Last updated: 08:00 PM ET, Mon May 18 2015

Saint Martin vs. Sint Maarten: How Two Islands Are Better Than One

Features & Advice | Tom Bastek | May 18, 2015

Saint Martin vs. Sint Maarten: How Two Islands Are Better Than One

Photos courtesy of St. Maarten Tourism Board.

In the Caribbean there are a lot of “Saint” islands – St. Barts, St. Thomas, and St. Croix, just to name a few. But there is one “Saint” island that is broken up into two entirely different countries and often referred to by the locals as two totally different islands: St. Maarten.

To be fair, both are not technically countries. The Dutch side only recently became a country on Oct. 10 of 2010 which is affectionately referred to now as their 10-10-10 day. The French side is officially known as a French Collectivity which has only been independently separate from Guadeloupe since 2007. Visitors and residents alike do not have to show passports or pass through customs/immigration to visit the other side of the island; a simple drive is all that it takes as there are no real borders. 

Each side holds true to its own personality and form, and if you ask the locals, most will tell you that they are very different from the other. Even after much prodding, it was tough for either side to admit, “Their side was the best” with each side taking the high road in the debate.

The Differences

Each side of the island does have its own allure and holds different reasons for attracting its guests. The French side definitely has more of a European feel to it with topless beaches, the Euro being the primary form of currency, and French certainly being spoken. Let it also be said that they do realize where the tourists are coming from, and almost everyone accepts the U.S. dollar and speaks English. 

The French side is slightly more laid back, with pristine, quiet beaches, and a back to nature feel about it. There is the Loterie Farm which is basically an adventure ropes/ziplining course, high-end sit-down restaurant and lounge, private spring-fed pool and open field/concert venue all in what essentially is a private nature preserve. There is also the culinary tradition that has been carried on for decades that is known as the Lolos of Grand Case. 

These “Lolos” are tiny, one-table, open BBQ/smoker restaurants that provide a wide selection of barbecued/smoked foods for sale at a cheap price and with a big smile. There are also fantastic French bakeries and restaurants all the way up to four stars just waiting for you to stop by.

The Dutch side has its fair share of great fare as well, with Cupecoy’s ever popular Temptation leading the way with fantastic steaks, seafood, poultry and more in a style Chef Dino Jagtiani calls, "Nouveau Caribbean” and “freestyle.” The Dutch side is known for its nightlife, with bars, restaurants and the largest casino on the island, Casino Royale. And although the national currency is the Guilder and the official language is Dutch, you will be hard pressed to find anything but U.S. dollars and spoken English. 

This southern side of the island is more Americanized. You will also find the cruise ship terminal here with ample shopping abound and the main airport for the entire island is located here as well. This is close to the photo and video famous Maho Beach where the approaching planes cross so low that beachgoers can almost reach up and touch them as they fly by.

The Similarities

For as much as either side of the island would like to tout their differences from the other, they are more alike than either one would like to admit. No matter if it’s the high-reaching mountains or the widespread beaches, the beauty of both sides can easily be seen.Over the last 20 years, The Dutch have come a long way in the culinary realm so you can’t really go wrong in any of the island’s almost 400 restaurants. This island truly is the culinary capitol of the Caribbean. 

The island was dubbed, “The Friendly Island” because of the warm welcome nearly every visitor enjoys here,  The residents love weloming guests regardless of which side of the island they choose, are willing to help them out, and know that guests will see the beauty of the island the way they do – without borders.

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