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Dutch Saint Maarten

By: Belkis Kambach

Photos: Rob Kambach

Art: Sara J. Muender

Text & photos By: Belkis Kambach  

Want a recipe for a rare treat? Take a pure, sugary-white beach island fringed by turquoise water and coral that has been sweltering in the tropical sun for several million years. Add a handful of French and Dutch adventurers in search of a new life. Simmer 507 years. Turn up the heat and add a little bit of Guavaberry, some salt ponds and lagoons, world class sailing and French restaurants. Baste with equal amounts of sophisticated relaxation and Caribbean charm. Then serve and enjoy.

Something truly exciting happens when you combine two wonderfully complementary cultures and blend them gently in a Caribbean island: a little European and lot Caribbean.

We recently picked Saint Maarten from a long list of Caribbean havens and were looking forward to our five-day holiday. Situated 150 miles east of Puerto Rico, this subtropical island on the northeast elbow of the 2,000 mile long Caribbean chain is the smallest land mass in the world (37 square miles) to be divided and claimed by two governments.

St. Maarten’s original settlers were the Dutch and the French. Its dual owners have shared this tiny paradisical island peacefully for nearly 350 years, and it is this understated absence of conflict that testifies to one of the island's most precious and attractive characteristics--its unusual serenity.

St. Maarten today reveals touches from the French, Dutch and even from the Spanish, who were Holland's most bitter enemy during the Eighty Year War. Truth is, familiarity breeds many things, and there is no shortage of this in St. Maarten where 47 different ethnic groups have united to make their own contributions to this island's history.

The island was first inhabited by the Arawak, followed by the Caribs who called this island "Soualiga" (land of salt). Search for their remains has intensified in recent years, and the island is rich in its evidence of their lives. Salt did shape the history of this island, bringing the Dutch and all comers to the south. The salt lagoons at their peak were harvested and the mineral was exported all over the world.

The island changed nationality sixteen times, but it was Christopher Columbus who named St. Martin when he spotted this island in 1493 while celebrating the feast of St. Martin. Like other islands in the Caribbean that he sighted, he claimed it for Spain.

One can readily sense the difference between the culture and customs of both countries sharing this unique island. Visitors pass freely over the border of these two countries, enjoying the innate differences of both. St. Maarten has an open door policy, which is why it's called "The Friendly Island." Only signs of "Welkom" or "Bienvenue" on the side of the road mark the border.

Neither side of this Siamese twin island is an independent country. Dutch St. Maarten is part of the five-island constellation of the Netherlands Antilles. Although today the region falls under the government of Netherlands Antilles and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, its diversity and the strong influence of West-Indian traditions make its culture anything but exclusively Dutch. St. Martin, the French side of the island, is one of seven islands forming the French sub prefecture of Guadeloupe.

The story goes that while competing in the race designed to divide the territory, the French ended up with more land (20 sq. miles) because the wine-drinking Frenchman covered more ground than the jenever-drinking (Dutch gin) Dutchman, and that is why the French side is larger than the Dutch.

Dutch St. Maarten occupies the southern part of the island, an area of 16 square miles marked by verdant, rolling hills that languidly rest above mile after mile of beach, salt ponds and lagoons. With gentle valleys and hills, it is ideal for biking, horseback riding and exploration, all making St. Maarten a great destination choice for a wide variety of tourists.

Philipsburg, the Dutch capital since 1768, fills a narrow stretch of land between Great Bay and the Great Salt Pond. Today this bustling capital city is lined with duty-free shops offering everything from gold to native crafts. The town began as a Dutch trading center, and the forts around Philipsburg are haunting reminders of its one-time strategic importance as traders once sailed through the protective arms of Great Bay, establishing the town as a lively center of international commerce. Although today most of the vessels that arrive in the harbor are cruise ships, international trade still thrives in St. Maarten thanks to its status as a leading duty-free port. Putting it simply, St. Maarten can be a shopper's dream come true.

Two main roads cut across the length of Philipsburg--Front Street and, yes, Back Street. Front Street, being the main thoroughfare with it's most prominent landmark being the Courthouse a grand white wooden structure topped with a cupola. There is also the Saint martin Museum, which gives visitors an excellent introduction to local history and the famous 8-10 Front St. Guavaberry shop.

