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St Martin vs St Maarten - Why Not BOTH?

Updated on August 29, 2017

St. Martin vs St. Maarten - Isn't This a Case of "Tomato" "Tomahto?" Nope! But BOTH are AWESOME

We've vacationed on the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten numerous times - I think we're up to 4 separate trips, one of which was a 2 week trip at 2 different resorts (I'm kinda in the industry, sort of, so we try as many resorts as we can).

I'm not going to go into a huge historical lesson about the island - I'll give you some references below - but I DO want to talk about this beautiful island, because it's truly one of our favorite spots to relax. In fact, we're currently planning our NEXT trip back, which will most likely be this winter.

Anyway, let's get right down to it: The southern part of the island is St. Maarten (Sint Maarten), and is governed by the Dutch. The northern part of the island is St. Martin (Saint Martin), and is governed by the French.

The island, overall, is known pretty much as St. Martin.

This is a really, really interesting place to us - the part-French/part-Dutch cultures are a lot of fun to explore, and - to answer the most obvious question - it's easy as pie to travel between one and the other. The borders are marked, but once you are actually on the island, you're free to wander as you wish.

I'm not going to bore you with too many typical "touristy" photos of the beaches or hotels - I'll give you a quick overview, and talk a little more about some of the other things we enjoy. Ok?

So, for starters, right here in this section is a photo of me with "Gizmo," the parrot mascot at Divi Little Bay, which is - by far - our absolutely most favorite resort we've stayed in on the Dutch side. I'll put in a quick video of the resort, and you'll see why it's so comfy...

All images are taken by me or my hubby John!

This is Taco Nacho in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten. Don't be afraid. It's GOOD! Local fave!
This is Taco Nacho in Simpson Bay, St. Maarten. Don't be afraid. It's GOOD! Local fave!

We have stayed on both sides - St Martin AND St Maarten

So, which side do we like best?

That is not an easy answer, because each part of this amazing island has its pros and cons.

Although neither John nor I speak French as well as we'd like, we DO try on the French side. The locals may chuckle at us, but they seem to appreciate our efforts. On the Dutch side, nearly everyone speaks English, and we've heard some Papiamento - which is the language of Aruba (we tried to learn a little when we visited Aruba). Uttering a few Papiamento phrases also makes the locals smile.

So: Pros and Cons:

On the Dutch side (Sint Maarten), we have found life to be a bit less expensive since US dollars go a little further. Our lodgings tend to be a bit more affordable, as does the dining. (For example, see the accompanying photo of this awesome Mexican lolo - roadside restaurant - in Simpson Bay...)

Now, the Dutch beaches just aren't as marvelous as the French. After staying at Orient Bay at Cap Caraibes during one of our visits, we were enthralled with the beach and surf there - gentle... AND we were able to fall asleep in a beach hut one night after the sun worshipers went home and out to the night clubs. Seriously, there is NO ONE on the beach at night. What's up with THAT?

So, we would hang out and fall asleep in the beach huts - sometimes to be awakened by partiers at about 1:00 am. Which was fine. We just poured more wine... See hut photo down the page a bit...

Also, I'll talk about some of these resorts as well!

Visiting St. Martin or St. Maarten Is a LITTLE Easier if you are Prepared! - You can get a map at the rental car agency on the island. It's not hard to get arou

But, you might find certain ins-and-outs a little easier to navigate if you are prepared!

Here's a hint that doesn't take a guidebook to learn from: If you get to the island and someone approaches you with a big "Hello! Where are you staying!" Then chances are they are trying to get you to take a time share tour. "It will only take 90 minutes of your time and you'll get x-amount of casino value!"

Our advice? Don't do it. We did - once - and it was like taking a crow-bar to the people who kept us glued to our chairs for nearly 3 hours to escape. It was not worth the $20 in casino chips.

Fodor's In Focus St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Barth & Anguilla (Full-color Travel Guide)
Fodor's In Focus St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Barth & Anguilla (Full-color Travel Guide)

If you have a Fodor's guide, you have one of the best. Once, we were on Orient Beach and asked, "What IS that little island out there??" It was Pinel Island, which we hadn't heard of. If we had Fodor's we would have heard of it and planned for a visit. They cover things we didn't think of.

 
8 Hours in St. Martin - A Cruiser's Guide
8 Hours in St. Martin - A Cruiser's Guide

I am adding this particular selection because John & I have met a LOT of people who are on cruises and who port in Philipsburg (the Dutch St. Maarten capitol) - and if you want to be prepared for the little time you have on the island during your stay, this is a good guide. Hint: IGNORE the people who are trying to cajole you into their shops. Shops are everywhere, and in every port. St. Martin is much more than shops. Go Explore!!

