|World Travel: Acapulco, MX
|St. Martin An Island of Dual Identity
The winter season is a time when many of us long to retreat to the spicy warm air of the Caribbean. While destinations such as Puerto Rico and the Bahamas are popular, St. Martin continues to emerge as an attractive alternative. I had the pleasure of visiting St. Martin right before the winter rush which begins in mid-December.
While perhaps not a household name, this little island is special in that it is a little piece of Europe floating in the tropical seas. Actually you get two European countries for the price of one. St. Maarten is half Dutch territory and half French territory. The unique combination of European tradition with Caribbean culture makes for a greatly enjoyable vacation.
As one island with a dual identity, it is a common saying amongst the island residents that St. Martin has two of everything. This includes the spelling of the name.
The Dutch side spells the island â€śSaint Martinâ€ť while the French side uses the spelling â€śSint Maartenâ€ť. While both territories belong to their separate motherland, residents and tourists are permitted to pass from side to side with no formal migration process.
The Dutch side, also known as the South side, is the larger of the territories and is also home to Princess Juliana International Airport, the main airport on the island. The Dutch side has a lot to offer young vacationers. Casino lights decorate the night sky and there is a lively night life with a broad selection of dance clubs that keep the festivities going throughout the week.
The French or what is called the North side provides a positively charming experience. While both French and English is spoken everywhere, the territory is rich in French culture. Marigot is the capital of the French side and features a market place where souvenirs, local produce and goods are sold. You are bound to run into a vendor selling coconut cookies that are mixed brown sugar.
The Courthouse, built in 1793
A plane soars over St. Maarten as it prepares to land at Princess Juliana Airport
St. Martin has a reputation for excellent cuisine and is known as the â€śfood hot spotâ€ť of the Caribbean. Although the island is only 37 square miles large, the St. Martin hosts over 300 restaurantsâ€” thatâ€™s over 12 restaurants per square mile! The St. Bardâ€™s crowd is known to travel in their yachts to enjoy dinner at these famous restaurants.
Small souvenir shops are located throughout the island, but the largest concentration of stores is found in Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side. High retail include Cartier, Tiffanyâ€™s, Ralph Lauren, and Longchamp. St. Martin has duty free status.
While St. Martinâ€™s natural beauty can be overwhelming, the islandâ€™s overall atmosphere is complimented by the upbeat attitude of the locals. We would be wise to learn from their ever positive approach to life. This lesson is the best souvenir one can bring back and it doesnâ€™t even take up suitcase space!
Must Do List!
Although St. Martin is small, it is ripe with things to explore and activities to enjoy. I have put together a must do list.
Visit an authentic French restaurant
Take advantage of the European culture and visit a restaurant as authentic as if you where dining on the French mainland. If you are on the Dutch side visit Lâ€™Escargot, a small restaurant owned by a French couple. The walls of the restaurant are full of trinkets and mementos from France. The restaurant also features a small stage where live performances take place each week. If you happen to be on the French side visit â€śLa Vie en Roseâ€ť located on the ocean front promenade, this restaurant features a balcony and a serene atmosphere.
Race in the 12 Meter Regatta
Located in Bobbyâ€™s Marina, the 12 Meter Regatta is truly a once in a lifetime experience. The event begins with an animated recap of the history of the Americaâ€™s Cup, an international sailing race since1851. Next, you are split into two teams, each of which is assigned to a multi-million dollar sailboat that has retired from racing in the Americaâ€™s Cup. Each member of the team is assigned roles which range from less active duties such as keeping time to more involved tasks like controlling the mast. Then you are off! With the guidance of the charming crew you race the other boat around the beach! Remember, there can only be one winner!
Tâ€™Mo, local St. Martin musician. 2004 by Milton Peters
One of the 37 beaches in the island.
Check out local artists and musicians
The island culture embraces creativity and expression through the arts. There is a tremendous pride in local talent.
Visit the Boardwalk
Located along the beach in front of St. Philipsburg, the boardwalk features a bright blue ocean with cruise ships that can be seen docking in the distance. The boardwalk is lined with restaurants and bars that offer a by-the-beach eating experience. The largest shopping district on the island is just on the other side of the street.
Lay on the beach
St. Martin has 37 beaches, and they are all breath taking. I recommend allotting time to relax, lie out, and soak in the paradise-like surroundings. Many beaches have cafes and restaurants nestled nearby, while others are more secluded. If you are feeling particularly daring, check out Orient Beach, a clothing-optional shore on the French side.
Pick up some Caribbean Christmas music
Perhaps the last thing on your mind while you are in the Caribbean is a white Christmas but this unique souvenir is a way to bring back some of the islands with you. I had the pleasure of meeting Tâ€™Mo, a local artist who has released a Christmas album titled â€śYuletide Jamsâ€ť. In addition to island renditions of classic Christmas carols, Tâ€™Mo infuses merengue with Caribbean sound, and occasionally cheeky lyrics, to create original Christmas carols that are guaranteed to be a hit at any Christmas party back home.
Learn about the island
When you are traveling it is always advisable to make an effort to learn about the place you are visiting. Besides broadening your background, it also enriches your experience if you know a little about the placeâ€™s history and cultural values.
Try the Rum Punch! Upon the conclusion of virtually every tourist activity the islandâ€™s signature rum punch is served. It is a sign of hospitality and a celebration of the ongoing festive outlook on life.
By Simone Echeverri-Gent