From snorkeling, DIY tours, boat tours, and even ziplining, there is a lot to do, see, and learn from this tiny island in the Lesser Antilles. Sint Maarten has so much to offer that as it presents itself to you feels like a decision made right.
What Does Sint Maarten Mean?
Sint Maarten is the “dutchified” name of Saint Martin, translated from the actual name of the island, that includes both the Dutch and French sides. The island was debated to be originally in Spanish or Italian, given that it was initially discovered by Christopher Columbus as he sailed across the new world commissioned by the Spanish Crown.
The famous Christopher Columbus discovered the island during the feast of Saint Martin de Tours, which the Spanish conquered in his wake, decimating the local Carib population. After several conflicts with the Dutch, the Spanish left, and the island was eventually occupied by two countries, first the Dutch, then the French.
What Is the Culture of Sint Maarten?
Sint Maarten’s culture is a thing of curiosity, thanks to its mixed culture, and a rather complicated arrangement with the French. The southern side of the island is characterized by an interesting marriage of different cultures that played a role in the history of the island. Sint Maarten has a notable blend of African, British, Dutch, and also French, thanks to the French north.
If you finally visit the famed beaches and streets of Sint Maarten, it wouldn’t be hard to miss the juxtaposition of the Caribbean and Creole flair, together with West African roots, and the European refinement of the Dutch, a bit of British and French, especially with the border between the French North, and Dutch South is too blurry and loose.
The cities and towns’ architecture is reminiscent of their colonial past, often added a certain Caribbean tropical flavor, that can be seen anywhere in the region. 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.
As a tourist, you may think that their culture and origins make them speak a certain foreign language, but no. Sint Maarten is famous for its multilingual locals, who especially 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.
These curious combinations and blends are a result of a history that is rich, with seemingly countless conflicts, involving various cultures and people groups.
After finally building Fort Amsterdam, an artillery battery, and asserting their claim and control of the area around the Great Bay, thanks to its salt pond. The administering Dutch soon began using imported slaves from West Africa to use them as aid in the development of their sugarcane plantations which was important to the Kingdom at that time.
After decades and centuries of rule, tumultuous histories filled with internal conflicts and threats from other colonial powers, the Dutch never relinquished 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.
Who Discovered Sint Maarten?
The entire island was discovered by Christopher Columbus on November 11, 1493, which happens to be the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours, and was thus named after him. The time of the island’s discovery was Columbus’ second voyage around the new world, commissioned by the Spanish crown, looking for more land to claim.
The Spaniards then came after Columbus’ discovery and decimated the local Carib people, and laid claim of the land. After discovering the island, and included it on the map, both the Dutch and the French took an interest in it. The growing Dutch power saw it as a good point to link their colonies in the present-day US, which was then New Amsterdam, now New York City. The island remained uninhabited after the Spanish until the Dutch formally established a settlement in 1631.
When Was Sint Maarten Founded?
Sint Maarten’s original conception was the time the Dutch officially settled on the island by establishing their settlements, beginning with the building of Fort Amsterdam in 1631. So unofficially, Sint Maarten first came to be in 1631. 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.
What Is Sint Maarten Known for?
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.
Apart from Sint Maarten’s relaxed, yet refined cosmopolitan pleasures, the island is known for being a hybrid of two cultures: Dutch and French. Thanks to the loose border 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.
Top 10 Things to Do in Sint Maarten
Jampacked with tourist draws, this tiny island in the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles, is a perfect example of how small islands has the biggest charms. With Sint Maarten’s curious features, you will never run out of things to do, and places to check out, you can even cross the border to French Saint Martin. Here are some of the 10 best things, in no particular order.
Probably the most recommended, and go-to entry for a lot of first-time visitors and patrons of the island is the famous Cupecoy Beach. The beach is actually a set of three beaches on the southwest reaches of the island, characterized by the limestone cliffs that surround it.