On the other hand, Marigot is the capital city of French St. Martin, where you’ll discover very French-looking streets and a French Caribbean ambiance that will delight you with its perfect balance of mariner's bars, romantic outdoor cafes, galleries, fine restaurants, bistros, big-name haute-couture fashion and pristine white beaches. For those who enjoy open air markets, there are many unusual and colorful items to choose from here, and it’s a great place to buy crafts and fresh food.

But before you use up all your energy shopping, take time to walk up to the Old Fort St. Louis that overlooks the city, its harbor and a distant view of the island of Anguilla. Its hilly terrain makes the island feel oceans away. St. Martin’s French-speaking residents live primarily here as today's restaurant and shop owners are generally young transplants from France, relocated to enjoy the island’s pleasures.

In addition to its two-for-the-price-of-one cultural experience that attracts visitors to the island, St. Maarten’s beauty lies largely on its 37 beautiful beaches - some of the best in the Caribbean. For those of you who delight in quiet beaches, you’ll find they are abundant here, and you’ll delight in their splendid seclusion.

There are several magnificent beaches to choose from: Mullet Bay Beach, Maho Beach, Simpson Beach and Little Bay Beach, all located on the Dutch side of the island. On the French side, Baie Longue, Orient Bay, Coconut Grove, Baie Rouge and Grand Case Beach offer something for everyone's taste.

An island of water sports centers galore

As far as activities are concerned, there are water sports centers galore. Here’s just a small glimpse of what you can anticipate in one day: Scuba diving, parasailing wind surfing, snorkeling, water skiing, sailing, jet ski, sea kayaks and almost any water sport one can imagine. Cruises and sky tours on helicopter or sea plane are also available.

Without doubt, St. Maarten is a world class marine and yachting Mecca and a sailor's dream. What makes the island most unique is the fact that you can go sailing and never be more than a few miles from another island. The sailing around St. Maarten is first-rate, providing memorable thrills. Whether you're a first-time sailor or a serious old salt, we highly recommend sailing her waters.

Definitely the ultimate sailing experience has to be the 12 Metre challenge. We sped in the open sea sailing the real America’s Cup race boat "Stars & Stripes." During the three hour trip we were part of the crew grinding with our fellow shipmates aboard the 1987 America’s cup 12 Metre race boat. The cost is $70 per person, and the race starts out at about 9:30 a.m. from Bobby’s Marina and returns just in time for lunch at Barefoot Terrace (5995) 20360.

The cruise is hardly strenuous. There is no better place to learn to sail than in St. Maarten. Not only does it have great water, but you'll find world class yachtsmen sitting around chatting about their adventures and misadventures on the high seas. One of the yachtsmen we met, Colin Percy, started right here with this 12 Metre fleet of boats. His advice is, once you learn you will always want to glide across the water again.

We were lucky enough to sail with three of Percy’s future America’s Cup stars. Knowing their skill level, we quickly became friends, and not only did these boys know their port from starboard, their Hollywood good looks and winning personalities had the women on the trip swooning! Sailing is not only fun and relaxing but healthy for the soul. The only way for you to find this out for yourself is to "just do it" (5995)20045/46 Fax (5995)26419

With our adrenaline still pumping, we gazed at the beach's sun worshipers and sensed that there were many more adventures to be discovered if we opted for scuba diving the St. Maarten way, diving the coral reefs that teem with marine life. Here crystalline waters allow clear visibility of up to 200 feet. Three-hour resort courses are also offered, in which qualified instructors teach the basics and accompany their students on shallow dives.

We took advantage of this opportunity and had our first lesson with Julian Young, a Scot, and Sophy, a Swede from Dive Safari, for only $45, with scuba equipment included in the price. They took us to Fort Amsterdam and Little Bay. Water-sport operators rent both diving and snorkeling gear and offer excursions. Experienced divers may wish to bone up on their skills by taking one of the advanced courses offered on the island. Divers we met claimed the sites are superb. Their three day Open Water Certification program is $350, and they are also at Bobby’s Marina next door to the 12 Metre Challenge office. 011(5995)29001.

