Saints can take more than prayers. More than 170,000 people visited St Martin during the first six months of 2019.
If you want a premium Caribbean vacation, you should consider going to St Martin. But its small size and humble accommodations hide complexities.
What exactly is St Martin, and why is it divided into two? What does each side offer? How should you plan out your trip?
Answer these questions and you can create lifelong and relaxing memories. Here is your comprehensive guide.
St Martin is an island in the Caribbean Sea. The island is only 87 square kilometres, but it is divided into two. The French Republic controls 53 square kilometres of the island to the north, while the Kingdom of the Netherlands controls the rest to the south.
You may see "Sint Maarten" in addition to "Saint Martin." The former is the Dutch name, referring to the southern portion that the Netherlands controls. When you are referring to the entire island, you can call it St Martin in English.
Before you go to St Martin, check the government's travel advice and advisories. St Martin is a safe location, but hurricanes and natural disasters can affect safety. Be willing to change your travel plans should the weather conditions worsen.
You should also get your travel vaccinations in order. You should have a full regimen before going on your vacation, including hepatitis shots.
St Martin formed due to volcanic activity. This means that many rocks on the islands are igneous, forming from lava. You can find basalt and limestone on the beaches along with less-common rocks like diorite.
Getting to St Martin
The island is off the coast of Puerto Rico. If you are already in Puerto Rico, you can book a flight to the island or you can hop on a boat. But if you are in Canada and trying to get to the island, you should take an airplane.
You can fly to Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM). Most major airlines service the airport, and you may be able to get a direct flight. If you cannot, you can fly to San Juan and then connect to a flight to St Martin.
SXM is located on the Dutch portion of the island. But you can get to the French portion easily. Cab services and public transportation run throughout the island, and you can rent a car.
The border between the two portions is open. You can walk between the two without needing a passport or visa.
Yet you do need a passport to enter St Martin. Make sure your passport is valid and has room for a stamp. Canadian nationals can enter St Martin without a visa for up to 90 days.
Some businesses have two phone numbers, one based on the French system and the other based on the Dutch. Phone calls to one side or the other count as international calls.
When you are on one side of the island, call numbers based on that portion's system. Nearly all businesses will deliver goods to all communities across the border.
Most islanders speak English in addition to Dutch and French. It may be a good idea to learn some Dutch and French so you can talk to the natives. But feel free to converse with people in English.
The Dutch Side
Sint Maarten is its own constituent country in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It has its own governor and prime minister while recognizing the Dutch monarch as its head of state.
The capital city is Philipsburg. The town is very small, with fewer than 2,000 residents. The town is similar to Inverness, Nova Scotia as both are small towns near multiple beaches popular with tourists.
The biggest city is Lower Prince's Quarter. It is just across the French-Dutch border. Though it has a larger population than Philipsburg, it has few tourist attractions.
Yet Sint Maarten does have many things to offer. You can find festivals throughout the year. You can watch soccer games and visit premium beaches with crystal clear water.
The French Side
Saint Martin is an overseas collectivity. This means that it is semi-autonomous. A territorial council and an executive council run the island, but it follows all federal laws for France.
Marigot is the capital and largest town in the French portion. A few thousand people live in the town, and you can find many small shops and restaurants.
In addition to SXM, you can fly into the island through L'Esperance Airport. It is located on the French side. The airport largely serves small airplanes coming from other Caribbean islands, so you can consider it if you are coming in from another part of the Caribbean.
The island contains plenty of roads, making it easy to drive. Most natives get around in their cars, and you can rent one during your stay.
Hurricane Irma destroyed most of St Martin's buildings and roads in 2017. The recovery is mostly complete, but more remote areas of St Martin may be hard to get to. Plan your routes ahead with GPS devices and find alternate ways of accessing points.
Things to Do in St Martin
St Martin is loaded with attractions for single travellers and families alike. Plan on staying in St Martin for at least a week so you can get to everything you want to do.
Explore and Lounge on the Many Beaches
Like many Caribbean islands, St Martin has dozens of beaches to offer. Each one has its own charms, but some beaches stand out above the rest.
Great Bay Beach
Great Bay Beach is located near Philipsburg. Many cruise ships arrive in the harbour around the beach, so you can access it easily.
Great Bay is a white sand beach that is incredible to walk and sit on. You can find a number of bars, and you can have drinks while looking out at the water. Banks and sit-down restaurants are within walking distance, though some face toward the town.
Orient Beach is a good swimming beach. The water is calm and chairs are available for people to put their personal bags on. Bars and restaurants offer towels and rentable umbrellas.
