Monday 25 June 2018

ST. MARTIN: Saint Martin And Sint Maarten Visit Both Sides Especially The Nudist Resort, Club Orient

Saint Martin is an island split between the French collectivity of Saint-Martin and the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten formerly part of the Netherlands Antilles, but now a constituent state of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is one of the smallest land masses divided between two countries.

With a population of 40,120 on an area of 37 km2 (14 sq mi), it encompasses the southern 40% of the divided island of Saint Martin, while the northern 60% of the island constitutes the French overseas collectivity of Saint-Martin. Sint Maarten's capital is Philipsburg.

Before 10 October 2010, Sint Maarten was known as the Island Territory of Sint Maarten and was one of five island territories that constituted the Netherlands Antilles.

On 6 and 7 September 2017 the island was hit by Category 5 Hurricane Irma, which caused widespread and significant damage to buildings and infrastructure. A total of two deaths had been reported as of 8 September.

By then, many inhabitants were without basic necessities and looting had become a serious problem.

Sint Maarten has the 15th largest GDP per capita in the world including territories, when measured by purchasing power parity, over three times as high as its French counterpart.

Hurricane Irma caused extensive damage in September 2017. The Prime Minister of the Netherlands told the news media on 8 September that the airport in Sint Maarten was again ready to receive flights and that aid, as well as police officers and military personnel, were on their way.

The Prime Minister of Sint Maarten had already asked the Dutch government for extended relief assistance which began to arrive on 8 September.

Reports on 9 September indicated that 70% of the infrastructure on the Dutch part had been destroyed. The government issued a Tropical Storm Warning on 8 September since the Category 4 Hurricane Jose was approaching.

Princess Juliana Airport was extensively damaged but reopened on a partial basis in two days to allow incoming relief flights and for flights that would take evacuees to other islands.

The government of the Netherlands was sending aid, as well as additional police and military, since looting was a serious problem.

A statement by the Prime Minister summarized the situation on 8 September: We've lost many, many homes. Schools have been destroyed. We foresee a loss of the tourist season because of the damage that was done to hotel properties, the negative publicity that one would have that it's better to go somewhere else because it's destroyed. So that will have a serious impact on our economy.

At the time, preparations were being made as Hurricane Jose approached the island. Government estimates on 9 September indicated that 70 percent of houses were badly damaged or destroyed; much of the population was living in shelters pending the arrival of Jose.

Thankfully, this second hurricane did not have a significant impact on the island.

Widespread looting had started and a state of emergency was announced; some 230 soldiers from the Netherlands were patrolling. Additional Dutch troops were expected.

By 10 September, some 1,200 Americans had been evacuated to Puerto Rico from Sint Maarten by military aircraft during a time of looting and violence.

On that date, Royal Caribbean International said that the company was sending its Adventure of the Seas to Saint-Martin and to St. Thomas to provide supplies and to offer evacuation services.

The ship arrived on the island on 10 September with water, ice, garbage bags, clothing and canned food; she evacuated 320 people. By 11 September, King Willem-Alexander had already arrived in Curaçao and was scheduled to visit St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba.

A survey by the Dutch Red Cross estimated that nearly a third of the buildings in Sint Maarten had been destroyed and that over 90 percent of structures on the island had been damaged.

A report in late March 2018 indicated that the airport was able to handle some flights and some service had resumed from the US, Canada and Europe. A new departure lounge was being used during rebuilding of the original facility.

The General General Aviation building was being used for passengers arriving on the island.

Telecommunications, including Wi-Fi had been restored on the island, 95% of customers were receiving electricity and drinking water was readily available on the island. Some tourist accommodations were open, with 27 operating and 36 said to be ready some time later this year.

Cruise ships were arriving; a full 14 were accommodated the week of February 18, 2018.

In 1978, the government of the Netherlands Antilles installed a Research Committee on the Windward Islands to investigate claims of corruption in the island government.

Even though the report issued by this commission was damaging for the island's government, measures were not put into place to curb corruption, arguably because the government of the Netherlands Antilles depended on the support of Wathey's Democratic Party in the Estates of the Netherlands Antilles.

In August 1990, the public prosecutor of the Netherlands Antilles started an investigation into the alleged ties between the island government of Sint Maarten and the Sicilian Mafia, and in 1991 the Court of Audit of the Netherlands Antilles issued a report which concluded that the island government of Sint Maarten was ailing.

In the government and parliament of the Netherlands, the call for measures became louder and louder. With Dutch pressure, the government of the Netherlands Antilles installed the Pourier Commission tasked with investigating the state of affairs of the island government of Sint Maarten in December 1991.

Its report concluded that the island was in a severe financial crisis, that rules of democratic decision-making were continuously broken, and that the island government constituted an oligarchy. In short, the island government failed completely according to the report.

After long negotiations, the Kingdom government enacted a General Measure of Kingdom Administration in early 1993, placing Sint Maarten under direct supervision of the Kingdom. Although originally meant for one year, the Order-in-Council for the Kingdom was eventually extended until 1 March 1996.

Though much has changed since, allegations of criminal activities continue to plague Sint Maarten. In 2004, the Minister of Justice of the Netherlands Antilles asked the Scientific Research and Documentation Centre of the Dutch Ministry of Justice to conduct research into organized crime in Sint Maarten.

The report concluded that money laundering and cocaine trade are widespread on Sint Maarten. It also alleged that money from the island was used to finance Hamas, its associate Holy Land Foundation, and the Taliban.

In April 2009, former Commissioner Louie Laveist was convicted, and sentenced to an 18-month prison sentence, by the Sint Maarten Court-of-First-Instance, on account of forgery, fraud, and bribery.

