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Welcome To Saint Martin/Sint Maarten

St-Martin Map

St Martin/St Maarten vacation

   Shared between the French and the Dutch since the mid-seventeenth century, the tiny island of St Martin/St Maarten is one of the most touristed islands in this part of the Caribbean and a huge duty-free shopping area. Opinions about the island are as divided as the island itself. Ask the streams of repeat visitors, and they'll tell you that this tiny island is paradise on earth, with fabulous beaches and every type of tourist facility imaginable. Ask others, and you may hear how rapid and barely controlled development has turned a once-beautiful place into "a graceless monument to vulgarian greed", as one disgruntled writer put it.
   The truth lies somewhere in between. The island does boast some of the finest beaches in the Eastern Caribbean, particularly at Orient Beach on the French side, as well as some stunning scenery, most notably in the interior around Pic Paradis , and many excellent restaurants and hotels on both sides of the border. On the other hand, the hunt for the tourist dollar can feel unrelenting and, at times, it is hard to discern the real country under the veneer of concrete development, souvenir shops and the waves of tourists (all particularly acute on the Dutch side in the capital Philipsburg). If all you want to do is lie on the beach and play in the sea, both St Martin and St Maarten are not bad options. Travelling between the French and Dutch sides (as many visitors do) is hassle-free, since the border is marked only in one spot (by a small obelisk) and there are no border crossing formalities . Ultimately, if the crowds get too much for you, bear in mind that it's a very short flight or ferry ride to some of the quietest and most undeveloped islands in the entire Caribbean - particularly delightful are Saba and St Eustatius. As in much of the Caribbean, the island is a year-round destination; however, the best time to visit is between mid-December and mid-April when rainfall is low and the heat is tempered by cooling trade winds


   The island is sunny and warm all year round, with average monthly temperatures varying little throughout the year. Temperatures in coastal areas range from 72? to 86?F (22? to 30?C) and from 66? to 81?F (19? to 27?C) in inland areas. Cooling winds buffet the island all throughout the year. Showers can be expected at any time of year but rainstorms pass quickly. Winter and the Christmas/New Year holidays are traditionally the most popular time to visit the island but summer is a great time to visit because lodging rates are much lower and the beaches, roads and restaurants are not crowded.
   Dutch and French are the native languages. English is spoken almost everywhere on the Dutch side and in most places on the French side. Many people on both sides speak a creole language known as Papiamento.
   On the French side of the island, the euro ( ? ) is the local currency; some, but certainly not all, establishments will quote or accept US dollars. Euro notes are issued in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500 euros, and coins in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cents and 1 and 2 euros. St.Martin beach At the time of writing, the rate of exchange was US$1 to ?1.10. On the Dutch side, the currency is the Netherlands Antilles guilder (NAf) (with a rate of exchange of US$1 to NAf1.78), though prices are always quoted in US dollars. For consistency, all prices in this section are quoted in US dollars.
   You can use this Currency Converter to always have exact information about foreign currency you need. There are plenty of banks on both sides of the island with 24-hour cashpoint facilities in the main towns.    Most hotels and restaurants on the Dutch side add 15 percent service charge and 5 percent government tax . On the French side, they add 10-15 percent for service and a 5 percent occupancy tax .   Given the scale of tourist development, it's pretty easy to get by on whatever budget you're on. Accommodation will be your main expenditure, but there are moderately priced places to stay in on both sides of the border. The French side in particular has some top-class and top-priced places to eat, but both sides have plenty of good, inexpensive options.


 Local time is GMT -4.


