Saint Martin is an island in the Northeast Caribbean that is split approximately 60/40 between the French and the Dutch. The French side calls it Saint-Martin while the Dutch side is called Sint Maarten. The whole island is about 87 square kilometres. While the French side is bigger in size, the Dutch side is more populated. That said, the whole place only has about 75,000 people on it.
The oldest treaty in effect in the Caribbean is the Treaty of Concordia which was signed between the Dutch and French for the partition of St. Martin in 1648. The partition was based on the economic needs of each state and the proximity to nearby colonies. With this treaty, both parties agreed to share resources, and protect one another. It was violated over a dozen times before truly being enforced and respected. Nevertheless, today both sides enjoy the cultural and economic ties, strengthened over centuries.
The Dutch side has the capital, Philipsburg, on it and is the main entry port for those arriving on cruise ships. The area is highly tourist friendly with shops, bars, cafes aplenty. On the day we arrived there was 5 very large cruise ships (around 15,000 people) that were all in town on the same day. The area has a cobblestone promenade with colorful, colonial-style buildings lining the main street and shopping area.
The French side has one of the most famous airports in the world for the Instagrammer crowds. With international and regional flights landing every 15 minutes, Maho Beach is the only place in the world where the planes quite literally land directly over the top of your head.
While having planes landing directly overhead is impressive enough, it has also prompted a phenomenon that has become known as “fence-surfing.” This is where visitors to the beach line up along the runway end’s fence, hold on and ride out the jet wash from the engines of departing aircraft. The pilots know this so ham it up, overly revving up the engines before taking off.
The surfers white-knuckle through a high-powered pelting of tiny rocks and sand for about one minute. But as you would expect, not all are able to hold on through experience and people have been killed as they are blown backwards. The most recent was a New Zealand woman who was blown backwards striking her head on the concrete blocks dividing the fence and the beach.
We came here the first time when we had the joint 50th birthday celebrations with Jeremy and Claudia. We hopped on a tour to the airport, had a few beers and lunch while we watched the planes landing before having a dip in the cool waters.
Not being idiots, we did not try fence surfing but did get a minor version of being sandblasted as the planes arrived and left. Our meal and drinks were at the Sunset Bar and Grill.Later examination determined that there was a sign that read that “topless women drink for free”. Research tells me that this is true and if the ladies are willing to whip them out, then the bar tab for each round is halved.
I’m not sure if Claudia or Jill saw the sign or not, but I can say that Jimmy and I paid full price for our rounds of drinks.
We enjoyed St Martin, both sides of the island. It had a really nice feel to it, the people were friendly, the streets were clean and safe. The shops, cafes, restaurants and bars were relaxed and there was no angst anywhere you went. And importantly, nothing was particularly overpriced, a fair price was being asked for goods and services without the usual (stupid) tourist markup.
It does have the pay for beach seating (that offends me as an Australian) thing but the prices are not ridiculous. $20 will get you two sun loungers, an umbrella and a few drinks each. This is basically the cost of the beers, so I can wear that cost.
I have found now that I have way more pictures than I do superlatives for how nice St Martin is. So here’s some random pics.
And of course, you are in the Caribbean, so there is the obligatory and ubiquitous rum distillery.
Here they will try and convince you why their particular brew is better than the ones you tried on any of the preceding islands.
St Maarten is pretty nice, on both sides of the island. We enjoyed our time here the first time and did again the second time around. It is well-priced, the people are friendly and for the most part, there is a good time to be had here.