The Differences Between French and Dutch Saint Martin

The island of Saint Martin is located east of Puerto Rico and St. Thomas and just north of St. Kitts. It is co-owned by the Dutch (St. Maarten) and the French (St Martin), the former in the south and the latter in the north. While the whole island has classic Caribbean culture, there are differences between the sides that might impact your decision about where to stay and spend your time.

I showed you how remote it can be on a beach hike in Anse Marcel, the bright-blue waters of Great Bay in Philipsburg, and how much fun people have playing with the planes on Maho Beach (it was one of my Holy Shit Moments of 2012). When choosing where to make your camp, it all comes down to your preference on noise, skin, price, culture, and tourist vibe.


The Dutch side is known for its party atmosphere and solutions to your nightlife needs, especially on the western side near Maho and Simpson Bay. Driving over from the French side is not exactly the best option if you’re going to have a few, for obvious reasons, but also because of the dark, winding island roads. So, if you want to party and stay out late, stay on the Dutch side. Don’t get me wrong—you can get a drink on the French side, but most of the official nightlife (clubs, etc.) is found on the Dutch side.

Maho Bay as seen from the Royal Islander Club on the Dutch side of St. Maarten.
Maho Bay as seen from the Royal Islander Club on the Dutch side of St. Maarten. Photo by Wake and Wander.

There’s another side of the coin to consider: If you don’t want to party, don’t like hearing other people’s partying, or hate artificial disturbances during the day, the French side is worth a look for you. Not only do you have a lot of music happening at night in Maho (which the water reflects and echoes), but the planes coming in during the day certainly aren’t silent, and then you’ve got the cruise ships in Philipsburg—there’s just a lot going on. The beaches on the French side are also much more remote and off the everyday tourist’s map (minus Orient Beach), meaning less crowds.

Read the rest of the story on Travel and Escape.


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