Did you think I misspelled the island name? Saint-Martin actually has two spellings as it is an island divided… there is a French side – which uses the Euro (St. Martin), and a Dutch side which uses US currency (St. Maarten). Margiot is the French capital and Phillipsburg is the Dutch capital.
The island was discovered by Christopher Columbus on Nov 11, 1493 on behalf of Spain, which happens to also be the holy day of St. Martin de Tours, hence the name.
Why visit the island? Besides being the friendly island, it is a great location for great beaches (as many island claim), day trips to Anguilla, St. Barths, and Saba, and scheduled air makes it easy to visit. Anguilla is known for great beaches. Saba, is considered an “unspoiled” island where much of the fast paced world has not touched. The landing strip on Saba is quite small and adds to the excitement of visiting.
The Dutch side is the more playful side with the casinos, lively bars, dance clubs, and is the where the cruise ships will stop for the port of call.
While the French side has a bit more relaxation and sophistication. On this side you will find the fine French cuisine, and art galleries with local artists and formal galleries.
The Cruise Port
If you are arriving via a cruise ship then you will generally dock at the Dr. A.C. Wathey cruise port.
Most cruise ships dock at Philipsburg on the St. Maarten, Dutch side of the island. This is a clean port with some shops, public restrooms, and an information desk with someone to answer all your questions. Be sure to grab a guide book at the tourism desk to review.
To get to downtown Philipsburg and the boardwalk area you can either take a taxi from the stand above, which is located to the left of the cruise dock, or you can take the water taxi which is direct from the cruise dock to the dock in Philipsburg.
All taxis in the Caribbean are regulated by the government of that island. There is a set cost so be sure to look at the board which tells you the cost to each location on the island. Our experience has been $10 per person one way | $20 pp round trip – cash only. You can share a van/taxi with other passengers heading to the same destination.
The photo below is for 2017 pricing and you have two options – single fare or all day. We recommend the all day fare which you take multiple trips.
Downtown Philipsburg has shops, stores, restaurants to visit. Shopping is tax free and duty free so you won’t want to go home empty handed. There is an Alex and Ani shop which is a favorite, and of course the Diamonds International which haunts every cruise port in the Caribbean.
You may have seen the iconic photos of Maho Beach where the planes nearly skim the beach goers and the jet propulsion blasts them into the water. (hold on to your beach towel). All the taxi drivers know this beach. You can rent the beach chairs and sun umbrella from a vendor on the beach. There is a beach side bar with a giant surf board that gives the times of when the planes are landing.
Our family really enjoyed this fun, yet free (with exception of the taxi ride) activity. Of course we had to get the iconic “money shot” of the plane coming in.
What do I need to visit St. Martin?
Everyone visiting St. Maarten|Saint Martin requires a valid passport from your country of citizenship. Naturalized US Citizens must present an original naturalization certificate with the an identification photo. [If you are cruising then remember your identification + your cruise card as the cruise port is a secure area, and you will need it to get back to the ship.]
You also will need the exact address of your hotel if you are flying in and doing a land only vacation. This will be entered on your immigration form before landing.
Below are links to the tourism website for each side of this friendly island.
Hopefully you have found this information helpful for planning your next cruise or land vacation to St. Maarten.
Until next time…
Are you interested in experiencing a cruise or land vacation for yourself? Then consider booking your next vacation with Sail & Sand Travel. We are here to assist you by taking care of all the details – removing the grief while you keep the fun. Info@sailsand.com