St. Maarten/St. Martin is definitely an explorer’s paradise, but no matter how adventurous you are, the following contains some general information and a few guidelines you will need to make your vacation one to remember.
As brief history, St. Maarten was discovered by Christopher Columbus on November 11, 1493. The island was named after St. Martin of Tours, as the date of its discovery coincided with the feast of St. Martin. He never actually landed here, but rather claimed it for Spain and kept sailing. Still, to this day, islanders continue to celebrate November 11 as St. Maarten / St. Martin day.
The Dutch & French nationalities have co-existed happily in St. Maarten/St. Martin for more than three centuries. In the 1630’s, the French & Dutch both settled on the island. According to legend, the boundaries were established in a walking contest in 1648 in which a Dutchman landed up with the southern portion of the island comprising of 16 square miles and a Frenchman landed up with the northern portion of the island comprising of 21 square miles.
In the early days, the island was a pirates’ haven; they found the coves & bays to be good hiding places.
The island is in the Caribbean Sea, 18.02 latitude and 63.07 longitude, located 150 miles southeast of Puerto Rico. The island is 37 square miles, with Dutch St. Maarten to the South covering 16 square miles and French St. Martin to the North covering 21 square miles. It is the smallest landmass to be shared by two separate Governments.
Dutch Side, Sint Maarten – Philipsburg
French Side, Saint Martin – Marigot
Sint Maarten – Estimated 41,000
Saint Martin – Estimated 36,000
The island offers a year-round, warm and sunny tropical climate with some cooling trade winds. Average temperature during the Winter season is 80°F (27°C) and a few degrees warmer and a little more humid in the Summer with an annual rainfall of about 45 inches.
There are many bays and creeks along the shores of the island and some salt ponds on the lands by the coast. Pic Paradis, the highest summit, is 1,392 feet high in the center of the island. Simpson Bay Lagoon, located in the western part of the island, is one of the largest lagoons in the Caribbean.
St. Maarten / St. Martin is home to 140 different nationalalities from every part of the world…Dutch is the official language of St. Maarten and French of St. Martin. St. Maarten / St. Martin’s unique local dialects are Creole and Papiamento. The most commonly used languages are English, French, Dutch & Spanish. You will hear English spoken everywhere and all tourist services are staffed with bi-lingual personnel. Street signs on the Dutch side are all in English and it is easy to make your way around, guided by signs, all over the island.
Both sides of the island have a number of banks and ATM machines. Dutch side - Typical banking hours are from 8:30 AM – 3:30 PM Monday through Friday. Most banks offer 24 hour cash point facilities for Cirrus, MasterCard or Visa cards. French side – There are several banks on the French side. Banking hours are varied from each institution. There are many change points to change money during the day.
Major credit cards are accepted in most places to include American Express, MasterCard and VISA. You will need to check with individual merchants as some establishments may not accept credit cards. U.S. dollar traveler’s checks are accepted everywhere with identification.
One island with two Governments and three Currencies. The official currency of Dutch St. Maarten is the Netherlands Antilles Guilder or ‘Florin’ (Naf); the official currency of French St. Martin is the euro. The main hotels, shops, restaurants & activity centers on both sides of the island accept US Dollars. It is usually better to spend dollar on the Dutch side. On the French side, look out for stores and restaurants that take €1 - $1 to make the most of your dollar. NA guilders are not accepted on the French side. Both travelers checks and major credit cards are widely accepted all over the island.
St. Maarten is the only completely duty-free port in the Caribbean. No vaccination certificates are required unless arriving from an area experiencing an epidemic.
When you depart from St. Maarten / St. Martin there is a departure tax to pay…Those leaving on an international flight must pay US$30.00 per person, unless the arrival and departure are on the same day. If you are traveling to another island within the Netherlands Antilles, the departure tax is US$10.00 per person. Payment is required before boarding and they will only accept cash or traveler’s checks. Certain airlines have already incorporated the departure tax into the price of the ticket to include American Airlines, Air France, Continental Airlines, CorsAir, Delta Airlines and KLM. If you are not sure, check with the individual carrier.
Daytime attire is casual, but keep bathing suits and bikinis for the beach. Light cottons, linens and a good sun hat are your best options. In the evening, the island’s finer restaurants and nightlife spots gives you the opportunity to wear something a little more special with a tropical flair.
Tap water on the island comes from desalinated seawater and is drinkable. We do recommend drinking bottled water which is readily available throughout the island.
On the Dutch side, the current is 110 volts AC, like the United States. On the French side, the current is 220 volts, according to the European standard. Converters are available at some of the electronic stores in Marigot and Philipsburg.
U.S. citizens require one of the following:
- A valid passport and a return/continuing ticket.
- Naturalized citizens must show an original naturalization certificate with photo identification and a return/continuing ticket.
- Green Card holders must have a valid passport and a return/continuing ticket.
Canadian citizens require one of the following:
- A valid passport and a return/continuing ticket.
- Canadian residents require a "Landing permit" with valid passport and return/continuing ticket.
European Community citizens require:
A valid passport and a return/continuing ticket.
*Special Notice on Passports
The Department of State and Homeland Security have announced a "Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative" in which they are proposing to require all U.S. Citizens, Canadians, citizens of Bermuda and citizens of Mexico to have a passport or other accepted secure document to enter or re-enter the U.S. by January 1, 2008.