Some notable features of the famed beach are its cozy sunset views, which often show Saba island in the distance. If you want some type of energy ad dynamic on the area, try to enjoy a day’s end in one of the many beach bars, or by buying cold ones from the vendors that walk along the beach.
However, families should beware of the clothing-optional end at the northwest side of the beach. It is recommended to go early to get a perfect spot on the beach as it is known to be romantic and fun at the same time.
Sailing & Yachting
Sint Maarten is well-known for its sailing and yachting culture, so it’s no surprise that for the well-heeled, or the well-budgeted traveler, it is one experience you can’t miss. Thanks to the iconic (for obvious reasons), gorgeous Caribbean water on all sides, sailing, kayaking, windsurfing, snorkeling, diving, and any other watersport you can imagine is always a great idea, not to mention the ease to get your hands on them.
You can easily schedule your whims to the many companies around the island, French Saint Martin included. Via sailing or yachting, you can get to other beautiful neighboring islands via Sint Maarten, such as Anguilla, St. Barts, and Saba.
You can book your adventures with top-rated companies such as Soualiga Destinations Boat Tours and Captain Alan’s Boat Charters.
If you want to see most of what Sint Maarten has to offer culture-wise, head down to Philipsburg, and go around, whether you walk, rent a scooter, or even just a cycle from the many rental companies in town.
It’s not difficult to miss the many curious and interesting things in Philipsburg reminiscent of its colonial past, the perpetual Dutch influence, and the creative fusion of the vibrant Creole and Caribbean culture, you will get a feel of the island’s cultural dynamics.
You can sample local dishes, drink domestic liquors, check out museums, and hear the locals talk with their multilingual prowess. The best way to experience a travel destination is to look around and just immerse yourself. If you speak good English, then exploring the town would come off like a breeze.
Head to the French side of Saint Martin
Just a day’s worth of adventure, and less than 20 minutes to cross, explore the pretty, laid-back, yet fashionable, French side of Saint Martin. With a whole different culture to explore, you’ll be sure to have a well-packed itinerary when conquering the French side.
First off, you head straight to the town of Marigot, Saint Martin’s capital, and sample all the cultural and social features of the French territory, which offers a curious difference to Sint Maarten’s Dutch soul. You can also visit plenty of places when you’re there, especially with Marigot brightly colored facades, and a picturesque harbor.
You can visit the Loterie Farm, and it’s over the treetop canopy setting, you can do tons of activities such as climbing and hiking, or if you want it mellow, classic wine and dine experience is ideal, just like how the French do it.
If you want a very French or at least generally European thing to do here, you can visit the Tijon Perfumerie and create your own perfume based on their wide range of pre-made scents that capture your senses, and personalize them.
You can also check out many of the territory’s iconic places like Fort Louis, where you can enjoy the sight of Marigot from above. The many white powdery sand of Saint Martin are great places to head to as well, such as Orient Bay Beach with a “clothing optional” rule, or spend a day in the picturesque town of Grand Case, with gorgeous blue waters, and a long strip of boutiques, bars, and fabulous restaurants.
Diving and Snorkeling
Another notable thing to do on an island surrounded by gorgeous turquoise blue waters is to go under it. Sint Maarten has a good snorkeling and scuba diving scene that has become one of the staple things to do for tourists.
You can snorkel, and dive on the island’s 30+ dive and snorkel sites that have different twists and flavors of their own, catering to any tourist’s curiosities and amusement. Tourists have many companies on Sint Maarten to choose from that can take them to any of these sites, whether as a private group or otherwise.
Chill in Mullet Beach
If you just want to spend the day, lazy and just do nothing but soak up the sun, with a cold drink beside you, Mullet Beach is the perfect place. Thanks to the beach’s long stretch of powdery white sand, ridiculously gorgeous blue water, and protected coves, Mullet Bay is one of the must-visit beaches in Sint Maarten which makes it the perfect place to spend a sunny day.
With an 18-hole golf course, lined with groves of palm trees, the area that borders the beach makes it a treasured area for locals and a popular swimming spot thanks to its crystal-clear, calm waters.