 
SXM Uncovered - The Insider's Guide to St Martin / St Maarten
SXM Uncovered - The Insider's Guide to St Martin / St Maarten

The authors live there. If I lived there I would have written this. But I don't and I didn't. So, buy it from them. :) Seriously, a lot of what we've come to enjoy about the island we've learned from a singer who lives there. And a store owner who knew we didn't want the typical tourist fare. :)

 
Quiet pool area at Cap Caraibes
Quiet pool area at Cap Caraibes

Some of the places we've stayed on the Island

Both French & Dutch sides.

Maho Bay (Dutch Side)- The first time we went to St. Martin, we stayed in Maho Bay. The place was fine, and we're glad we stayed - but if you "Google" Maho Bay airplanes, you'll see why this can get a little loud. It's at the approach end of Princess Juliana Airport, and the planes come in VERY low. It's kind of a tourist attraction. We decided to try something else next time...

Cap Caraibes at Orient Beach (French Side) - If you look at the photo in this page about the beach hut we'd fall asleep in - that's just outside Cap Caraibes. We really enjoyed this relatively small hotel - quiet, private, and comfortable. Within walking distance of all the amenities in Orient Beach. Remember - it's all in Euros on the French Side (except where establishments take US dollars at par). It's a little more expensive to stay on the French Side.

Pelican Bay Resort (Dutch Side) - We enjoyed the location of this resort since it was just up Billy Folly Road in the center of Simpson Bay, where there are numerous restaurants and places to hang out without travelling far. I seem to remember a crazy night of bingo and karaoke - but it's been a while. This resort is a little crowded, but still perfectly comfortable.

The Infinity Pool at Oyster Bay Beach Resort
The Infinity Pool at Oyster Bay Beach Resort

The Two Nicest Places We've Stayed:

Oyster Bay and Divi Little Bay

Oyster Bay Beach Resort(Dutch Side - but barely) - You can walk to the French side from here. The best part about staying at Oyster Bay? Morning baguettes... Considering I don't eat wheat anymore at home, I'll be making an exception when I go back to St. Maarten. Gotta have that morning baguette! :)

Seriously, there are other really nice things about this location - it's very close to Orient Beach, which is one of our favorites beaches, and also not too far out of town (Philipsburg) for shopping and dining. This is a very comfortable spot!

Divi Little Bay (Dutch Side) Probably our favorite spot of all. I made a quick video of our suite - you can scroll down the page and you'll see the tour of our room.

Also, Divi Little Bay has tennis, which we enjoy. The restaurant? Not so much - I wrote about that on my vacation website (we sell a vacation club membership that we also use - so that's why I have that site).

Lovely Rainbow over the Marina from our room at Oyster Bay

Lovely Rainbow over the Marina from our room at Oyster Bay
Lovely Rainbow over the Marina from our room at Oyster Bay
Happy little free-roaming pig at Happy Bay, French St. Martin
Happy little free-roaming pig at Happy Bay, French St. Martin

There is SO MUCH MORE to St. Martin than Beaches...

I say this because, as much as I love beaches, I'm too sun-sensitive to spend much time on them!

(If you don't believe me, read my tale of red-faced woe and you'll understand) ...But that doesn't mean I don't love and cannot spend time in the Caribbean climate. :)

I do spend tons of time on the beach and in the beautiful, crystal clear waters of St. Martin; however, I typically do other things at the height of the day.

Consider the little pig, for example... he neither suns nor swims at the height of day. He happily nibbles away, completely unaware of, or utterly disinterested in us or our camera.

He is a resident of a relatively non-visited but beautiful beach on French Saint Martin's Happy Bay.

There are lots of trees on this great little beach (you do need to walk a little ways to get here, which may explain the lack of population). Spread out the towel, break out the picnic, and lounge under the coconut palms. Swim if you wish.

But definitely enjoy the little pig...

Everyone feeds the wild kitties
Everyone feeds the wild kitties

Got a patio? Got milk? Got a wild island kittie!

We cannot help it. Nor, are we alone.

So, another part of every single vacation we've had in St. Martin (with the exception of our last visit, because we were on the 2nd floors) is the amazing, feral or wild kitty population.

These are not your ordinary cats. Now, there IS a humane association on the island from what I've been able to learn, and have supported in their island fund-raisers. They are eager to spay and care for unwanted pets.

But, back to the kitties. These little guys have the sharpest and longest fang-type teeth I've ever seen. They are totally friendly and sidle up to every tourist they can get near.

That is because we give them the most unhealthy stuff... Yes, I gave this kittie milk. It's all I had that I thought he or she would like.

Down at the little resort convenience store, what do you suppose they stocked? Hmmm?

If you guessed, "Canned cat food," then you win! The cats are common at every resort, and I believe they help keep certain.. . . ummm. . . . . unwanted or unwelcome . . . uh, "things" at bay.

