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7 Things You Need to Know If You Are Visiting Sint Maarten/Saint Martin for the First Time

So, you're about to embark on an adventure to the beautiful Caribbean island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin, but you've never been there before and have no idea what to expect. Don't worry, we've got you covered! 

Sit back, relax, and let me guide you through this video where I'll share all the essential information you need to know about this paradise. Welcome to my channel, I'm Riselle, the Traveling Island Girl, and as a local resident of Sint Maarten for the past 20 years, I'm excited to give you an authentic and fun insight into my home island.

🌴 1. Language, Border, and Currency

Border of Sint Maarten Saint Martin
The Border of Sint Maarten and Saint Martin – Where Two Worlds Meet

Let's start with the basics. The island of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is unique as it is divided between two nations: the French side and the Dutch side. This division also explains the difference in spelling of the name. On the French side, it's Saint Martin, and on the Dutch side, it's Sint Maarten. Remember not to spell it with a double "e" and always use the correct spelling based on the side you're on.

As for the languages, French is the official language on the French side, while English is widely spoken on both sides. The Dutch language is officially spoken on the Dutch side, but you'll find that English is the primary language used by locals and tourists alike.

We even make mention of this in our national anthem:

Where over the world, say where,
You find an island there,
So lovely small with nations free
With people French and Dutch
Though talking English much,
As thee Saint Martin in the sea?

Now, let's talk about currencies. The official currency on the French side is the Euro, while on the Dutch side, it's the Netherlands Antillean guilder (ANG). 

However, the US dollar is widely accepted island-wide, so you don't necessarily need to exchange your currency if you're coming from the United States. Most businesses accept credit cards, but keep in mind that American Express may not be accepted everywhere, so it's good to have some cash on hand, especially for smaller establishments.

🌴 2. Voltage, Population, and Capital

When it comes to voltage, there's a difference between the two sides of the island. The Dutch side uses 120 volts, while the French side uses 220 volts. Make sure to bring the appropriate adapters or transformers if needed.

In terms of population, the French side is larger geographically, but the Dutch side has a larger population. Approximately 43,000 people live on the Dutch side, while around 32,000 reside on the French side. Despite its small size, the island is bustling with people, which can lead to some traffic congestion. However, don't let that discourage you from having a great time on your vacation.

The French side's capital is Marigot, known for its excellent food and fashion. On the other hand, Philipsburg is the capital of the Dutch side, renowned for its shopping options, especially for jewelry and electronics.

🌴 3. Residential Areas and Tipping

If you plan to rent an Airbnb or a villa in one of the residential areas, it's essential to be respectful of the local community. Keep noise levels down, especially during nighttime, and follow any rules or guidelines provided by your host.

When it comes to tipping, it's customary to leave a gratuity for good service. In restaurants, a tip of 15-20% of the bill is generally expected. Some restaurants may include a service charge, so check your bill before adding an additional tip. Tipping is also common for taxi drivers, tour guides, and hotel staff, so it's a good idea to have some small bills on hand for this purpose.

Oh, and if you go to the local grocery stores, you will oftentimes find young islanders at the end of the checkout counter packing your groceries for you, and even bringing them to your car. A small tip for these youngsters is also very helpful and common.

🌴 4. Beaches and Watersports

Watersports Sint Maarten
Snorkeling on Sint Maarten

Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is famous for its stunning beaches, and you'll find a wide variety to choose from. Orient Bay Beach on the French side is a popular spot with its crystal-clear waters and water sports activities. Maho Beach on the Dutch side is known for its unique experience of watching planes land and take off right overhead. There are also several other beautiful beaches to explore, such as Cupecoy Beach, Mullet Bay Beach, and Grand Case Beach.

Speaking of water sports, the island offers a range of activities to satisfy adventure seekers. From snorkeling and scuba diving to jet skiing and paddleboarding, there's something for everyone. Many beachfront establishments offer rentals and guided tours, so you can easily get in on the fun.

🌴 5. Local Cuisine and Culinary Delights

One of the highlights of visiting Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is the incredible culinary scene. With its blend of French, Dutch, and Caribbean influences, the island offers a gastronomic paradise. Make sure to try local specialties like conch fritters, Johnny cakes, and grilled fish. On the French side, you'll find gourmet restaurants and charming bistros, while the Dutch side is known for its beachfront eateries and BBQ joints. Don't forget to indulge in some rum cocktails and enjoy the vibrant nightlife as well.

Coco Beach Sint Maarten
Lunch at Coco Beach Sint Maarten
Red Snapper Rice & Peas and Salad in Sint Maarten
Red Snapper, Rice & Peas, and Salad in Sint Maarten

🌴 6. Safety and Hurricane Season

Like any travel destination, it's important to take certain precautions for your safety. While Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is generally considered safe, it's always a good idea to practice common sense and be aware of your surroundings. Avoid displaying excessive wealth or valuable items in public, and be cautious when walking alone at night.

The island is also prone to hurricanes, with the hurricane season officially running from June to November. It's important to stay informed about weather conditions and follow any instructions or warnings from local authorities. Travel insurance that covers trip cancellations or disruptions due to hurricanes is recommended.

🌴 7. Environmental Responsibility

Overview of Sint Maarten Philipsburg
Keep Sint Maarten Clean

As a visitor to this beautiful island, it's crucial to be mindful of the environment and practice responsible tourism. Avoid littering, use reusable water bottles, and support businesses that prioritize sustainability. Respect marine life and coral reefs while snorkeling or diving, and never touch or disturb them. Remember, we all have a role in preserving the natural beauty of Sint Maarten/Saint Martin for future generations.

Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is a truly unique and captivating destination with its blend of cultures, breathtaking beaches, and mouthwatering cuisine. Whether you're seeking relaxation, adventure, or a cultural experience, this island has it all. As you embark on your journey, embrace the laid-back island vibe, interact with the friendly locals, and create memories that will last a lifetime. 

Enjoy your time in paradise, and I hope this guide has prepared you for an unforgettable trip to Sint Maarten/Saint Martin!

Reserve your taxi today!