While there aren’t any restrooms on-site, multiple vendors selling snacks and offering activities have set up shop on Mullet Bay beach.
Tour Topper’s Rhum Factory
Sampling the local liquor is one of the best ways to get acquainted with an island’s charms and culture, and if you love Rhum, you could put two together and explore another side of Sint Maarten. You can visit Topper’s Rhum Factory and have a tour of their distillery, where they will also take you through some of their best flavors.
Topper’s Rhum Factory tours will not only give you a vast place to explore, along with their six-thousand-foot distillery and how they make their 50+ flavors, but you will also get to taste some of them, for free! But be careful according to previous visitors, their rum is so good, you might have trouble keeping your head straight.
Shop at Front Street
If you’ve been around Philipsburg, chances are you already know what Front Street is, for it has a reputation among tourists and locals. As the cosmopolitan side, and the commercial hub of the island, Philipsburg in Sint Maarten is known for its shopping scene. From the moneyed set to the retail lovers, Front Street is the perfect place to spend one’s money on shopping on the island.
You can buy souvenirs, shop for jewelry, you even cop the island’s local’s designers’ creations, apparel shops, and visit liquor stores for a wide selection of some of the island’s best. The best thing is you can only walk from there down to the beach where the hotels are lined up perfectly.
Play at Casinos
If you’re staying in Sint Maarten, you will find that it’s the only side that has over 20 casinos. Here you will find casinos such as Casino Royale, Tropicana, and Jump-Up Casino, where you can enjoy poker, blackjack, or the classic roulette. These casinos offer tourists and locals alike opportunities to gamble and spend their money without the guilt, just the thrill.
One of Sint Maarten’s most iconic features is the Maho Beach, and the airplanes that fly over it getting to the adjacent Princess Juliana International Airport. The busy airport has a short runway, just steps away from Maho Beach, making it a tourist draw in itself.
When an incoming airplane descends for landing, it always goes over the beach that’s extremely near the airport’s runway. This makes quite a show for beachgoers, minding their own beach businesses. When the massive jet comes flying in over people’s heads has become so much of a classic thing to experience, that it helps define the Sint Maarten experience.
After which, you can have a drink at the local bar nearby that has been around since 1942, where you can check out its memorabilia, as well as quirky post-flight arrival and departure times on a surfboard. If you don’t like the massive crowds on the beach, you can simply enjoy a cold one here.
What to Do in Sint Maarten When It Rains?
The thing with Sint Maarten is that just because it’s a sunny paradise, doesn’t mean you can only have fun when the sun’s out. You cna enjoy it any time, on whatever kind of day, that’s what makes it one of the most traveled destinations in the Caribbean.
First off, a Dutch or European fusion with Caribbean and Creole styles of cooking is always a treat, so a food tour is ideal during a rainy day out. And what’s even better is a culinary tour in wheels. Think food tour on a road trip, giving the term “food trip” a whole new meaning.
You can try different dishes, prepared differently, all fused with cooking styles and influences of Sint Maarten, that let your taste bud acquaint with the island’s unique palate. However, your stops aren’t only limited to Sint Maarten, you get to cross Saint Martin as well, where you can sample the French good stuff.
If you want a good time despite staying indoors during the rain in Sint Maarten, head down to Lagoonies, in Philipsburg. You can drink the tasty local beer served here, and maybe the Dutch-born Heineken beer as well. And while cracking cold ones out on the bar’s Netherlands, meets the wild west, meets the island type of ambiance, you can enjoy a view of yachts and good Caribbean music.
For retail lovers, the well-heeled, or the well-budgeted, you can have your retail needs satisfied in Philipsburg’s heaps of boutique, souvenir shops, and jewelry stores, lined in certain areas across town. But none more iconic than Front Street. However, be warned, shop until you drop is still a thing, and excess baggage fees agree with that.
