Saint Martin is in the north east of the Caribbean and is divided into two parts; the north is known as Saint Martin to the French and the south part is Sint Maarten to the Dutch. The island is roughly 60% France and 40% Netherlands although the Dutch side has a greater population. Saint Martin is famous for being the smallest land area that is split into two nations.
There are around forty beaches to choose from on the island and there is something for everyone whether you’re looking to really get back to nature (in the buff) on Orient Beach! Or to preserve your modesty you can plane spot on Maho Bay beach where the airplanes fly just a few feet above your head. Whichever beach you pick you’ll be guaranteed a great atmosphere, typically Caribbean with some great little bars to explore and local restaurants serving up traditional food. Many beaches also offer watersports, water adventures and parasailing.
The Caribbean region is actually made up of some 7,000 islands which are commonly known as the West Indies. The 'Caribbean' usually refers to the Caribbean Sea, the actual Caribbean islands and the coasts which sit on the Caribbean Sea. The area was named the West Indies in 1492 after explorer Christopher Columbus thought he had landed in Asia, in the Indies.
The largest island group is the Antilles which is divided into the Greater Antilles and Lesser Antilles. The Greater Antilles is made up of Cuba, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola, which is Haiti and Dominican Republic and in fact the Greater Antilles accounts for around ninety percent of the total land in the whole of the West Indies.
The Lesser Antilles comprise the Bahamas, Cayman Islands and Turks and Caicos. The Windward islands are made up of these islands; Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire make up the Leeward Antilles .
The Leeward Islands are made up of the following islands; US Virgin Islands (Saint Croix, Saint Thomas, Saint John and Water Island), British Virgin Islands (Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke and Anegada), Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda (Antigua, Barbuda, Redonda), Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat and Guadeloupe.
Sint Maarten was until 10 October 2010 part of Netherlands Antilles which was dissolved. The Netherlands Antilles was made up of five countries; Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius (which are now special municipalities of the Netherlands) and Curacao and Sint Maarten (which are now constituent countries of the Netherlands).
The Netherlands Antilles was originally discovered and settled by the Spanish in the 15th Century. By the 17th Century, the Dutch had conquered these islands and made them their military bases and more important the trading center for the slave trades in the West Indies. With the abolishment of slavery in 1863, these islands declined in importance. It was not until the 20th century that these islands began to flourish again by serving as oil refineries centers for Venezuela. It is also lately that tourism has played a greater role in the economic growth of these islands.
Due to the colonization by the Dutch, the cultures of these islands are largely influenced by the Dutch way of life. In addition, these traditions are often infused with a local flavor making them a unique potpourri of culture for each respective island. These cultural diversities are reflected in the festive events that display the colorful parades, the vibrant music like the Calypso and Pan Music as well as the traditional cuisines of the island.
The island of Sint Maarten and Saint Martin is actually famous for being the smallest land mass shared by two nations, the Dutch and the French. The Dutch quarter is known as Sint Maarten while the French side is called by St Martin. Relatively untouched by commercialization, the island main historical attractions include Fort Amsterdam and Sint Maarten Museum. Those who love to go au naturel can do so at Orient Beach. Simpson Bay is also an interesting place to relax at as you can get to observe the passenger jets careening overhead trying to land at the extremely short runway.
Places of interest on St Maarten include:
- Cay Baai
- Guana Bay
- Maho Bay
- Mullet Pont Bay
- Border Monument
- Dutch Cul de Sac
- Great Salt Pond
- Burgher's Houses
- De Ruyterplein
Because the hurricane season runs from July until October travellers should ideally visit Sint Maarten around November to early December and from May to June.
The real charm of Sint Maarten lies in its people and you cannot savor the true essence of the Caribbean without getting to know the people. You need to join in and mix with the local population in order to get a feel of the warmth and character of the local populace.
Try eating at the local food stalls. Not only is the food cheaper but you’ll also get the authentic taste of the local fare and not just a watered down version! In addition, you get to mingle around and ask what is what.
If you only have one day on Sint Maarten although a day is hardly enough time to scratch the surface to savor what this island has to offer. However, if you are arriving by Cruise ships, your options are limited. Even then, you start by renting a car and enjoy a lunch of sweet barbecue ribs at one of the open air ‘Lolos”. Orient Beach should be your next stop for the feel of sand under your feet. Lastly drop by at one of the bars at Simpson Bay and watch the jumbo jets literally trying to land over your head.
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