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French St. Martin / Saint Martin / Baie de l'Embouchure

La Baie de l'Embouchure on the east coast of French St. Martin

ST. MARTIN / ST. MAARTEN / General Description

One of the most popular of all Caribbean destinations, Dutch Sint Maarten and French Saint Martin share this easily accessible island. Less than 2083 km (1250 mi) from Miami, visitors discover rolling hills, exceptional beaches, celebrated restaurants, duty-free shopping, interesting historical sites, casinos and colorful markets. A full complement of land and water activities as well as excursions to nearby islands are easily arranged.

The capital and main city on the Dutch side, Philipsburg, lies on a narrow strip of land between the Great Salt Pond to the north and Great Bay, on the Caribbean Sea, to the south. Lovely old colonial style houses with “gingerbread” fretwork mingle with the duty-free shops, restaurants, cafes and nightclubs lining the two main thoroughfares, Front Street and Back Street. By day and night, the town attracts cruise ship passengers and other island visitors to its many and varied attractions. Maho Bay, adjacent to the island’s international airport at the southern edge of the Simpson Bay Lagoon, is another center of activity with shops, casinos, restaurants and a number of resort hotels.

The towns on the French side have a beguiling West Indian charm combined with certain distinct touches of France: open markets that are typically Caribbean, bakeries that are typically French and seaside cafes that seem to have been transplanted intact from la Côte d'Azur. The capital of Marigot is no longer the sleepy little fishing village it once was. It has awakened to tourism, sprucing up its lovely old houses, building new restaurants, shops, boat slips, marinas, a waterfront promenade, a handsome new market place and a pier for yachts.

The terrain is a generally pastoral green, rather than the very lush tropical green found elsewhere in the Caribbean and consists mostly of rolling hills. The western portion includes Simpson Bay Lagoon with its calm waters and numerous watersports centers. The highest mountain called Paradise Peak (Pic du Paradis) rises to almost 422 m (1,391 ft) and there are many forested heights in the center of the island. The coastline is set with deep coves and bays, and there are more than 30 beautiful beaches encircling the island. The waters are unusually clear, and snorkelers can spot brilliantly colored fish at up to 10 m (30 ft) or more.

Situated at the northern point of the Guadeloupe Archipelago, the island is 2805 km (1,683 mi) south of New York and 240 km (144 mi) east of Puerto Rico. The total land area is 92.5 sq km (37 sq mi). The southern half, Dutch Sint Maarten, is 42 sq km (16 sq mi); the northern half, French St. Martin, is 52.5 sq km (21 sq mi); The total population of St. Maarten / St. Martin is approximately 76,000.

There are no customs formalities between the Dutch and French sides. The boundaries are marked simply by two "welcome'' signs on each side. One says "Bienvenue en Partie Française" and the other says "Welcome to Dutch Sint Maarten, N.A.". The Dutch side is a parliamentary democracy within the Netherlands Antilles and is governed by a Lieutenant Governor, an Executive Council and the law making body, an eleven member Island Council. The French side is a sub-prefecture of Guadeloupe. A town council is elected by the people and headed by a mayor and a sub-prefect is appointed by the French Government.

The island is on Atlantic Standard Time (Eastern Standard Time plus 1 hour or Greenwich Mean Time minus 4 hours). This island does not change to Daylight Savings Time. Time is indicated in the 24 hour format (in other words, 1:15 p.m. is 13:15 or 13h15).

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