He was later acquitted of forgery and of fraud by the Common Court of Justice of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, but not of bribery.

Settlements in Saint Martin

- Philipsburg (1,327 inhabitants).

- Lower Prince's Quarter (8,143 inhabitants).

- Cul de Sac (7,593 inhabitants).

- Cole Bay (5,594 inhabitants).

- Upper Prince's Quarter (3,139 inhabitants).

- Little Bay (Fort Amsterdam) (3,093 inhabitants).

- Simpson Bay (596 inhabitants).

- Lowlands (348 inhabitants).

Religions of Sint Maarten

- Roman Catholic 33.1%

- Pentecostal 14.7%

- Methodist 10.0%

- None 7.9%

- Seventh-day Adventist 6.6%

- Hindu 5.2%

- Christian 4.1%

- Baptist 4.7%

- Anglican 3.1%

- No response 2.4%

- Other Protestant 2.8%

- Jehovah's Witness 1.7%

- Evangelical 1.4%

- Other (includes Buddhist, Sikh, Rastafarian) 1.3%

- Islam/Jewish 1.1%

Languages Spoken

- English 67.5%

- Spanish 12.9%

- Creole 8.2%

- French 6.6%

- Dutch 4.2%

- Other 3.5%

- Papiamento 1.5%

English is the day-to-day administrative language and language of communication in Sint Maarten, and the first language of the majority; the government uses Dutch when communicating with the Dutch government and formerly did so with the Netherlands Antilles government.

Local signage uses both Dutch and English. The government continues to produce Dutch-language documents. There were English-medium and Dutch-medium schools on St. Maarten, and the Dutch government policy towards St. Maarten and other SSS islands promoted English medium education.

As per the 2001 census there were far more Spanish speakers than Dutch speakers; each group was 14.8% and 4.2%, respectively. Thus, Sint Maarten is a polyglot society, they are simultaneous bilinguals in Dutch and English, and among them speak Spanish.

Linguist Linda-Andrea Richardson stated in 1983 that Dutch was a "dead language" in Sint Maarten.

Some residents, including Arubans and St. Martiners who lived in Aruba, speak Papiamento.

The official languages are Dutch and English. A local English-based creole known as Virgin Islands Creole is also spoken. An annual regatta is also held over 3 days culminating in the first weekend in March.

Among the leading cultural artists of the island are Isidore Mighty Dow York, kaisonian, panman; Roland Richardson, Impressionist painter; Nicole de Weever, dancer, broadway star; Susha Hien, choreographer; Lasana M. Sekou, poet, author, independence advocate; Clara Reyes, choreographer; Tanny and The Boys, string band music group.

The annual Saint Maarten Carnival starts in April and ends in May. The Grand Carnival parade that takes place on the Dutch side is the largest parade of the island's two carnivals.

The annual St. Martin Book Fair takes place during the first weekend of June, featuring emerging and famous authors from the island, the Caribbean region, and from around the world.

Ank Klomp wrote in Saint Martin: Communal Identities on a Divided Caribbean Island, that Sint-Maarten lacked a Dutch cultural identity.

Popular team sports in Sint Maarten include baseball, cricket, and soccer. Recreational fishing, golf, and water sports including diving, kayaking, snorkelling, and yachting, are popular amongst tourists.

The Sint Maarten Soccer Association was founded in 1986. The organisation is not a member of FIFA, but became an associate member of CONCACAF in 2002, and a full member in 2013.

The national football team debuted in 1989, and plays its home games at the Raoul Illidge Sports Complex, which has a 3,000-spectator capacity.

After an initial period of popularity during the 1990s, including an appearance at the 1993 Caribbean Cup, interest in football declined, with the national team playing its last official match in 2000 against Dominica.

However, Sint Maarten is scheduled to return to international competition in March 2016, in the 2017 Caribbean Cup qualification tournament.

The Sint Maarten Cricket Association is a member of the Leeward Islands Cricket Association (LICA), which is in turn a member of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).

With rare exceptions for instance, the Stanford 20/20, the national cricket team plays only against other LICA members, though Sint Maarteners may go on to play for the Leeward Islands team at regional level and for the West Indies team internationally.

The primary venue for cricket is the Charles Vlaun Cricket Field. Colin Hamer was the first Sint Maartener to play first-class cricket, while Keacy Carty was the first islander to play at international level for the West Indies under-19s.

Carty was the man of the final at the 2016 Under-19 World Cup, and was later described by the prime minister, William Marlin, as having brought the name of St Maarten to international acclaim.

Prior to cricket becoming popular, baseball was preferred. No national team existed, although Sint Maarteners were eligible to play for the Netherlands Antilles baseball team before its dissolution.

Several Sint Maarteners have passed through the American baseball system, playing at college level or in the minor leagues.

Allen Halley played college baseball for the South Alabama Jaguars and was drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 30th round of the 1995 draft, reaching Class A-Advanced in the minor leagues.

Three others, Rene Leveret, Marc Ramirez, and Rafael Skeete, were signed as free agents by major league teams during their careers, but played only in the minor leagues.

The island is famous for its runway at Princess Juliana International Airport, in which landing aircraft pass within less than 35 metres of Maho Beach below, due to the close proximity of the runway to the ocean.

The planes appear to land dangerously close to beach goers, so the beach and airport have become a popular place for people to view aeroplane landings.

In July 2017 a New Zealander died from head injuries after being propelled backwards from a jet engine blast.

Air transportation to Sint Maarten and the whole island is served by Princess Juliana International Airport, which is well known for its very low final approach landings close to a popular beach at the end of the runway.

The Supreme Court of the Netherlands ruled in a well-known case on the jet blast on this beach. Winair or Windward Islands Airways has its headquarters on the grounds of the airport.