Caribbean vacation for family
    Calls between the two sides of the island count as long-distance, with each side having its own phone code . To the Dutch side, dial 00 plus 599 before the seven-digit number; to the French side, dial 00 plus 590 before the six-digit number.    There are post offices in Marigot and Philipsburg. Most hotels will let you hook up to their internet connection for a nominal charge. In Philipsburg, Parcel Post on Front Street (Mon-Sat 9am-4pm) offers internet access, as does Cyberzone in Marigot, opposite the tourist office and museum (daily 10am-8pm; around US$3 for fifteen minutes).
   Hotels on the French side typically add 5% occupancy tax per person, but a small gratuity is greatly appreciated for exceptionally good service. Restaurants also add a service charge to the bill. For taxi drivers it is customary to tip between 50 cents and a dollar, while porters at the airport usually get $1 per bag.
   Crime has increased significantly on the island over the last decade. Car crime is particularly prevalent, so don't leave valuables in your hire car when you park it at the beach or in town. Muggings are also on the increase, and it's advisable not to walk on unlit areas of the beach or the main towns at night. Emergency numbers Ambulance tel 87 86 25 (French side), tel 130 (Dutch side)    Police tel 911 (French side), tel 111 (Dutch side); non-emergency tel 590/87 50 06 or 87 88 33 (French side); tel 599/542-2222 (Dutch side). Electricity The Dutch side uses 120 volts/60 cycles just like the US and the receptacles are the same. The French side uses 220 volts/60 cycles and the plugs are two cylinders, not like the flat prongs in the US. (You may see 50 cycles mentioned in various publications, but Paul B. Streng, Director of the Housing Education and Research Center Construction Management Program at Michigan State University, to whom I am eternally grateful, measured it with his oscilloscope. It's 60 cycles.) If you get a plug converter, you can plug in your laptop and the battery charger on newer laptops usually can handle the voltage. Check the input voltage as written on the charger itself: newer ones claim 100-240 volts and thus, have no switches. Travel hairdryers frequently have switches to allow them to run on 240 volts. Forget to flip the switch and you could dry more than your hair.
   No vaccination certificates are required for entry into either St Maarten or St Martin, however a yellow fever certificate is required for travellers arriving within six days from infected areas. The Manchionneel tree that grows all over the island, mainly along the beaches, is extremely poisonous: the sap and fruit, which look like small green apples are caustic and burn the skin. Water is safe to drink. Medical care on the island is good, but patients are likely to be transferred to to the US for anything serious. Medical insurance is strongly advised.

   The biggest parties on the island are the two carnivals , held on French St Martin over Lent and on the Dutch side in late April and early May, with the main bash normally on April 30, Queen Juliana's birthday. The Dutch affair is easily the bigger of the two, with plenty of colourful and noisy parades and live music every night, from local calypsonians to international stars like Trinidad's Mighty Sparrow and Antigua's David Rudder, as carnival gears up to its grand finale. The following public holidays are celebrated on both St Martin and St Marteen. We've also listed distinct holidays that each island celebrates.