Didn't ask. Don't care. They're cute, and yes, I fed them milkies. And cheese. And tuna. And then they went next door to the next tourist...

View from Cupecoy Beach Dutch St. Maarten
View from Cupecoy Beach Dutch St. Maarten

You Wanna See a Beach, Don't You?

Kath... PLEASE show me a beach shot!!!

Ok, ok... I'll give you a beach shot. But, remember, I just do NOT lay out in the sun. So, my beach shots are not going to be from some 1983 "Bain de Soleil" commercial, ok?

But, here's one from a rather well-known beach called "Cupecoy Beach," which is technically on the Dutch side of the island, but which has a more French-side "relaxed" view of what is considered appropriate beach attire.

How did I do? Did I say that correctly? :)

Truly, it's a lovely spot, but I found the surf a little rough for my liking. Give me Orient Beach, Happy Bay, or one of the beaches at the St. Maarten resorts such as Divi Little Bay or Oyster Bay.

Just a couple of the things that make traveling to St. Martin a little easier - You might need some of these!

Remember... we pack light - so don't expect me to recommend a dozen beach covers or accessories. But, here are a few items that we thought you might wish to consider if you're heading to St. Martin or St. Maarten...

Canon PowerShot ELPH 320 HS 16.1 MP Wi-Fi Enabled CMOS Digital Camera with 5x Zoom 24mm Wide-Angle Lens with 1080p Full HD Video and 3.2-Inch Touch Panel LCD (Black)
Canon PowerShot ELPH 320 HS 16.1 MP Wi-Fi Enabled CMOS Digital Camera with 5x Zoom 24mm Wide-Angle Lens with 1080p Full HD Video and 3.2-Inch Touch Panel LCD (Black)

I know that professional photographers would not be using this. For us, it's perfect! It's small, it's lightweight, SUPER easy to use, and we think it takes great photos for our needs. I use this for making marketing videos (outside vacation) for my websites. It's a terrific camera for us, and we like it!

 
Easy French Phrase Book: Over 750 Phrases for Everyday Use (Dover Language Guides French)
Easy French Phrase Book: Over 750 Phrases for Everyday Use (Dover Language Guides French)

Have you ever heard the saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do?" John & I believe in at least TRYING to communicate to the locals in their own language - and while we both know some basic French, it is helpful to have a phrase book. People appreciate it when you show respect for their country and language, and on the French side of St. Martin, this is a handy tool to have.

 
Travel Smart by Conair Converter and Worldwide Adapter Set; US Europe UK Italy Spain China
Travel Smart by Conair Converter and Worldwide Adapter Set; US Europe UK Italy Spain China

Although we haven't needed one of these in a while, if you have some appliances you're bringing along (such as a curling iron), you won't be able to use your US plug in a French receptacle. This particular kit labels each plug, showing where in the world you would use each one. Handy!

 

Ok... Just ONE "touristy" video... A tour of our suite from our last trip - You must admit, it's pretty comfy looking! This is a VERY quick tour of our room at

We were offered a golf-cart "taxi" up to our room, but since we traveled only with carry-on bags, we were able to just roll our bags up the hill. Now, keep in mind, we were NOT on the beach - and we think you'll see why we weren't terribly unhappy about that! :) We're hoping to get a similar suite next time we visit the island (which we hope will be soon!)

French Saint Martin or Dutch Sint Maarten - Do you have a favorite side? - This is a tough one for me, since I love both sides. But some folks may have info tha

Do any of you have a preference for what side of the island you enjoy? If so, please share!

(For those of you who are torn, like we are, we offer a different poll, below!)

Have you stayed in Dutch Sint Maarten or French Saint Martin? Do you have a preference? If so, can you offer any tips or hints?

We enjoy going off the beaten track and seeing stuff that isn't exactly for tourists

We enjoy going off the beaten track and seeing stuff that isn't exactly for tourists
We enjoy going off the beaten track and seeing stuff that isn't exactly for tourists

Secluded beach - Petites Cayes - from the trail. You REALLY have to WANT this... Hike from just outside Anse Marcel (or the Dump

Secluded beach - Petites Cayes - from the trail. You REALLY have to WANT this... Hike from just outside Anse Marcel (or the Dump
Secluded beach - Petites Cayes - from the trail. You REALLY have to WANT this... Hike from just outside Anse Marcel (or the Dump

This is the view of the lovely and exclusive Anse Marcel resort from the trail to Petites Caye

This is the view of the lovely and exclusive Anse Marcel resort from the trail to Petites Caye
This is the view of the lovely and exclusive Anse Marcel resort from the trail to Petites Caye

John hanging out in this amazing spot on Petites Caye... You cannot drive there. And almost no one goes there...

John hanging out in this amazing spot on Petites Caye... You cannot drive there. And almost no one goes there...
John hanging out in this amazing spot on Petites Caye... You cannot drive there. And almost no one goes there...