Other sporting opportunities include bareback horseback riding. You can also enjoy a coastline hike on breathtaking trails that wind along the rugged eastern coastline starting at the beach. Nearby the horse ranch is the St. Martin Butterfly Farm, a specially created sphere where in the early morning it is possible to watch some of the most beautiful butterflies in the world actually emerg from their chrysali and take their first flight around you for a $10 fee. tel. 873121.

Away from the farm and the populated areas where the beach meets a rocky peninsula is the butterscotch-colored sand of Orient beach on the east shore of St. Maarten. This beach, about two miles long and our favorite, is one of the best beaches in St. Martin for sunning or a morning stroll before the beach businesses open.

Orient Beach itself is peaceful and quiet, but beyond the signs another world awaits at Club Orient. You’ll notice large bright yellow beach umbrellas and colorful ads for an au naturel vacation sunbathing, sans suit is de rigueur and "clothing is optional." Sunbathers here have the option of going topless in the French tradition. "Club O" occupies about a quarter of a mile at one end of the beach. This part of Orient Beach is well identified, and large signs designate the beach is nude and that no cameras or boom boxes are allowed. Obviously, the practice is not for everyone, but people come from everywhere to relax au naturel at Club Orient.

That afternoon we also sailed off for yet another adventure. An absolute must is to arrange a Snorkeling day trip to Green cay, one of the nearby islands and cays. The northeastern side of the island is perfect for swimming and snorkeling, and Green cay was our favorites snorkeling spot, reachable only by boat or jet ski. You can sign up at the Caraïbe water sports center 274994 / 270298 when you arrive. Once you land on Caye Verte, the shell-lined white sand beach of the little uninhabited island, you’re free to explore. We snorkeled the reef here, filled with exotic tropical fish and a perfect setting for the snorkeling enthusiast. The water is clear, calm and home to a dazzling, variety of multicolored tropical fish swimming around you. Post-snorkel, warm winds gently caress your body as you take in the sun beneath an azure blue sky.

If you enjoy high adventure, parasailing over the waters of Orient Beach at the end of a 300-foot rope is an unparalleled thrill. The view is breathtaking. I overhead our French captain warning his companion. I asked, "C'est dangereux?" he nodded his head emphatically, "Oui, oui!" Some landings, the cost for snorkel and a jet ski transfer to Green cay is just $15 per person -- and worth every penny you spend. Parasail is $50 or $90 for tandem jump, jet skis are $45 for 1/2 hour rental, and snorkeling gear is provided. The shop is run by two charming young Frenchmen, Laurent and Didier.

After a day of waters sports, you will enjoy dining along Orient Beach, that boast several small boutiques, restaurants and beach bars. Young French women stroll the beach serving thirst quenching Guavaberry coladas. The food here is a mix of American, French and island fare. It isn’t cheap, But it’s not out of line with the rest of St. Martin’s restaurants. We ate at Bikini Beach (590) 874325, a restaurant-bar open to the ocean breeze and a great place for lunch, dinner or an evening drink (they have the best paella in the Caribbean, by the way).

But don’t miss the opportunity to dine at least once in Grand Case, just a short drive from Orient Beach. This tiny town’s main street is lined with excellent restaurants too numerous to list. If, like us, you like to eat in small, quaint restaurants where you can delight in discovering unusual tropical dishes, Grand Case won’t disappoint. Most are small and intimate with lots of charm. If you eat on the beach side of the street, you can watch the sunset in the western sky. At the end of the street you’ll find several outdoor "lolos" typical of St. Martin serving local barbecue best when washed down with a cold Dutch Heineken or a local Carib beer.

After a grueling day of tanning, snorkeling, diving and sailing, after all you can’t stay on the beach all day or can you?. Be ready for after-dark activities. The island is known throughout the Caribbean for its eclectic night life, the evening being its own elixir where a feast of intriguing options await.

