St. Martin is the smallest territory to be shared between two nations (Saint Martin – France and Sint Maarten – Dutch). What this means is that visitors have a very unique experience: two nationalities, two different cultures.
I have visited St. Martin a few times as a port of call on a Caribbean cruise. And the truth is, being focused on seeing the island as a whole, I barely even noticed passing from one side to the other. What I saw were beautiful beaches, friendly people and the gorgeous, lush hilly topography.
As a result, when I had the chance to return and spend a week on this beautiful island, I approached it with this same view. I looked at the resorts that I liked as opposed to the side of the island that I wanted to stay on. But I quickly found out that others who regularly visit the island have very strong opinions on which is the “better” side to stay on. Consequently, my inquisitive mind prompted me to do a little more research on this subject and this is what I found out.
Casinos and Nightlife vs Quiet and Tranquility
Casinos and nightlife are abundant on the Dutch Side. With many of them being located in the Maho and Simpson Bay area, they are either within or in close proximity to many of the resorts and hotels. If you like action well into the night you will love the Dutch side.
On the French side there are no casinos and quite honestly, very little in the way of nightlife except for some laid back bars. But if your idea of a perfect evening is relaxing on your balcony with a glass of Bordeaux while listening to the sound of the waves, the French side is perfect.
Shopping vs Dining
If shopping is an important part of your vacation, then The Dutch side definitely has more happening. The busy cruise ship terminal is in Phillipsburg, on the Dutch side. As a result, souvenir shops, jewellery stores, craft shops and duty-free shops are in abundance. With the hustle and bustle that comes with the daily tourists coming and going, there is definitely a fun tourist vibe to the area.
While not being known for offering souvenir shopping, the French side has become known for its better culinary options. With patisseries and dining venues in abundance, you can indulge yourself in the uniquely delicious combination of Caribbean / French cuisine that the French side is famous for.
The familiar vs a certain – Je ne sais quoi
If you’re the type of person who likes their vacation to feel very much like home but with warmth and sunshine, then the Dutch side is the better choice for you. With English being spoken and US dollars widely accepted, it offers that very familiar relaxed Caribbean vacation that we love.
The French side, on the other hand, offers a certain … Je ne sais quoi.
With French being the official language, you easily find yourself transformed into someone else. Someone who responds with merci and bonjour. Someone who eats croissants for breakfast. Someone who now has Euros in their wallet. Someone who feels like they have travelled abroad much further then the Caribbean. If your heart was torn between traveling to the Caribbean or traveling to Europe you should definitely stay on the French side where the two cultures are blended together into one delightful destination.
I absolutely loved my visit to St. Martin and I know that I made the perfect choice for me. But maybe the best solution is to stay for two weeks. One on the Dutch side and one on the French side to experience the best of both. If you see yourself enjoying St. Martin, I would love to help you plan the details of your next vacation.