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Saint Martin is an island in the northeast Caribbean, approximately 190 mi east of Puerto Rico. The island is divided roughly 60/40 between France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands; the two parts are roughly equal in population though, with slightly more people living on the Dutch side.
It is the smallest inhabited island divided between two nations. The division dates to 1648. The southern Dutch part comprises Sint Maarten and is one of four constituent countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The northern French part comprises the Collectivité de Saint-Martin (Collectivity of St. Martin) and is an overseas collectivity of France.
The main cities are Philipsburg (Dutch side) and Marigot (French side). The Dutch side is more heavily populated. The largest settlement on the entire island is Lower Prince's Quarter, on the Dutch side.
The highest hilltop is the Pic Paradis (1,391 ft) in the center of a hill chain on the French side. But both sides are hilly with large mountain peaks. This forms a valley where many houses are located. There are no rivers on the island, but many dry guts. Hiking trails give access to the dry forest covering tops and slopes.
The island is located south of Anguilla, separated from the British territory by the Anguilla Channel. Saint Martin is northwest of Saint Barthélemy, separated from the French territory by the Saint-Barthélemy Channel. It is one of the Renaissance Islands.
Under the Köppen climate classification, the island has a tropical monsoon climate with a dry season from January to April and a rainy season from August to December. The precipitation patterns are due to the movement of the Azores high during the year. With the wind direction predominantly from the east or the northeast, temperatures remain stable throughout the year and temperatures rarely exceed 34 °C (93 °F) or fall below 20 °C (68 °F).
Tourism in Saint Martin and Sint Maarten
The main industry of the island is tourism. St. Martin's Dutch side is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewellery, drinks made with native rum-based guavaberry liquors, and casinos. The island's French side is known for its nude beaches, clothes, shopping (including outdoor markets), and French and Indian Caribbean Cuisine. English is the most commonly spoken language along with a local dialect. The official languages are French for Saint-Martin, and both Dutch and English for Sint Maarten.
Rental cars are the primary mode of transportation for visitors staying on island. Traffic on the island has become a major problem. Long traffic jams between Marigot, Philipsburg and the airport are common. In recent years sargassum weed has arrived on the south ("Dutch") shoreline, but the northern French coast is generally free of the weed.
Because the island is located along the intertropical convergence zone, it is occasionally threatened by tropical storm activity in the late summer and early fall.
Neighbouring islands include Saint Barthélemy (French), Anguilla (British), Saba (Dutch), Sint Eustatius "Statia" (Dutch), Saint Kitts and Nevis (independent, formerly British). With the exception of Nevis, all of these islands are easily visible on a clear day from St. Martin.
Shopping on St Maarten and Saint Martin offers duty-free goods in numerous boutiques. Popular goods include local crafts & arts, exotic foods, jewelry, liquor, tobacco, leather goods, as well as most designer goods. Most often, the designer goods are offered at significant discounts, often up to 40% lower than US retail prices.
Saint Martin uses the euro as its currency, while Sint Maarten uses the Netherlands Antillean guilder, pegged at 1.79 per United States dollar. As a consequence of the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, the Netherlands Antillean guilder will cease to be legal tender and be replaced by the Caribbean guilder in the coming years. Almost every store on the island also accepts the United States dollar, although sometimes a more expensive exchange rate is used.
Main Attractions in Saint Martin and Sint Maarten
Philipsburg and the Great Bay
Simpson Bay Lagoon
Is one of the largest inland lagoons in the West Indies of the Caribbean. It is located on the island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten. The border between the French and Dutch halves of the island runs across the centre of the lagoon. There are two small islands that lie in the lagoon: the larger, Grand Ilet (also known as Explorer's Island) to the north, is within the French region of Saint-Martin; the smaller, Little Key, to the south, is on the Dutch Sint Maarten side.
The lagoon is connected to the Caribbean sea via a small channel in the north-west which flows into Baie Nettlé in Saint Martin and another small channel in the south-east which flows into Simpson Bay in Sint Maarten. Sint Maarten's airport, Princess Juliana International Airport lies close to the lagoon's southern shore.
The protected waters of this lagoon provide significant seagrass and mangrove habitats, well known juvenile reef fish recruitment areas which likely feed the marine protected areas of Man of War Shoal Marine Park of St. Maarten and the Reserve Naturelle de Saint-Martin.
St. Maarten’s marine industry, centered around the Simpson Bay Lagoon, represents 12.5% of the island economy, compared to 9.5% for the Hotel and Restaurant industry (Central Bureau of Statistics). The calm waters of the lagoon make it a safe harbor for vessels seeking repairs, supplies, and protection from hurricanes. The megayacht charter industry is a conspicuous aspect of the yachting sector
Marigot is the main town and capital in the French Collectivity of Saint Martin. It is located on the west coast of the island of St. Martin. It extends from the coast to the west, along the Bay of Marigot and the hills of the interior of the island to the east. On the south-west it is bounded by the Simpson Bay.
Marigot is typical of Caribbean towns, with gingerbread houses and sidewalk bistros. Market days are every Wednesday and Saturday morning. The crew of the 1998 in film motion picture Speed 2 shot the finale scene here where the Seabourn Legend hits the island.
Airports in Saint Martin and Sint Maarten
Sign warning people that standing too close to the airport fence on Maho Beach can be dangerous.
The island is served by many major airlines that daily bring in large jet aircraft, including Boeing 747s and Airbus A340s carrying tourists from across the world. The short main runway at Princess Juliana International Airport, and its position between a large hill and a beach, causes some spectacular approaches. Aviation photographers flock to the airport to capture pictures of large jets just a few metres above sunbathers on Maho Beach.
There is a small airport on the French side of the island at Grand Case, L'Espérance Airport for small propeller planes serving neighbouring Caribbean islands. It frequently suffers thick fog during the hurricane season due to its location.
Map of Saint Martin