Sint Maarten vs. Curacao (Almost the same but not quite)

When you plan to conquer the Dutch Caribbean, just as the olden Dutch colonizers did, two places come to mind that seem almost the same, but not quite. Sint Maarten and Curacao both perfectly showcases the right balance of nature and the touristy things that visitors seem to be always doing.
Sint Maarten vs. Curacao
Table of Contents

Where are Sint Maarten and Curacao?

Laying in the eastern reaches of the majestic and the ever-famous Caribbean Sea, right at the northern tip of the Lesser Antilles, is reputable Saint Martin, an island of two nations. Sint Maarten occupies the southern 40% of the island shared with the French territory of the same name, Saint Martin, often written as “Saint-Martin”.

To have a bit of perspective on where this island lies, the Dutch-French vacation central neighbors other famed Caribbean big shots despite their apparent small sizes such as St. Barts to the south, Anguilla to the north, St Barts, and St. Kitts and Nevis to the southeast.

The Lesser Antilles is home to many of the Caribbean’s most famous, including Sint Maarten. The rest of the Caribbean may be characterized by picturesque views, gorgeous beaches, and charming beach towns, there is always something bout the fabled chain of the Lesser Antilles, most of the Caribbean draws are found here.

But, what makes Sint Maarten even more interesting is how it is shared with the French, which is also in itself one of the big names in the region.

Curacao just sits just right off the northern coasts of South America, just a few miles off Venezuela. The island lies at the southernmost reaches of the Caribbean, along the southwestern tail of the Lesser Antilles, along with the rest of the ABC Islands.

Curacao’s location gives it a unique climate that is often counted as part of the island’s tourist draws. The island lies north of the equator, which means that island is subject to easterly trade winds that can be strong while having searing temperatures at the same time. And the island also sits outside the infamous Caribbean hurricane belt, which means no threat of hurricane whatsoever.

The island’s southern location in the Caribbean Sea has situated the island at the outer edges of the Caribbean Hurricane belt, which stretches across the northern Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the state of Florida in the US.

The island is located at the Southern Caribbean Sea, together with the other two ABC Islands, Aruba, and Bonaire. Curacao is approximately 64 km or 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela, in the South American continent that faces the Caribbean Sea.

How Far is Sint Maarten from Curacao?

As much as you would want to travel the entire Dutch Caribbean, you literally have an entire sea to cross. Sint Maarten is approximately 910 kilometers or 565 miles, northeast of Curacao, directly, all across from the south to north of the Caribbean Sea.

If you wish to travel in between these treasured Dutch Caribbean islands, the only way to get between them is by flying. While it may seem far, but thanks to several airlines such as United Caribbean Airlines and Winair to take you in less than a couple of hours.

Dutch-French Hybrid

Sint Maarten occupies the daughter half of the island of Saint Martin, it is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands since 2010. This status has given the local government internal independence, with an autonomy of its legal and executive functions. But what most visitors don’t know before coming to Sint Maarten is that the locals primarily speak English, and Dutch is one of the official languages, often used in politics, and education.

The Dutch side of the island is smaller than the northern French side but has a greater population. As a matter of fact, th capital of Philipsburg serves as the main commercial hub, as the city is known for its cosmopolitan flavor, and it also houses two important points on the entire island: the international airport, and the cruise port.

Quirky Sint Maarten

Quirky, and diverse, the southern side of the island is known to be one of the most interesting places in the Caribbean, thanks to its ingeniously blended culture. Sint Maarten has an exquisite blend of cultures such as African, British, Dutch, and also French, from the northern side.

If you finally visit many of the popular beaches, especially Maho Beach, and streets of Sint Maarten, you can easily see how the Caribbean and Creole flair, together with West African roots, and the European refinement of the Dutch, a bit of British and French, were all married into one genius union. Sint Maarten is undoubtedly gifted and diverse.

If you stroll around the cities and towns you’ll see the influences of their colonial past, which is added with a certain Caribbean tropical flavor making it undeniably gorgeous and interesting.