January 1- New Year's Day

Good Friday

Easter Monday

May 1- Labour Day

Whit Monday

Dec 25- Christmas Day

Dec 26- Boxing Day


St Martin

May 25 -Ascension Day

July 14- Bastille Day

July 21- Schoelcher Day

November 1 -All Saints Day

November 11 -Feast of St Martin

St Maarten

April 30- Queen's Day

October 21- Antillean Day

November 11- St Maarten Day

Food and Drink

St. Maarten

   Philipsburg is an excellent place for eating out , with a range of places from classy French and Indonesian to simple places for a snack during a shopping expedition. Consider making a trip in for dinner at least one night during your stay. Elsewhere, there are few great options, though Spartaco in Col e Bay is a highly impressive Italian place.
    Antoine 103 Front St, Philipsburg tel 599/542-2964. Elegant French restaurant overlooking Great Bay and offering up tasty and interesting food: look for starters of snails or coquilles St Jacques for US$9-11 and mains of grouper in almonds, snapper in garlic or steak au poivre for US$20-25. Dinner Mon-Sat.
   Barefoot Terrace Philipsburg tel 599/542-0360.    Inexpensive food and beer mean that this waterside place in Wathey Square is always packed during the day, with visitors munching on sandwiches, salads and burgers as well as local seafood specials. Mon-Sat 8am-7pm.
   Kangaroo Court 6 Hendrickstraat,    Philipsburg  tel 599/542-4278. A good stopping-off point as you tour the town, offering an excellent range of coffees as well as tasty muffins, pastries, bagels and sandwiches to replenish flagging energy levels. Daily breakfast and lunch.
   L'Escargot  84 Front St, Philipsburg tel 599/542-2483. Colourfully tiled and brightly painted, L'Escargot is one of the town's longest-running restaurants.       French specialities include frog's legs and caviar as well as a variety of snail options, while the trademark dish of grilled red snapper in pineapple and banana sauce will set you back US$23. Thursday is cabaret night, when US$50 includes dinner and the show. Daily lunch and dinner.
   Spartaco   Almond Grove, Cole Bay tel 599/544-5379. Superb Italian food served in a lovely old mansion, where everything is claimed to be home-made or imported from Italy.
   There's a wide range of pasta specialties and the freshest of local seafood. A classy selection of Italian wine adds to the aura of authenticity. Tues-Sun dinner only.
   Sunset Beach Bar    Beacon Hill Road, Maho Bay tel 599/545-3998. Lively bar on Maho Beach that makes for a great place to catch the sunset, with cheap beer and a variety of sandwiches, burgers and pizza.    There's live music on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Daily all meals. 
    Turtle Pier Airport Road, Simpson Bay tel. 599/545-2562. Right on the lagoon and within walking distance of the airport, making this a good place to grab a meal or a beer before you fly. The food is described as "creative Caribbean", so expect to find fish and lobster in a variety of local styles (creole or pan-fried, for example) and there's a small menagerie of monkeys and parrots to distract the kids. Daily for all meals.
   Wajang Doll    167 Front St, Philipsburg tel 599/542-2687. Excellent and popular Indonesian restaurant, with typical main dishes of snapper fried in chillis and tamarind or chicken in coconut milk for US$15-20, plus good-value and substantial rijstaffels (literally "rice-tables") comprising 14-19 different dishes for US$20-25 per person. Mon-Sat 6.45-10pm.   
   As you'd expect with a French island, St Martin is a place for food lovers , and the great news is that you don't have to break the bank to eat well.
Marigot and Sandy Ground
Claude Mini-Club  Marigot tel St-Martin food and drink 590/87 50 69. Colourful, lively and popular Marigot spot, with a daily specials menu for around US$25 and a huge dinner buffet on Wednesday and Saturday laden with roast pork and beef, lobster and a mountain of side dishes for US$40. Delicious dessert souffles are worth the US$9.
   Daily for lunch and dinner, closed Sun lunch.
La Plaisance    La Marina Port La Royale, Marigot tel 590/87 85 00. One of several lively open-air eateries in the marina, with a good range of reasonably priced salads, pasta dishes and local seafood. Daily for all meals.
Le Bar de la Mer   Marigot tel 590/87 81 79. Grilled fish, sandwiches, pizza and salads make up the main part of the menu in this easy-going and reasonably priced place near the harbour. Daily for lunch and dinner.
Lolos   Marigot. A collection of tiny bars and restaurants around the central market, highly recommended for inexpensive and authentic island food, such as curried goat or chicken with peas and rice for US$8, bullfoot soup for US$4 or fresh grilled fish and johnny cake for US$9. A live band plays on Wednesday evenings. Mon-Sat 7am-8pm.
Mario's Bistro   Sandy Ground tel 590/87 06 36. A favourite with locals, the waterside location at Mario's makes it one of the most romantic places for dinner, and booking is essential. Seafood is the specialty, with delicious starters of scallops and mussels (US$6-10), while well-prepared main courses (US$15-30) include pan-fried snapper, succulent roast duck and a selection of steaks. Daily for dinner.

