St. Martin - St. Maarten Travel Guide and Photo Gallery - Welcome to



Welcome to the Island of St. Martin & Sint Maarten in the Caribbean -™

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imgZDtiny.GIF (531 bytes) St. Martin / St. Maarten: Introduction

According to legend, Christopher Columbus discovered the island in 1493 on the feast day of St. Martin of Tours. During the 140 years that followed, the Spanish, French and Dutch disputed possession or at least the right to use the resources -- of St. Maarten/St. Martin. In the 1620s, the Dutch first began to ply the island's ponds for salt, so important to the herring industry back home.

St. Maarten / St. Martin is the smallest island in the world to be divided between two sovereign powers. Its current boundary the result of numerous wars between the great European powers in the 17th century.

Ownership of the island is split between the Dutch and French, yet no rift exists between the peoples of these two cultures. In fact, the island's inhabitants are proud of a near 350-year history of peaceful co-existence.

Despite the Dutch presence on the island, the Spaniards recaptured St. Maarten/St. Martin in 1633 and one year later built a fort at Pointe Blanche to assert their claim. Eleven years later Peter Stuyvesant, director of the Dutch West India Company based on Curaçao, led an attack on the Spanish position on St. Maarten/St. Martin. After a month of futile fighting, the Dutch retreated.

imgZDtiny.GIF (531 bytes) St. Martin / St. Maarten: Political Status

As a reward for successfully defending the island, the Spanish commander was granted his request that he and his men be allowed to leave. Legend has it that five French and five Dutch prisoners escaped and stayed behind. These Frenchmen and Dutchmen were the first of their respective countrymen to share the island.

They contacted their home governments through settlements on St. Eustatius and St. Kitts, bringing contingents from both countries to St. Maarten/St. Martin. After a period of uneasiness with neither side really gaining the military advantage, a truce was enjoined.

On March 23, 1648, a treaty was concluded atop Mount Concordia delineating the boundaries of the island. The Dutch received 16 square miles and the French received 21 square miles, owing to the latter's superior naval presence in the region when the treaty was signed.


The French and Dutch were not always as neighborly as they are today. The territory underwent 16 changes of flag from 1648 to 1816, with France, Holland and even Britain claiming it at times.

imgZDtiny.GIF (531 bytes) St. Martin / St. Maarten: History

The establishment of sugar cane plantations during the late 1700s inevitably brought slavery to the island. The exploitive Colonial system remained intact and prospered so long as there were slaves. Once slavery was abolished (in 1848 on the French side and in 1863 on the Dutch), however, the island's economy suffered greatly. St. Maarten/St. Martin became mired in a depression that lasted until 1939, when all import and export taxes were rescinded and the island became a free port.

Photo: St. Martin - Orient Beach - - Luke Handzlik
Photo Copyright © - Luke Handzlik - All Rights Reserved
Orient Beach Area

Thereafter, the island developed as a Caribbean trade hub. The most dramatic advances came in the 1950s, made possible by Princess Juliana International Airport's opening 10 years earlier. The next few decades saw the development of many large-scale properties and casinos on the Dutch side of the island. The French side began developing rapidly in the 1980s with the passage of a tax law known as de-fiscalization.

As tourism flourished on St. Maarten/ St. Martin, the island's airport became one of the busiest in the region. It now serves as a hub for flights to several neighboring islands. In addition, more cruise ships began to visit, adding to the island's prosperity.

The arrival of Hurricane Luis on the evening of September 4, 1995, was a defining moment in the recent history of St. Maarten/St. Martin.

As the storm abated in the early morning hours of September 6, the shell-shocked islanders emerged from their shelters to face scenes of utter devastation.

A large proportion of houses had been demolished or lost their roofs; many popular tourist resorts had suffered extensive damage.

Some 95% of the boats around the island had been sunk or run aground; and every scrap of vegetation on the island was stripped away, leaving a barren landscape.

Less than a month later, however, a few green shoots appeared among the seemingly lifeless branches, and within a few days the entire island was blanketed in the emerald hues of new growth. It was a sign of promise for a bright future. After Hurricane Luis, island residents worked tirelessly in the rebuilding effort, and the results are remarkable.

