Sint Maarten

Environment:

Sint Maarten forms the southern third of the island of Saint Martin in the Leeward Islands of the Caribbean Sea, east of the US Virgin Islands. It has low, hilly terrain, of volcanic origin. The highest point is Mount Flagstaff at 386 meters (1266 feet). The island as a whole is the smallest landmass in the world divided between two countries, and in total has 37 beaches on its 87 square kilometers (34 square miles).

The Nature Foundation St. Maarten manages St. Maarten Marine Park, which surrounds the entire Dutch side of the island, from Oyster Pond to Cupecoy Bay, stretching from the coastal waters and the beaches to the 60 meter (200 foot) depth range. Sint Maarten Pride Foundation has chronicled the destruction of the Dawn Beach Pond and surrounding ecosystems in the video, The Destruction of Dawn Beach St Maarten, during construction of the St. Maarten Westin by Columbia Sussex Corporation, the Westin Dawn Beach Resort & Spa. Apparently cock fighting is still legal in Sint Maarten, but ARF-SXM (Animals R Friends St. Maarten) is actively campaigning against it.

Kayak tours and rentals are available from Tri-Sport St Maarten. Sailing lessons and charters are available from St Maarten Sailing School. SeaTrek St Martin offers helmet diving, with no license required.

Culture:

The Dutch first settled the island in 1631. Following a Spanish invasion, the French and Dutch split the island in 1648. Following a number of slave rebellions, the French abolished slavery on their side of St. Martin in 1848, and the Dutch followed suit fifteen years later. Since 2010, Sint Maarten is a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

The Dutch side began developing tourism in the 1950s, but the French side didn’t follow suit until two decades later. As a result, the tourist boom was heavier on Sint Maarten, and its Princess Juliana International Airport has became one of the busiest in the Eastern Caribbean. Today, the airport code SXM is often used synonymously for the island as a whole. As with the European Union, both sides now use joint border controls, allowing people to pass freely around the island. Long a trans-shipment point for trafficking illegal drugs to Europe, crime on both sides of the island appears to be increasing, in particular rental car break-ins.

In response to injuries, Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) announced in 2012 that it would be tightening security due to the popularity of “fence surfing” at the airport abutting Maho Beach. Due to the proximity of the runway, Maho Beach has become known for its world class plane spotting, with the nearby Sunset Bar & Grill even broadcasting air traffic control instead of music.

There are at least two online guides to Sint Maarten entertainment, More Bacchanal and Where The Flex. Popular events include the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta and St Maarten 12 Metre Challenge. There is even an organized pub crawl called Da Party Bus. Fun & Roll Tours offers Segway tours of Sint Maarten. The Dawn II Saba Ferry travels three times a week between Philipsburg and the island of Saba.

Many if not most of the businesses in Sint Maarten are listed in the Sint Maarten Hospitality and Trade Association Member Directory. Free WIFI is available from the international franchise, McDonalds St. Maarten, in Simpson Bay and Philipsburg. Computers with internet connection are available at the Philipsburg Jubilee Library with a prepaid timecard.

References:

  • Representations of Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Caribbean Tourism Economies: Haitian and Dominican Migrant Women in St Maarten, Netherlands Antilles by P Aymer, 2011
  • The Antilles Guilder Replaced by the American Dollar: St. Maarten Socio-cultural Issues Caused by Tourism by M Cok, 2005
  • The tourism market of Sint Maarten: a simulation model by JW Velthuijsen, M Weever & M Zijl, 1999
  • St. Maarten: the Tourism Based Economy by MJ Molanus, 1992
  • The Friendly Island: A Report on how Tourism Developed in St. Maarten, Netherlands Antilles by S Lowes, 1977