There are no railroads on the island.

St. Maarten's economy is mostly based on tourism, either from tourists staying on the island or day tourists from the many cruise lines that dock in the Philipsburg Harbour.

In 2014, St. Maarten had more gaming machines per resident than any other country in the world.

Philipsburg is the capital of the Dutch side. This is where most cruise ships dock.

Marigot is the capital of the French side.

Grand Case is on the French side with excellent restaurants.

The northern, French side of the island is known as Saint-Martin, and is 54km² (21 square miles) in area. The southern, Dutch side of the island is known as Sint Maarten, and is 41km² (16 square miles).

The Dutch side has recently formed its own government and legal system, with its relations with the French side to remain unchanged. To avoid confusion between the three variations on the name, the two regions are commonly referred to as the French side and the Dutch side.

Although this island is controlled by two different countries, there is no real border. There are only monuments and signs that delineate the border.

Over 350 years ago the two countries decided that residents of either country could travel across both sides of the border without worrying about any trouble.

Local legend says that two men representing the two respective countries met on the island to define the border.

Both men wanted the majority of the land for their nation, so they decided to have a contest. They would both start at the same point and walk along the coast in separate directions.

When they both met on the other side of the island, they would draw a line from point to point, and that would serve as the border. However, the Dutchman was a drunk and was hammered when they started the contest.

He was stumbling and kept falling down, which is why the Netherlands has less of the land. The two countries now live peacefully without difficulties, which helps tourism considerably.

Any separation is more from separate and dissimilar utilities systems, for example the power grid on the French side is 230V at 50Hz - Europlug sockets, while the Dutch side is 110/120V at 60Hz - US sockets.

In addition, one must take special care when dialling from the French to Dutch or Dutch to French side as it is, in effect, an international call and requires special dialling instructions.

These instructions are typically posted at hotels and tourist locations.

The Dutch side, Sint Maarten, has become a leading destination in the property market with more and more developments being constructed. There are high-rise flats and waterfront communities, all of which are popular to buyers, especially Americans.

Tourists on the streets are frequently approached by time-share offers for them.

Many large resorts have been built and on many days cruise ships flood Philipsburg with their passengers. Philipsburg is one of the Caribbean's best shopping towns. If shopping's not your thing, you can sit out back on Philipsburg's harbour beach and have a drink.

Or play at one of the casinos just down the street. There are nine on this side. When it all gets too mellow, go rip it up with a 4x4 excursion around the island. Visit the Maho and Cupecoy area for some of the best nightlife on the island and some of the best beaches.

The French side, Saint-Martin, consists of the northern two-thirds of the island. It has a more European feel than the Dutch side. The native language is French and has the same guiding laws as France. There are no casinos on the French side.

It is less developed than the Dutch side, but contains more of the island's natural wonders. The French side is popularly known for clothing-optional Orient Beach.

The adjacent nudist resort, Club Orient the clothing optional portion of the beach lies at the far southern end, and can be easily recognised by the large bright yellow beach umbrellas.
While the Club Orient does own its beach area, it is open to the public, so you will see both clothed and unclothed people on this particular stretch; if you are with small children, and you don't want them to see unclothed people, it is probably best to not bring them to this part of the beach.

However the towns of Marigot and Grand Case provide some of the best gourmet meals anywhere and plenty of interesting shops. Beauty abounds on the island, with bluffs overlooking pretty harbours, sandy-cliffed beaches and tranquil rocky coves where fish provide the beauty.

Effective 30 September 2011, international telephone dialling to locations on the Dutch side changed when Sint Maarten joined the North American Numbering Plan. The correct phone number is now +1 721 current 7-digit number

The official languages on the Dutch side are Dutch and English, with English being the predominant language. French is the official language on the French side.

Nevertheless, children on both sides of the island are educated in French, Dutch, English and Spanish from an early age, so language is typically not a barrier when visiting the island.

Sint Maarten is not an integral part of the European Netherlands or the Schengen Area. Instead, Sint Maarten has a common visa policy with Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba and Sint Eustatius.

Dutch nationals and citizens do not have right of abode in Sint Maarten, however they may visit visa-free for 6 months. EU identity cards are not valid for travel to Sint Maarten; only passports and BES identity cards are accepted for Dutch nationals.

Those living in the countries and territories listed below can visit Sint Maarten visa-free for 30 to 90 days:

All other European Union/European Economic Area countries, Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil. Brunei, Canada, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala.

Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Macau, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Suriname, South Korea.

Taiwan, Trinidad and Tobago, United Arab Emirates, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City and Venezuela.

Those living in British Overseas Territories must follow the same visa exempt policy as the other countries mentioned.

All foreign nationals who hold a valid residence permit of Canada, the European Netherlands, Ireland, any nation in the Schengen Area, the United States and the United Kingdom are exempted from the visa requirement.

The captain, crew or passengers of a ship or aircraft which does not stay for a continuous period of longer than 48 hours are exempted from the visa requirement.

Those holding a official United Nations Laissez-Passer are exempted from the visa requirement.

Anyone who does not fit in to the above requirements/nationalities will have to apply for an Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and Caribbean Netherlands visa from a Dutch embassy.

French Side - As Saint-Martin is part of the European Union, citizens of all EU nations including Metropolitan France, Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino and Switzerland can visit, stay and work visa-free for a unlimited time in Saint-Martin.

In theory, the countries mentioned only have to use their national identity card as a travel document if taking flights from Metropolitan France to Saint-Martin.

However since Princess Juliana International Airport is located on the Dutch side and is outside the Schengen Area., passports are required for travellers arriving by air.

Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela and holders of a valid EU long-term visa or resident permit issued by a Schengen country can visit visa-free for up to 90 days in a 180-day period.

Additionally, citizens of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro and Serbia who hold a biometric passport may enter for up to 90 days in a 180-day period.

Citizens of Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Montserrat, Saint Lucia and Turks and Caicos Islands can stay visa-free for up to 15 days.

Princess Juliana International Airport. This airport on the Dutch side is the larger airport on the island and one of the Caribbean's busiest.

The runway was very short, but has been extended and the terminal rebuilt in 2006. Planes land and take off unusually close overhead to sunbathers at Maho Beach.

Maho Beach itself is a tourist draw for die-hard aviation enthusiasts for this reason, and the airport is something of a holy grail for them. You don't want your hotel too near. There were over 1.6 million visitors that came through Princess Juliana Airport in 2005.

It is not only a beautiful airport, but a very busy airport, especially on the weekends when many timeshare owners are coming and going.
The other airport is near Grand Case to the north, and primarily serves inter-island flights, commercial and private.

When leaving St. Martin by plane, travellers pay an exit tax at the Phillipsburg airport. Travellers departing on international flights pay USD36. Exempt are passengers flying with certain airlines, transit passengers and children under two.

This tax is included in some airfares but for others travellers must pay at the airport. The exit tax to the other Netherlands Antilles Islands such as Saba and St. Eustatius is only USD10. The exit tax does not apply to in transit travellers.

Last year, over 1.3 million people visited the island by cruise ship, landing mostly in Philipsburg on what used to be the Dutch side.

Since 2005 they've used an extended pier built by a 3-year project. Four cruise ships can visit at once.

As of July 2010, they finished construction of a second nearby pier catering to next-generation mega-cruise ships.

Dredging continues next to the piers, to assure enough depth for those ships. This generates huge piles of sand on shore, being used to build Philipsburg's infrastructure.

Very-occasionally, ships moor or anchor off-shore.

Those ships make the city of Philipsburg the busiest city on the island. In high season, you may see 6 or so ships, offloading perhaps 18,000 or more passengers.

In low season, one occasional ship is more common. You can find usually-accurate schedules for this and many ports and dates online.

The main cruise docks for Philipsburg are approximately a one mile walk to the east end of Front Street leading into the main shopping area. However, a short walk from the cruise ship docks you'll find:

A fleet of taxis and cars/guides for hire.

A water taxi service continuously running boats in a round-robin route to Philipsburg in either order, to a dock near the east end of Front Street and another opposite the courthouse on Front Street center, before returning to the cruise ship area.

Both stops offer ready access to a large beach and Front Street shopping. Several boats run while multiple cruise ships are there.
You can buy single-trip wristbands at modest cost, or wrist-bands for unlimited travel all day for slightly more.

You'll see long lines when many cruise ships are docked, but the number of water taxis employed rises to meet demand, so you'll rarely have a long wait.

Marigot port on the French side is limited to hosting one small-sized cruise ship at a time, but is also served by attractive marinas supporting many yachts of all sizes. Most inter-island ferry service also arrives/departs at Marigot.

Rental cars are available at Princess Juliana International Airport at a dedicated area outside of the airport. You'll find a wide collection of rental car companies such as Leisure Car Rental, Safari Car Rentals, Avis, Budget, Hertz, Unity Cars, EasyTerra, and E-Z Rent-A-Car available at the airport.

The roads are narrow, sometimes quite bad on both sides of the island, and often very crowded between Philipsburg and Marigot.

At least one car hire/rental operator, Rhino Car Hire insists that its cars can only be used on the Dutch side. This seems nuts, but when questioned they confirm it.

Since several operators include a standard phrase such as - All cross-border travel disallowed - it's worth getting a specific ruling from the operator before parting with any money.

Motorcycles, quads and scooters are also available for rent, however it is advisable that you have some experience on these vehicles before venturing into St. Maarten's sometimes very hectic traffic.

Traffic on the island moves on the right-hand-side of the road. Expect a lot of scooters and motorcycles to speed around you on both sides of the road. This can be startling to drivers not used to two wheeled traffic as it can create a dangerous situation.

If you stay in your lane and don't waver you can trust most of the time that the cyclists will pass you safely. It's better to just let them pass you at a steady pace then try and slow down or pull to the side.

Right-of-way is more of a suggestion; people will generally use their horns to let you know they're in proximity to you. It can be jarring, but as long as you don't make any knee-jerk moves, you should be fine.

The prevalence of road signs is often very sketchy, and when they can be found they are in English on the Dutch side and in French on the French side. Speed limits are in kilometres per hour (km/h) on both sides.

Once you reach Philipsburg, Marigot or Grand Case, you can get around nicely on foot. The distances in each are not long. Take some care in Philipsburg and Marigot with heavy traffic, narrow, sometimes missing pavements, and the midday sun.

Taxi cabs are usually vans, which are geared towards servicing the cruise ship traffic. To go completely around the island will cost about USD25 per person.

Most drivers are quite willing and able to hire-out as tour guides. Most charge USD45-50 per hour, and can offer a custom experience for 3-4 people that can be less expensive and more versatile and satisfying than large bus tours offered by cruise ships or hotels.

Taxis do not have meters but charge according to a fixed fee. Some taxis, especially those on the Dutch side, only accept US dollars.

Saint Martin has a bus system using small minivans. You can recognise the vans because in the front window they will have a sign stating their direction and their license plate says bus.

You can get most anywhere on the island for USD2 and the airport for USD3 - buses accept both euros and US dollars but most locals pay for their bus fare using dollars. They run frequently between Philipsburg and Marigot.

