IF THERE’S ONE THING ST. Maarteners are proud of, it’s the endearing adage that our Caribbean homeland is “The Friendly Island.” We plaster it all over our number-plates, and it’s true. The 60,000-plus inhabitants come from no less than 103 different countries; all contribute to the emerging identity of this 37-square-mile landmass. Christopher Columbus sighted the island on November 11, 1493, and named it after St. Martin, Bishop of Tours. Initially regarded as unpromising, St. Maarten changed hands among the Dutch, the French, and the Spanish. The French and Dutch split the island in 1648—the French side is called Saint Martin, the Dutch side Sint Maarten. Gone are the days of battle for Queen and country. Now part of the semi-autonomous Dutch Caribbean territory of the Netherlands Antilles, St. Maarten is focused on fast-paced, duty-free tourism with a multinational friendliness that’s attractive to tourists and investors alike. On your three-day holiday, you’ll see why many a first-time visitor becomes a regular.
Author Marvin Hokstam Photography Joshua Paul
DAY THREE / Wake a bit later this morning and head to Citrus at Cupecoy, a three-minute drive north. This hidden bistro serves a light breakfast of pastries, fresh fruit, coffee, tea, and an assortment of hams and cheeses. Drive farther north to La Samanna, an exclusive spa that’s the most luxurious property in St. Maarten, on the beach in Terres Basses. Get pampered in the Elysees European Spa, the only one in the Caribbean to offer moxa and pilates treatments. Though breakfast here is open only to guests, sample the spa menu by executive chef Torsten Rumprecht.
After that soothing experience, drive north to Marigot. West Indies Mall on the waterfront is home to upscale boutiques, and the side streets are lined with shops.
Check out Jennyfer on Rue de General De Gaulle for ladieswear or Les Gems De a little farther down for men’s clothing. Choose a bottle of wine at Le Gout du Vin to savor at the hotel. If only a goofy T-shirt will do, pop in at Casa Nova on Rue de President Kennedy.
Lunch is at La Vie en Rose, which has a sidewalk café overlooking Marigot’s waterfront. Enjoy the sautéed duck breast and scallops salad. If you’re up to it, walk up to the ruins of Fort Louis. Don’t forget to take your camera along; the view is breathtaking. Spend the rest of the afternoon at the beach in Orient Bay, tucked away in the tiki huts of Kon Tiki Beach restaurant.
Around 7 p.m., after you’ve refreshed at the hotel, make the 20-minute drive back to Philipsburg, find a parking spot “upstreet,” and on Front Street, walk to St. Rose Arcade, where the boardwalk is slowly coming to life. At Qualichi Restaurant, try the tuna sashimi, and enjoy the live music. This is a favorite hangout for locals, often frequented by island dignitaries.
Around 9 p.m., as boardwalk life dwindles, follow Sucker Garden Road to Oyster Bay and Oyster Bay Beach Resort. Flamboyant Calypsonian King Beau Beau runs Beau Beau’s, a café that has a regular karaoke night. Feel like a star till about 11 p.m. before driving back toward Maho.
Park at the hotel and walk on the beach along the bay toward The Caravanserai, home to Bliss, the hottest club on the Dutch side, for a wild mix of music. Also worth a visit is the VIP lounge at your hotel, above Casino Royale. This comfortable club is exclusive, and the entertainment is out of this world. Both clubs ably reflect an island of opposites and pleasant surprises. Two sides, each with its own identity and atmosphere—the perfect pairing when you want only one island on the itinerary. Marvin Hokstam is a Caribbean journalist who was born in Suriname. He writes for St. Maarten’s Daily Herald and the Caribbean Media Corporation.
Surrounded by the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, St. Maarten basks in a typical tropical climate of sun-filled skies, warm temperatures, and refreshing breezes year-round. Easterly trade winds help keep the weather warm but not hot, making this island a truly comfortable place any time of year. While New York, Chicago, and London endure the chill of gray skies, visitors to the island in January will enjoy summerlike warmth in the low 80s Fahrenheit, with water temperatures in the 70s. Sunshine is dominant, though scattered clouds may produce a shower about two out of every three days. While it may sound like you’ll need an umbrella, winter showers are usually brief and light, leaving plenty of bright blue skies in their wake. After sunset, expect mild nighttime readings in the mid-70s.
As spring and summer approach, the frequency of more-intense rain showers and gusty winds increases as tropical waves traverse the region. The mercury climbs into the upper 80s most days, surpassing the 90-degree mark on rare occasions.
Weather information is provided by The Weather Channel. For more St. Maarten climatological details, visit weather.com.
You’ll land at St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport, which is undergoing an upgrade that includes the construction of a state-ofthe-art terminal building, slated to open in July. Though St. Maarten is relatively small, getting around comfortably demands a car. Public busing is available, and taxis affiliated with the St. Maarten Taxi Association may only charge prearranged taxi rates; still it’s best to rent a car from one of the many rental agencies on the island.
Don’t worry; it’s hard to get lost. The network that meanders through this twin-identity nation is in fact one long road.