Two nations, two names. Two types of vacations, casinos, beaches and jungle. St. Martin/Sint Maarten is an exotic rum cocktail of French cuisine, Dutch tolerance and Caribbean relaxation set on a 37-square-mile island in a sparkling sea of aquamarine. You can stay in charming Creole cottages or elegant beachside villas, and you can dine very well, whether at casual beach barbecues or grand temples of gastronomy. Here you can snorkel in gin-clear waters, sip rum punches and soak up the sun on your choice of 39 beaches.
Things to Do
Wander the cobblestone streets of Dutch Philipsburg. Take in the views over the small French town of Marigot, its harbor and the island of Anguilla from the hillside ruins of Louis Fort. The island's pristine beaches invite barefoot strolls, snorkeling offshore reefs or sunning to a reggae beach-bar beat. At Orient Bay the adventurous can take in some parasailing, Jet-Skiing or windsurfing. Inland, discover your inner Tarzan in the jungle canopy of Loterie Farm's Fly Zone with rope bridges and tree-to-tree zip-line flights.
Browse duty-free shops in Philipsburg for cameras, watches and Sint Maarten Guavaberry rum. On Front Street is a mind-boggling display of high-end shops from Tiffany to Tommy Hilfiger. Day-trippers head to Marigot from the Dutch side to browse the French Riviera-inspired boutiques with their striped awnings and wrought-iron balconies. Harborside, a lively morning market buzzes with vendors selling spices, fruit and handicrafts. Wander the curved staircases in Le West Indies Mall to browse big-name boutiques, from Escada to Lacoste.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Bars come in all shapes and sizes, from rickety rum shops to neon streaked nightclubs. Gamble and dance around the clock in Simpson Bay. In downtown Philipsburg, salsa dancers spill out of clubs and bars. Free entertainment and zouk (Creole for partying) abounds. Most restaurants (notably at Simpson Bay) and beach bars (especially on Orient Bay) host beachside barbecues with steel bands, native music and folk dancing. Afterward, hit the slots or the big-game tables at the beachside casinos.
Restaurants and Dining
The "Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean" has a strong concentration of top-notch restaurants in Grand-Case. Ignite your palate with such island specialties as crabe farci (stuffed crab) or accras (cod fritters). Wash them down with local juices: mango, guava, papaya or less familiar flavors such as tangy tamarind. Mix with the locals at a roadside shack -- a St. Martin institution -- for hearty and delicious helpings of barbecued ribs, lobster, chicken or fish grilled on split metal drums -- all for around $10, a real bargain on pricey St. Martin.