The idea of stepping onto an island that is influenced by two European coutries is exhilarating to say the least. St. Maarten with its capital Philipsburg is the Dutch side while St. Martin with Marigot as the capital gives you a taste of France in the Caribbean.
With just the one day – technically not even that – on the island, it was not possible to experience what both sides had to offer and thus as we had docked in Philipsburg, that was going to be our preferred capital for exploration.
Philipsburg came with a beautiful beach, a lively boardwalk, and side streets full of duty-free shops and small Dutch influenced eateries. However, it wasn’t until I got back to the cruise ship that I found out more about the French side being, how can I put this gently, a little bit more casual when it came to the clothing department on its beaches. A few of the co-passengers who had opted for a boat ride to the “other” side hadn’t been prepared for this and thus for the rest of the evening this became the hop-topic on the ship. Although, I must point out that the Dutch are quite liberal and it’s common for individuals to go topless at-least on Dutch beaches back in the Netherlands.
Hopping across different beaches in the Caribbean, I realized that each came with a certain aura about them. The Mahogany Beach in Ocho Rios, Jamaica had a very cozy and fun vibe to it while the one in St. Maarten being right there adjoining the city center – alongside a boardwalk filled with restaurants and shops – there was the hustle and bustle of tourists and shoppers mixed with singing and some dancing that added on to the whole holiday atmosphere.
A short walk inside and St. Maarten opens up its gates as a Tax Free haven. Duty Free shops selling jewellery, cigars, alcohol, electronics, and watches at pretty good prices are everywhere. Cartier, Tiffany’s, Ralph Lauren and the likes all have their showrooms in place, ready to make your wallets a little lighter with attractive pricing. That is also another reason why St. Maarten is very popular with the American run cruise ships.
My day at St. Maarten was spent leisurely roaming around on cobbled streets, window shopping – and a little more – taking breaks sitting at small cafe’s – with the family – found in nooks and corners throughout the island. There’s subtle beauty all around and you just have to keep your eyes open to admire the simplicity of it; windowpanes decorated with island motifs, colonial architecture, walls so colorful that it takes you a minute to realize that they point towards a public bathroom, and alleyways full of shops selling local artifacts.
Even if like me you are in Philipsburg for only a day, a walk along the boardwalk is highly recommended. Have an ice cream under the shade of a palm tree, or listen to some calypso music being played live by the locals as the waves gently roll on to the beach. It’s what island life is all about, a perfect way to relax and take in the sights and sounds of what’s around you.
St. Maarten can get extremely touristy, but it does bring about a lovely change to the scenery after having visited secluded beaches elsewhere in the Caribbean. It’s compact size adds to the charm and the possibility of witnessing different cultural influences is a bonus. There’s a vibrancy in St. Maarten often found in cities but its heart still remains true to being an island in the Caribbean.
A family vacation, a cruise – half way around the world, one of the severest winters seen by Europe, the warm Caribbean weather living up to its name; Captivating Caribbean is a small series where I shall cover some of the stops we made during this 14-day cruise. Hopefully these “photo-essays” with the occasional tips can give you a glimpse into island life in this part of the world.