Today, Philipsburg’s waterfront has become a popular stop for major cruise ships, and the town's many restaurants, cafes and night clubs offer entertainment well into the night. The island's Caribbean and European flavor blend best when the sun goes down. The evening ritually begins at sunset, when cafes and night clubs open their doors. There are several casinos where you can roll the dice, and if you like dancing under tropical stars, the music of steel drum bands, calypso, Merengue, Zouk and other music of the tropics floats along the beaches. Visitors can dance the night away sipping Guavaberry coladas where the surf rolls ashore.

The island's festive spirit peaks during carnival, a vibrant, two-week pre-Lenten festival of feasting, street dancing, parties and parades. The night life on the island should not be overlooked as there is something for everyone on this paradisiacal island.

Going Dutch? Possibly the most difficult decisions we had to make during our stay in St. Maarten was where to eat. St. Maarten is considered the gourmet capital of the Caribbean, with over 400 restaurants offering culinary delights from around the world. St. Maarten eating experience won't disappoint you.

The native foods of St. Maarten reveal clear evidence of recipe-swapping at some point in history. It seems that the 47 different ethnic groups have made delicious contributions to this Caribbean island's culinary history, making it a melting pot of eclectic dishes and out-of-this-world drinks. Many travel guides mention Rijstafel, or rice table, being the national dish, but our family being Dutch, we know it actually started out as an Indonesian dish. But thanks to history, it has now become a national Dutch dish.

If you prefer to taste authentic Caribbean and Creole fare (native, and native with a French twist, respectively), our favorite with no doubt was Lynette's at Simpson bay with an excellent calypso review by King Beau Beau and the Beaubettes. Two nights a week (usually Tuesdays and Fridays at 8:30 p.m.) the island dinner show provides live entertainment for an enthusiastic group that makes very good use of the dance floor and their hips. King Beau Beau and the Beaubettes are bursting at the seams with boundless energy.

We were lucky enough to see the entire review and it got our trip off to a great start, quickly getting us into the spirit of the island. Their food is fantastic. Start with their conch fritters and fried dough known as Johnny cakes, then try the lobster brochette or barbecued shrimp and their mango and guavaberry coladas. Don’t leave Lynette's without volunteering to do "The dollar dance" with them. How one looks doing the darn dance is another question altogether. It’s been one month since we left St. Maarten and my Dutch husband is still making a fool of himself dancing to the contagious hip rhythms of that song. I pray to almighty God he will stop some day. It is a "don't miss!" You might want to call and confirm your reservation, they are at Airport Rd. Tel. 52865.

For our last supper and farewell to St. Maarten, we decided it wouldn’t be a French island without a French dinner. We got dressed up and took a casual stroll along Front Street that brought us to a 150-year-old Antellian house painted in every corner with bright color escargot’s. In a setting of snails, bottles and Caribbean paintings, the owner collected not only escargot’s but he also had provided twenty-six years of dinning excellence in one of the most delightful restaurants on the island.

It’s cozy, lively and everyone gets the royal treatment here. Don’t leave the island without tasting their Langouste Thermidor topped with cheese herbs and glazed with a sauce of white wine, crab meat and mushrooms, baked in its shell. And of course their profiterole ! definitely our favorite. They are usually on the house if you bring your hotel discount coupon to be found at front desk of hotels. L'Escargot is on 96 Front St. Tel: 22483

As the evening winds down, you can walk back to your villa via the beach enjoying the surf washing over your feet and the clear night sky for the last time in this island paradise.

We'll return to St. Maarten one day; our vacation was all we had hoped it would be. St. Maarten offers the best that you can find on the French Mediterranean without the crowds and exorbitant prices you might encounter there. It is not cut-rate, but you feel that you are getting good value along with the French joie de vivre - a recipe that can’t be beat.

Doing background research for this article after we returned, we indulged in a shot of our favorite drink we brought from Front St., the often mentioned "Guavaberry Colada." This is an opportune time to share this terrific drink with other traveling' folks. So, here it is -- complete with it’s secret ingredient, the legendary wild Saint Maarten Guavaberry liqueur!

Guavaberry Colada Blend with ice till frothy - 2 oz of Sint Maarten Guavaberry, 1 oz Cream of Coconut, 3 oz pineapple (fresh or canned chunks). Garnish with pineapple, toasted coconut and fresh grated nutmeg. Proost!

