If I thought the port of Antigua was touristy, St. Maarten was twice that!
St. Maarten is super interesting because the whole Caribbean island is in fact part of not one, but two European countries! We docked in Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side of Sint Maarten, whilst the other 60% of the island is the French owned Saint-Martin.
I had imagined the French/Netherland split would be purely symbolic on an island that looked completely as if it belonged in the Caribbean – clear blue waters as we took a boat along the coast, colourful buildings and enough fresh coconuts to keep you refreshed all day. However on booking a tour of the island we learned that the split is excessively in evidence: one side speaks french, the other dutch, they have difference currencies, different electricity/water/call providers. Ridiculously, it would cost you less to make a mobile phone call to mainland USA from St. Maarten than it would to call someone on the opposite side of the island because making a call from the French to the Dutch side would incur international calling charges.
This time we took a bus tour around the island which was a great way to experience both nationalities on the island and their differences. The tour stopped at various viewing points for photo ops and a walk around whilst the guide was extremely entertaining and informative. Even as we crossed over to the french side of the island, all road sides, billboards and stores instantly changed to french language and there was even the opportunity to pay in Euros. This meant the main shopping area on the beach front on the French side is extremely cheap as it was in line with mainland France prices however without the import tax on goods coming from within the caribbean.
tip: The Philipsburg port shops where we docked on the Dutch side were extremely expensive with many designer brands, so if you’re hoping to do a spot of shopping on St. Maarten, make sure you hold onto your money until you get to the French side.
I’d definitely say its worth seeing both sides of the island and going on a tour led by a local is a great way to do that and learn loads of interesting facts, especially if you’re interested in the history of the island.
- book a tour in advance if you want to see more than the main port.
- spend time in Philipsburg because even though shops were expensive, we got a lot of freebies and there are steel drums playing in the street, the atmosphere is brilliant.
- save your money for the French side to avoid import taxes!
- again, always take swimwear – there’s always time for a quick dip in the Caribbean!
Have you been to St. Maarten/Saint-Martin before? Let me know!