The Island of St. Maarten is busier – and better – than ever, as cruise lines call on the Philipsburg port with their biggest ships. There’s also more to do than ever once you disembark, with shopping and beaches being the primary attractions.
That’s obviously both good news (more shopping choices, better deals and more beach activities) and bad news (more people) for this port of call, which, along with neighboring St. Martin, makes up the world’s smallest island inhabited by two countries. St. Maarten, like many other Caribbean islands, was spotted by Christopher Columbus in 1493. But the island’s real history began with French and Dutch settlers who divided the island in 1648. They have lived side-by-side ever since.
St. Maarten, governed by the Netherlands Antilles until 2010, is now a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (along with Aruba, Curacao and the Netherlands), while St. Martin is part of the French West Indies. What’s particularly fun is that you can easily swing back and forth from the Dutch to the French sides and enjoy the best of both.
On either side of the mountainous island, lovely beaches – including the famed clothing-optional part of Orient Beach – rival the best in the Caribbean. Plus, duty-free prices for electronics and liquor in Philipsburg may well be the best deals around.
For extensive details and advice about what to see and do in St. Maarten,