St. Maarten/St. Martin
St. Maarten/St. Martin Travel Guide
As on most Caribbean islands, much of your time will be spent on the beach. Dawn Beach offers views of nearby St. Bart's, Orient Bay is bustling with activity, while Baie Longue is the longest beach on the island and also home to La Samanna resort. Here are some more suggestions:
St. Maarten Museum. This modest but fascinating museum in Phillipsburg recounts the history of the island through artifacts and exhibits covering the Arawak Indians, the salt industry, slavery, and the island's current focus on tourism.
Diving and snorkeling. The waters off of St. Maarten are home to coral reefs and wreck sites. You may also have the chance to swim with some of the local hawksbill turtles.
Shopping. Both sides of St. Maarten are duty-free and you can find Swiss watches and French perfumes at prices up to 20% cheaper than back home. Don't assume you are getting a good price, however, and if you know in advance you are looking for a certain big-ticket item, research the price you'd pay in the states. Front Street in Phillipsburg is a good place to start your shopping excursion.
Duty-free jewelry stores populate both the French and Dutch sides of the island. This intimate boutique stands out for its designer timepieces and jewelry by well-known lines such as Dinh Van, Girard-Perregaux, and Jaeger LeCoultre.
For centuries, local wild berries called guavaberry (no relation to the guava fruit) have been soaked in rum and sugar, producing the island's legendary drink, a rich liqueur with a woody, fruity, bittersweet flavor.
In the center of Philipsburg, the Holland House Beach Hotel's newly built open-air lounge is hands-down the island's most stylish spot for a piña colada at sunset.
The busy daily market on Marigot's waterfront is one of the island's scenic trademarks. There's a wide array of fresh spices (from mace and turmeric root to white cardamom), as well as a good selection of French jacquards. On Wednesday and Saturday mornings, fishermen sell their latest catch.
This tiny boutique is packed with trinkets and home accessories: Provençal tea towels, Laguiole knives with bone and precious-wood handles. There's also bright and playful hand-painted Limoges porcelain from the atelier of French ceramicist Soizick de la Bruguière.
Stock up on wine and picnic supplies here, where the choices include an impressive selection of charcuterie (chorizo, pancetta, coppa) and cheeses (including a few raw-milk varieties) to top a fresh-baked crusty baguette. Round out the hamper with delicate madeleines.
Coffee is grown on-site, then dried and roasted to make potent petits cafés, served after the tour.
Escape the heat in this light-filled, three level complex just below the hilltop Fort Louis. The 25 stores carry a well-edited selection of clothing and accessories (Lancel, Façonnable, Lacoste). On the top floor, there's a gourmet delicatessen run by legendary French purveyor Hédiard.
For Delft connoisseurs, the blue-and- white pottery collection available at this outpost, the only licensed dealer of Royal Porceleyne Fles outside of the Netherlands, is unparalleled.
In Marigot, on Rue du Général de Gaulle, where French giants such as Longchamp, Cartier, and Hermès rub shoulders, this shop stocks French creams and ointments, including lines that are difficult to find stateside, such as Klorane, La Roche-Posay, and Piz Buin.
Here, Dutch St. Maarten gets the South Beach treatment. Linger by the lagoon-style wading pools under one of the canopied cabanas or get into the groove on the dance floor, where DJ's spin beats into the wee hours.
Whether you're looking for a form-flattering one-piece by Gottex or a skimpy Brazilian-style bikini by Ondade Mar, this little shop on Marigot's marina is your best bet.
This colonial guesthouse, also in Philipsburg, is a former Dutch royal residence that retains the elegance of an earlier era: teak antiques, portraits of the royal family, high-backed peacock chairs. Stop by and have afternoon tea on the terrace or a cocktail at the waterfront beach bar.