Sint Maarten/St. MartinSint Maarten or St Martin / St Martins, as it is sometimes called, is an interesting piece of land in the Atlantic – hence an island – whose land area (88 km sq) is roughly divided between two nations, the French and Netherlands. In the record books, it is one among the 22 odd islands or land masses across the globe, whose administration is shared between two different countries. St Martins is located in the northeast Caribbean, about 150 miles east of Puerto Rico.
The northern part of the St Martins is French ruled and is called Saint-Martin, which forms a part of the French overseas region and département of Guadeloupe. The southern Dutch half is called Sint Maarten and is a part of Netherlands Antilles. Collectively, both territories are referred to as Sint Maarten/St Martin or St Martins or SXM – the IATA identifier of Princess Juliana International Airport, the islands main airport.
The French side of the St Martins has a land area of 53.2 sq.km and is home to over 33,000 people (according to the October 2004 supplementary French census). Marigot is the major town in this part of the island. The southern half under the Dutch administration is spread over an area of 34 sq.km and has over 30,000 inhabitants (courtesy 2001 Netherlands Antilles census). Philipsburg is the major settlement in this part of the St Martins.
Even though it is under two administrations, the boundary between the two sides is almost imperceptible. People in both parts cross it back and forth many times without ever realizing that they are entering a different country altogether.
It is widely believed that the island was christened by the famous Genoese sea captain Christopher Columbus in honor of St Martin, by putting together the theory that he had reached the island on the feast day of the St Martins of Tours on November 11, 1493. Soon the Spanish followed the footsteps of Columbus and conquered the island by defeating the Carib Indians who were a dominant force in the island at that time.
The mid 17th century saw a heightened struggle between the Spanish, Dutch, Danes, British and French for the possession of West Indies. In fact, at that time, St Martins had both Spanish and Dutch presence, at various parts of the island. Historians say it was in 1648 that the French and the Dutch agreed to divide the island. But nothing further is mentioned about the Spanish or the British of that time, even though there are records of British presence in the island in the 18th century or so. The existing links to those periods are the descendents of the slaves who were brought to the island in the 18th century. The mix of Amerindian, African, Asian and European peoples in St Martins and the unique cultural mix is unmatched all across the world.
The Dutch part of St Martins, even though a part of Netherlands Antilles, is not been recognized as a part of the European Union. It is governed by an Island Council, an Executive Council, and a Governor appointed by the Dutch Crown. The currency of Sint Maarten is Antillean Guilder.
The French administered land of St Martins, on the other hand, is ruled by a mayor and a municipal council elected by the European citizens living on the French side of the island. People of other nationalities are not allowed to vote in the elections. Euro is the official currency in this part of the world.
In both the islands, the US dollar is widely accepted.
Tourism fuels the economy of St Martins. The Dutch side of St Martins is famous for its rich night life, pristine beaches and numerous casinos, while the French side is ‘notorious’ for its nude beaches, jewelry, French-Caribbean cuisine and quality shopping. In the island, there are also umpteen opportunities for scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, hiking, dancing, and sailing.
Major attractions on St Martins include Fort St Louis, St Martin Museum, The Marigot Market, fishing villages at Grand Case, Colombier, Paradise Peak, Mount Concordia, the historic Orleans, and Butterfly Farm.
Saint Barths (French), Sint Eustatius "Statia" (Dutch), Anguilla (British), Saint Kitts, Saba (Dutch), and Nevis (Independent) are nearby islands and tourist hotspots. With the exception of Nevis, all other islands are visible from St Martins on a clear day.
A word of caution, late summer and early fall are hurricane season all across the Caribbean. All other seasons are ideal for tourism.
Princess Juliana International Airport – on the Dutch side of St Martins - has regular connections to Europe, America, and the neighboring islands. The L'Esperance Airport in Grand Case, on the French St. Martin, can handle only up to 20-seat planes. Motorized catamaran services are also available for transport to the neighboring islands. For visitors staying on the island, it is advisable hire a taxi so that they can move around without any hitch.
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