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Sint Maarten is the Dutch half of the island shared with the French Saint Martin. It is slightly smaller than the french part and the capital is Philipsburg. At the 10th of October 2010, the island of Sint Maarten became a separate state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, just like Curacao became and Aruba already was, and with its own government. The Netherlands Antilles were dissolved as a separate state and that state as such no longer exists.
In 1493, during Christopher Columbus' second voyages to the West Indies, upon first sighting the island he named it Isla de San Martín after Saint Martin of Tours because it was 11 November, St. Martin Day. However, though he claimed it as a Spanish territory, Columbus never landed there, and Spain made the settlement of the island a low priority. The French and Dutch, on the other hand, both coveted the island. With few people inhabiting the island, the Dutch easily founded a settlement there in 1631, erecting Fort Amsterdam as protection from invaders. Jan Claeszen Van Campen became its first governor, and soon thereafter the Dutch East India Company began their salt mining operations. French and British settlements sprang up on the island as well. After abolition of slavery, plantation culture declined and the island's economy suffered. In 1939, St. Martin received a major boost when it was declared a duty-free port. The Dutch side began focusing on tourism in the 1950s, with the French side following suit two decades later. Because of being split up into a Dutch and a French part, the tourist boom was heavier on Sint Maarten than on the surrounding islands.
Sint Maarten became an "island territory" (eilandgebied in Dutch) of the Netherlands Antilles in 1983. Before that date, Saint Martin was part of the island territory of the Windward Islands, together with Saba and Sint Eustatius. On 10 October 2010, Sint Maarten became a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, making it a constitutional equal partner with Aruba, Curaçao, and the Netherlands proper.
St Maarten covers about 40 square kilometres of land and borders the French overseas collectivity of Saint Martin to the north. To the south, St Maarten is predominantly low-lying and dotted with salt pans and lagoons. Towards the center and north of the island there are hills and valleys and the terrain is more rugged. The highest point on the island is Pic Paradis with an altitude of around 430 metres.
The vegetation ranges from cacti and palm trees to hibiscus and other flowering shrubs and trees native to the Caribbean and other tropical regions of the world, and there are still some stands of forest in the hills.
The island of Sint Maarten has a hot and humid tropical climate with average daytime temperatures between 28 °C and 30 °C and average nights around 23 °C. Most rain falls between June and October with a chance of hurricanes from August onwards. Therefore, the drier (and slightly cooler) December to April period is the best time to visit weatherwise. Unfortunately prices rise sharply during this period and the months of November and May still have good weather. So budgetwise these latter months may be a good option as well.
Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) is the base of Winair (Windward Islands Airways), which serves Sint Eustatius, Saba, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Barthélemy, Montserrat, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda and Santo Domingo. Numerous airlines serve Sint Maarten from both the Caribbean and beyond, for example with KLM to Amsterdam and GOL to Manaus and Sao Paulo. North America is well served as well, with destinations being Washington, D.C., New York, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, Charlotte and Chicago. Other main cities served include Toronto, Caracas and Paris. There are numerous taxis waiting for you to bring you to places on the island.
Although it takes longer from Sint Maarten than from Saint Martin to get to Anguilla, there is also a convenient route between Anguilla and Sint Maarten directly. Ferries travel between Blowing Point in Anguilla and Philipsburg in Sint Maarten. For more information about prices and schedules of this trip can be obtained by calling (264) 497 6665.
The MV Voyager travels daily and on Wednesdays and Sundays twice daily (one in the morning at 9am and one in the early evening at 6.45pm) between Oyster Pound and Gustavia.
Another option is to take the high speed ferry The Edge that travels to Gustavia once a day from Tuesday till Saturday. It leaves from Pelican Marina in Dutch St. Maarten at 9am. This passage lasts around 45 minutes.
The MV Dawn II has sailings 3 times a week according to schedule between Philipsburg on Sint Maarten and Fort Bay on Saba, both leeward islands of the Netherlands Antilles. Crossings are on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, leaving Saba in the morning and returning from Sint Maarten in the late afternoon, taking about 2 hours each way. Sometimes there are cancelations, so check the latest schedule over here.
