St Martin/St Maarten was the second stop on our trip. We booked a short tour of the island and then had planned to spend the rest of the afternoon at the beach. We didn’t make it to the beach in the afternoon, but I’m glad we stopped by one on the tour. St Martin has some of the most beautiful beaches with the softest sand you can find. The water is beautiful and clear. Truly, the island is a small treasure.
St Martin/St Maarten is the smallest island in the world that is shared between two countries. The Dutch side, St Maarten, is the more touristy side of the island, since they opened up for tourism twenty years before the French side. The capital of the Dutch side is Philipsburg, with Front Street providing some of the best shopping on the island. It’s also a place where you can go and sample guavaberry liquor, which is the national beverage. The liquor is slightly sweet, but mostly spicy with hints of cinnamon and clove.
The French side is known for its food. St Martin is known as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, and in Marigot, you can get French pastries as easily as barbecued chicken and fresh fish. We didn’t get to have lunch there unfortunately, but if you’re going you should definitely sample the many delights this country has to offer.
The people of St Maarten are extremely warm and friendly. They are much more easy going than I would be about the fact that at each end of the 13 mile island they use different currency (the French side uses euros, the Dutch side US dollars), have different power systems, and have international cell phone restrictions between the two sides. It’s generally cheaper to physically go and talk to the person on the other side rather than call them. Many people who do business on both sides have two separate cell phone plans.
It’s fairly ludicrous, but the two sides live in relative harmony, and have done so ever since the treaty was drawn up in the 17th century stating that the French and Dutch would share the island. On July 12, 1848, massive uprisings in the large slave population led to the abolishment of slavery.
St Maarten’s biggest industry before the tourism boom of the 1970s was salt. The picture above shows a (dried up) area of brackish water. Places like this would be used to harvest salt, but poor regulations led to the pollution and ultimately the dissolution of the salt industry.
Almost all the goods used every day by the people of St Maarten/Martin are imported. The island is extremely dry and growing food is very difficult. All luxury goods like jewelry and electronics are imported along with cars and gas and food stuffs. A car in St Martin costs about 3,000 dollars more than the same car in the United States because of import fees. The cars I saw the most of on the island were Hyundais and Nissans, which are relatively lower priced and fairly dependable.
It only takes about an hour to drive all the way around the island. While you do so, you’re rewarded with stunning views of the surrounding water and beaches. There’s a beach for almost every mile of coastline, and, in true European fashion, there are many clothing optional beaches and resorts as well.
St Martin is definitely a place to come and enjoy and relax. It’s beautiful and relatively quiet, for all the hustle and bustle of the main towns.
While I definitely enjoyed the tour, the highlight of the day for me was visiting The Yoda Guy on Front Street. It’s a non-profit museum and store dedicated to the work of Nick Haley, who worked on the development of puppets and makeup for 54 movies including Star Wars, Terminator, Superman, MIB, Highlander, and a ton more. He is absurdly talented, and really is the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet. He and his wife run the museum and spend their days talking to young people and encouraging them to follow their dreams. He talked to a young couple about being “normal” and how following what your friends and other people expect you to do was not going to let you grow as a person the same way as following your passions. He was extremely inspiring and very kind. We bought some of his artwork and walked around the museum oohing and aahing over the memorabilia (as we–my Mom, my honorary aunt, Mel, and I are big movie nerds). We were hot and tired, but this museum was like hitting the refresh button and I’m so glad that we made the stop.
Have you ever been to St Martin/Maarten? What did you think of it? What was your favorite thing about this little treasure of an island?