If you would like to sunbathe, you can go to the nude portion of the beach. It is located on one end, so nude sunbathers will not disrupt people who want to stay clothed.
Maho Beach may be the most infamous beach on St Martin. It is adjacent to Princess Juliana International Airport, and airplanes make their final approach just above ground level.
If you are a plane watcher, you should visit the beach. Planes arrive around the clock, and you can see aircraft from all over the world.
Yet you should be very careful when watching planes. You should watch them from the side far away from the runaways. People have been injured and killed due to the blast from the engines.
Besides plane watching, the beach offers windsurfing and skimboarding. Waves are not too high, so beginners can learn the basics on the beach.
Mullet Bay Beach is one of the island's best beaches for surfers. Waves come and go on a regular basis, and they are tall enough so you can perform moves on them.
If you prefer to walk on the sand, you should consider Mullet Bay above others. The sand is white, soft, and warm without being too scalding. Crowds can be substantial, so try to walk some distance down the beach before setting up your umbrella.
Fly Down the World's Steepest Zipline
The Flying Dutchman drops more than 1,000 feet in elevation while being nearly 3,000 feet long. It is the steepest zipline in the world. As the name suggests, it is located in Sint Maarten.
You will sit in a chair while you go down the zipline. As you travel, you will see St Martin's beaches and forests. Travelling on the line will let you take photographs you cannot replicate elsewhere.
Tour St Martin's Capital, Philipsburg
Philipsburg may be tiny, but it offers many exciting attractions. Shopping is duty-free, so you can purchase many goods at lower prices than in Canada.
Buildings have many different colours and architectural styles. A walk through Philipsburg is like walking through a free art museum with plenty of opportunities for photography. If you prefer the water, you can walk along the waterfront and view boats.
Explore the Beautiful French Side of the Island
The French side is a little more remote than the Dutch side. Loterie Farm is a large nature preserve with many hiking trails and small ziplines. You can spend an entire day wandering around.
The Tijon Parfumerie sells premium perfumes using native St Martin plants. You can view the facility where they make the perfume, and you can buy different perfumes at low prices.
Taste St Martin's Uniquely Flavoured Rum
Rum is the Caribbean's leading liquor. Each Caribbean island offers its own variant of rum, and St Martin is no exception.
You can sample from rums with guavaberry, orange cinnamon, and vanilla bean. You can order tasting menus at bars and restaurants, letting you try out rums from a few different distilleries.
Saint Martin Hotels - Best Ones to Stay At
Hotels at Saint Martin tend to book up very quickly. Make sure to book your reservations several months in advance after reviewing your various options.
Sonesta Maho Beach Resort
Sonesta Maho is an all-inclusive resort. With more than 400 rooms, it caters to families, couples, and large groups. It is one of St Martin's most popular hotels for wedding parties in particular.
Prices can be high. Yet you can receive numerous amenities while staying at the hotel, including access to five separate restaurants.
Divi Little Bay Beach Resort
Divi Little Bay is located within Philipsburg. It has fewer than 100 rooms, making it ideal for someone who wants a quieter hotel.
Each room has its own balcony with views of Little Bay. You have your own pair of slippers and a robe, so you can take in the sights in complete comfort.
Sonesta Ocean Point Resort
Sonesta Ocean Point offers a Caribbean-style experience. You can view live performers who will play authentic Caribbean music and you can sample from different Caribbean dishes. If you like to gamble, you can go to the Casino Royale in the resort.
Grand Case Beach Club
Grand Case Beach Club is a 10-minute walk from a few different white sand beaches. The hotel offers kayaks and paddleboards, which you can borrow for free. Rooms are spacious and all of them are located close to open-air restaurants.
Best Time to Visit St Martin
Many people like to visit the Caribbean for Christmas. But the best times to visit St Martin are when crowds are thinner and conditions less humid. May and June see cheap prices with very little rain.
Weather in St Martin
The climate in Sint Maarten (Dutch side) is the same as the climate in Saint Martin (French side). The water is between 24 and 27 degrees Celsius throughout the year. October and December have an average of more than 12 rainy days per month, so you should go during a different month to stay dry.
St Martin FAQs
Many people have questions about a vacation to St Martin. Find different resources so you can answer anything on your mind.
You should follow standard tips that you follow on any other vacation. Buy travel insurance from a reputable insurance company. Make sure the package you buy covers lost baggage and sudden cancellation.
The culture of St Martin combines European, Caribbean, and African influences. Caribbean music is rich with percussive instruments and call and response lyrics. Vocalists can use a number of singing styles, including scatting.