There are stops that the buses will stop at when someone is there, but you can flag one down from just about anywhere they can pull over as well as ask them to stop anywhere they reasonably can.

They aren't exactly efficient or timely they show up essentially whenever, but are a great way to get a leisurely tour for next to nothing and to get from the Dutch side to the French side.

Butterfly Farm, Rte. de Le Galion, Quartier d'Orléans, Phone: 590/87-31-21. Daily 9AM-3PM. Stroll through hundreds of colorful butterflies under a tented mesh. A fun outing. $12 good for your stay on the island.

Pic du Paradis, Route de Pic du Paradis from Friars Bay Beach. Pic du Paradis is the highest point on the island at 427m (1,400 ft) with two viewing areas that provide great views.

The road is steep and isolated and four wheel drive is required. This is also an isolated area and is safest seen as part of an excursion or tour.

Beaches are a main attraction on the island of Saint Martin. It has 37 beaches total, with hotels holding property on most of them. Beach Bars and Cafés are very popular attractions on the island.

Many offer unusually good dishes with European and Caribbean inspiration. Frozen cocktails are also a trendy treat to keep down the heat.

Orient Bay, for example, has an underwater marine reserve where snorkelling and other water sports are available.

All beaches of Saint Martin are fine for swimming and sun bathing, though the west half of the good beach at Philipsburg has better water. The island caters to all, with beaches of fun things to do as well as secluded and more private ones.

Boat Charters are very popular around the island with the inner Simpson Bay Lagoon and all of its marinas and the outer islands of Anguilla, St Barths, Saba and Tintamarre just waiting to be seen with a day trip or sunset cruise.

Celine Charters offers a variety of private and scheduled trips from Portofino Marina in Simpson Bay to multiple spots around the island including the island's very popular and only lagoon pub crawl.

Scoobidoo Charters offer multiple day-trips and private charter opportunities from Anse Marcel to Anguilla and St Barths. Aqua Mania Adventures offer numerous day-sails from Simpson Bay Resort to Saba, Anguilla, St Barths and all around St Maarten.

Clothing optional beaches. As a European island, topless sun bathing is frequently seen. Some tourists come to Sint Maarten / Saint-Martin because there are clothing optional beaches & resorts on the island. Not every beach is clothing optional.

On the Dutch side, there is Cupecoy Beach in the far western tip of the Dutch jurisdiction. The beach is not officially clothing optional, but the local administration does look the other way on nude sunbathing on the far western edge of the beach.

Cupecoy is a very small beach located at the base of a cliff face. No other beaches on the Dutch side tolerate it, and you will be fined by the Sint Maarten Police for indecent exposure and/or lewd behaviour.

On the French side, nudity is permitted officially at the Club Orient beach or Papagayo Beach, and topless sunbathing for women is accepted throughout the French jurisdiction.

Unofficially, nude sunbathing is tolerated at some of the smaller, less touristy beaches - the southern ends of Prune and Rouge Beaches generally on weekdays when there are fewer beach patrons.

As long as beach guests do not make spectacles of themselves, French gendarmes or police may overlook your lack of clothing.

One particularly famous beach is Maho Bay beach on the "Dutch side". The beach is situated at the end of the airport's runway, so landing large aircraft fly just feet over the beach.

Some people attempt to hold on to the fence on airport premises as aircraft depart. This is not recommended due to flying gravel and debris.

People have been injured doing this. However, the spectacular view of aircraft landing so close is one that you might find stunning. The greatest number of large aircraft arrivals and departures takes place in the early-mid-morning and mid-late afternoon.

Just beyond Maho Bay is Mullet Bay; some say it has the nicest beach on the island, with food and drink vendors and beach lounger rentals but few facilities. A full complement of tours and excursions are also available as well as watersports and parasailing.

Casinos are also a popular attraction on the island, only on the Dutch side. Some of them are in the Cupecoy, Maho, Cole Bay areas, while in Phillipsburg you'll find five.

Kid Connect. An activity centre for kids open daily form 9AM until 7PM and until 11PM on Friday and Saturday. Kid Connect is on the Dutch side across the street from Caribbean Cinemas and not too for from both Paradise Plaza Casino and Tropicana Casino.

Loterie Farm, Rte. de Pic du Paradis. Location features an excellent restaurant, a Lounge with Tapas, Hikes and Ecotours on a 150 acre preserve, and The Fly Zone a fun Zip Line experience with rope zips and an obstacle course high up in the trees.

Also has a Ti Tarzan zip course for the kids and The Fly Zone Extreme a new Zip that goes up over 100ft. On the French side but patronized by many American tourists, prices are shown in euros and dollars.

You should call in advance for prices and to check whether a cruise ship shore tour is visiting, as it is pretty packed on those days. If you're going on the Zips, wear closed shoes, flip flops are a no-no.

The Activities are open only during the day, but the Restaurant and Lounge are open in the evenings as well, try the Curry Chicken.

Harley Davidson, Cole Bay. Don't hop on a bus and get herded around. Ride a hog and enjoy the views, the right way. Contact Super Bikes located in Cole Bay on the Dutch side of the island and rent a Harley Davidson Fat Boy, or any of the other super bikes for the day or for your whole trip.

There are special Harley Cruises that let the riders travel with their bikes and then head out with locals for a ride that hits all the hot spots.

The Caribbean Eagles have their monthly ride on the first Saturday of every month, or just climb onto one of the most famous of all motorcycles and go your own way. If interested, contact Neo at SuperBikes for more info.

Harley Motorcycles Tour - Guided Rides on a Harley around St Martin, Cole Bay. Enjoy the freedom of the road and the intoxicating sights, smells and sounds of Saint Martin - St Maarten sitting on the saddle of a classic Harley.

