One island, two nations, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten located in the northeastern section of the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean is often confusing to first time travelers to the Island. Divided almost equally in two, the Island is spelled differently depended on which side you are visiting or traveling to. As one of the few small islands in the world to be shared by two nations, Saint Martin/Sint Maarten has lived in harmony for over 350 years. The southern half of the island Saint Martin, is part of the Netherland Antilles and thus is considered as the Dutch side. The northern section of the island Saint Martin, is part of Frances overseas collectivity and thus considered the French side.
Saint Martin/Sint Maarten was discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World. Columbus named the island San Martin in honor of Saint Martin of Tours and feast day of November 11th, the day Columbus sighted the island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten. As the island was first inhabited by the Arawaks, Caribbean Amerindians long before the arrival of the Spaniards, the Dutch were the first Europeans to establish a presence on the island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten with a military outpost for their territories in the New World. In 1631 The Dutch West Indies Company started mining salt on the island. In 1633 the Spaniards recaptured the island and sent the Dutch packing to the Netherland Antilles island of Curacao. It was not till 1648 that with the signing of the Treaty of Concordia did France and the Dutch Republic agreed to divide and share the island.
With an island divided in two, the two sides have become popular for different reasons. To the north Saint Martin the French side, covers almost 2/3 of the island. Marigot the capital of the French side of the island has a population of 5700 inhabitants. Saint Martin is well known for its secluded and nude beaches, clothes, shopping and European feel. Sint Maarten on the south side of the island is known for its nightlife, casinos and fantastic beaches. Philipsburg with a population of 1400 people is the largest on the Dutch side. The islands main international airport, Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM/TNCM) is located on the Dutch side and is world known for pictures of aircraft landing over beach goers on the strip of sand bordering the airport. St Maarten is also home to the busy cruise ship port for the island. Both sides of the island are known for fantastic deals on duty free goods and the numerous restaurants and shops that can be found in Saint Martin/Sint Maarten.
Shopping and dining are not the only attractions to the island. Saint Martin/Sint Maarten is world known for is scuba diving, with crystal clear waters to depths of 200 feet the waters surrounding the island are covered with coral reefs teaming with sea life, or in Great Bay one might dive on a English battleship dating back to the early 1800’s. Some 37 sun soaked white sand beaches can be found all around the island, from secluded coves to popular resort beaches sun worshipers will find plenty of spaces to lay their blankets. For nature lovers the island is home to hiking and horseback trails, with over 25 miles of trails, exploration of the island interior and mountains (highest point being Pic Paradis at 1391 feet) will offer some fantastic views and sights of the island.
Saint Martin/Sint Maarten with year round trade winds, annual rainfall around 40 inches and an average temperature in the mid 80’s has become one of the most popular islands in the Caribbean.