Monday, November 04, 2013

Visiting St. Maarten on an Eastern Caribbean Cruise

Could an Eastern Caribbean island be so exquisite that conquering countries would refuse to give it up? Obviously, yes! St. Maarten / St. Martin history shows that in the 1600’s the French (that arrived from nearby St. Kitts) and Dutch (that sailed over from St. Eustatius) were both eager to gain control of this beautiful land. After a few battles both sides realized the other would never retreat. In 1648 the Treaty of Concordia was signed, which separated the island into two distinct countries; one side owned by the French (St. Martin) and the other by the Dutch (Sint Maarten).  The French control twenty square miles in the north and the capital, Marigot, is quintessentially French and cosmopolitan. The Dutch rule over sixteen square miles in the south. It’s capital, Phillipsburg, has rapidly gained a reputation for being the shopping capital for Eastern Caribbean cruisers!  The border is almost imperceptible and people cross back and forth without ever realizing they are entering a new country.

Favorite Beaches:

The beautiful beaches are the number one draw on an Eastern Caribbean cruise. On St. Maarten, Dawn Beach as the name suggests, is known for its stunning sunrises, but lovely any time of day! With reefs just off the shoreline it provides great snorkeling opportunities. The surf can sometimes be a little challenging, so for very young children or toddlers, Dawn Beach is not always an ideal. There are a couple of restaurants on the beach, which great options for lunch.

Orient Beach is St. Martin's flagship beach and is often referred to as the ""French Riviera of the Caribbean "". This expansive one mile beach is home to numerous beach bar/restaurants offering various menus, from formal French to pizzas, burgers and local fare. Known best for being 'au natural', stick to the north end of the beach if you'd rather keep your bathing suit on.

Pinel Island is protected nature reserve that boasts a calm and sheltered beach, perfect for families. Lunch, beach chairs and umbrellas are available, and there's also great hiking. There are three beach bars / restaurants right on the beach, next to the ferry. To get to Pinel Island you drive to French Cul the Cac. Follow the road till you arrive at the seaside / big sandy parking lot. From there ferryboats go over. They charge you $6 pp roundtrip. First boat leaves at 9:00 am and last boat brings you back at 4:00 pm.

 Favorite Attractions:

Butterfly Farm: Within large meshed enclosures you can see hundreds of exotic butterflies flying freely, with dozens of the most spectacular species from all over the world. You can also witness all stages of their life cycle from tiny egg to curious caterpillar and jewel like pupa. Early in the morning is the best opportunity to see a butterfly emerging from its pupa and watch newborn butterflies take their first flight! The Butterfly Farm is near Orient Beach so it’s convenient to visit both places in a day!

Maho Bay:  This strip of white sand beach is within yards of the runway at the Princess Juliana International Airport. To be honest, people do not go to Maho because it is one of the best beaches on the island. The planes are the big draw! They have chairs and umbrellas for rent if you like, or you can just hang out at the bar. Grab a burger and a cold beer and get your camera ready. Photo ops are unbelievable! The daily 747 and Airbus 340 flights touch down around 2 p.m. A taxi from the port to Maho should be $26 for 1 or 2, and down to $8 pp in a group of 6 or more.

Fort St. Louis: This is the largest historical monument in St.Martin. It was originally built in 1767 to protect the settlement at Marigot from foreign invaders. The plans were sent over directly from Versailles at the order of King Louis XVI. The steep climb up to the summit provides a panoramic view of the island and the sea surrounding it. The area is open 24/7 and there are signs explaining historical events.

Shopping:

Everyone likes to get in a bit of shopping on a Caribbean cruise. The picturesque bayside town of Philipsburg is very close to the cruise ship pier (within one mile). You can walk 15 to 20 minutes or hop aboard a water shuttle that makes stops at the east and west side of town. It may only be four streets deep and one mile long, but this downtown area contains everything worth shop for! Front Street which is closest to the bay is literally lined with gold, silver, diamonds and other precious gems found in shop after shop!

The capital city of Marigot is perhaps the most French in spirit of all the cities in the Caribbean. The entire city is only four streets wide, so it is very easy to get around. Colonial houses stand beside smart caf├ęs and bistros, pastry shops and trendy boutiques. There’s a shopping center at the foot of Fort St. Louis, with luxurious boutiques such as Chanel and Lacoste. At the southern end of town down by the harbor is the Marina Port la Royale; elegant stores with the latest in European designer fashions and fine jewelry.

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