Cruise port review St. Maarten or St. Martin

Visiting St. Maarten/St. Martin is a popular port call on Eastern Caribbean cruise itineraries.

It is an eastern Caribbean island divided between two sovereign states, France and the Netherlands, with an unpoliced border cutting through its southern portion, allowing you to sunbathe in the French St. Martin in the afternoon, and stroll over to dine in Dutch St. Maarten in the evening. The French and the Dutch have shared this Caribbean gem peacefully for more than 350 years ever since, as legend has it, a gin-drinking Dutchman and wine-imbibing Frenchman walked around the island to see how much territory they could claim for their country in a day. The Frenchman gained two-thirds of the island, but the Dutch maintain that their representative claimed the prize part of the property.

The Dutch portion is in the south, with the capital Philipsburg being a duty-free shopping Mecca that draws thousands of tourists every day of the year. Dutch St. Maarten arguably has the best (certainly the most developed and crowded) beach resorts, clustered along the southwest coast near the island’s international airport. French St. Martin is more scenic and less developed, but no less popular as a holiday destination.

The island is renowned as being the gourmet capital of the Caribbean and for providing the liveliest nightlife, mostly centred on the island’s 35 enticing white-sand beaches. The small island’s main attractions are shopping, relaxing on the crowded beach or dipping in the clear turquoise waters; there is little of historic, cultural or architectural interest or natural attractions beyond the sand and sea.


Philipsburg is the capital of Dutch St. Maarten and the only town of consequence on the island. It has two main streets, Voorstraat and Achterstraat, connected by several bustling cross-streets, filled mainly with duty-free shops, cafes, hotels and courtyards overflowing with flowers. The town has an unusual setting, sitting on a narrow stretch of land between Great Bay, on the south coast of the island, and the Great Salt Pond (a huge marsh). It is the port of call of hundreds of cruise ships, filling the primary need of the day-tripping passengers who come ashore mainly to shop for everything from Italian leather goods and Japanese cameras to native crafts. The town’s nightlife is regarded as among the liveliest to be found in the Caribbean. Architecturally the town, founded in 1763 by John Philips (a Scots captain in the Dutch navy), is quaint, with characteristic pastel-coloured West Indian houses lining the streets, and a few Dutch colonial landmarks.

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