Orient Bay and Cul-de-Sac

   Kontiki Orient Bay tel 590/87 43 27. Good if pricey place on the beach, with fresh and tasty grilled fish and chips for US$18, wholesome salads for US$10, pasta dishes from US$12 and specials like iced mango and honey soup for US$8. Daily for...
Kontiki   Orient Bay tel 590/87 43 27. Good if pricey place on the beach, with fresh and tasty grilled fish and chips for US$18, wholesome salads for US$10, pasta dishes from US$12 and specials like iced mango and honey soup for US$8. Daily for breakfast and lunch.
Le Piccolo Cul-de-Sac tel 590/87 32 47. Delicious food at this brightly painted chattel house beside the main road, where starters of seared tuna and crab ravioli (US$6-9) will set your taste buds tingling in time for main dishes such as tandoori snapper (US$15) and exquisite desserts. Sun-Mon, dinner only.
Orient Bay tel 590/57 78 25.
   One of the better of the beach cafes on this very popular beach, with friendly waiters dishing up tasty barbecued chicken and fish dishes served with peas and rice for US$8-10. The place is often crowded with those taking a break from the sun with a cooling beer. Daily for all meals.
Grand Case 
   Le Tastevin tel 590/87 55 45. Elegant French-owned place overlooking the water and offering a fine selection of French food, from foie gras and snails to fresh local seafood and steaks, all prepared with skill and imagination.
   One of the best places to eat in town, with prices to match. Daily lunch and dinner.
  L'Hibiscus tel 590/29 17 91. Another of the excellent Grand Case options in a typical creole house (though there is no sea view), with carpaccio of tuna and lobster flamed in rum among the signature dishes. Expensive. Daily 6.30-10.30pm.
Lolos  A great range of shacks and barbecue pits around an open courtyard offering up tasty fish, barbecued chicken, spare ribs and the occasional lobster, together with side dishes such as potato salad, peas and rice, macaroni cheese and coleslaw, a whole plate costing around US$10.
History St Martin /St. Maarten
   Amerindian remains dating from as early as 2000 BC have been found near the village of Grand Case on the French side of the island, though little is known about the island's first visitors. Columbus sailed past on November 11, 1493, naming the island after St Martin of Tours whose holy day it was. Few navigators took much interest for the next century. During the 1620s French and Dutch colonists began to settle, forerunners of the division of the island later in the century, with the Dutch building the first fort at Philipsburg in 1631.
   The Spanish , however, were keen on the island for strategic reasons and claimed it, subsequently fighting off a lengthy siege by Dutch troops led by Peter Stuyvesant , later to become governor of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (today's New York City).
   By 1648, the Spanish had lost interest in the island, and the French and Dutch governments agreed to divide it in two, populating it with settlers from home. The land was given over to the production of sugar, cotton, tobacco and salt, with slaves imported from Africa to work on the plantations.    However, the soil was poor and the island never prospered, largely sinking into obscurity as the centuries passed. Despite frequent disagreements between the French and the Dutch, including border skirmishes and wholesale invasions and deportations, the boundaries remain pretty much the same today as were agreed on in 1648.
   The Dutch side, known as Sint Maarten , is part of the Netherlands Antilles; the French side part of a department of France, with representation in the French parliament. As throughout the region, tourism drives the modern economy, bringing floods of visitors and attendant social difficulties, particularly rising crime and problems with immigration from other islands and from South America.

Best Of Orient Beach
  Simply one of the best you'll see, appealing for its inviting sands, warm sea and ample watersports.

Pic Paradis
Escape the crowds and hike to the top or just into the rainforest from Loterie Farm.

Grand Case
  Run the gauntlet of gourmet restaurants offering everything from delectable seafood to fine French cuisine.