If you want to stay in but don’t want to spend the entire day in your hotel, and just have the ridiculous views, even when it’s raining. You can always come down to the many spas along the beach. Perhaps, one most recommended is the Spa Dior located at the Cliff Resort along Cupecoy Beach.
You get to wind down and relax with the spa’s hydrotherapy and aromatherapy treatments, deep tissue massages, facial treatments, and even body scrubs using different ingredients, and as you finish, the pool, sauna, and steam room are available to you with full access.
What Else Is Sint Maarten Famous for?
Other than the fact that it shares the island with the French, a completely different country and culture as one of its biggest draws, Sint Maarten is also famous for a heap of things, especially its lively nightlife, casinos, and its shopping scene which was said to be tax-free.
The island’s Dutch side of Sint Maarten is cosmopolitan at its best, not only with its ridiculous shopping culture, which seems to grab the moneyed tourists but thanks to its incredible nightlife as well. Go to Simpson Bay where you can find many of the best and hottest places to be as soon as the sun goes down.
Casinos are also one thing that seems to be a draw for tourists on the island. The Dutch side has a lot of dynamic and energy-packed, as opposed to the French side’s laid-back, laissez-faire manner. Clubs and casinos are telltales of that.
How Many Days Do You Need in Sint Maarten?
You can easily get around Sint Maarten because of its size, however, the island has so many things to do, places to check out, and things to experience that you will often have a hard time deciding how many days you can spend there. Well, to start, a three-day and two-night stay is always ideal, no matter where you’ll go.
A stay that’s either worth a week or less can give you an ample amount of time to enjoy the experience the island can offer you. But how Sint Maarten leaves a mark on you solely depends on every individual. Only a certain je-ne-sais-quoi factor can compel them to stay longer, and experience things deeper than the usual touristy level.
What Is the Best Area to Stay in Sint Maarten?
The best area to stay in Sint Maarten will often be described in travel magazines as the place with the most access to places and facilities a typical tourist needs, however, what really makes an area ideal depends on what the traveler wants.
If you’re the type who prefers to live near the cosmopolitan area, where there’s a lot happening, vibrant, dynamic, and on the go, the Philipsburg area is the most ideal. The capital is riddled with streets and establishments that have everything you can ever need from a foreign city on a tropical island.
However, if you’re the beach-front type of traveler, you can stay around Cupecoy. Nestled along the southwestern side of Sint Maarten, the place is more tranquil and distant. The bay is home to many of the island’s best resorts, spas, and hotels, but don’t mistake it to be rowdy and energetic. The stretch is rather a quieter take in cosmopolitan Sint Maarten.
If you want an area jampacked with many things to do, places to check out, and just all-out good fun, you can stay around Simpson Bay. Located on the southwest of the island, Simpson Bay is home to many of Sint Maarten’s best restaurants and bars, not to mention it is also the island’s nightlife central.
Does Sint Maarten Have All-Inclusive Resorts?
With a reputation as big as Sint Maarten, you can be sure to have plenty of availability in some of its top-rated all-inclusive resorts. Thanks to an annual influx of tourists from different parts of the world, mass tourism has given way for the rise of many of Sint Maarten’s best resorts, and all-inclusive resorts are not far behind, some even offering luxury-level goodness.
How Many Casinos Are in Sint Maarten?
Sint Maarten is the island’s casino-loving side with 13 casinos to gamble around, you can surely find a perfect place to splurge away, and maybe earn even more than you spent. Some large resorts on the island have their own casinos and gaming facilities, but you can also find plenty of stand-alone.
With one-too-many casinos speckled across Sint Maarten, you can find them in Cupecoy, Maho, Simpson Aby, Cole Bay, and especially in Philipsburg. Some of the notable ones are Casino Royale, Princess Casino, and Porto Cupecoy Casino.
What Is the Best Casino Sint Maarten?
