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St Martin/St Maarten guide

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St Martin/St Maarten at a glance

ST MARTIN / ST MAARTEN - A gateway to the northern islands of the Lesser Antilles, St Martin/St Maarten is a busy, popular holiday destination with a lively beach scene, fine restaurants, a huge range of hotels and lots to do - particularly if you enjoy being in and on the sea. What makes it exceptional, and intriguing, is that it is split into two parts – the north side, St Martin, is a petit morceau of France while St Maarten in the south has a Dutch heritage. There is no border to cross but there is a marked difference in culture - fly in here and you'll get to enjoy two countries for the price of one, along with all the familiar delights of the Caribbean such as diving, shopping, dancing and savouring a cool rum punch as the sun sets.

Read about St martin/St Maarten history, population and politics in Island Essentials.

The Definitive St Martin/St Maarten Island Guide gives you independent reviews, listings, and information from top travel journalists and Caribbean specialists.

Best for:
Fun in the sun with a twist of Europe, gourmet dining, shopping
What for:
Beaches, Cruises, Culture & Heritage, Shopping, Casinos, Watersports
Not for:
Peace and quiet, Historic Sites, Cricket
How to get there:
Direct or two-centre with Anguilla, St Barths, Saba

St Martin/St Maarten in depth

By Nigel Tisdall


St Martin/St Maarten likes to call itself “The Friendly Island” and it's certainly welcoming to the world. Besides being a major cruise ship destination it is also one of the easiest places in the Caribbean to reach by air. Many visitors go no further, attracted by its fine beaches and plentiful resorts catering mainly to couples, families, sea-lovers and party people. Others push on to Anguilla, St Barths and Saba, which are all near enough to be visited on a day trip by ferry.

Somewhat ragged in shape, the island is only 8 miles (12.8 km) by 9.3 miles (15 km) and fringed with 36 sandy beaches that are beautiful but often busy. In addition, two islands, the small family getaway of Pinel and larger, uninhabited Tintamarre, lie to the northeast.

The highest point on St Martin/St Maarten is Pic Paradis, a prominent green peak that rises to 1,392 feet (424 m) and crowns a central run of wooded hills. One unusual feature is Simpson Bay Lagoon, in the west of the island, which covers 12 square miles (32 sq km) and is the largest seawater lagoon in the Caribbean. Today it is a sanctuary for some of the thousands of boats and yachts that are moored here – the island has 13 marinas and is a top sailing destination.

Another engaging quirk results from the island's history. In 1648 it was divided in half by French and Dutch colonists in a treaty that still stands today. In the north, St Martin covers 20.5 square miles (53 km) and is a bastion of Gallic culture complete with gendarmes, pâtisseries, chic dress shops and many fine gastronomic restaurants. In the south, St Maarten covers 16.5 square miles (43 sq km) and is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. With a big cruise ship terminal and casinos, this half is much more built-up and commercialised. No formalities are required to cross between the two and both sides have their fans. French, Dutch or Caribbean, one thing is abundantly clear as soon as you land - St Martin/St Maarten is an island where an awful lot of people are having an awful lot of fun.


This Definitive St Martin & St Maarten Guide is maintained by a team of top travel writers and our own in-house team of Caribbean specialists and includes independent reviews about St Martin & St Maarten, its accommodation, things to do, places to seegetting around, how to get there and links to help your St Martin/Maarten travel plans. 

Picture editor, Holly Cocker. Senior Picture Editor, Alexander Gray.

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St Martin/St Maarten weather chart

When to go and weather

Looking for inspiration?

  1. Experience the sights and sounds of Orient Beach
  2. Swim to Pinel Island for a decadent lunch at Karibuni
  3. Climb to Fort-Louis above Marigot and appreciate the historic views
  4. Enjoy classic French cuisine in Grand-Case
  5. Sail to Anguilla or St Barth’s for the day

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