Getting Around
   Visitors pour onto the island by plane , with virtually all of the international flights landing at Juliana Airport on the Dutch side of the island. American Airlines offers daily flights from New York and Miami in the US as well as from Puerto Rico, while Air France provides several flights a week from Paris. Within the wider Caribbean, LIAT is the main service provider, with connections to and from almost all of the islands.
   St Martin is also a convenient base for visitors to other islands. Windward Islands Airways (known as Winair; tel 599/545-4237) flies frequently to Saba (US$120 round-trip), St Eustatius (US$120 round-trip) and Anguilla (US$60 round-trip), while Air Caraibes flies to St Barts (US$100 round-trip). Special deals are regularly offered on all of these flights (day return trips, for example, can be dramatically lower than the advertised price) and it's worth calling to enquire. Ferry services are also frequent: ferries run from Marigot Bay to Anguilla every thirty minutes from 8am to 7pm, the journey taking 25 minutes and costing US$10 each way. In good weather, the Voyager ferry (tel 599/542-4096 or 590/87 10 68) travels daily between Marigot and St Barts (45min) and twice a week between Philipsburg and Saba (1hr); the Edge ferry (tel 599/544-2640) makes the same trips. The departure tax is US$20 at the airport, US$6 for flights within the Netherlands Antilles
  Exploring St Martin/St Maarten
St. Maarten
 Other than the language and some of the names, there is little you could describe as characteristically Dutch about Dutch ST MAARTEN . This side of the island, measuring a mere 37 square kilometres, has seen a huge tourist boom since the 1960s, both in overnight and cruise-ship visitors, making it one of the most heavily touristed areas in the region.
   On the whole, St Maarten seems to be geared towards servicing its international visitors and it can be hard to discern much of an individual identity. The heavily commercialized town of Philipsburg is the main draw for shoppers and cruise-ship passengers and has the best restaurants, sandwiched in between casinos, T-shirt and duty-free Puerto Rico beach shops and fast-food joints.
   The town is built right on Great Bay , and has its own large beach. Relatively few visitors stay in Philipsburg, however, and much of the recent development has been along the western end of the island, south of the giant Simpson Bay Lagoon, where a series of attractive bays indent the coast. Particularly worth making for are Cupecoy Beach and Mullet Beach in the southwest. Despite the fact that this side of the island can feel crowded, there's plenty of fun to be had on the good-quality beaches and at the multitude of lively bars and restaurants.
  Keep an eye out in the papers (particularly the Daily Herald ) and tourist publications for what's happening on the island; there's regular live music but the locations tend to vary from week to week.
   Some of the best places include the Boathouse in Simpson Bay (tel 599/544-8256), particularly on Friday nights with local bands playing a mixture of blues, reggae and rock; the Greenhouse , at the east end of Philipsburg by Bobby's Marina (tel 599/542-2941), which brings in the crowds with canned and live music and a regular two-for-one drink special; Footsteps in Cole Bay (tel 599/544-2156), good for reggae music on a Saturday evening; and the Axum Jazz Cafe at 7 Front St in Philipsburg (no phone), which occasionally pulls in big international stars. There are also a dozen casinos that will be happy to relieve you of your holiday money.
   Packed with cruise-ship visitors during the day, the lively hustle and bustle of Philipsburg - the main town of St Maarten - makes it an entertaining place to spend a couple of hours, even if shopping is not high on your holiday agenda. If it is, you're in heaven. St Martin /St.Maarten    Although the town is unrepentantly in search of the tourist dollar and most of the development is fairly modern, there are a handful of attractive eighteenth- and nineteenth-century buildings dotted along the heaving main drag of Front Street and in the grid of quieter streets behind it, and there are some good places to put your feet up and get a tasty bite to eat. In the evening, when the crowds have gone, the place takes on a different, slightly seedy, feel, and can even feel a little threatening if you move away from the main well-lit areas on Front Street or around Bobby's Marina in the east. The small town was founded in 1733 on a sand bar that separated the sea from a series of inland salt ponds, and named for Scotsman John Philips , one of the island's early pioneers. All four of its main roads run east-west along the thin strip of land that still divides Great Bay from the Great Salt Pond, with busy Front Street facing south onto the blue expanse of the ocean and bursting with duty-free shops selling liquor, jewellery and T-shirts.
   Towards the eastern end of the street, Wathey Square is effectively the town centre and the main focus for visitors, housing the tourist information kiosk , a couple of banks and a handful of bars and restaurants. The square is less than a minute's walk from long semi-circular Great Bay Beach , not one of the most impressive on the island but normally strewn with a few swimmers and sun-seekers. If you're on the north side of the square, check out the graceful architecture of the grand old courthouse , built in 1793 and serving in its time as a fire station and a jail. Today it's the post office. Just 200m west of the square, the cute little wooden Methodist church was built in 1851 and makes for a welcome sanctuary from the lunacy of the vendors outside. In the opposite direction, the eastern end of Front Street has the more attractive of Philipsburg's historic buildings, lined with a group of elegant colonial houses distinctive for their downstairs store or warehouse with steps leading up from the street to a verandah for the living quarters above. Almost at the end of Front Street, the small St Maarten museum (Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, Sat 10am-1pm; US$1) is worth a look for its exhibits on island history from Amerindian times and articles salvaged from local shipwrecks. Just around the corner from here, heading south around the edge of the bay, there's always plenty of boating activity at Great Marina and Bobby's Marina, as well as a couple of good places to eat. Inland from Front Street you'll find a labyrinth of small streets and alleys leading back towards the huge Great Salt Pond where salt-rakers once scraped a living collecting the "white gold".
