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
is the local currency; some, but certainly not all,
establishments will quote or accept US dollars. Euro notes are issued in
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.
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
You can use this Currency
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
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
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
Local time is GMT -4.
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
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.
tel 87 86 25 (French side), tel 130 (Dutch
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).
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
May 1- Labour Day
Dec 25- Christmas Day
Dec 26- Boxing Day
May 25 -Ascension Day
July 14- Bastille Day
July 21- Schoelcher Day
November 1 -All Saints Day
November 11 -Feast of St Martin
April 30- Queen's Day
October 21- Antillean Day
St Maarten Day
Food and Drink
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
shops and fast-food joints.
The town is built right on Great
, 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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
West of Marigot in Sandy Ground is Heaven's Disco
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 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.
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
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
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
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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