The tour takes you along roads where you are overlooking beaches with white sand and turquoise sea, passing lush, green hills and colourful meadows. On the tour you will be escorted by two experienced guides who know the island well.

With one guide leading the way riding a Harley and the second driving the back up jeep. It also secures the side roads and protects the rear.

The official currency of the Dutch side is the Netherlands Antillean guilder, which is subdivided into 100 cents. It is pegged to the US dollar at a rate of $1-ƒ1.80. On the French side, the official currency is the euro (€, EUR).

No matter where you are on the island, euros and US dollars are commonly accepted, as are credit cards. However there are many places that do not accept cards, so you should ask beforehand.

Always have some cash on you in small denominations for small purchases and for transport. Expect change in local currency for lesser cash transactions.

The island has a deserved reputation as an excellent place to shop, rivalling Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands for price, but with somewhat fewer stores. Some shoppers report better prices for some items than the USVI. Both sides offer a wide range of quality.

Shopping is duty free on both sides of the island, with no tax or duty paid directly by buyers. Merchants on the Dutch side do pay a five percent turnover tax on all items they sell increased from 3% by the new government.

A few sellers may try to add it as a separate cost item on sales slips, despite instructions from the tax authority not to do so.

French side. Items are usually priced in euros on the French side, so some items are or appear to be more expensive after currency conversion than on the Dutch side or elsewhere in the Caribbean. Many stores on the French side close between 12 and 3PM.

That side has a smaller number of retailers, and their goods e.g., clothing, perfumes, wine tend to be premium, European brand-name or designer items at fairly competitive prices.

However, unique items e.g., souvenirs, spices particularly at the water-front open-air market large and growing in Marigot are reasonable, and the banter among vendors is worth the visit, especially mornings on Wednesday and Saturday.

French wine and delicacy lovers may find premium offerings on this side that are available perhaps nowhere else in the Caribbean. If you are shopping on Sunday, forget the French side, the only places open are most restaurants and some food stores.

Dutch side. Front Street in Philipsburg is the centre of shopping on the Dutch side. Numerous stores offer jewellery, liquor, cosmetics, cameras, electronics and tobacco, with souvenirs everywhere; you'll find a small open-air bazaar behind the courthouse.

Those looking for well-priced beachwear and souvenirs might try the few places on Back Street, one block farther from the beach than Front Street and parallel to it.

Grand Marche and Sangs supermarkets (the latter beyond the east end of Front Street in Philipsburg both offer a wide range of items, e.g., mild Dutch Gouda are popular buys. Shops are generally open from 8 or 9AM until noon, and then again from 2 until 6PM.

If one or more cruise ships are visiting, many stores remain open during the lunch period and on Sundays.

Amsterdam Cheese & Liquor Store next to Chesterfields Restaurant in Philipsburg 5 minutes away from the cruise terminal, offers a wide range of Dutch cheese and with their premium cheese the Old Amsterdam, they also have Dutch treats like chocolate, stroopwafels,etc.

They also have a large selection of wines and liquors. The store is open Monday to Saturday from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM

Any electronics including cameras, lenses purchased here will have an international warranty or grey-market or none. You should clearly understand what any warranty covers and what's necessary to obtain service at home.

Store recommendations by cruise ship port shopping advisers are usually reliable, but the stores pay very large fees for those endorsements virtually all for stores on the Dutch side.

Recommended by advisers or not, large or small, most stores e.g., Kay's Jewellery are reliable, and will rectify any problem truly their responsibility. You're wise to thoroughly examine an item before purchase & obtain a warranty, or formal appraisal for pricey gems/jewellery.

Avoid World of Electronics, they have history of falsely describing items such as an Apple iPhone 4S which Apple have confirmed is not an Apple iPhone 4S.

Most merchants touted by those advisers are near or east of the courthouse on Front Street. Those stores and others offer excellent selections.

The centre and easterly parts were recently renovated for pleasant walking despite heavy vehicle traffic and sometimes crowded pavements. Many liquor stores there box bottles and may deliver to your hotel or ship if purchased early enough.

West of the courthouse, and on Old Street, you'll find smaller stores, e.g., for aggressively discounted liquor often cash-only, boxes only for multi-bottle purchases, usually no delivery, so you'll need a sturdy bag and padding to safely carry bottles.

Whenever considering a significant purchase, negotiate amiably; you may well save a bit.

Anyone on the streets touting freebies or cash will likely lead you incrementally and smoothly to a distant, on-site sales pitch for resort condos or time-shares.

Once there, you'll encounter high-pressure tactics over an extended time, with freebies governed by willingness to buy. If you have only limited time for your visit, it may be totally consumed at the sales pitch.

St Martin is a duty-free port, so merchants pay no up-front duty or tax as they price merchandise. They must, however, pay the above 5% "turnover tax" (TOT), and those funds come from

It offers no special customs duty advantages over other Caribbean islands, and for U.S. citizens a slight disadvantage compared to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Nonetheless, you may find well-priced items here that you won't find elsewhere, and prices on commodity items e.g., some premium liquors, wines may be better than the USVI. Take care when calculating cost per litre for purchases, and when declaring litres for Customs, because bottle sizes vary.

Don't allow yourself to be dissuaded from a purchase here just for fear of customs duties, which may be modest.

The island has some 300 restaurants with a wide variety of offerings available to both tourists and locals. There are many good restaurants in Grand Case. The French cuisine and local fare is an exciting experience to most, but if you are apprehensive about trying new things, there are other restaurants.

The island has restaurants that are American, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, vegetarian and more. If self-catering, you'll find large modern supermarkets with excellent selections of American, European and other products as well, all imported.

