The island of St. Martin is in the Caribbean sea about 200 miles east of Puerto Rico and is divided into two territories; St. Martin and St. Maarten. The island is about 34 square miles and is the smallest island in the world to be divided between two countries, with St. Maarten being Dutch and belonging to the Netherlands Antilles, and St. Martin belonging to France. The division is all but invisible and locals cross back and forth at will, but there is a definite look and feel difference between the two sides. This can easily be seen while traveling down roads which are French on one side and Dutch on the other.
There is a major airport on the island providing transportation from all over the world. There is also a cruise ship dock near Philipsburg, which is on the Dutch side and one of two major cities. The other, Marigot is on the French side. The Dutch side has the islands only casinos and has more night life. The French side has better shopping and also offers nude beaches. Which side is better for food will depend on personal preferences, French or Caribbean. You will also need to keep in mind two different currencies; the Euro on the French side and the guilder on the Dutch.
If you are a photographer, you will want to visit Maho beach (no not a nude beach!) This is where many of the famous photos of jumbo jets descending within a few feet of the beach are taken on their approach into Princess Juliana Intl Airport.
Another point of interest is the market in Marigot. This is run on Wednesday and Saturday mornings and is a huge, colorful array of local crafts, produce, and seafood. In Marigot, you will also find elegant shopping districts, with stores such as Chanel, Lacoste, and L’ Occitane. Be aware the city does follow the tradition of siesta, with most places closing from around 12:30 to 2:30. Just above the city is the old fortress of Fort St. Louis. Finally, there is a museum at the southern end of the city preserving history and culture.
Located near the center of the island is Pic Paradise, which has an elevation of 1,400 feet. The peak has two observation platforms and offers a magnificent view of the islands. Another high point on the island is Mount Concordia where you can see the ruins of an old sugar plantation. Another popular destination on the French side is the Butterfly Farm.
In short, this island offers a variety of cultures and experiences and is a must-see on any list of Caribbean tours. If you are planning on visiting there next year, you may want to schedule April 15 – May 3rd early as this will be their 40th Carnival. This annual celebration is sure to be a popular event.