Belkis Kambach is the travel editor for Finland-USA in Helsinki, Greenline and a frequent contributor to Toronto’s Globe & the Mail and Epicurean. Married to a Dutch she often writes about the Netherlands Antilles. She can be reached at , or through her Web page, at .




Getting to Dutch Sint Maarten

Before you go

The following information will help you plan your trip and enjoy your visit especially if you are visiting for the first time. More information and related links can be found at our WWW page at: and The St. Maarten Tourist Board at Vineyard Office Park WG Buncamper Rd. #33 Tel: 5995-22337 / Fax: 5995-22734. In the USA St. Maarten Tourist Office 675 Third Avenue, Suite 1806 NYC 10017 (800) STMAARTEN (800)786-2278 or (212) 953-2084,

For French ST. MARTIN: contact the French Government Tourist Board at (202)659-7779, they can provide you with brochures and information kits. Also be sure to request your free copy of: The Caribbean Vacation Planner (800)356-9999.

Weather Forecasts

To check out the current weather go to . For 24-hour weather forecasts weather Labs publishes a wide assortment of weather content for nearly 2,000 cities globally. Weather Labs at Sunbathing and water sports are enjoyable year-round. Air temperatures are generally in the 80s, although they can drop into the low 70s during the winter. Water temperatures vary from the upper 70s in the winter to the low 80s in the summer. We have been in November the weather then was ideal for the trip, with sunny days and gentle breezes. St. Maarten's dependable trade winds free the island from oppressive heat or prolonged leaden skies, and its temperate climate is consistently graced by the sun.

What to bring:

To be solar safe if you plan on snorkeling in St. Maarten, we would like to caution sun worshipers; keep a shirt on. The island enjoys "perpetual summer," lying in the heart of the Caribbean and tempered by cooling trade winds. So you might not want to forget your sunscreen. Like most island destinations, sun protector is important and expensive.

Airlines Serving Sint Maarten:

Regularly scheduled US, Dutch and French airlines offer service and nonstop flights to Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) the main International airport in Philipsburg. There are also connecting flights via Miami and San Juan (a 40 min. flt.). Weekly charters operate during the high season. To contact American Airlines (800) 433-7300, Continental AF, KLM and Delta will be in operation starting December (800)221-1212. We booked our flight with (888)777-6551 for 363.45$ Newark to St. Maarten.  

Entry Requirements: US and Canadian citizens entering St. Maarten for three months or less need only an original birth certificate accompanied by a picture ID, require proof of citizenship and valid passport and a return or ongoing ticket and there is a 35.60 Naf or 20.00$ departure tax.

The airport new arrivals either come by sea or by air. If you are on a cruise liner, you will more than likely, anchor in Great Bay, if you arrive by air, you will land at Juliana Airport only 6 miles from the center of town. Taxis are the only form of transport. They are not metered so you must negotiate a fixed rate per vehicle or per person before you start usually from the International airport in Philipsburg (Dutch Side) to Marigot (French Side) will cost you 15.00$ for two. The airport serves both sides of the island including the French. More accessible than many Americans imagine.

Sailing this enchanting slice of the Caribbean


Is simple as Sint Maarten offers frequent service to all the nearby islands. If you plan to do a lot of island-hopping), ferries are loads of fun-and inexpensive. Sint Maarten's Dutch sister islands are Sint Eustatius and Saba.

SABA: Saba Tourist Bureau, 011-599-4-62231,

ST. BARTS: French Government Tourist Office (202)659-7779,

ST. EUSTATIUS: St.Eustatius Tourist Bureau, (800) 722-2394,

ANGUILLA: Anguilla Tourist Board, (800) 553-4939, There is a Commune de St. Martin taxe D’embarquement of 10FF/ 1,52 Euro and a Government of Anguilla Sea Port tax of 5.00$.

Mitchel’s Car rental at blowing Point in Anguilla just 200 metres from the ferry. (264) 497-8275/ 6453 you can ask there for Andy. For 20.00$ you can rent a scouter for 24hrs actually one of the best way to enjoy this tiny island as the island is only 16x 31/2 miles and 21/2 hr. gives you time to see the entire little island, there is a 10.00$ charge for you three month Temporary Anguillan drivers licence.

