St. Maarten and St. Martin: A Tale of Two Cultures on One Island Paradise

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St. Maarten harbor

If you ever wanted to visit Europe without having to fly to the European continent – you’re in luck! Hop on a cruise ship or plane heading to St. Maarten/St. Martin and you can visit the only place in the world where the Netherlands borders France! St. Maarten/St. Martin is divided by two nationalities and cultures, approximately 60% French and 40% Dutch. Unlike many other Caribbean islands that were former colonies now turned independent, this Caribbean paradise is different. St. Maarten is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and St. Martin is an overseas collectivity of the French Republic. These two jurisdictions share the same island paradise.

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Warm welcomes!

Greeted by sunny skies, bright jewel-toned sailboats, lush green mini-mountains, pristine beaches… and with the remnants of colonial muscle-flexing, like old forts, standing down… this is an inviting place. Plentiful pirates (in costume!) will have you dreaming of the days of buried treasure and seafaring adventure… without the danger! St. Maarten/St. Martin has been hit hard over the years by hurricanes, but the resourceful and resilient people here have worked hard to recover and restore their beautiful island after the damage. It was rewarding to be able to visit this place that locals take great pride in, and do business with them to help play a role, albeit small, in helping boost their economy after the hardships they have endured in recent years. The real treasure here isn’t buried, and wasn’t looted by the pirates of old – it’s St. Maarten/St. Martin’s people.

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Boat tour

A great way to see both sides, French and Dutch, is to take a boat tour. You can catch one in Phillipsburg, on the Dutch side, that will take you all the way around to the French section. After my boat tour, I took a bus ride to Marigot, on the French side, for a closer look at faraway France’s quaint colonial charms!

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Eglise Saint Martin de Tours church, Marigot

While I’ve received some disagreeable reactions from locals in France making my best attempt to communicate in the local language, the people of Marigot were pleasantly surprised and impressed with my, admittedly broken, French! There is something infinitely satisfying about being able to converse with locals in their own tongue – it’s another element of immersion that fully envelops you in the travel experience. It is also rewarding when locals are pleasantly surprised and flattered by your efforts. Regrettably, I didn’t know any Dutch yet (note to self: bucket list!)

The cultural immersion doesn’t stop at sights and sounds, however. If you long for the tantalizing tastes and sweet scents of the continent, you can find them right here too. Stroll into a cafe in Marigot for cafe au lait and croissant to savor while you watch the tide roll in by sunset… it’s the best of both worlds!

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National pride on the French side

If you romanticize about Caribbean pirate culture, breathtaking beaches, and a laid-back life of nautical wonders, or the charms of Europe right in your back yard (if you live on the North American continent), then this may be just the place for you!

You can view my full tour of St. Maarten/St. Martin, here!:

 

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