Two of the most amazing islands to visit in the Caribbean are the dual countries of St. Martin and St. Maarten. From white sandy beaches to palm tree-topped mountains, the climate is perfect and the scenery, unforgettable. Cruise ships flock to the ports of Marigot and Phillipsburg to explore the French and Dutch offerings.
Popular things to do include sunbathing, water sports, duty-free shopping, dining in stellar French eateries, and learning the history of these countries. Popular souvenir choices include duty-free cameras, watches, liquor, and lace.
My friends and I took an Eastern Caribbean cruise on the Ruby Princess ship. It offered stops in St. Thomas, St. Martin, the Bahamas, and Grand Turk. Having been to St. Martin many times before, my friend Angie and I thought that we would take a cab over to the French side of the island, St. Martin, to do some shopping and eat lunch. Unfortunately, when we got to the island, nearly everything was closed. Turned out that it was a holiday in St. Martin, their remembrance day, similar to Thanksgiving in the United States.
One Island, Two Countries
St. Martin is 21 square miles in size, while St. Maarten, the Dutch side of the island, is slightly smaller at 16 square miles. The two countries make up the dual national island of the kingdom of the Netherlands. St. Maarten is no longer an island territory but is the smallest territory shared by two sovereign states: France and the Netherlands. According to our tour guide, it is much easier to do business on the Dutch side, as well as more popular. It is also more expensive.
The climate is favorable in both countries with temperatures averaging 82°. Euros are the French side currency and the guilder on the Dutch, but the American dollar is widely accepted.
Touring the French and Dutch Islands
After docking at the AC Wathey Pier, Angie and I joined four Canadian ladies from a Royal Caribbean cruise on their private scheduled island tour. The tour allowed for beach time at Orient Beach, the most famous on the islands. Our price was $30 each, which was very fair for the amount of time we were given to tour and included a private guide. We all rode in a nice air-conditioned van around the Dutch (St. Maarten) side of the island, through the lovely capital of Phillipsburg. We stopped at several locations for photo ops, our favorite being Pic Paradis, the best vantage point on the island.
Arriving in Marigot, St. Martin’s capital, was like a ghost town, with only a few people strolling around the beaches. Typically this is the place where tourists go to soak up the lovely pastel-colored shopping boutiques, waterfront market, sidewalk cafes and bistros, and expensive art galleries. Old Street is the most popular location. Scenery wise, nothing much on St. Martin had changed since my last visit other than a few luxury hotels had closed or changed names. Our guide told us that after twenty years, hotels have to sell to become condos or apartments, as part of their agreements with the country.
St. Martin’s Orient Bay Beach, “the Saint Tropez of the Caribbean”, was our place to enjoy an hour of leisure time. Angie and I found vacant lounge chairs and sat there enjoying the stunning beach. The waters at Orient Bay Beach seem to be shaded in an arc fashion, with too many vibrant shades of blue to even count. It is beautiful! We watched a group of guys play paddleball, something I was unfamiliar with.
Within minutes, a security team ran us off. Turns out that we were in exclusive tour group chairs. It was just as well because we had been hounded by seven ladies trying to sell us their wares, a foot massage, or whatever else they had to offer since the moment we arrived. They even begged to give us a sample of foot massage; get me out of here!
There was no relaxing around Orient Bay Beach. Also, it could have been due to the rains, but the water was full of debris, mostly seaweed. A bit further down the beach is the clothing optional area of Orient Bay Beach. A few of our cruiser friends went there and said they would never be able to get those horrible visions out of their minds.
Terrific Beach Food and Drink
Kakao Beach Restaurant and Bar is where we chose to have a quick bite before heading back to the ship. The restaurant staff was friendly and our setting on the beach, photogenic huts, could not have been more perfect. I ordered Beef Carpaccio, one of my favorite dishes of all. Wow, this restaurant really knew how to make a tasty dish! It is definitely worth stopping for. Our food and exotic drinks were fabulous! Thumbs up to this eatery.
Note: Agriculture and growing food on St. Martin/St. Maarten is nearly impossible; therefore, most everything is imported. Prices reflect that.
A Fun and Instagrammable Day in St. Martin and St. Maarten
Though we didn’t get to visit Maho Beach, a world-famous beach where visitors can experience the thrill of KLM airplanes landing right over your head, we did have friends who did. The photos were amazing, their hair blowing like crazy in the high-speed winds caused from the close proximity to the aircraft. Definitely on my list for our next visit.
Have you been to St. Martin or St. Maarten? Well over a million people visit the islands by cruise ship each year. What is your favorite cruise port?
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