Posted by: yachtcrewsing | February 23, 2012

St. Maarten: An Unfortunately Necessary Port of Call

I have to admit it- out of all of the Caribbean islands that we frequent on the yacht, St. Maarten is definitely not my favorite.

The island is divided into two halves- the French and the Dutch- both of which are totally incongruent. In the French half, the restaurants are excellent, everyone speaks French, the roads are well maintained and you need to pay in Euros. On the Dutch side, the restaurants are wildly eclectic, from Indian to Japanese, everyone speaks Dutch or English, the roads are abominable, and you are required to pay in American dollars or Dutch guilders (who even knew that currency was still around a decade after it’s motherland converted to the Euro?).

This total dichotomy between the island renders St. Maarten/St. Martin a very bizarre place. It seems to lack any form of cohesive character- it is just a jumble of wildly tacky beach bars full of yahoo American tourists, insanely upscale malls totally unbefitting of a Caribbean island, overdevelopment at every turn and a mind-boggling amount of cars.

I just do not fully understand the apparent attraction of the island for the multitudes of tourists and cruise ship passengers that come here every day.

This being said, there are some positive aspects to St. Maarten. Firstly, it’s primary airport (Princess Julianna International) is a fabulous and convenient airport to fly in and out of (there is also a beach bar at the beginning of the runway where you can feel the power of a Boeing 747 fly just above your head). Secondly, it is a veritable haven for shoppers: Marigot contains some beautiful little French boutiques and Philipsburg is positively rammed with cheap, duty free but perfect quality electronics stores (my last two cameras and my iPod have both been purchased from here). There is also one true jewel nestled amongst the not-so-impressive rest of the island: Loterie Farm. An Eco-adventure place situated in the hills of Pic Padadise, the highest point on the island, Loterie Farm contains beautiful hiking trails, a number of zip lining courses, a new pool with cabanas, and a treetop lounge with fabulous cuisine made with locally grown ingredients.

Hmmm… What else? Well, that is pretty much it, other than the obvious positive that it has a tropical climate, beaches, and you can arrive on a direct flight from Toronto or New York. Oh, and that you can take a ferry to either St. Barths or Saba (the most beautiful of the Caribbean islands in my opinion, and a total contrast to the rampant consumerism that is the hallmark of St. Maarten).

The saving grace of the whole thing (and indeed of generally working on a yacht) is that we will only be here for another 2 weeks before we head back to St. Barths. Until that time, my goal is to discover more positive features of the island and to find out exactly where it’s international appeal is derived from…


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