   There's nothing particular to head for, with the pond now devoid of activity since the demise of the salt industry after World War II, but amidst the modern concrete buildings are pretty gingerbread cottages and courtyards draped with bougainvillea and hibiscus and, of course, plenty more shopping and eating opportunities.
   St. Martin
   French ST MARTIN , spread over 52 square kilometres, is less touristed than the Dutch side, despite having some of the finest beaches and restaurants and the most attractive scenery. Marigot is the pleasant and likeable capital, worth at least a couple of hours of your time, while the delightful long stretch of white sand at Orient Beach is the pick of the beaches, with a great choice of watersports to keep you busy. The island's gourmet capital Grand Case has a string of excellent restaurants, while Loterie Farm offers great hiking away from the crowds into an unspoiled area of rainforest and up to Pic Paradis , the island's highest point.For nightly entertainment , Club One is the main nightclub in Marigot, a lively and welcoming place popular with locals and tourists alike. Based at the Marina Port La Royale, it's open from around 10pm Friday through Sunday. Pasha , at the waterfront in Marigot, is also a local favourite, decked in velvet and animal-skin prints and with a cool open-air terrace.
   West of Marigot in Sandy Ground is Heaven's Disco , a good spot for traditional Caribbean sounds, including zouk, merengue and salsa.
  ANSE MARCEL, FRENCH CUL-DE-SAC AND ILET PINEL    Heading east of Grand Case for 1.5km, past the salinas and the local airport, the road forks, heading south towards fabulous Orient Bay or north for the tiny settlements of Anse Marcel and Cul-de-Sac, from where you can hop on a boat to Ilet Pinel just offshore. Anse Marcel is a mini-resort, with a couple of large hotels, a marina and a pleasant long sandy beach. Cul-de-Sac - home to St Martin's mayor and characterized by its cute little red-roofed houses - is even smaller, but popular for trips to the pristine and uninhabited Ilet Pinel , where there is excellent snorkelling (rent gear from the shack for US$10 per person) and lovely, calm waters for swimming. Boats regularly make the two-minute trip (no set schedule), from the pier in Cul-de-Sac (US$5 per person round-trip) and there are barbecue stalls and drink vendors on the island, and even a small gift-shop.
BUTTERFLY FARM   No prizes for guessing what's on display at the Butterfly Farm just south of Orient Bay (daily 9am-4pm; US$10, US$5 for children), with numerous varieties imported from Indonesia and South America taking it easy on a cabbage leaf or fluttering around under a giant net. It's informative as well as colourful, and a reasonable distraction when you've had enough of the beach.
  GRAND CASE    Grand Case has built itself a deserved reputation as one of the finest dining centres of the Eastern Caribbean and, as you walk down the main drag which makes up a large part of this tiny town, it's easy to see why. A series of fairly expensive restaurants lines the otherwise unremarkable street, with daily specials chalked up outside and classy wine lists displayed in the windows. Puerto Rico beach It's far from obvious why the great restaurateurs decided to set up shop in Grand Case since - food aside - there's nothing spectacular about the town. There are a handful of very good places to stay but there's little else specific in the town to bring you here. The sandy beach that lines the wide, sweeping bay is nice but modest compared to others on the coast and, outside the restaurants, there's little in the way of nightlife
   While most of the tourist development in St Martin is along the coast, the interior remains delightfully unspoiled, its peaceful countryside making for an appealing side-trip if you have a car. Just north of Marigot, you can turn right onto a road signposted to Colombier , where a scattered settlement of old wooden houses, small farms and picturesque meadows strewn with munching cattle gives a picture of island life that has changed little over the last fifty years. A little further north still lies Loterie Farm , a nature-lover's delight and one of the highlights of a visit to St Martin. The farm, once a sugar estate, is now a 150-acre working farm where the owners have carved eco-trails that you are free to wander in either alone or as part of a guided tour (US$5, US$25 per group; call ahead to book on 590/87 86 16). The trails head into the "hidden forest", where you'll find giant silk cotton trees as well as groves of mango and palm trees fed by quiet streams. Those with the energy can make their way up to Pic Paradis , at 390 metres the island's highest point and a three-hour round-trip. Take good footwear, as the trails can be rocky.To get there, follow the main road from Marigot signposted to Pic Paradis. Five hundred metres up a steep hill a right turn is signposted to the farm, taking you through fields of papayas, melons, bananas and vegetables. If you continue up the hill instead, it's another 2km to the peak , past some of the island's most expensive homes, many set back from the road with flamboyant vegetation to guard them from prying eyes. Unless you've got a four-wheel-drive vehicle, you'll need to park at the top and walk for a further ten minutes to get fantastic views out over the island.


