St. Martin or St. Maarten; aren’t they one and the same?
Often a source of confusion and subject to many more creative misspellings, this tiny island (you can circumnavigate the entire place in less than 2 hours) in the northeastern part of the Caribbean Sea is home to both St. Martin, a French-owned region on the north side of the island; and St. Maarten, a Dutch country to the south. A border officially separates the two, but you don’t need to go through a customs agent or show your passport to enter one from the other, so tourists are free to visit both sides.
St. Martin is home to all-inclusive resorts, fabulous duty-free shopping and a ferry ride away from other nearby islands like St. Barts and Tintamarre Island, St. Martin/St. Maarten is a surprisingly affordable island retreat with two distinct personalities. To help you decide between the two, we’ve compared both sides and highlighted some of the best beaches, bars, restaurants and activities the island has to offer. Keep reading to learn more about this often-overlooked island destination that’s perfect for your next beach getaway.
St. Martin vs. St. Maarten
As previously explained, St. Maarten and The Collectivity of St. Martin are two regions on the same island in the Caribbean. The island was divided between the French and the Dutch monarchies in 1648 after they acquired it from Spain. While there has been conflict over the border in the past (more than half of the island is owned by the French, while the Netherlands claims just 39% of the island’s landmass), today the island is peaceful, friendly and safe.
St. Maarten is one of four constituent countries that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Dutch side of the island has a more authentically Caribbean vibe, is more developed and offers more services like nightclubs, casinos, and shops. It has a fun energy that’s perfect for families, groups of friends, and sociable couples.
The main town is Philipsburg, a beach town with only 2 main streets called Front Street and Back Street that are lined with shops and eateries. The Pelican Bay and Simpson Bay areas have some shops and dozens of fun, outdoor bars and clubs that host theme nights and beach parties almost every night of the week.
There are also dozens of brilliant casinos filled with slot machines in Sint Maarten. The largest one, Casino Royale in Philipsburg, has over 400 slot machines and it’s the only casino on the island to offer Bingo slots. In Simpson Bay, XO St. Maarten and The Soggy Dollar Bar are two popular beach bars, and in Maho Village, WE Lounge is a fun dance club with live DJs every night.
The French side is more upscale and exclusive, boasting nicer beaches with calmer water that’s perfect for snorkelling. It’s popular with couples and friends travelling without children. One of St. Martin’s nicest areas is Loterie Farm, a resort and beach club that doubles as a nature reserve with dozens of hiking trails plus a private beach, swimming pools, a restaurant and a bar. There are canopy tours of the surrounding jungle plus a kid’s adventure park so parents can enjoy some R&R around the pool. Consequently, the French side of St. Martin is more costly to visit, although it’s worth noting that both sides accept US currency.
The island’s best restaurants can be found in St. Martin. Gourmet French and upscale yet traditional Caribbean cuisine can be found island-wide, setting a new bar for fine dining. Top choices include La Villa Restaurant in Grand Case which serves fine French cuisine; le Pimente, which specializes in Mediterranean food; and a Creole restaurant in Grand Case called Villa Royale Restaurant.
St. Martin vs. St. Maarten Beaches
Some of the most beautiful beaches in St. Martin are Orient Bay Beach where clothing is optional, Galion Beach and Anse Marcel Beach, which is a lovely family-friendly stretch of powder-soft white sand and calm, warm water that’s safe for splashing and snorkeling. Experienced kayakers can reach Pinel Island on their own, which is a peaceful little island off the coast of St. Martin, but there is also a ferry service if you’d rather sit back and enjoy the ride.
St. Maarten also has some beautiful beaches, like Dawn Beach, but the water is much rougher and can be dangerous for kids or inexperienced swimmers. Maho Beach is popular with tourists as well due to its close proximity to the airport; beachgoers can experience a thrill as airplanes fly in low across the beach upon their descent into St. Martin.
The bottom line is that St. Martin is a lovely place to visit, no matter where you choose to spend your time, and since visitors can travel freely between the two, there’s no need to choose sides. Get in touch with one of our travel specialists and start planning your vacation in St. Martin today!