Today there are few if any visible reminders of the historic hurricane, and the island's appeal as a vacation destination is stronger than ever.

imgZDtiny.GIF (531 bytes) St. Martin / St. Maarten: About the Island

Sint Maarten, the Dutch side, is known for its festive nightlife, fun beaches, and plentiful casinos, while Saint Martin, the French side, is known more for its world-famous nude beaches, jewelry and clothes shopping, exotic drinks made with native rum-based guavaberry liquors, and rich French Caribbean cuisine.

Photo: St. Martin - Orient Beach - - Luke Handzlik
Photo Copyright © - Luke Handzlik - All Rights Reserved
Orient Beach Area

imgZDtiny.GIF (531 bytes) St. Martin / St. Maarten: The Infamous Airport

The island is served by many major airlines that bring in large jets, including Boeing 747s and Airbus A340s, carrying tourists from across the world on a daily basis. This fuels the island's largest revenue source, tourism. Princess Juliana International Airport -- which opened a major new terminal in November, 2006 -- is famous for its short landing strip —only 2,130 meters or 7,000 ft, which is barely enough for heavy jets.

Because of this, the planes approach the island flying extremely low, right over the beach (see photos below). Countless photos of large jets flying at 10–20 m/30-60 ft over relaxing tourists at the beach have been dismissed as "photoshopped" many times, but are nevertheless real.

Photo Copyright © C. Starnes
KLM Boeing 747-400 on its final approach into Princess Juliana Airport. At Maho Beach

Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) is the airport of St. Maarten. It is located 15 kilometers northwest of Philipsburg and is operated by Princess Juliana International Operating Company NV (PJIAE), a limited liability company, which is wholly owned by PJIA Holding N.V. which in turn is fully owned by the Island Government of the Island Territory of St. Maarten. Under a concession granted to PJIAE by Government for a period of twenty years - effective January 3, 1997- PJIAE manages, operates, maintains and develops the Princess Juliana International Airport.

Photo Copyright © europics
Amsterdam-originating KLM B747-400 on its approach into Princess Juliana Airport.

PJIAE started as a small military base that was built in 1942, and was converted into a civilian airport in 1943, the first in this part of the Caribbean. It has played an important role in the socio-economic transition of St. Maarten, from an agriculturally based economy into one of the major tourist destinations in the Caribbean.

Today PJIA is the second busiest airport in the North Eastern Caribbean, in terms of aircraft movements, behind San Juan, Puerto Rico. PJIA is the single most important strategic asset of St. Maarten.

imgZDtiny.GIF (531 bytes) St. Martin / St. Maarten: Accommodations and More

Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin is home to several world-class accommodations, including hotels, villas, and timeshares, many of which are privately available for rent or sale. Some properties have over 200 rooms, while others have fewer than twenty. Many are located directly on beaches and in upscale shopping districts. Villas pepper the coast, boasting private beaches. Some are private residences, while others are available to affluent renters.

Rental cars are the primary mode of transportation for visitors staying on island. The island is served by several well-known agencies. If any driving is expected off the major roads (such as to some of the more secluded beaches), a 4-wheel drive is recommended. Traffic on the island, however, has become a major problem; long traffic jams between Marigot, Philipsburg and the airport are common.
Because the island is located along the inter tropical convergence zone, it is occasionally menaced by tropical storm activity in the late summer and early fall.

Hurricane season is June 1 to November 30. If you're traveling during hurricane season, it is important to monitor local weather information during this time.

The island is widely known for its hundreds of gourmet (and more moderately priced) restaurants on both sides of the island.

Neighboring islands include Saint-Barthélemy (French), Anguilla (British), Saba (Dutch), Sint Eustatius "Statia" (Dutch), Saint Kitts and Nevis (Independent, formerly British). With the exception of Nevis, all of these islands are easily visible on a clear day from St. Maarten.

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*1: Source/Copyright © Wikipedia and its authors. *2 Source/Copyright Princess Juliana Airport Operating Company. *3 Special thanks to europics and C. Starnes for Princess Juliana approach photos.