When we said we "go light," we aren't kidding. - We ONLY take carry on luggage to St. Martin

We don't enjoy hanging out waiting in airports and customs - the sooner we can grab our gear and get through customs and on towards our destination the better.

We're not the night-club types, so for us, there is no need to bring fancy clothes and numerous pairs of shoes. And, St. Martin is so warm that really, aside from a sweatshirt, we don't really need anything for cool weather other than what we may have been wearing when we left the US.

And, yes, we are able to get all the liquid toiletries we need in the less-than-3 ounces containers allowed by the TSA - so we've kind of got this "packing light" down to a science.

High Sierra Wheeled Carry-On Backpack with Removable Day Pack (Fire Red, Black)
High Sierra Wheeled Carry-On Backpack with Removable Day Pack (Fire Red, Black)

This is really close to the carry on that John uses (you can almost see it in the photo of John under the tree canopy at Petites Caye, above) - The reason we like the backpack part of the design is because of the beaches that we prefer - Petites Caye and Happy Bay - neither of which you can pull right up to in a car. And, since it would be foolish to walk around in 80+ degree heat and hot sun without carrying water - LOTS of water, sunscreen, hats, and towels, this set up works great!

 

Can you believe NO ONE hangs out here at night? Neither could we... We fell asleep here more than once...

Can you believe NO ONE hangs out here at night? Neither could we... We fell asleep here more than once...
Can you believe NO ONE hangs out here at night? Neither could we... We fell asleep here more than once...

Have you visited the island of St. Martin? If so, where have you stayed? - St Martin - St. Maarten - Preferences? Thoughts? Ideas?

Roadside market in St. Martin
Roadside market in St. Martin

I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on a vacation on this amazing island...

There's not just one question here... Have you stayed, or would you stay on the French or Dutch side? Or other...

See results
Lal's Indian Cuisine - Curry in a Hurry
Lal's Indian Cuisine - Curry in a Hurry

One of our favorite spots is Lal's Indian Restaurant

Last time we went, Lal had relocated to the center of Simpson Bay. Thank you Lal!

Lal's is our favorite Indian restaurant in Sint Maarten (well, there IS one other one we enjoy on a side street where there are typically 3 choices: Fish? Chicken? or Goat?) But Lal's is one of those places where just about everyone goes - from locals to ex-pats and everyone in between (including movie stars - but no stars that we recognized were there at the time).

It used to be very difficult to find Lal's - his place was sort of tucked away at one of the yacht offload points outside the airport - but now he's just off the main road near the Simpson Bay drawbridge.

If you think you're going to be caught in drawbridge traffic, why not just plan on hanging out at Lal's for a while. (BTW - don't bother getting upset over the wait at the bridge. Just get out of the car and wave to the yachts going through and relax.)

This bar is owned by American ex-pats- can't you tell?
This bar is owned by American ex-pats- can't you tell?

Ok... Maybe ONE more "tourist" shot!

Bar on Orient Beach in French St. Martin

This is a beach bar on Orient Beach, and it's apparently owned by American ex-pats. Of course you could probably tell this from all the US signs!

We believe that Orient Beach (on French Saint Martin) is one of THE single most beautiful beaches on the island (other than the secluded beaches at Petites Cayes or Happy Bay). That in itself is enough to make us prefer the French side (as far as beaches are concerned).

This beach has so many little kiosks and bars and food vendors... But this one caught our eye because of the great signs "from home."

Friendly and unassuming, everyone is welcome here. Even if you don't bring a sign. :)

Did I say just ONE more shot? :) This is a "lolo" - outdoor roadside food stand in Grande Case (they lure you in!)

Did I say just ONE more shot? :) This is a "lolo" - outdoor roadside food stand in Grande Case (they lure you in!)
Did I say just ONE more shot? :) This is a "lolo" - outdoor roadside food stand in Grande Case (they lure you in!)

Hi Everyone! I'm an affiliate!

:) My little disclaimer...

Hi folks! I just wanted to let you know that if you make any purchases through the Amazon links, or other "sales" links I may put in this page, I will (hopefully) receive a wee commission. If you do decide to purchase through these links, you have my heartfelt thanks! :) I hope you enjoy what I've presented here today!

Please let my know you were here, and if you are tempted to visit the lovely Caribbean island of St. Martin. Or, if you've already visited, or if you live there, please offer your thoughts and advice! Thank you!

Did you enjoy your non-touristy visit to St. Martin St. Maarten? :) - Seriously, we have SO MANY photos... I'll add more as time allows!

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    • suepogson profile image

      suepogson 4 years ago

      They both look lovely - never heard of them before - thanks!

    • LisaDH profile image

      LisaDH 4 years ago

      I've never been to either side of St. Martin/St. Maarten, but I'd sure love to!