The Island Saint Martin is one the Caribbean’s top destinations. One of the coolest features of this island is that is split in half—the northern half is French and the southern half is Dutch. The island is only 37 square miles, and it’s a political wonder that these two nationalities live together in perfect harmony. Although the French and Dutch residents get along, they are definitely not the same. Many people who visit the island want to know one thing: which side is better overall? As an expat resident on the island, allow me to offer some insight onto which side of the island is superior.
As far as tourism goes, the apparent immediate answer is that the Dutch side is far superior. After all, the Dutch side has a major cruise ship port and can accommodate even the largest ships. It also has the best airport in the Lesser Antilles, and it has more resorts, time share opportunities, casinos, and restaurants than the French side has. However, there are many people who would argue that the French side is better.
More people on the French side speak both French and English fluently, while people on the Dutch side most often speak English and perhaps Dutch or Spanish. The French side also takes both dollars and Euros, while the Dutch side takes dollars and local currency. Also, the French side has better access to Anguilla and Saint Barth’s. Still, in my opinion, the Dutch side is the winner when it comes to tourism, especially American tourism.
Views and Nature
Both sides of the island have stunning views. As I write this, I’m in my Dutch-side apartment looking out over the tops of sea grape and flamboyant trees to the endless blue ocean. Stunning. There really isn’t a bad view anywhere, unless you’re standing next to the dump. However, the French side is significantly less developed than the Dutch side. You can hardly get away from the buildings here. Most of the Dutch beaches have resorts on them, which is great for visitors but bad for views.
The French side, in contrast, has many beaches (some of them nearly impossibly hidden) with no developments whatsoever. You can find a totally isolated strip of powdery white sand with views of Anguilla and the sunset. You can drive or walk through areas which once housed sprawling plantations and today are grazing grounds for goats. There’s nothing to see but “the chains of mountains green,” as the national anthem describes it. Plus, the French side has Pic Paradis, the tallest mountain on the island, which is nearly untouched and boasts indescribable views over all the surrounding islands. It also currently has more marine reserves to protect wildlife. In my opinion, the French side wins when it comes to views and nature.
The culture of the Dutch and French sides of Saint Martin are intertwined permanently, but each has its own flavor. To be honest, I’ve been here a while and I’m still trying to figure out the culture. I get around, but it’s hard to get totally “in” on such a small island culture as a foreigner. I’m probably going to be crucified by locals for whatever misrepresentations they find in this article, but I may as well take a stab at it, anyway! The French side is more European, and it seems to have more European-Caucasian people than the Dutch side. You can see the French influence in the food and the lifestyle. You also get that Francophone pride that seems to permeate all French culture. How dare I insist on speaking English!
By contrast, the Dutch side is less European and more traditionally Caribbean. You tend to run into few true natives and rather meet a lot of people who moved here from the surrounding islands. People from the Dominican Republic, Statia, Jamaica, and more have brought elements of their culture and woven into the overall fabric of Sint Maarten. The whole island is pretty chill, but the Dutch side is the most laid-back. Things happen slowly, but everybody just rolls with it.
The government is fairly young, since Sint Maarten recently gained semi-autonomous status, and there is a lot of political confusion as the island is trying to figure out how to do things without much input from the Crown, but overall it’s not terrible. Both sides of the island have a very close-knit culture; everybody knows everybody, neighbors grill and listen to music together in the evenings, and networking comes naturally. As far as culture goes, neither side is better than the other. They’re just different, and that’s OK.
So which side of the island is better? Should you visit Dutch Sint Marten or French Saint Martin? Which side of this beautiful Caribbean island is best for you when you travel on your next holiday? That depends on what you value, what language you speak, and why you’re here. Both have a lot to love, but each has its own strengths and weaknesses. My recommendation is to come experience both sides Saint Martin and decide for yourself which side is the best.