This article originally appeared in Delta Air Lines’ 2012 Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America Travel Guide. It has been extracted from its original format. To read the full travel guide, visit the digital edition.
Geographically, St. Maarten is one of the world’s strangest places. Not because its flora or fauna are unique, but because it shares its tiny island with the country of St. Martin, turning any vacation here into a delightfully diverse and cultural expedition. St. Maarten, or the Dutch side, is undeniably the entertainment center of the island. Maho Bay is home to several nightclubs and casinos, most of which are open until the wee hours and entice vacationers from every corner of the island. Even the shops here stay open until 11 p.m. or later. The nearby capital of Philipsburg is more of a daytime hangout spot, blessed with a boardwalk that curves along with the shore of the bay it sits on. Fronting the boardwalk, a complex of restaurants, bars and boutiques selling everything from jewelry to clothing to souvenirs entertains beach-goers and boardwalk-strollers, tourists and locals alike.
Marigot is the island’s other major city, set in the quaint French side. It’s home to a busy harbor populated with cafes, some with a Caribbean ambiance and others with sidewalk seating and extensive wine lists that feel transported from the streets of Paris. The shopping here is great as well—keep an eye out for French beauty projects and clothing items. At Marigot’s harbor, regular ferry service runs to the nearby island of Anguilla, an ideal day trip for visitors seeking a quieter island experience. Not far from Marigot, the town of Grand Case has a reputation for being the Caribbean’s culinary center—it’s home to dozens of restaurants, with a wide range of styles. Some are upscale French restaurants serving expensive wines and specialty items like escargot. Others, known as “lo los,” are open-air BBQ stands, serving chicken, fish, beef and pork seasoned with Caribbean spices and served with hearty rice and beans.
- Best time to go:
November to May
- Fun fact:
The border between the French and Dutch side is said to have been determined by two soldiers who each set out along the coast in a different direction, drawing the line between their place of embarkation and the site where they met again on the island’s other side
- Getting there:
Delta flies from Atlanta to St. Maarten
- Entry documents:
Dutch guilder and euro on French side (U.S. dollars widely accepted)
- Must-try local food:
Barbecue meats from lo lo stands
- Best buys:
Jewelry, electronics, beauty products
- Information please:
St. Maarten Tourist Bureau—vacationstmaarten.com