   Likeable Marigot is the main town on St Martin and well worth a short visit. At first sight, the place seems too cluttered with traffic, shops and people to be enjoyable, but make your way down to the water and Marigot grows on you, distinctly both French and Caribbean in style. The town has spread along Marigot Bay, with a selection of interesting restaurants and stores and a sparkling new marina at its western end.
   The main focus of the harbour is at the bottom of Rue de la Republique, the location of the booking and departure points for ferries to Anguilla and other islands, and you'll normally see the ferries lined up alongside a fleet of fishing boats. Just west of here, beyond the taxi rank, are a group of bars and "lolos" or food shacks, where you can get excellent and inexpensive island fare. Continuing west brings you to the main public market (Tues-Sat 6am-3pm), where you'll find plenty of souvenir stands selling T-shirts, wooden carvings and the like, as well as a host of fruit and vegetable vendors hawking their colourful produce. It's a lively place, though there are few great bargains for shoppers. Further west still, the grand development of the Port La Royalemarina is also worth making for, with a number of classy shops selling designer gear and jewellery, outlets offering boat and fishing trips and loads of bars and restaurants overlooking the water.Beyond the marina, the main tourist office (Mon-Fri 9am-1pm and 2.30-5pm) has plenty of information and brochures.
   You should certainly make a point of stopping at the nearby archeological museum (Mon-Sat 9am-1pm and 3-6pm; US$5), for its detailed and highly informative exhibits on the Amerindians who lived on the island in the pre-Columbus era as well as more recent history. Evocative black and white photographs of quiet streets populated with a handful of children and donkeys, and of labourers toiling in the salt industry, provide images of what the island looked like before tourism took hold. The museum is a welcome antidote to the all-pervading tourism and helps you appreciate that St Martin is more than just an attraction.Finally, on the other side of the ferry points, a fifteen-minute climb from the harbour, Fort Louis (always open; free) has the scant remains of a 1789 fort built to protect the town from the raids of British sailors and offers fine views across the bay.
  ORIENT BEACH   The area around Orient Beach , at the northeast end of the island, is one of massive commercial development, with hotels, villas and condominiums springing up along a two-kilometre strip. The beach itself, too, is an incredible hive of activity, with restaurants, bars, watersports outlets and most of all hordes of people strung out along its length. Don't be put off by the crowds, though, because this is one of the great beaches in the Eastern Caribbean, a fabulous swathe of white sand bordering an inviting, turquoise sea. Whether you want to rent a jet ski or a windsurfer, take a snorkelling trip or visit an offshore cay, or even if you just want to splash or wander in the shallows, this is a great place to do it. The southern end of the beach, protected from the surf by nearby Green Cay, is the best area for watersports and where the main crowds congregate. Beach chairs and umbrellas can be rented for US$5 a day, while boat trips to Green Cay or Ilet Pinel will set you back around US$10-15. If you're strolling on the beach, watch out for the sudden onset of nudism at the very end, which is largely given over to the "clothing optional" crowd
OYSTER POND  Divided in half by the border, Oyster Pond on the coast southeast of Orient Bay is an oyster-shaped and almost completely landlocked anchorage, popular with yachters. The marina and most of the hotel/condominium development is on the French side of the border, though the best beach in the area is Dawn Beach on the Dutch side, and certainly worth a visit if you're passing by. There is good snorkelling offshore and, when the waves are rolling in, it's a good place for body-surfing though a little rough for small children. There are great views across to St Barts and, when you need sustenance, there are a couple of good food shacks too.
SANDY GROUND AND BAIE ROUGE    Less than a kilometre west of Marigot , the main road curves around to the long spit of land known as Sandy Ground that separates the huge Simpson Bay Lagoon from the sea at Nettle Bay . The isthmus is lined with hotels, restaurants (including the very popular Mario's ) and small shopping malls, though if you're not staying there, the area holds little of interest. The beaches are not particularly impressive and you're better off heading a couple of kilometres further west to the lovely and normally quiet white sandy stretch at Baie Rouge . Here you'll find a handful of vendors selling food and drink on the beach and you can rent snorkelling gear from a shack.
    If you are looking for even more privacy on the beach, continue past Baie Rouge and take the right-hand turn-off signposted for Baie aux Prunes or make your way round the headland to Baie Longue where you'll find a vast expanse of white sand, perfect for strolling and shell collecting.

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