Great Bay, Philipsburg, Sint MaartenSt. Maarten/St. Martin is probably the smallest land area divided between to two separate nations (Netherlands and France), and the most amicable division of land ever (that I know of anyways). Legend has it that a Frenchman and a Dutchman decided that the best way to determine who gets what land is for them to walk in opposite directions around the island, until they meet up again. The funny thing about it is that they accepted the results even though the Frenchman was clearly the winner. Of course this isn't what actually happened, but nevertheless the two nations have lived peacefully side by side for over 300 years.
St Maarten/St. Martin is a popular cruise ship destination and rightly so. It's a beautiful place, easy to get around (despite the traffic) and of course the shopping! While most people go to Philipsburg, St Maarten for shopping, where there is indeed a wide variety of top quality merchandise to be had at unbeatable duty free prices, there is much more to this dual nation island than endless shopping.
Marigot, Saint Martin (Photo Credit: break4fun.zarke.net)The French capital of Saint Martin is quite the contrast from the Dutch capital. It is more back, but full of the charm and chicness that you would expect of the French. This little gourmet fishing village and market is the place to be on Wednesdays and Saturdays for some of the freshest and best prepared seafood on island. A short 5 minute walk up to the now deserted Fort Saint-Louis will afford a most breathtaking view over the bay. If you still can't help but shop, there are plenty of stores here that will satisfy the tastes of the most refined haute couture connoisseur. From fine art, to cigars to gourmet chocolates and local delicacies you'll find it all in Marigot.
Dining in Grand Case
Sunset Dinner overlooking Grand Case (photo credit www.grandcasebeachclub.com)Not far from Marigot is Grand Case, which is without a doubt, the place to go for fine dining. It is well known throughout the Caribbean and perhaps further a shore as the "Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean". Here there are quite a few excellent restaurants to choose from like L'Auberge Gourmande, Spiga and Le Tastevin, each catering to every taste and budget. For an unforgettable experience have dinner overlooking the bay at sunset!
Orient Bay, Saint Martin (Photo Credit: www.greencayvillas.com)Orient Bay is infamous for its clothing optional policy, but this is mostly found closer to Club Orient which is the Caribbean's only Naturist Resort. Apart from nudists, this 2 mile stretch of white sand beach is great for watersports like snorkeling, parasailing and waterskiing. There are plenty of areas to get sumptuous treats and just bask in the beauty of the area. You will also notice a colorful array of rooftops nestled amongst the lush vegetation.
Colorful Rooftops of Orient Bay from afar
If you are traveling with children (and even if you're not) a visit to the Butterfly Farm or La Ferme des Papillons is a must. Imagine butterflies of every color and size, casually fluttering here, there and everywhere in a beautiful and tranquil garden setting. You get to see a wide variety of species from around the world accompanied by a most educational and entertaining guided tour. Be careful! You and your kids may not want to leave! There's also a souvenir shop here where you can fill up on interesting butterfly-inspired memorabilia.
Butterflies hanging out at the "Fruit Bar"
For those who need to add a daring adventure to their travels, the Loterie Farm located on a lush nature reserve, is sure to deliver! Whether you prefer to hike through the trails or zip through the trees like Tarzan, this is a must visit place. They have three treetop adventure obstacle courses, one for children/teens, and two for adults - the Flyzone and the Flyzone Extreme for the all or nothing types. You can also sit back and relax in the Hidden Forest Cafe or Tree Lounge where tasty meals and cocktails are made from fresh homegrown ingredients.
Birds of a feather flock together at the St. Maarten ZooAnother great stop for families with young children is the St. Maarten Zoo. Featuring the largest display of parrots in the Caribbean, as well as a bat cave and many other rare and exciting creatures both great and small, it's wonderful place to experience nature. Ever seen a prairie dog in the Caribbean? You will at the St. Maarten Zoo. There's also a petting zoo and a play park for children.
Lion Monkeys hanging together at Sint Maarten ZooThere are plenty more activities to enjoy in Sint Maarten and Saint Martin like recreational sports (kayaking, mountain biking, hiking), nightlife, casinos, beaches and more. So next time you visit take a moment to experience more than just the shopping.