St. Martin or St. Maarten
The 37-square-mile island may seem too small to offer 2 very different regions, but the French side and the Dutch side often seem worlds apart.
Before we dive into the Dutch side vs. French side debate, it should be emphasized: the island of St. Martin is only 37 square miles. Whichever side you stay on, you can easily visit anywhere on the island in less than an hour. The borders are simply marked with a sign, and you can drive from one side to the other as many times as you wish during the course of your stay, or even during the course of a day.
That being said, the two sides of the island do have differences, so if you’re trying to decide where to stay, it only makes sense to stay on the side that fits the atmosphere you’re looking for. Below, a quick checklist to get your planning started.
(1) Traveling with children? St. Maarten (Dutch).
St. Maarten is a bit louder than its French counterpart, so children fit right in. Beachgoers tend to be more covered up than on the French side, and the Dutch side also has the best grocery stores with American products, should your little one need the comforts of the home.
(2) Traveling with a significant other? St.-Martin (French).
The French side of the island is quieter, with a quainter atmosphere that lends itself well to romance. Beaches in the Terres Basses area are some of the most peaceful on the island, and if you and your partner really want seclusion, you can spend a day on Happy Bay, a tucked away beach only accessible by boat.
(3) Looking for nightlife? St. Maarten (Dutch).
While there are plenty of bars on the French side of the island, especially around Orient Bay and Grand Case, the Dutch side is home to Maho Village, a collection of bars and lounges surrounding Casino Royale, the island’s largest casino. In fact, all of the island’s casinos – over a dozen – are located on the Dutch side of the island.
(4) Looking for a more European atmosphere? St.-Martin (French).
The Dutch side of the island is home to the cruise port in Phillipsburg, so its shops tend to cater toward tourists (and deal exclusively in the US dollar), which can make it feel more Americanized. The French side, however, has managed to retain a European feel, with small street-side cafés, French bakeries, and open-air markets. The official currency of the French side is the Euro, so most prices are displayed in Euros, but you’d be hard pressed to find a place that didn’t accept USD as well.
The truth is, the two sides’ similarities far outweigh their differences: gorgeous beaches, the Caribbean’s best cuisine, and friendly, welcoming locals. No need to form an allegiance – simply take advantage of the unique opportunity to visit two destinations in one.