Saint Martin Overview
With the island's split between its French and Dutch conquerors dating back the days of Caribbean pirates and colonial powerhouses, St Martin (as the French call it), or Sint Maarten (to the Dutch) continues to exist peacefully under the twin influences of both, who have diplomatically drawn a line down the middle. While the French half is home to classy cuisine and near Parisian architecture, the Dutch side wallows in more hedonistic pastimes. Fortunately for visitors, tourists are permitted to hop across the border and enjoy the best of both worlds.
Oyster Pond is perhaps the best compromise, being half French and half Dutch, and entirely surrounded by palm trees, wild flowers and expensive yachts bobbing in the shimmering waters. You’ll find the surrounding towns heavily armed with swimming pools and welcoming villas, and can happily trot across the border to grab a baguette on one side and a bottle of rum by the pool on the other.
A great way to see the tiny surrounding islands - and get a true taste of the prevailing maritime culture – is to charter a boat and head off into the deep blue. You can stop anywhere for a swim, sunbathe on the deck, and cruise into the Sunset Beach Bar, where frighteningly low-flying jets drift into the neighboring airport as you slurp your Pina Colada.
The seaside shacks are great for saucy grilled ribs, too, which some eat stark naked on picture perfect Orient Beach, where even wearing clothes at the bar is frowned upon. For the more timid, casinos on the Dutch side of the island and the gentle tented butterfly farm on the French side make for relaxing days away from the beach.
Not that you’ll want to escape the beaches: when you blend the sands with the option to flit between the quirky, European-influenced cultures and cuisines, and the vast array of experiences these create, you’re unlikely to be bored. Fortunately for sand lovers, almost everything worth doing is within a short hop of those 37 palm-strewn paradises.