsterdam West of Philipsburg, was one of the original Dutch settlements back in 1631. Although not much remains, it offers great views of the bay around it.
- Maho Bay At the southwestern side of the island, lying directly by the landing/take-off runway of the international airport. A nice beach yet hyper touristy due to the fact of being the only airport in the world you will be that close from a plane landing and taking off only meters from your head.
- Marigot The capital city of the French side in Saint Martin. Very small and much more quiet than the mass of tourist hordes that stay at Philipsburg.
Princess Juliana International Airport is the main gateway for both the Dutch and the French side. It is located in the southwest of the island, in Dutch land and pretty much equidistant from both capital cities Philipsburg and Marigot. It offers direct flights to the Netherlands, Canada, USA and the Caribbean states. In this case, tourists coming by plane or in a cruise are quite balanced. For any Caribbean cruise, Sint Maarten is one of the major ports of call. The cruise terminal is located at Philipsburg, within walking distance of the city centre and most of the sights of the capital.
Within the island it is very straightforward to get on any of the multiple vans acting as public buses. These are super cheap and get frequently towards Marigot and Maho Bay passing by Fort Amsterdam, hence covering the most of the sights you need to see in this island. While I would recommend you to get a driver as I do for the other islands we visited, here there is really no need for that, take the advantage of the short distances and good public transport.
Since this was a cruise holidays and we slept always on-board, there is little I can say about accommodation here in the Dutch Caribbean other than the usual, checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers. Nevertheless you are in a paradise island with grand and luxurious hotels and resorts, however, it will not come cheap like anywhere else in the Caribbean.