St. Martin/St. Maarten

When Christopher Columbus sailed by this Caribbean island on November 11, 1493, he named it after St. Martin’s Day. He never stopped for a visit. Don’t make this mistake. After seeing this visual tour, you will want to visit the world’s smallest island shared by two countries.

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1 Three Cruise Ships Docked at Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten

Over two million cruise ship passengers disembark annually to experience the beauty of St. Maarten/ St. Martin for a day. So expect to see several vessels docked at Port St. Maarten when you arrive. The major terminal is in Philipsburg, the capital city of Sint Maarten, the Dutch side of the island.

Cruise Port, Juancho Yrausquin Blvd, Sint Maarten
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2 Welcome to St. Maarten Sign in Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten

This sign welcomes you to St. Maarten. This beautiful Caribbean Island in the Lesser Antilles is shared by two countries: France claims about 60% and the Netherlands has 40%. You may get confused about what to call it. The French name is Saint-Martin and the Dutch’s is Sint Maarten. Collectively, the proper term is St. Maarten/ St. Martin. Or is it easier to use Saint Martin? Don’t worry about it. You are on vacation. Just refer to it by their moniker, “The Friendly Island.”

Cruise Port, Juancho Yrausquin Blvd, Sint Maarten
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3 Rocky Shoreline of Great Bay near Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten

Great Bay is at the southern end of St. Martin/St. Maarten and is the waterfront for Phillipsburg, the Dutch capital of the island. These buildings are part of the Divi Little Bay Beach Resort. It was voted the island’s best hotel property in 2014. Just a short walk to the end of this peninsula is Fort Amsterdam. This historic citadel had a strategic location when it was built in 1631. However, the Spaniards captured it within two years and maintained control until 1648. Today, the fortress is in partial ruins.

Divi Little Bay Beach,‎ Little Bay Rd, Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
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4 Cay Hill Overlooking Great Bay near Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten

Cay Hill has a magnificent view of Great Bay and Phillipsburg. The town consists of only a few streets – mainly reserved for duty-free shops – and a population of less than 1,400 St. Maarteners. At the top of this mount are the remains of Fort Tig built by the British in 1801. When it became part of the Dutch territory in 1816, they renamed it Fort William in honor of Holland’s first king.

Spanish Fort Rd. & Little Bay Rd, Sint Maarten
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5 Waves Splashing along Little Bay near Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten

Little Bay Beach lies just west of Phillipsburg and on the other side of a Divi Peninsula which separates it from Great Bay. Its pristine sand offers an excellent and peaceful escape from the throngs of tourists who have disembarked from the cruise ships. Bring your bathing suit and a towel. And don’t forget to pack your snorkeling gear.

Divi Little Bay Beach,‎ Little Bay Rd, Philipsburg, Sint Maarten
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6 Maho Beach near Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten

Imagine a beach with warm white sand and aquamarine water on a tropical island. That accurately describes Maho Beach near Phillipsburg in Sint Maarten. That sounds like the perfect place to idle away a sunny afternoon, doesn’t it? It is except your paradise is interrupted every half hour by the roar of very low flying planes coming in for a landing and the jet blasts of those taking off. The Princess Juliana International Airport is located just behind where this photo was taken. In the background is the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Casino.

Maho Beach, Beacon Hill Road, Sint Maarten
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7 Flight Times at Maho Beach near Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten

Maho Beach is famous for its location next to the Princess Juliana International Airport. Because of its short runway, planes have an altitude of about 100 feet when flying over the sand during their landing approach. Crowds of tourists sit below the yellow umbrellas at the Sunset Bar and Grill and sip their favorite beverage while waiting for the next incoming flight.

Sunset Beach Bar, Beacon Hill Road, Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten
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8 Swimming along Mullet Bay Beach in Cupecoy, Sint Maarten

Mullet Bay, located on the southwest side of the island, offers a crescent-shaped beach with one mile of pristine white sand. It ranks very high among the dozen coves on the Dutch side. In the background is The Cliff at Cupecoy Beach. It’s 72 suite owners wake up each morning to this magnificent scenery. But the view of the Caribbean Sea comes at a price. The condominiums range from $750,000 to $2.9 million USD.

Rhine Rd & Rhine Dr, Sint Maarten
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9 Empty Loungers at Mullet Bay Beach in Cupecoy, Sint Maarten

These empty loungers at Mullet Bay Beach await you! There is still excellent seating available for you and your guests to idle away an afternoon beneath thatched umbrellas. Or just bring a book and enjoy an undisturbed day. Maybe even take a nap. But wake up in time to see the spectacular sunset.

