You know that moment when you are on vacation, but you feel like you're just ready to get home? Well, I've never felt that way...in part because of doing my research well in advance and picking destinations like this! Two countries, one island!! St. Maarten / St. Martin is truly a unique experience not to be missed in the Caribbean....where sometimes after island hopping for a couple days, they start to feel the same.
According to the locals, instead of fighting over the island as many European countries did with their "colonization" of the Caribbean, the French and Dutch settlers just decided to split it up. Heck of a concept!
If you are coming via cruise ship you will disembark on the south side of the island, which is the Dutch side. Right outside the cruise terminal you will find plenty of locals offering up rides to wherever you would like to go. Generally it's about $10-$20 bucks each way for almost anywhere you would like to go...even if you end up on the other side of the island in another country!
If you only have time for one adventure, I would head to the spot where people fly to the island, Maho Beach. It is also conveniently located on the Dutch side. I don't know of any other place in the world where you can swim in the ocean, yet feel the jet fumes of a 747 flying literally just feet above your head. It is a crazy experience and takes a couple times of it happening for you to really feel comfortable with it.
If you are facing the ocean, to the left of the beach is a bar that actually posts the arrivals and departures of the planes that day! It is pretty darn cool. They give you the exact times, where the plane is going to / coming from, and the type of plane it is. On the day I was there, planes were coming in or going out about every 15 minutes and about every hour was one of the big ones!
Speaking of (or writing about) big ones....I have to mention the waves at Maho. They were huge!!! I am over 6 feet tall and I was looking up at nearly each and every one of them. In fact, several of the waves made it on to the Airport runway!!!! It was absolutely nuts. People were getting tossed from beach chairs like rinsing loose crumbs from a dirty plate. If the water is like this when you go, I recommend only getting in the water if you are a very strong swimmer. The current pulled several people out farther in the ocean than they surely wanted to be. Waves constantly washed up youngsters out on to the road that separates the sand from the Airport runway. Not safe, as I bet they didn't look both ways before crossing that road! As a former lifeguard I thoroughly enjoyed myself I must admit, however for most others it was an extremely dangerous day out there so please be careful if you are not sure how to handle the big waves like this one:.
After several hours of awesomeness at Maho, I spent the second half of my day on the French side of the Island. On the way, I quizzed my driver about the differences between the two countries on the island. Of course the languages were one, the style of preparing their food was another, but the main point he kept coming back to was that the French side was much more expensive. This expense was not just for locals, but tourists as well. The French side tended to have many more wealthy residents and establishments.
It took no more than 30 minutes to cross the border from Maho. No checkpoints, no welcome signs....just a marker at the exact point you crossed over from the Dutch St. Maarten to French St. Martin.
I had my driver drop me off at the famous/infamous Orient Beach. On one half of the very nice long white sandy beach are kids running around, wind surfers, bars, and all the usual stuff you would see at many beaches in the Caribbean....however, the other half of the beach isn't quite so "family friendly," as some would say. Sure there are people jogging, swimming and sunbathing...but not a person on the southern half of the beach had on a single article of clothing. And if you don't want to stand out, you better strip down too! No cameras are allowed on this part of the beach, so don't worry about someone sneaking a photo of you in your birthday suit...even though I guess it is possible for someone to sneak a shot with their cell phone or something. I would just recommend to go for it and immerse yourself in the culture! People will only stare at you if you keep on your clothes. It was quite the experience being au natural in nature. The feeling of ocean water, the wind and sand in places it usually doesn't directly touch was pretty neat I must say. And honestly, I forgot there were even other people around after about 10 minutes or so. I dried off in the sun for about an hour (#NoTanLines) before I caught another ride back to my cruise ship, which I barely made on time.
Overall, the day I spent in St. Maarten / St. Martin ranks right up there with the most fun I have ever had on a Caribbean island and I highly suggest you put it on your itinerary next time you are sailing through.