If you are not feeling adventurous, the Dutch Side has several American fast food franchises including McDonalds(3), Burger King(3), Subway(4), Pizza Hut(2), Dominoes(2), KFC(3) and Bubble Tea(1).

In Philipsburg, you'll find a Macs a block west on Front Street, at least convenient for a cold soft drink during your hot shopping and Bubble Tea is also in the Philipsburg area.

If you want to save some cash, eat where the locals eat on the cheap, both the french and Dutch sides of the island feature many Chinese restaurants, but the Dutch Side is the hands down winner with over 40 of them.

In addition to the regular far eastern fare, these inexpensive eateries feature many local dishes, and Caribbeanized Chinese food.

Want to try something really different, stop at one the roadside food trucks for some take-away, one of these trucks located in Phillipsburg serves some of the best Suriname food on the island. Try the Chicken Sate with Bami or go light with a Soato Soup.
Enjoy lunch, swim on a beautiful beach and watch aircraft land at Tortuga at Maho.

Some restaurants on the island will add 15% to your bill and it will be listed as Tax or SC (Service charge). The truth is, the island has no dining tax so the restaurant may be taking advantage of North American tourists used to paying tax.

You can consider the 15% your tip, those who aren't aware may pay another 15% to 20% when the "Tax/SC" is really a tip already going to the waiter.

If you ask for water in any restaurant they will assume you mean bottled water which can be USD4-5 per bottle depending on the restaurant.

Surprisingly this is sometimes more expensive than beer or wine. If you don't want to pay the higher price make sure you specify very clearly that you want tap water.

In many countries it is illegal to print the full credit card number on any receipt, on many islands it is not. Therefore, when you are signing a receipt make sure to check if your CC# is on the merchant copy and scribble it out. It's not illegal to do so and it protects your card.

When making an international phone call: Be sure to investigate pre-paid phone cards. The most expensive type of international phone call is to use a credit card. Companies like International Satellite Communications, which handle credit card calls, charge exorbitant connection fees and per-minute rates.

As of October 2009 the drinking age in town is 18, but in tourist areas they are not so strict about it. St. Martin's nightlife consists of many bars, nightclubs and casinos where drinking is prevalent.

Start out with a happy hour at Bamboo Bernies where drinking is free for a half an hour and continues until seven with the highest drink price of a dollar! Many of the clubs have ladies' nights as well as other nightly drink specials.

The Dutch side of the island has more night clubs than the French, so if you're up for the party scene, this side is the one where you should stay.

Large wine menus are also usually available at most restaurants.

Oualichi Club. The only club in Philipsburg. Easy acces on the Boardwalk. Easy private parking. Indoor and outdoor dance floors with views of great bay and the cruise ships. Open every Friday and Saterday night 10PM -3AM.

Prive. Trendy sky Bar and lounge, indoor with an open terrace on the top of the Mega Yacht Building and views of Simpson Bay strip and lagoon. Open 6PM - 3AM everyday. On the Simpson Bay strip at the top of the Market Garden Supermarket.

St. Martin's hotel rooms, almost without exception, rent for US$100+ per night and often much more, and generous taxes and service charges are then also applied. High season is from December through April. Accommodations are considerably less the rest of the year.

If you are doing last minute travel when you call ahead ask for the local rate rather than what you will normally get which is the walk-in rate, it can save you a considerable amount of money in some situations.

There are also a number of villa and apartment rentals to from on both the French and Dutch sides. Sites like AirBnB and VRBO can show a considerable number of locations complete with kitchens and great views for less than the price of a hotel.

French side Accomodations

- Palm Court

- Cap Caribe

- La Hoste

- La Plantation, Within a 5-minute walk to Orient Beach. Bungalow format with stove, microwave, refrigerator and security safe. Complimentary breakfast. Located on the French side of the island.

- Grand Case Beach Club, Grand Case. Secluded beach resort in the city of Grand Case on Saint Martin (French). Each room includes a kitchen and the facilities include a swimming pool and onsite cafe, Sunset Cafe.

- La Samanna, Baie Longue. On 55 acres with an incredible stretch of beach, top notch service, activities and facilities. It's the place to spend your lottery winnings in style.

- Orient Bay has many beautiful hotels and spas on site, and the most popular beach on the island is just steps away. All Orient Bay hotels are far from the main airport, so you will never hear or see an airplane. The ride is only about 15-20 minutes depending on traffic.

Le Beach Hôtel, Marigot. The Beach Hotel is ideally located in front of the Caribbean sea, on a small beach of fine, golden sand at the heart of the Marigot Bay, close to everything the island has to offer.

144 spacious rooms (30m2) and 3 suites (60m3) to make your stay unforgettable and unique. Offering a large panel of activities, spas services, car rental, Le Beach is the ideal location for your vacations, business travels, seminaries, wedding and anniversaries.

Dutch Side Accomodations

- Beacon Hill Towers, Beacon Hill Road, with access to beaches on Burgeaux Bay and Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten. A perfect location for a large family as each unit has 4 bedrooms and students of American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC), rates start at $700 USD per week, and up to $2,200 per month for long term rentals.

- The Royal Turtle Inn, The Royal Turtle Inn Airport road 114,Simpson Bay,Sint Maarten. An attractive, recently converted local residence, this hotel is renowned for clean rooms and friendly service. $89-$145.

- Travel Inn, 15 Airport Road, Simpson Bay. Basic budget hotel with 40 rooms (10 with kitchenette) with AC/Television. FYI - some rooms are interior and may not have windows. Across from shops and bars. $109-$175 depending on the season.

- Turquoise Shell Inn, 34 Simpson Bay Rd., Simpson Bay. A small Inn (10 suites) located in the heart of Simpson Bay Village. Steps away from a Simpson Bay Beach.