Rhine Rd & Rhine Dr, Sint Maarten
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10 French Dutch Borderline in St. Maarten/ St. Martin

After the Spaniards abandoned this Caribbean island in the mid-17th century, it was quickly populated by French and Dutch colonists. Each wanted to claim it for their respective countries. Rather than risk a military conflict, they negotiated the Treaty of Concordia in 1648. France now owns 20 square miles in the north while the Netherlands has the lower 13 square miles. This obelisk at the border celebrated the 300th anniversary of their agreement.

Rue de Hollande St Martin & Union Rd Cole Bay, Sint Maarten
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11 Anchored Sailboat in Marina in Marigot, Saint-Martin

This skipper was lowering and securing the sails after anchoring in Marina Fort Louis. Sailboats and other small watercraft surround the harbor while 150 protected berths are reserved for yachts. They all come to experience the charms of Marigot. The island’s largest town is located on the west side. You will find everything you are looking for: numerous shops, excellent restaurants, historic sites, a wonderful beach and plenty of nightlife. It also offers trade winds to keep you cool on hot days.

Marina Fort Louis Baie de Marigot, Marigot 97150, St Martin
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12 Breakwater at Capital City of Marigot, Saint-Martin

This sickle-shaped breakwater protects the marina in front of Marigot. This French capital city has less than 6,000 residents. They call themselves St. Martiners. Technically, the 20 square miles of the French side is the Collectivité de Saint-Martin.

Marina Fort Louis Baie de Marigot, Marigot 97150, St Martin
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13 Jet Ski Zooming Across Baie de Marigot in Marigot, Saint-Martin

If you want to enjoy water sports while in Marigot, then there are plenty of ways to keep you busy every day of your vacation. This man was part of a water tour on jet skis around the Baie de Marigot. Other options include boat rides, guided scuba and snorkeling, fishing charters plus windsurfing and kitesurfing. Getting wet has never been this much fun.

Marina Fort Louis Baie de Marigot, Marigot 97150, St Martin
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14 Église Catholique de Marigot Church in Marigot, Saint-Martin

For a long time, the small Catholic community on the island was served by occasional visits from priests from St. Kitts. Father Abby Wall was the first one assigned to live in Marigot in 1839. This Irish priest oversaw the construction of the Église Catholique de Marigot. It was finished in 1842. Five years later, he built another church in Grand Case.

Rue du Fort St Louis & Rue Fichot, Marigot, St Martin
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15 Crucifix at Base of Fort Marigot Hill in Marigot, Saint-Martin

Fort Marigot is located on a hill overlooking the Bay of Marigot. The citadel was built during the 18th century to protect the town’s warehouses from British raids. Most people call it by the original name: Fort Louis. Thanks to renovation efforts, it is in much better condition than most of the island’s fortresses so it is worth a visit. On a clear day, the elevated view is magnificent. But it takes a while to walk up the road. When you are catching your breath along the way, you can admire this crucifix.

Rue du Fort St Louis, Marigot, St Martin
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16 Fort Marigot Formerly Fort Louis in Marigot, Saint-Martin

The island has several historic forts. The largest is Fort Marigot overlooking the French capital city. Its walls are well maintained and there are several cannons pointing out of the battlements. When it was built in 1789, it was named Le Fort Louis in honor of Louis XVI. He was the King of France from 1774 until 1791. After he was guillotined for treason in 1793, the system of monarchs in France ended.

Rue du Fort St Louis, Marigot, St Martin
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17 Grand Case Bay Facing South in Grand Case, Saint-Martin

The Baie de Grand Case is a large, crescent-shaped cove within the French territory. Along the shoreline is one mile of perfect sand. Unlike so many other beautiful beaches on the island, the one at Grand Case seemed almost deserted. After an enjoyable day in the sun, you can reach a bar or restaurant before your feet have a chance to dry.

21 Rue de la Petit Plage, Grand-Case 97150, St Martin
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18 Grand Case Bay Facing North in Grand Case, Saint-Martin

Along the northwest side of the island is the small town of Grand Case. They call themselves the “Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean” because of their selection of restaurants. The best feature is this spectacular beach named Plage de Grand Case. In the background is the Grand Case Beach Club.

Rue des Écoles & Boulevard de Grande Case, Grand-Case, St Martin
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19 Islands in Cul-de-Sac Bay North of Orient Beach in Saint-Martin

North of Orient Beach is Cul-de-Sac Bay. Along its shoreline are homes with enviable views of aquamarine water and two islands. In the foreground is Petite Clef or Little Key. It is uninhabited unless you consider migratory pelicans to be residents. In the background is Pinel Island or, in French, Îlet de Pinel. This islet is visited by those seeking excellent snorkeling, sheltered waters for kayaking, hideaway beaches and rustic hiking trails.