Sint Maarten’s cuisine can range from pork, vegetables, poultry, to seafood, and their way of preparing and cooking is a rich and interesting fusion of European influences, especially Dutch and French, and the Caribbean, with Creole undertones, creating dishes and flavors that can rival many of the islands in the Caribbean.

If you’re visiting Sint Maarten for the first time, you may be surprised that they don’t speak Dutch or any other language the first time you talk to them, but English. Sint Maarten is famous for its multilingual locals, who mainly speak English and Dutch. Navigating around the social dynamics of the island isn’t all that complicated as most of the natives learn English as their first language, and then Dutch second.

In historical accounts, after building Fort Amsterdam, an artillery battery, the Dutch settlers began asserting their claim and control of the area around the Great Bay, thanks to its salt pond. The Dutch soon began using imported slaves from West Africa in the maintenance and development of their sugarcane plantations which was important to the Kingdom at that time.

After centuries of conflicts, power plays, and violence, the Dutch never gave up their claim and control of their side of the island. The emancipation of the slaves that followed allowed the island to be populated, and thus was the birth of the colorful, and vibrant Sint Maarten we know today.

A Rather Complicated History

Sint Maarten was first conceived in 1631, it was shortly after being riddled with several conflicts that the French took an interest in the island and settles the northern side. Sint Maarten’s original conception was signaled during the time when Fort Amsterdam was erected in 1631. But in the days of colonial Europe, sharing a piece of the island is a cause for war.

So, the Dutch and French went on too many battles and conflicts before settling into a compromise. However, the signing of the Treaty of Concordia in 1648, cemented Dutch Sint Maarten’s position and hold on the island, shared with the French, also called Saint-Martin.

After a seemingly long history, the Dutch Caribbean formed a federation called the Netherland Antilles which comprises Sint Maarten, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao from 1954 and eventually dissolved in 2010. Following this dissolution, Sint Maarten was given the status as a constituent country on October 10, 2010, which somehow became its de facto founding date as it finally has its autonomy.

If It Ain’t Much, It Ain’t Dutch

Apart from its ridiculously beautiful beaches, charming towns, and cities, Sint Maarten is the island’s main economic hub, best known for its shopping, dining, and festive nightlife. The Dutch side is often labeled as the cosmopolitan side with a splash of tropical fun, where you can find a lot of things to do and enjoy.

Sint Maarten is just one side of the island that packs a ton of interesting things to explore, all thanks to the sharing of the French and Dutch. The loose border is shared with northern Saint Martin, a French collectivity, you basically hit two birds with one stone if you visit either one. Two countries, two cultures, twice the excitement, and double the fun. And to think, that “border” resulted in dozens of small conflicts in history’s past.

Diverse Curacao

Due to its diverse population, several colonial influences, Curacao is now left with many backgrounds, that are home to a majority of Latin Americans and Afro-Caribbeans, along with the Dutch, French, and Asian. Bringing in a wealth of mixed cultures that is evident in its cuisine, language, social attitudes, and architecture.

Due to the colonial powers that played a hand in the conception of the island, it’s easy to spot many influences on the island’s cultural nuances. The Dutch, for obvious reasons, have left the biggest mark on the island’s modern-day dynamic.

The Long History

If you’re familiar with the histories of the famous Dutch Caribbean sister islands, Aruba and Bonaire, you can probably guess how Curacao’s history goes as well. The bottom line: its history is riddled with occupations, colonization, and a series of conquests and retaking, adn we have to thank colonial Europe for all of those.

Initially discovered by the Spanish Empire, with the help of the explorer Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. The Spaniards then took control of the island and enslaved most of the Arawak people, the island’s indigenous people. The slaves were deported and sent to the colony of Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

This persisted throughout the rest of the 16th century, at the same time as Spain was conquering South America. Until the Dutch came in 1634 and won their independence from Spain. After this well-lived victory, the Dutch West India Company was established, an institution made to conquer the western world. The company then invaded Curacao and defeated the occupying Spanish.

