Exploring the Caribbean’s “Friendly Island”

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Today’s guest post comes courtesy of one of my favorite commenters, Orion, whose mom unknowingly dubbed this glaring pink site “Camel Cupcakes.” (It’s partially for him that I have a new gender-friendly banner and theme that will go live in the next month!) Orion has a riveting life working in the oil industry up in Alaska; he promises he’ll stop by in the future and share just what that’s like. But for today, he tells about one of his favorite Caribbean spots, Saint-Martin(/Sint Maarten), which is fitting as I’m off in Bonaire for Celebrate the Planet Week. Thanks, Orion! (Show him the love, guys.)

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The Caribbean isle of Saint-Martin is situated about 200 miles east of Puerto Rico and is the smallest island in the world that is split between two entities. The northern half is the French overseas collectivity of Saint-Martin, while the southern division is the Netherlands Antilles territory of Sint Maarten. The entire island is collectively known as Saint Martin, as English is the predominant language.

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There are a few entrance points onto the island. A deepwater harbor is situated just outside the Dutch capital of Philipsburg, which is used by cruise ships. Princess Juliana International Airport, also located on the Dutch side, is the main hub for the whole island. A secondary local airport, called Aérodrome de Grand-Case Espérance, is just outside the French capital of Marigot. Relations between both sides are amiable (hence the isle sobriquet of “the Friendly Island”), with three hundred years of separate sovereignty celebrated in 1948.

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Marigot is the most populated city, with a scant 5,700 inhabitants. The island’s most wealthy patrons live on the French side: Julia Roberts, Slyvester Stallone, Nick Maley (creator of Yoda from the Star Wars franchise) and several Saudi princes. There are many sidewalk cafes and bistros, which remind one of a local town in France with the exception of a saltwater breeze and sand-filled cobblestone streets. A midmorning snack of escargot with fresh baked baguettes and mimosas will only set one back three euros. The entire settlement is in the shadow of Fort Louis (named after French King Louis XVI, who famously lost his head), which dominates the local skyline.

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Beaches around Marigot are also known for being clothing optional, but sadly the signs did not point the way to les gens tout nus.

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The Dutch side is definitely the flashy party nightlife side, as opposed to the more laidback French side. Gambling is legal only with the Dutch (with French citizens actually given punchcards of sorts to keep them from gambling too often each month), and plenty of casinos pepper the south side of the island. There are many jewelry and high-end designer stores, with most offering duty-free shopping and steep discounts from retail prices. The main district in Philipsburg is Front Street.

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Front Street is located right on the water, but be careful of where you sit, as locals may charge you for the beach chairs and umbrellas. (This is true for many tourist areas of the Caribbean.)

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Even though the island is either Catholic (French) or Protestant (Dutch), there are other religions represented such as this beautiful mosque in the hills on the Dutch side.

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The International Lookout point is a great place to view three countries at once: the local Dutch side, the French side over the harbor, and the British overseas island of Anguilla across the water.

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Another great feature of Sint Marteen is Maho Beach, or rather the small part of it known locally as Sunset Beach, adjacent to the Sunset Beach Bar and Grill and Princess Juliana International Airport.

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Since the runway is so short (around 7,000 feet), aircraft must land as close to the beginning as possible. A world famous sign warns viewers on the public side of the runway fence.

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There is no vegetation on the white sand Sunset Beach due to jet blast erosion. However, it is a popular beach for watching aircraft and sunsets. The Bar and Grill provide potent frozen cocktails and a mouthwatering swordfish burger. Also, topless women drink for free (no frozen drinks) and there was one topless woman, but she didn’t approach the bar for her free drink…sadly. The workers also have a chalk surfboard on which airplane arrival times are sketched daily. Approaching aircraft start off as a glint in the Caribbean sun, slowly growing larger until the vessel is straight overhead.

And as for takeoff, remember that sign earlier? Heed its warning. Be ye not so stupid (and sandblasted)(I blame the frozen pi ña colatas).

Saint-Martin was charming and colorful with a dash of Creole flavor. Between its lush rolling hills and white sand beaches, there is a good reason that one million tourists (and growing) visit each year.

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-Follow Orion on Twitter or find him on his own blog, Swift Serenity.

*If you’re interested in guest blogging for me while I’m on future trips, drop me a line and we’ll chat.

COMMENTS
  • August 23, 2010

    Such a cool airport! And I love the colors of the island. 🙂

  • August 23, 2010

    Looks like paradise, except for the sand blasting.

  • August 23, 2010
    SVV

    Okay, those videos were awesome. I love it when you start running from the jet wash. 🙂

    Also? Escargot, baguettes and mimosas for three euros in a place that houses celebs and the ultra-rich? Who’d of thunk?

  • August 23, 2010
    Kristin

    It’s crazy to me how little of the Caribbean I’ve seen and how varied the islands can be. I think the cruise industry gives the Carib skewed perspective that everything is the same port to port. But I’m loving me some Caribbean lately and am happy that airlines like JetBlue now fly to many islands and make places like Saint-Martin accessible to travelers like you and me who aren’t a part of the yachting vacationers!

  • March 20, 2011

    Amazing! I miss St. Maarten/Sint Martin. I’d love to go back to the French side and explore.

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