Nationals of the following countries listed below require a visa for entry into the Netherlands Antilles for a maximum stay of 3 months (effective January 1, 2005):
- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- China, the Peoples Republic, with the exception of Hong Kong SAR en BNO document holders
- Congo-Democratic Republic (formerly Zaire)
- Dominican Republic
- East Timor
- Equatorial Guinea
- Federal Republic of Yugoslavia
- Ivory Coast
- Macedonia (formerly the Republic of Yugoslavia)
- Marshall Islands
- Myanmar (formerly Burma)
- North Korea
- Northern Marianne
- Palestinian Authority
- Papua New Guinea
- Russian Federation
- Sao Tome and Principe
- Saudi Arabia
- Serbia and Montenegro (Yugoslavia)
- Sierra Leone
- Solomon Island
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
- United Arab Emirates
- West Samoa
For other countries, kindly contact your closest Dutch Embassy or a St. Maarten Tourist Office.
In a medical emergency, the hospital in the Dutch side is the St. Maarten Medical Center located on Cay Hill (Telephone +1721 543 1110) and the hospital on the French side is L.C. Fleming Hospital located in Concordia (Telephone 00 590 590 29 57 57). The island also has numerous private doctors and specialists. Pharmacies carry prescription drugs and the over-the-counter variety.
Of course each side of the island has a Post Office…On the Dutch side, the main post office is located on Walter Nisbeth Road, Philipsburg and on the French side, the main post office is located in Marigot and there are branches in Nettle Bay and the Howell Center (next to Match supermarket).
The main island newspapers are:
The Daily Herald - This paper is printed daily, except Sundays and Holidays, on the Dutch side and is printed in English. It features news about St. Maarten / St. Martin, the neighboring Caribbean islands and international news. On Thursday, it comes out with a handy supplement, Out & About which lists information about restaurants & bars as well as entertainment & live music schedules for the upcoming week.
The Miami Herald – This paper is printed daily, except Sundays and Holidays, by The Daily Herald on the Dutch side of the island. It is an extension of The Miami Herald featuring international news. This particular newspaper is mainly distributed to Hotels.
St. Martin’s Week – The main French side newspaper (printed in French) is printed every Monday, Wednesday & Friday.
St. Maarten / St. Martin offers a number of churches with many denominations represented including Catholic, Baptist, Anglican, Methodist and Adventist. There is also a mosque on the Dutch side of the island next to BelAir.
Hours of operations do vary between the two sides of the island. On the Dutch side, in Philipsburg, stores are typically open from 9:00 or 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM, Monday through Saturday. Some of the stores also open for a few hours on Sunday morning if there is a cruise ship in town. On the French side, in Marigot, stores are generally open from 9:00 or 10:00 AM – 1:00 PM and 3:00 PM – 7:00 PM, Monday through Saturday. The Maho Shopping District, located at Maho Beach Resort & Casino, is open late into the evening seven days a week.
TELEPHONE & INTERNET ACCESS
Since we are two nations on one island, telephoning from one side to the other may be a bit complicated! When calling within the same side of the island, it is pretty simple. On the Dutch side, dial the 7 digits of the number and on the French side; dial the 10 digits of the number. If you want to call from one side of the island to the other, you have to dial the full international code. From the Dutch to French side, dial (00 590) followed by nine digits dropping the 0 and from the French to Dutch side, dial (1 721) and then the seven-digit number.
Cellular phones can be rented from a number of locations. Some of the villas are equipped with Internet Access and, if not, there are also some Cyber Cafes around the island. We will be happy to assist you with your needs while on island.
To dial the Dutch side from USA, Canada or Europe dial (1 721) followed by the number. To dial the French side from USA or Canada dial (011 590) followed by nine digits dropping the first 0 from the number and from Europe dial (00 590) followed by nine digits dropping the first 0 from the number.
When dining out, it is normal to tip on St. Maarten/St. Martin. Before you leave a tip, check the bottom of the menu or your bill as some establishments automatically add on a 15% Service Charge. Additional tipping for fine service is appreciated.
St. Maarten is on Atlantic (Eastern) Standard Time year round. During the fall and winter months, daylight savings time, noon on the East Coast of the U.S. is 1 PM on the island. During the summer months when daylight savings time is not in effect, the island is on the same time as the East Coast of the U.S.
There is a tourism office on each side of the island.
St. Maarten Tourist Bureau
Vineyard Office Park
WG Buncamper Rd. #33
French Side – St. Martin
Office de Tourisme
Rte de Sandy Ground – Marigot
97150 Saint Martin – FWI
Tel: (590) 590 87 57 21
Fax: (590) 590 87 56 43
On the Dutch side, there is also an information desk on the cruise ship pier as well as a booth at Princess Juliana International Airport.
There are various forms of transportation available while on island. The two forms that we recommend to our visitors are as follows:
This is the most convenient and cost effective way to move around St. Maarten/St. Martin. Rates are reasonable and offer unlimited mileage, pick up, delivery, emergency services and additional insurances. In order to rent a car, you will need a valid driver’s license and a major credit card. Once you have driven around the island for one day, you find driving her is easy to pick up.
Rates from Oyster Pond to the airport start at $30 for up to 2 people. Rates to Grand Case from Oyster Pond start at $25 for up to 2 people. These rates are subject to change.
TRAVEL TO ST. MAARTEN/ST. MAARTEN
You may come to St. Maarten/St. Martin via major airlines and cruise lines. The first phase of the new airport with a new terminal is going to be finalized this Summer 2006 and we have a major Port facility for the large cruise ships. To get an idea of the various airlines and cruise lines coming to the island, click here.
U.S. SHOPPING REGULATIONS
Visitors from the United States who travel to St. Maarten/St. Martin are allowed to take back up to $600.00 worth of items, per person, without paying duty when going through customs. You can also include up to two liters of alcohol with the $600.00 exemption.