Hotel Mont Vernon, Rue du Mont Vernon , St Martin
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20 Couple Walking Bikini Beach on Orient Bay in Saint-Martin

There are five beaches along Orient Bay. This is Bikini Beach. Its name is a bit of a misnomer because in true French Rivera style, many female sun worshipers are topless. A bit further south is the famous Club Orient, a naturist resort. This means most of their guests are au natural. If you plan on visiting these clothing optional sections, then you’d better bring a very good sunblock.

Hotel Mont Vernon, Rue du Mont Vernon , St Martin
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21 Swimming in Orient Bay, Saint-Martin

Orient Bay is one of the most popular and crowded spots in Saint-Martin for tourists and St. Martiners. The attraction is a two-mile beach with calm, shallow water that is perfect for swimming. This is surprising because you would expect the northeast, windward coast to be hammered by large waves from the Atlantic. But the Baie Orientale is buffered by a reef.

Baie Orientale Grand Case, Orient Bay 97071, St Martin
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22 Jet Ski Flyboard along Orient Bay in Saint-Martin

There are plenty of water sports available along Orient Beach, including paragliding, windsurfing, sailboats and excellent snorkeling. The one activity that inevitably captures the attention of beachgoers is the Flyboard. This adrenaline rush was invented in France in 2012 by Franky Zapata. A jetpack propels a brave soul up to 50 feet or eight feet below the water. It is like a scene out of James Bond.

Hotel Mont Vernon Rue du Mont Vernon , St Martin
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23 Le Macaron Restaurant near Orient Bay in Saint-Martin

You know you are in a small part of France when you find an outdoor café named “Le Macaron” along Avenue des Plages just steps from Orient Beach. It is an amazing French pastry with delightful fillings sandwiched between two meringue cookies. But St. Martin/St. Maarten boasts of having over 400 restaurants. They range from fine dining serving international cuisine to beach-side shacks where the dress code is flip flops. Bon appétite!

Avenue des Plages, St Martin
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24 Goats Grazing Along Road in Quartier d’Orleans, Saint-Martin

From the early 17th century until the mid-20th century, the island’s economy has evolved from tobacco to indigo then cotton followed by sugar and eventually salt. Now 85% of its income is dependent on tourism. So don’t expect to see many farms as you drive around. But remain vigilant for an occasional group of goats or other livestock who freely graze along the roads.

Imp. de Chambar, Quartier D'Orléans, St Martin
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25 St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Quartier d’Orleans, Saint-Martin

Quartier d’Orleans was the location for the first French settlement. However, this northeast community is quieter than most parts of the island. It was tough being a Catholic priest here during the 17th century. One of the first was decapitated. The island became a parish in 1768 but the priest fled during the French Revolution, leaving the Catholics poorly served for a long time. Today there are only three Catholic churches on the Dutch side and three more on the French half including St. Joseph’s in Quartier d’Orleans.

Imp. J. Hyman, Quartier D'Orléans, St Martin
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26 Horseback Riding Along Le Galion Beach in Saint-Martin

Several people have always dreamed of horseback riding along a tropical beach. If this is on your bucket list, there are a few equestrian centers on the island. Serving tourists at Le Galion Beach is the Bayside Riding Stables. This area is also called Baby Beach because the water remains shallow for up to 30 yards offshore.

Rotary Lookout Point, Rue de Coralita, Guadeloupe, St Martin
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27 Le Galion Beach and Baie de L’Embouchure in Saint-Martin

The last cove to show you on the French side is Baie de L’Embouchure and Le Gallion Beach. They are best observed from Rotary Lookout Point along Rue de Coralita. Just offshore is Caye Château. This uninhabited isle is accessible by taking a short stroll through the balmy water. Directly to the south is Baie Lucas and Coralita Beach. So many beaches … 36 in all … and so little time. Return soon for a longer vacation at St. Martin/St. Maarten.

Rotary Lookout Point, Rue de Coralita, Guadeloupe, St Martin
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28 Port Worker Releasing Rope from Bollard in Phillipsburg, Sint Maarten

This port worker is releasing the mooring wraps (robes) so a cruise ship can push back and sail away. Those mushroom-shaped iron posts are called maritime bollards. Sint Maarten has built several of these concrete platforms, accessible by a catwalk, to extend their docks in order to accommodate up to six cruise ships at a time in the Phillipsburg’s port. “Bon voyage” as the French say it. Or “veilige reis” in Dutch. And in English, “safe trip.”

Cruise Port, Juancho Yrausquin Blvd, Sint Maarten
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