Saint Martin Travel Review

Saint Martin Images/Photos
Images of St. Martin

Did you know: St. Martin is one of the smallest sea islands divided between two nations (France and Belgium), dating back to 1648.

St. Martin Map

If you’re looking to shake the Winter blues and get away from the ice and snow during February, Saint Martin (Sint Maarten) is one place you’ll want to consider. Accessible with a direct flight from many major cities on the East Coast of the U.S., this gem in the Caribbean has a dual character- sporting French and Dutch influences in a unique blend of cultures.

Saint Martin History

St. Martin - Fort AmsterdamThere is evidence that ancient cultures existed in the region around 4,000 B.C., with artifacts on Saint Martin dated to the first century A.D. The oldest known Indian village on the island was discovered in 1987 near Grand Case in an area now called the Hope Estate. Christopher Columbus “discovered” the Caribbean during his epic voyage in 1492 and named Saint Martin after the Bishop of Tours. Other islands in the area like Eustatius, Anguilla and Saba were visited and occupied by explorers from Spain, England, France and the Netherlands from 1495 to the 1800’s. An ongoing series of struggles occurred between the French, the Dutch and the British from 1713 to 1746, but the Dutch remained in control of a majority of the island. By the year 1817, Saint Martin had changed hands 16 times , but by the 1820’s the island was predominantly Dutch (in the south) and French (in the north). With only just over 50 square miles of land, this retreat roughly 200 miles east-southeast of Puerto Rico is a haven for those who want to relax, and “get away from it all.”

Saint Martin Locations of Interest

St. Martin - Fort MarigotDue to the numerous battles during the Colonial period, several ancient forts grace the rocky outcroppings along the coastline. From rustic Fort Amsterdam in the Dutch portion to the better preserved Fort Marigot in the west-central part of the island, history buffs will enjoy hiking along the spectacular cliffs fringed by crystal-blue waters. While Marigot in the north is the largest city,  Philipsburg and other towns on the Dutch side account for a majority of the population. Aside from the best view on the island from the Fort, Marigot has wonderful French restaurants, curbside shops and open-air markets offering a huge variety of native crafts from wood carvings, weavings, pottery, glassware to clothing and paintings.  Philipsburg is also enchanting, with shops and restaurants lining the edge of the bay, where boats bring in fresh seafood daily. A rental car is recommended as you’ll want to take the relatively easy drive around the island to explore areas like the Oyster Pond, the French Cul-de-Sac, the Village of Grand Case and the more developed Cote D’Azur on the west end. Hikers will enjoy trecking up Pic Paradis, the highest point on the island at just over 1,400 feet.  As you make your tour, you’ll see a wide range of styles- from crude village huts to multi-million dollar hotels.  For the more daring, there’s even a “clothing optional” beach  on the northeastern part of the island where you can get a “full tan” and enjoy cool drinks right on the sand.

Saint Martin Customs and Culture

The people on Saint Martin are friendly and most speak English, enjoying the business tourists from America bring to a relatively impoverished society. Restaurants range from simple stands along the streets to five-star facilities in the finer hotels. Lovers of French food will be thrilled as there are many restaurants in Marigot and Grand Case offering Continental cuisine with crepes and other treats. St. Martin - Gizmo's Beach BarWe recommend trying a wide range of the local fare, which has healthy doses of seafood, barbecue, locally grown vegetables and spices. Those looking for an exotic-flavored drink should try their guavaberry Pina colada, made from the roots of a native plant. One place worth a visit is the Little Divi Bay resort in the south, where you can relax on a relatively uncrowded beach and wander over to Gizmo’s Beach bar for a cool cocktail at sunset.  Dress on the island is casual in almost every venue; bring plenty of light shirts, shorts and sandals. Expect to re-charge on a deck chair after your beach assistant strategically positions your umbrella for you in the sand. 

Saint Martin's Top Five Attractions

The lovely thing about this paradise is that you go there wanting to do… nothing. Simply re-charging with a good book and a cold drink is what most people desire. We highly recommend stopping in a few of the many street markets around the island and purchasing some of the native crafts, which are well made and very reasonably priced. By the time you’ve dipped your feet into the sand, then taken a refreshing swim in the turquoise ocean currents, you’ll realize you should have planned a much longer trip.