The occupying Dutch made the island become a center for trade around the rising region, even including the slave trade. The Dutch West India Company also founded the capital of Willemstad on the banks of an inlet, as they found it an ideal place for trade. Commerce and shipping became Curacao’s most important economic activities, as well as local produce from the plantations through the labor of slaves.

After a thriving period, one of the two most powerful colonial powers, the British came to force its power into the colonial world. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the British attacked the island multiple times where they caused more damage in 1800, 1804, and from 1807 to 1815.

After the Napoleonic Wars, the Dutch returned to Curacao and the ABC Islands in 1815. The island was then officially considered as a Dutch colony, along with many present-day Dutch Caribbean islands.

As the Dutch continued to reign on the southern Caribbean, and life prospered, immigrants coming in by the dozens, many of which are from Portugal and Lebanon. The Dutch eventually abolished slavery in 1863, shifting the island’s economy to wage labor.

In 1954, Curacao was joined with the other Dutch colonies in the Caribbean, into the Netherlands Antilles, and was ruled by the Dutch until, the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010. Curacao voted to become a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The Right Balance of Culture and Nature

Apart from its stunning natural beauty, which seems to be common in the Caribbean, one thing that Curacao is known for is the perfect combination of natural beauty, plenty of activities, diverse culture, and a blessed climate.

Upon setting food to the island you can already tell that Curacao is European-influenced, with a rich history of European colonization. First, Its colorful and long history has made the island and its people exquisitely special. When you head on to the capital of Willemstad, the island’s center of culture and history, the European flair still lingers.

The colonial houses and Dutch-style architecture will transport your right to Amsterdam. This has made the city hailed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its historic importance and beauty.

When in Willemstad, you can see the cultural quirks that make the island stand out. The multilingualism of the locals, the incredible fusion in their cuisine, and the incredible general vibe of the city are enough to become the island’s best draws.

Outside of the cities, and into nature the island’s 30 to 40+ beaches are included in the island’s list of claims-to-fame. With so many beaches, each one offers different experiences, for different types of visitors, you can surely find solace in any of them under the famous Caribbean sun. Some of the most famous ones are Kenepa Beach, Playa Porto Mari, and Mambo Beach.

Beaches are always a standard in the Caribbean, but Curacao’s underwater world is also another draw to explore. The island has some of the best dive sites globally, and many of them are perfect for beginners. You can head on to Cas Abao, and Porto Mari right off the Playa Porto Mari. For beginners, they can marvel at the Booby Trap in the south.

When it comes to the weather, the island doesn’t get hurricanes like the rest of the Caribbean. Curacao’s location along the southern Caribbean has situated it a few miles off the edges of the infamous Hurricane Belt. The island’s distance from the hurricane belt allows it to have sunny and warm days all year round, except for some little rain on certain months.

Which is better – Sint Maarten or Curacao?

What’s interesting about Sint Maarten and Curacao is that if you take a good look at them, they’re almost the same in many aspects. From the beaches, rich history, diverse culture, and cities brimming with activities, and places to explore, they’re both so the same that it’s difficult to settle a decision.

Sint Maarten is better suited for those who love to switch it up during a vacation, if you’re tired of the Dutch side’s parties, noisy beaches, and fusion restaurants, you can easily cross to France. Literally. Saint Martin offers a different set-up than Sint Maarten, and it houses the island’s best beaches, all sugar-coated with the French refinement.

Curacao, on the other hand, is the perfect balance of activities and nature. You can trust the capital of Willemstad to offer you many of the best quirks of the island, from shopping, nightlife, to a fun food trip, not to mention stunning architecture. At the same time, the island also has 40+ beaches for you to enjoy.

At the end of the day, while there may be several quirks and draws to an ideal tropical getaway, what ultimately decides which is better is which place best serves the kind of experience you want to have. So while you’re in the planning stage, the best thing is to get the right information.