What to Know Before You Visit St. Martin / Sint Maarten

Ready for your Caribbean vacation? If you’re headed to St. Martin (or Sint Maarten), you’ve made an excellent choice! You’ll be visiting two countries at once, have access to some of the best snorkeling and diving in the Caribbean, and have your pick of arguably the best French restaurants outside of France! But before you go, read this.

Quick Island Info

Sometimes, you just need some quick facts! Here are the essentials.

It is the Smallest Land Mass Owned by Two Countries

There are other islands that are owned by two entities. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola. Ireland is famously shared by the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Tierra del Fuego is shared by both Chile and Argentina. But little St. Martin / Sint Maarten is the smallest! One side is French (St. Martin), the other is Dutch (Sint Maarten).

You’ll cross the border often during your trip!
More here: The Best Things to Do on St. Martin / Sint Maarten

The Island has the Oldest Peace Agreement in the World

The French and Dutch sides of this island have been operating under the same peace agreement since 1648! That makes this place the home of the oldest active, continuous peace agreement in the world! There is no border patrol and no need to show your passport when crossing from one side to the other!

You’ll see the French, Dutch, and St. Martin flags all over the island!
Play nice: How to Embrace Cultural Differences

The Local Currency

Dutch Sint Maarten uses the Antillean Guilder, also called the Florin. On the French side, however, they use the Euro. Because of the steep difference in the exchange rate, you won’t be able to use Florins on the French side, nor Euros on the Dutch side. U.S. Dollars can always be used on either side, however, and in fact, prices are often only given in dollars on the Dutch side.

Bring your Euros and Dollars!
More here: Can I Use the U.S. Dollar Abroad?

The Time Zone

St. Martin/Sint Maarten does not participate in (the recently hotly debated) Daylight Saving Time. During U.S. Daylight Saving Time, St. Martin falls into the Eastern Time Zone. When the U.S. “falls back,” St. Martin stays an hour ahead of Eastern Time. We’ll see what happens if the U.S. does away with Daylight Saving Time (or stays on it!).

It’s 5:00 somewhere!
More here: How to Use Jet Lag to Your Advantage

Power Outlets

What type of outlet adapter do you need to bring? It depends on which side of the island you’ll be staying on! If you’re like us and plan to stay on the French side, you’ll need a European adaptor. On the Dutch side, you’ll find North American outlet, so if you’re from the United States, you won’t need to bring an adaptor at all!

You may need a European adaptor, depending on what side you’re staying on!
Read next: 9 Things You Forgot to Pack for the Caribbean

Location in the Caribbean

The Caribbean covers 106,300 square miles (that’s a LOT!). It spans from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the west to Barbados in the east, and from Trinidad in the south to Bermuda way up north. St. Martin is kind of in the middle, due east of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Its closest neighbors are Anguilla and St. Barths!

Due East of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
Saint Martin/Sint Maarten
Read on: How to Plan a Trip

How to Get Here

Unless you’re sailing in or taking a ferry from another Caribbean island, you’ll definitely be flying here! All international flights fly into Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM), which is on the Dutch side of the island. There is also a regional airport on the French side, Grand Case-Esperance Airport (SFG), but that is mostly serviced by smaller jets and private planes.

Maho Beach is directly across the street from SXM!
More here: What to Know Before You Visit the Caribbean

St. Martin or Sint Maarten?

The island of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten is the smallest landmass in the world owned by two countries! St. Martin on the north side is French, and Sint Maarten to the south is Dutch. These two countries have the longest-held peace treaty in the entire world—the Treaty of Concordia has been upheld since March 23, 1648!

Which ever accent you choose to pronounce it, St. Martin is gorgeous from both sides!
Also helpful: 7 Travel Rules You Don’t Know Until Someone Tells You

The French Side

This is the more laid-back, calmer side of the island. The community of Grand Case is known for its world-class restaurants, with some locals (and visitors!) claiming they have the best food in the Caribbean. The unique Tijon Perfumery is located on the French side of the island, as is the Flying Dutchman (ironically) and some of the best beaches on the island. You’ll also find a slower pace of life here, which is perfect for those who want a relaxing vacation. 

You’ll find heavy French influences on the St. Martin side!
Details here: How to Create Your Own Perfume at Tijon Perfumery

The Dutch Side

Though it’s actually a little bit smaller than its northern neighbor, this is the more exciting, fast-paced side of the island! Here, you’ll find casinos, Maho Beach (also known as Airplane Beach), and a bit more activity. The cruise ships that visit the island all dock at the Port of St. Martin, and all international flights arrive on this side of the island as well. It stands to reason that it would be busier, especially during the day!

This windmill is located in Philipsburg, on the Dutch side!
Read next: Secrets to Happy Couple Travel

Maho Beach (Airplane Beach)

This is likely the first thing that comes up when you search anything about St. Martin! Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) is located adjacent to Maho Beach, so the airplanes–even the gigantic ones!–come right over the water, over the beach, and land just yards away on one of the shortest runways in the world. It’s an adrenaline rush for viewers, pilots, and even passengers looking out the windows! You can visit, but be safe. The blast from the jet engines taking off can be dangerous.

No, seriously, be careful!
Get all the details: The Best Tips for Visiting Maho (Airplane) Beach

All Beaches on the Island are Public 

But be aware that some of them are nude beaches! Topless sunbathing is legal on all the French beaches, but not on the Dutch beaches. There are many beautiful beaches on both the French and Dutch sides of St. Martin/Sint Maarten, so you’re sure to find a few you like! Just remember to bring reef safe sunscreen with you (it’ll be more expensive to buy it on the island). And take it from a summer girl like myself, you will definitely want to wear water shoes and a dry bag both on the beach and in the water!

Both sides of the island have many beautiful beaches!
More here: 10 Essential Blog Posts All Travelers Need to Read

Want more? Get everything you need to plan your trip on my dedicated Caribbean Islands Page!

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