Saint Martin

A Caribbean mix of the Netherlands and France

Saint Martin is a unique place. Though the island is your typical sun, sea, and sand destination, it is also the only place in the world where The Netherlands borders France. It has a tumultuous past that includes slavery, but nowadays Saint Martin has a relaxing atmosphere, making it a wonderful holiday destination

The island has long attracted sun lovers. The sun shines (almost) 365 days, the bright blue seawater is nice and warm, in a setting of rolling hills. The island used to be very popular for something completely different. For example, the Dutch became interested in the island because of the sea salt. The many lagoons on the island are still full of salt.

But Saint Martin has much more to offer than sun, sea and beach. These are the best things to see and do for your visit to Saint Martin. 

Sail in a real regatta

Not everyone knows the American Cup, but it’s one of the most important regattas in the world. The yachts that partake are the absolute top of the range when it comes to boats. One of its winning yachts, the Stars and Stripes, which took home the cup in 1987, is retired from official racing but is now used for tourist races. After an introduction, you get split into teams, assigned a job, for example shipper, grinder or helmsman. Then the race begins. Water gushes onto the deck, the ship leans sharply, but at quieter moments you can have a drink. It’s an intense experience, whether you win or not. It truly gives you an insight into the skills and strength that make sailing a real sport.

Swim with horses

Around the island there are opportunities to explore on horseback. Check whether your ride goes along the shore, and whether you can swim with the horses at the end of the ride. The animals love hitting the water to cool down. Be aware that you’ll get wet! It’s an interesting experience because some of the horses exhale under water, and you can hear the bubbles they expel.

Discover the underwater world

Diving and snorkelling are very popular on the island of Saint Martin. It might not be as spectacular as around Bonaire or Saba, but you’ll still see lots of fish. And sometimes even a sea turtle or shark! You can go snorkelling for half a day or a whole day all around the island, but experts say that Pine Island, Grand Case Bay (more for diving), Creole Rock and Baie Rouge are the best spots. The last one offers a cool cave in which you can snorkel. The coral here is still in a good condition, and it’s full of colourful fish.

Go on a Caribbean Sunset Cruise

This is the ultimate Caribbean experience. With a drink in your hand you can sail away on all sorts of vessels: yachts, catamarans and plenty of other ships offer cruises. One of the best is a Sunset Cruise, during which you can lounge on the deck and watch the sun go down. The crew will prepare a delicious rum punch, and if you get too hot, you can simply dive off the boat and take a dip.

Meet Yoda’s physical creator

Nick Maley is world-famous for his part in creating iconic Star Wars characters. He helped create the physical bodies of Yoda and Chewbacca, fictional characters from the successful films. He’s also known as ‘That Yoda Guy’. There are newspaper clipping and footage of him everywhere. Maley has created many characters over the years, including for movies such as Superman and Highlander. You can often find him on the island where he lives and likes to paint. His museum is on the main street of Philipsburg.

Dive with sharks

This is a controversial activity on Saint Martin. Scientists say that because they are fed to lure them, they lose their fear of humans. You can encounter different sharks during a dive, such as the Caribbean reef shark and the Atlantic sharpnose shark. Both are considered not to be dangerous. But you can also bump into other kinds of sharks… During your tour you’ll learn lots about the animals that live here and the things that endanger them. It’s an experience you’ll remember for a long time.

Learn about the history of slavery

Saint Martin has a tragic history of slavery. Thankfully it’s well in the past, but you can still learn all about it in the archaeological museums in Philipsburg (and also in the French town of Marigot). You can also see remnants of this past in Fort Amsterdam, Fort Willem and in Fort St Louis in the French part. You can see plenty of cannons, and there are still walls on top of hills in different locations around the island.

Discover historic buildings

The shopping strip of Philipsburg is home to the oldest Dutch building on Saint Martin. The stately courthouse was built in traditional Dutch/Caribbean style. It’s still in use today. There are also historic buildings in the French part, in Orleans. You can learn more about these buildings in the different information centres in the towns.

Drink the unique guava berry rum

The guava berry is a fruit that grows here, and on some of the surrounding islands. It’s popular with the locals and the tourists, too. Rum made of the guava berry was traditionally drunk around Christmas time, but now it’s drunk all year round, or put in ‘guava berry colada’. Give it a try. Before you know it, you’ll have bought a bottle to take home!