With 13 casinos in total, it’s hard to pinpoint which can be worth your money, and curiosity, and while several stand out, you can be sure to have the best time in Jump Up Casino. With a festive ambiance and a theme nodding to the famous Sint Maarten Carnival, Jump Up Casino is known for the entertainment it provides, with frequent special events and a few surprises up its sleeves.
Jump Up Casino is jampacked with a selection of more than 200 hundred different machines, live entertainment, and performance that are made to add to your already amazing experience on the island. Located within walking distance from Sint Maarten cruise ship docks, the casino is perfect for vacationers and locals looking to have that famed Sint Maarten gaming experience.
What Should I Buy in Sint Maarten?
With Sint Maarten’s reputation for shopping, you’ll be sure to have quite a list as you go down to the streets of Philipsburg. Especially the famed Front Street where fashion boutiques, souvenir shops, jewelry, liquor, and other specialty stores line down, hoping to maybe, just maybe get you close to breaking the bank. While leaving good memories.
When in Sint Maarten, or any Dutch Caribbean Island for that matter, you have to buy the classic Dutch porcelain, characterized by a dual-tone of blue and white, shaped and sculpted n various forms.
These are traditional crafts that originated from the mainland Netherlands, and now is a small yet thriving market on many the Dutch Caribbean, that souvenir-loving tourists seem to always buy. Cop one, or two for yourself whenever you find yourself in Philipsburg.
Sint Maarten is also known to have thriving guavaberry culture, where it even has its own factories and farms that offer tours for curious tourists. You can visit places like the Guaveberry Emporium in the heart of Philipsburg, and buy a bottle or two, and sample the island’s national liquor.
And if you finished a couple of bottles too fast, you can always opt for the guavaberry-based products to take home with you such as juices, rum, jams, and desserts, especially if you visit during the fruit’s growing season. Taking home even just a few of these guavaberry products, you’ll be sure to have a true taste of the island with you.
Local Designer Clothes and Shoes
For the moneyed travelers, with a lot of excess baggage to spare, copping local designer clothes and shoes is an amazing idea as well. You won’t only be giving business opportunities to thrive, but you’ll also be buying pieces of sustainable art like clothes, with an emphasis on the island’s cultural influences. And that is one way of showing respect to countries you visit.
If you’re a Caribbean lover, you may not have a very sensitive palate when it comes to spicy things. Sint Maarten offers a wide selection of hot sauces available for your taking. The peppers and other ingredients used to concoct these sauces are grown easily in the island’s tropical conditions. If you take bottles home, you will be bringing with you a piece of the island’s very essence, and not just the culture, and your newfound love for all things spicy.
Sint Maarten’s Dutch parentage still reigns supreme when it comes to quirky specialties like cheese. The island has a dramatic selection of cheese, with an abundance of different types of cheese such as Gouda, Blue Cheese, and even Mozzarella.
The best thing about buying cheese on the island is that they tend to be 10 times cheaper than the rest of the world. Even expensive coveted cheese can come cost less on Sint Maarten.
What Stores Are in Sint Maarten?
Sint Maarten’s stores sell a variety of products and services that can range from different specialties, some are home-grown and some are international chains, taking advantage of the island’s touristy reputation. You can be sure to find most of them around central areas like Philipsburg, and Simpson Bay.
It’s impossible not to shop whenever you’re in Philipsburg as the capital is riddled with a plethora of stores that range from fashion houses to electronics and other accessories. Head down to Front Street or the Voorstraat that stretches about 2 km and enter the Sint Rose Shopping Mall, and there you’ll find many well-known names like Cartier and Lalique.
Along the streets, you’ll also find more high-end brands like Gucci, Chopard, and Versace. Front Street also has a good selection of shops offering other specialty items like china, and porcelains. You can also find local shops like Gemsland Jewelers, Rue Royal Sint Maarten, for your local jewelry creations.
If you’re looking for more appetite-satisfying finds, visit Belgian Chocolate Shop. Take home some of the best tasting chocolate and other gourmet morsels crafted right in the shop, and not imported from the mainland. This confectionary’s sweet treats aren’t just a favorite among locals, but to many tourists as well.