All of the suites have fully equipped kitchens, cable television, air conditioner in the bedroom, ceiling fan in the living room/kitchen and free wireless internet.

Also within walking distance of grocery stores, restaurants, bars and banks. $115-$145/nt or $700-875/week depending on the season. Minimum 2-night stay to book online, but you can also email or call them directly to book a one-night stay.

- Divi Little Bay Beach Resort, Little Bay Rd., Phillipsburg. A full-service resort close to downtown Phillipsburg. Some dining options, bars and shops are on-site. Dining may be considered mediocre.

There is also a historical fort on the grounds. Rooms need some maintenance, but are safe and generally clean. Beach and watersports, snorkeling, jet skiing on-site. $180-$280.

- Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort & Casino, 19 Little Bay Rd., Great Bay. Great location beachfront and a short walk from Phillipsburg. Adults Only All-inclusive available. 3 restaurants, bars, pools, water sports, tennis court, and gym.

- Sonesta Maho Beach Resort & Casino, 1 Rhine Road, Maho Bay. A destination within a destination, featuring a casino, two outdoor pools, a Sonesta Kids Club, three restaurants, a promenade of 40 boutiques and restaurants, four tennis courts, Good Life Spa, fitness centre and more than 16,000 square feet of meeting space.

- The Villas on Great Bay, 211 Front St., Great Bay, Great location, beachfront and a short walk from downtown Phillipsburg. It's a small gated property consisting of twelve 2 bedrooms villas.

Features beautiful infinity pool located on extensive patio areas, all night security guard and on-site management to provide assistance & recommendations. $200-$300 up to 4 people.

- Tropical Beach Paradise Dawn Beach, 160 Oyster Pond Rd., Dawn Beach, Oyster Pond. 3 pools and a hot tub. Restaurants, Casino, Bars, Grocery in walking distance. Right on the Beach in best location of St.Maarten. Best snorkeling beach.

Locate some common sense and bring it with you when vacationing anywhere in the Caribbean. Here...

Mosquitoes Recently, St. Martin as well as several other Caribbean islands have been plagued with Chikungunya Virus. It is similar to Dengue Fever, and has no known cure.

It has been spreading throughout the world recently, and was first recorded in the Western Hemisphere on St. Martin in January 2014. The government recommends long sleeves and using mosquito repellent high in DEET.

Sun You can burn within a remarkably short time; use sunscreen or block frequently depending on how long you're exposed. Do not fail to reapply it as recommended depending on where you are e.g., swimming, on boat, beach walking, with special attention to feet and backs of knees and neck.

Brimmed hats and umbrellas can offer further protection.

Crime Though the island is generally a safe place, like everywhere else in the world there is crime, and you should be aware of your surroundings at all times. Obviously you should lock your doors, avoid unpopulated areas and do not flash your money and jewelry around.

Remember that this is a foreign country, and act accordingly. Tourists report many instances of parked rental cars being rifled. Organized teams can break in effortlessly. Best advice: Leave nothing of value in them at any time.

Drinking Be aware that drinking is practically a national pastime in St. Maarten, and it is relatively easy and inexpensive to obtain alcoholic beverages $1.25 ice cold Heineken's are available almost everywhere including McDonalds and gas stations and therefore extremely easy to over-do it.

Driving while impaired on the island is very risky as there are many places where you could end up in the ocean or down the side of a cliff. When in doubt, call a cab.

Drugs Like most places, drugs are readily available for those interested, but despite what someone may tell you Marijuana is not legal and certainly is not regulated as in certain parts of the Netherlands.

Parking Take care in Philipsburg there is very little parking and the tow zone areas are very poorly marked. If the spot is free and you think it shouldn't be then it is probably a tow area.

Jet blast If you're on Maho Bay, watch out for approaching and departing planes. Get too close and a jet engine from a plane taking off can blast a lot of air, sand, or water into your face, or worse cause serious injury or death.

LGBT travelers If you are LGBT be careful of your surroundings, as with many Caribbean islands the local culture doesn't have the same level of acceptance found in other countries. While not a large problem, each year there are reports of attacks based on sexual orientation.

If you are considerate of your environment you won't have a problem but it should be noted that public displays of affection by LGBT individuals especially on the Dutch side, may not be well tolerated.

Pharmacies are denoted by a cross symbol, usually in neon and there are Hospitals with ambulance service on both sides of the island.

Generally, you'll find no dress codes for most places on St. Martin. Some high-end restaurants and night clubs do have some, though, so find out beforehand to avoid any disappointment.

St. Martin has a great deal of cultural diversity, and true locals are far outnumbered by immigrants from poorer and less urbane areas. Dressing too in too risque a fashion can give the impression that you are looking for a good time and attract unwanted attention.

You may also offend some locals if you wander around in places other than the beaches and pools in your swimsuit: e.g., in your local supermarket as well as here, it's disrespectful and you may be treated accordingly.

Short-hop flights and ferryboats from various points on both the Dutch and French territory, are available to nearby islands such as Saint-Barthelemy, Anguilla, and Saba.

Water crossings can occasionally be quite rough, but take only 30 minutes or so to St Barts and Anguilla. As of 2015 a comprehensive website for all ferry and boat routes, StMartinbookingscom has come online.

Schedules & routes for local carriers such as Voyager (To Saint Barths from Marigot and Oyster Pond), The Edge ferry To St Barth from Simpson bay and to Saba from Philipsburg, Dawn II to Saba from Philipsburg, Calypso and Funtime charters To Anguilla from SXM Airport are available there or directly via the sites of each individual company.

Tourism Observer

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