Try Lobster Thermidor

Lobster is a popular delicacy on Saint Martin. These delicious crustaceans can be prepared in many different ways, but one of the most popular dishes here is Lobster Thermidor. It’s half a lobster smothered in sauce with egg yolk, brandy and sometimes gruyere cheese. Give it a taste and judge whether you agree it’s the best lobster ever, as some people declare. You can order it in many restaurants.

Kayak along the coast

A good way to sea Saint Martin’s coastline is by sea kayak, as you get to see areas of the island you don’t often get to see other ways. You can paddle along the shore, and go into bays with mangroves. You’ll be able to see how fish, jelly fish and sea cucumbers live in these waters. Unfortunately, the number of mangrove has been shrinking rapidly over the last few years.

Sail through the canopy of the Caribbean forest

You can take a zip line through the woods here, speeding down through the trees on a cable. There are several options, with different levels of difficulty. Keep in mind that you will have to do quite a bit of climbing to get to the top of the lines. Make sure you have a good look around at the trees, as this is one of the few wooded areas on the island. There are lots of birds to spot around here too. The Loterie Farm is in the French park, at the foot of the Pic Paradis mountain.

The History of Saint Martin

Saint Martin has quite a tumultuous past. First came the Indians from South America by boat. Followed by the Dutch, the English and the French, amongst others.

Saint Martin has been a beloved destination for sun-seekers for a while now. With approximately 365 days of sun a year, the water is a very pleasant temperature. In the early days, the island was known for its sea salt, attracting the Dutch. Many lagoons on the island are still full of salt.

Archaeologists have discovered that this island has been inhabited by humans since 4000 BC, though they are not sure by whom. The first known people here were the Arawak people, who arrived here around 800 AC. Then, in the fourteenth century, the Kalinago (or Caribs) arrived. It is believed they came from Venezuela, as did the Arawak people. According to early Europeans they were quite aggressive and believed they practiced cannibalism. They named the island Soualiga, meaning ‘island of salt’.

Legend goes that the island was discovered by Christopher Columbus on November 11th, 1493, but he never disembarked here. He merely sailed past. Initially, the Spaniards didn’t visit the island. Around 1630 the Dutch and the French settled here, mainly due to mine salt. They made agreements about the mining of salt, as it was more precious than gold at the time. When the Spanish came, they expelled the Dutch and the French, so the Dutch moved on to nearby Curacao.

In 1644 the Spaniards gave the island up after much international pressure. Then, on March 23rd 1648, France and the Republic of the United Seven Netherlands signed an agreement, known as the Treaty of Concordia. This treaty officially declared that two-thirds of the island belonged to France, the remaining third belonged to the Netherlands. But this was only on paper, the treaty wasn’t honoured until 1817. By then, the island had already had 16 different  ‘owners’.

Slavery as a dark stain

Saint Martin, as well as Bonaire, have a dark past. The Dutch introduced slavery to the island, and introduced slaves from Africa. After much uproar about the treatment of slaves, the French abolished slavery in 1848. In the Dutch part this wasn’t done until 1863. Slaves were forced to mine salt and harvest sugar, and to a lesser extent cacao, cotton and coffee. There is not much left of this part of the island’s past, not even the cane sugar plantations.

Saint Martin wasn’t really developed much otherwise. Erik Lawaetz from St. Croix bought a piece of land from the mayor around 1960. These lowlands were just swamp land that caused little interest. But soon movie and music celebrities, such as Alain Delon and Harry Belafonte built villas here. This kick-started the island’s tourism industry.

Saint Martin currently still belongs to the Netherlands Antilles, but it is going to be a nation of its own within the Netherlands Kingdom. But it’s not clear when that will happen exactly. The French part is autonomous since 2007 and is an overseas territory of France.

This island is named after the holy Saint Martin of Tours, commonly known as Saint Martin. He lived from 316 to 397 AC and was bishop of the French city of Tours. He was an important founder of Christianity in the catholic region of Gallia. Saint Martin’s day on November 11th is also named after him.

Best time to travel to Saint Martin:

The tourist season starts at the end of October and lasts until March. Hotels are usually fully booked so plan your trip in advance.

On average the temperature is above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

Hurricane season is between June and October. Especially in August and September, there can be short, heavy rainfall s ometimes accompanied by strong winds. On average the temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).

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