Another option is taking the Edge Ferry, departing Pelican Marina in St. Maarten at 9am on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, returning from Saba later that day. It takes about 90 minutes to cover the sea between the islands.
Rental cars are available at Princess Juliana International Airport at a dedicated area outside of the airport. You'll find most of the major rental car companies such as Avis, Budget, Hertz, Unity Cars, EasyTerra, EconomyBooking, and E-Z Rent-A-Car available at the airport. The roads are narrow, sometimes quite bad on both sides of the island, and often very crowded between Philipsburg and Marigot.
Motorcycles, quads and scooters are also available for rent, however it is advisable that you have some experience on these vehicles before venturing into St. Maarten's sometimes very hectic traffic.
Saint Martin has a bus system using small minivans. You can get most anywhere on the island for just a few dollars. They run frequently between Philipsburg and Marigot. Ask a local where the bus stops are, and look for license plates that say (oddly enough) "bus".
Most travellers can visit without a visa. Just a valid passport is enough.
See also: Money Matters
The Antillean Guilder (Naf) is the currency for the Sint Maarten. It is also known as the Florin or Gulden and is subdivided into 100 cents. Note denominations are 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 250 NaF. Coin denominations are 5, 2.5, 1, 0.5, 0.25, 0.1, 0.05, and 0.01 cents.
The Guilder is fixed to the US dollar at an exchange rate of 1.79:1.
The French cuisine and local creole fare is an exciting experience to most, but if you are apprehensive about trying new things, there are other restaurants. The island has restaurants that are American, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, vegetarian and more.
If you want to save some cash, eat where the locals eat on the cheap, both the French and Dutch sides of the island feature many Chinese restaurants, but the Dutch Side is the hands down winner with over 40 of them. In addition to the regular far eastern fare, these inexpensive eateries feature many local dishes, and "Caribbeanized" (no,that's not really a word, but you catch my drift) Chinese food.
Want to try something really different, stop at one the roadside food trucks for some take-away, one of these trucks located in Phillipsburg serves some of the best Suriname food on the island. Try the Chicken Sate with Bami or go light with a Soato Soup.
Enjoy Lunch, swim on a beautiful Beach and watch the Airplanes land at Tortuga at Maho.
If you are not feeling adventurous, the Dutch Side has several American fast food franchises including McDonalds(2), Burger King(2), Subway(5), Pizza Hut(3), Dominoes(6), KFC(4) and Bubble Tea(4).
Dutch and French are the official languages on their respective sides of the island. English is an official language of the Dutch side as well and is widely spoken on both sides, especially in tourist areas. Children on both sides of the island are educated in French, Dutch, English and Spanish so language is typically not a barrier when visiting the island.
St. Martin's nightlife consists of many bars, nightclubs and casinos where drinking is prevalent. Start out with a happy hour at "Bamboo Bernies" where drinking is free for a half an hour and continues until seven with the highest drink price of a dollar! Many of the clubs have ladies' nights as well as other nightly drink specials. The Dutch side of the island has more night clubs than the French, so if you're up for the party scene, this side is the one where you should stay.
St. Martin's hotel rooms, almost without exception, rent for US$100+ per night and often much more, and generous taxes and service charges are then also applied. High season is from December through April. Accommodations are considerably less the rest of the year. If you are doing last minute travel when you call ahead ask for the "local rate" rather than what you will normally get which is the "walk-in rate", it can save you a considerable amount of money in some situations.
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See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Sint Maarten. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Sint Maarten) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Sint Maarten. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
Though the island is generally a safe place, like everywhere else in the world there is crime, and you should be aware of your surroundings at all times. Obviously you should lock your doors, avoid unpopulated areas and do not flash your money and jewelry around. Remember that this is a foreign country, and act accordingly. Tourists report many instances of parked rental cars being rifled. Organized teams can break in effortlessly. Best advice: Leave nothing of value in them at any time.
See also International Telephone Calls
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