Staying There

The island is dotted with world-class resorts. Ranging from quaint guest houses to major resorts, private guest houses are also an increasingly popular form of lodging, catering to visitors seeking traditional Caribbean hospitality. Standard room prices vary from about $ to $ for double occupancy in the winter season. during our stay. Rob and I stayed at: 

Caravanserai Beach Resort on Beacon Hill Rd. # 2 Tel: (011) 5995-54000, Fax:(011)5995-54001. Today it has a fresh face. Hurricane Luis in September of 1995 destroyed many of the beach front chalets and the original restaurant. This has resulted in all new structure not only being built, but built to withstand any future hurricanes. All of the new structures are attractive and blend in well with the palm tree-studded environment. The beach front chalets each with a large sitting room-kitchen area, bedroom and bath. There are patios in front and back and the bedrooms have whisper quiet air conditioners which keep the room frosty cool at night. We found that the ocean breezes and views made our chalet comfortable most of the time. All rooms have a view ranging from nice to fantastic. The rest of their accommodations are made up of garden chalets, mini suites and studios. Like duplexes, the suites and studios are smaller than the chalets, but quite roomy and fully equipped. There are no bad accommodations here and none are more than a minute from the beach and the airport.

Transportation in St. Maarten:

Speaking of driving, in addition to small buses which are actually privately owned and operated 9- 20 passenger minibuses and vans, offer passenger service along main roads in and out of Marigot and Philipsburg for 1-2.00$. Tourists get around via motor scooters or open-aired Jeeps well suited to climbing the steep, narrow roads. A rental car is advised. While you can arrange to pick one up at the airport, your car can be delivered right to your door at no extra charge. This we advise for all but seasoned visitors to the island. The trip from the airport on the Dutch side takes about 15 minuets in a cab. Roads are good by island standards, but narrow and winding. It is easy to get lost especially at night. Renting a car also will allow you to pay a visit to both sides of the island. 

Driving License: Both international and foreign licenses are accepted.

For a taste of St. Maarten:

Caribbean and Creole fare Lynette's at Simpson bay they are at Airport Rd. Tel. 52865. 

L'Escargot is on 96 Front St. Tel: 22483. 

Barefoot Terrace (5995) 20360. Bikini Beach (590) 874325.

Shore Excursions

You can literally design your own itinerary from an imaginative selection of energetic shore excursions ranging from: 

12 Metre Challenge Colin Percy (5995)20045/46 Fax (5995)26419 at Bobby’s Marina.

The St. Martin Butterfly Farm, for a $10 fee. tel. 873121. Snorkeling & parasailing.

Caraïbe water sports center 274994 / 270298. 

Casinos: All of the island's nine casinos are on the Dutch side. Most are open from noon until 2am, every day of the week.

Art Galleries: I love visiting these in every country my two favorite in this island were: 

Greenwith Galleries also on Front St. 20 in Phillipsburg 5-995-23842 and;

Roland Richardson in Central marigot at the beginning of Big St. in a beautiful 19th century Creole home.

For information on Club Orient contact:

Diving There

Is year-round, for beginners, experienced instructors conduct PADI or NAUI introductory courses. 

Contact: Dive Safari 011(5995)29001.

Shop to Your Hearts Content

There's no better way to revive memories than with a few well-chosen treasures from the islands St. Maarten is completely duty free and the lack of sales and / or value added taxes make way for sensational savings on jewelry, watches, crystal, leather goods, fine linens and cameras. 

Bringing a taste of Sint Maarten home Info on the legendary island folk liqueur and to make your "Guavaberry Colada."  

Soundtracks : to practice "The dollar dance" you’ll need the excellent calypso review by King Beau Beau and the Beaubettes.

Bon Voyage!

#  #  #

Belkis Kambach is the travel editor for Finland-USA in Helsinki, Greenline and a frequent contributor to Toronto’s Globe & the Mail and Epicurean. Married to a Dutch she often writes about the Netherlands Antilles. She can be reached at , or through her Web page, at .

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