You can also head down to Sint Maarten Guavaberry and buy Sint Maarten’s national liquor, crafted from can sugar, run, and the famous yet elusive guavaberry fruit. This trademark liqueur boasts an appeal that visitors seem to love and take home.
Shopping on the island can be very special as both Sint Maarten and Saint Martin’s shopping scene is known to be one of the cheapest if not the cheapest in the region. Thanks to low taxes and duty-free laws. Just be sure to have some cash with you, apart from your credit card. While some stores in Sint Maarten accept credit cards, smaller businesses may require cash.
Where Can I Buy Groceries in Sint Maarten?
Grocery shopping can also come as a breeze for tourists looking to cook their own food, especially if they have a full kitchen right inside their accommodations. You can easily find some quality market products in several special places such as Carrefour, Grande Marche, Maho Market, Sang’s, Cost U Less, and Econo Food Market.
What Is the Legal Drinking Age in Sint Maarten?
Sint Maarten, just like in mainland Europe, and most of the Caribbean has a legal drinking age of 18 years. However, all tourists are required to carry personal identification at all times for whatever purposes. There might be establishments looking for some proof of your age, especially if you’re a tourist.
What to Pack for Sint Maarten
Sint Maarten is just like any of the tropical islands in the region, so what you’ll most likely bring to a sunny island is mostly the same. First, be sure to have comfortable clothes that are breathable, light, and can help you cool off easily and fast.
For the ladies, be sure to bring summer staple pieces like t-shirts, light button-downs, tank tops, and pair them with flip-flops, lightweight slip-on, or sandals. Also pack a sarong, or whatever cover-up you can think of, as you might be spending most of your time on the beach.
The same lightweight clothing goes for men, such as tank tops, light button-downs and polos, and simple t-shirts. As for the bottoms, you can never go wrong with short pants, or board shorts whenever you’re around the beach.
Apart from the obvious necessities like sunscreen, and mosquito repellants, make sure to bring light comfortable shoes, for the evenings, and if you decide to have a hike on the go. Never forget to bring first-aid kits, cash, Antillean guilder, or US dollars are fine, and your credit card with your bank duly informed about your trip abroad.
Can I Use My Cell Phone in Sint Maarten?
You can use your cellphone in Sint Maarten, however, reception depends on what carrier you use. Networks such as TellCell, UTS, and Digicel. While there are networks that can work in partnership with certain local networks around the region, or via international roaming plans that can cost you extra fees. The best way to have a constant reception is to buy a SIM card for only 10 USD.
Does Sint Maarten Have Wifi?
Sint Maarten is quite a developed island to have a solid working WiFi network, but the question is where can you connect? While it is available on every corner of the island, you can many at the comfort of cafes, hotels, bars, and resorts across the island, on both the French and Dutch sides.
Do I Need a Power Adapter in Sint Maarten?
Most hotels and resorts in Sint Maarten use the same voltage as in the U.S.: 110 volts, 60 cycles. While on the French side of Saint Martin, outlets run on 220 volts, 60 cycles, so a converter and adaptor plugs are needed for travel appliances on this side of the island. If you’re from North and Central America, you don’t need to bring adapters as the island uses Type A and Type B.
What Else Should I Bring to Sint Maarten?
Before going to the island, make sure to look up all the necessary changes of entry requirements no matter how unlikely, because even at the last minute it can definitely change. Apart from that, make sure to bring documents or proof that might be asked of you, like the itinerary of your return or onward ticket, another ID for the validation of your identification together with your passport.
Don’t forget to bring enough cash, just to get you to your accommodation. You can always withdraw USDs or the local currency from the nearest ATM.
Apart from all the necessary, and some obvious things, the most important thing to bring is the right attitude. You can have all that you need to have enough comfort when traveling but when your heart and mind are in the wrong state everything could go south fast. Make sure to decide on what you want to experience on the island and start from there.