Saint Martin

For other uses, see Saint Martin (disambiguation).
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Saint Martin - NASA NLT Landsat 7 (Visible Color) Satellite Image

Saint Martin is a tropical island in the northeast Caribbean, approximately 150 miles east of Puerto Rico. The 88 km (38 square-mile) island is divided roughly in half between France and the Netherlands: the southern, Dutch half is called Sint Maarten and is part of the Netherlands Antilles; the northern, French half is called Saint-Martin and is part of the French overseas department of Guadeloupe. Collectively, the two territories are known as, "St.-Martin/St. Maarten", "St. Martins", or simply, "SXM". (SXM is the IATA identifier for Princess Juliana International Airport, the island's main airport.)


History of Saint-Martin/Sint Maarten

In 1493, Christopher Columbus, an Italian sea captain financed by Spanish royalty, embarked on his second voyage to the New World. According to legend, Columbus sighted and perhaps anchored at the island of Saint Martin on November 11, 1493, the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours. In his honor, Columbus named the island San Martin. It is now more commonly known as Sint Maarten (Dutch), Saint-Martin (French), and Saint Martin (English).

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Flags flying in Marigot harbor, Saint-Martin

When Columbus sailed these seas, St. Martin was populated, if populated at all, by Arawak or Carib Indians. The Arawaks were subjugated by the warlike Carib Indians from South America a short time before the arrival of the Spanish who followed in Columbus' wake. The English word cannibal is derived from an Arawak word which referred to the Caribs. The Arawaks were a relatively cultured people who introduced agriculture, fashioned pottery and whose social organization was headed by hereditary chieftains who derived their power from personal deities called zemis. The Caribs, on the other hand, concentrated on warfare. They killed and, allegedly, ate the Arawak men, then married the Arawak women.

As the Spanish conquered each island, they rounded up its Indians and put them to work. By 1550, a few Arawaks remained on Cuba and Trinidad. The Caribs' territory was not completely conquered until the mid-17th century when most of them perished in the struggle between the French, English, Dutch, Danes and Spanish for control of the West Indies. The Dutch first began to ply the island's ponds for salt in the 1620s. Despite the Dutch presence on the island, the Spaniards recaptured St. Martin in 1633 and one year later built a fort at Pointe Blanche to assert their claim. The Spaniards introduced the first slaves to the area in the 16th century but the main influx of slaves took place in the 18th century with the development of sugar plantations by the French. Slavery was abolished in the first half of the 19th century, whereupon the British imported Chinese and East Indians to take the place of slaves. Thus, these islands are peopled by a mixture of Amer-Indian, African, Asian and European peoples. West Indian cultures are, consequently, exceedingly rich and varied, can scarcely be matched in other parts of the world.

St. Maarten/St.-Martin border marker
St. Maarten/St.-Martin border marker

Political status

France and the Netherlands agreed to divide the island on November 11, 1648.

Sint Maarten is part of the Netherlands Antilles, which is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands though not in the European Union. Its currency is the Antillean Guilder (however, the United States dollar is widely accepted). A proposed restructuring of the Netherlands Antilles would see Sint Maarten become an independent component of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in its own right.

Saint-Martin is part of Guadeloupe, which is an overseas department of France and therefore in the European Union. The official currency in Saint-Martin is the Euro (however, once again, the U.S. dollar is widely accepted). In 2003 the population of the French part voted in favour of secession from Guadeloupe to form a separate territorial collectivity; this has yet to be implemented.

Characteristics and tourist information

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Simpson Bay, Sint Maarten

Sint Maarten, the "Dutch side", is known for its festive nightlife, fun beaches, and plentiful casinos, while Saint-Martin, the "French side", is known more for its sexy daylife of world-famous nude beaches, jewelry and clothes shopping, exotic drinks made with native rum-based Guavaberry liquors, and rich French Caribbean cuisine.

The island is served by many major airlines that bring in large jets, including Boeing 747s, carrying tourists from across the world on a daily basis. This fuels the island's largest revenue source, tourism. Princess Juliana International Airport is famous for its short landing strip - only 2130 meters, which is barely enough for heavy jets. Because of this, the planes approach the island flying extremely low, right over the beach. Countless photos of large jets flying at 10-20 meters over relaxing tourists at the beach have been dismissed as photoshopped many times, but are nevertheless real [1] (

Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin is home to several world-class accommodations, including hotels, villas, and timeshares. Some properties have over two hundred rooms, while others have fewer than twenty. Many are located directly on beaches and in upscale shopping districts. Villas pepper the coast, boasting private beaches. Some are private residences, while others are available to affluent renters.

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View of cruise ships docked in St. Martin's Dutch side

Rental cars are the primary mode of transportation for visitors staying on island. The island is served by several well-known agencies. It is common and recommended to reserve a rental car over the Internet through a discount Caribbean specialist, well in advance of arrival. If any driving is expected off the major roads (such as to some of the more secluded beaches), a 4-wheel drive is recommended.

The island is prone to hurricane activity, especially in the late summer and early fall months and tourism is usually down dramatically during this time. Many shops, restaurants, and other local businesses close completely during hurricane season.

Neighboring islands include Saint Barts, Anguilla, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Saint Kitts, and Nevis.

External links


See also MapQuest zoom levels 8, 9, and (Insel) fr:Saint-Martin (le) nl:Sint-Maarten (eiland) pt:Saint Martin ru:Остров Святого Мартина tr:Ermiş Martin


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