The stunning island known as St-Martin to the French, and Sint Maarten to the Dutch is quite possibly the most quintessential Pirates-of-the-Caribbean-esque fantasy getaway you could possibly imagine! With a plethora of bleach-blonde beaches, luke-warm water, and a cornucopia of restaurants, this little island has all the treasures you could need in a Caribbean getaway.
If you've done any research on flights here, you probably already know that there's something peculiar about the name. This Caribbean island nation has two very distinct personalities that go well beyond the expected allure of it's powdery white-sand beaches and crystal azure waters. It essentially consists of two countries on the same island, and is split right down the middle like a pair of Siamese twins separated at birth. This poses a degree of confusion when booking flights as there are two airports; one for each nation. But only one of these airports is known throughout the international travel community as being the world's scariest runway!
A surfboard at Sunset Beach Bar.
I am standing at the end of a beach as a jumbo jet aims directly for my face. Its exciting, and I'm comforted by the tourists that have been out there all day, doing the same thing. But a moment happens with a specific question: Is this plane gonna land right over my head? And just as my heart is about to explode out of my chest, the deafening engines scream over me; the wind blasts my face with sand and heat like an invisible freight train. I crick my neck backwards, panning my head to match the speed of this landing behemoth. And just as the adrenaline starts coursing through my veins, this moment transitions from fear into accomplishment. The wheels screech against the runway, the engines reverse. Touchdown!
The length of the runway is a mere 7,152 feet, which is totally acceptable for small or medium-sized planes, but as the second-busiest airport in the Eastern Caribbean, it regularly welcomes monster aircraft like the Boeing 747 and even Airbus A340. And as if the length of the runway wasn't enough of a challenge for pilots, wait till you hear what's at either end of the runway. Water! At one end is a huge delta that backs up to a mountain, which causes jets to takeoff fast and bank right to avoid crashing. At the other end is a tiny strip of sand called Maho Beach; literally about ten feet from the end of the runway, separated by a small road.
Enjoy the azure waters of the Two Saints paradise.
So what happens when a jumbo jet lands onto a tiny little runway? You get a haircut from huge mechanical birds screaming over your head at a mere 10-25 feet above you! This incredibly dangerous beach and airport is one of the main draws to the island, and has made it much more popular for adrenaline junkies like myself.
Being at the world's scariest airport may have you nervous and needing a drink. Fortunately, there is a beach bar on both sides; the most popular is Sunset Beach Bar and Grill, which has speakers on the outside decks broadcasting radio transmissions between the pilots and the airport control tower. It also has a giant chalkboard with the day's incoming flights, airline, aircraft type, and time of landing so you can time your flyovers.
But the airport isn't all that the island of St. Marten has to offer. There are postcard-perfect beaches with crystal clear waters, a plethora of bars, restaurants, classy club couture, and both a French and Dutch infused culture that maintains its division on each side of the border. As far as where to stay, there are many hotels right near the famed Princess Julianna International Airport, but if you truly want to have an authentic St. Marten experience, visit both sides of the island, and enjoy the culture the French and Dutch have brought here.
The French Side
If you want to stay on the French Side, live in luxury at the Radisson Blu Resort, Marina & Spa.
Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort on the French side.
Nestled in the secluded cove of Anse Marcel’s National Nature Reserve, Radisson Blu Resort, Marina & Spa St. Martin boasts a French Creole theme with open airy architecture for lots of Caribbean breezes, and a complimentary rum-punch as you check in. A nice touch. The resort's literal and metaphorical “off the beaten path” locale appeals to travelers seeking quiet and refined Caribbean charm at an unhurried pace.
Essentially, this property functions like its own private island. In fact, it technically is on its own island. When the Radisson owners decided to build their resort here, they connected a few bridges to a vacant piece of land at the northern tip of Sint Maarten (the French name), and built out additional sections of land totaling 18 lush and spacious acres of property.
An infinity pool has a sand entrance at the Radisson Blu.
It includes their own private beach, a full-service "Le Spa" and fitness center, and a playground chocked full of water activities. The Radisson Blu also boasts the island's largest infinity pool. Here, guests can savor fine French-Caribbean fusion cuisine prepared by a classically trained French chef, or take advantage of the chic market bistro and bars.
There are seven buildings total, and accommodations include 63 suites and 189 guest rooms situated in two guest room wings as well as five all-suite structures overlooking the resort's 150-slip marina.
Luxurious style, the Radisson Blu boasts a Creole theme.
Each guest room and suite features a spacious bathroom and upscale amenities, plus:
* A private balcony or terrace
* Flat-screen satellite television
* DVD player
* iPod dockable clock radio
* Mini-bar and coffee maker
* Cozy waffled robes
* Complimentary high-speed internet access
Classy & intimate ocean-view restaurant at the Radisson Blu.
Radisson Blu St. Martin offers Marcel Cove, one of the safest spots for boats to come when in need of shelter from hurricanes, a very real threat anywhere in the Caribbean. But when mother nature decides to be tame, be sure to take advantage of the 1,600-foot stretch of white-sand beach, small spa, and tremendous infinity pool.
A sailboat navigates the Caribbean off Sunset Beach.
The resort is also close to Grand Case, a neighborhood whose restaurants and cafes draw locals and tourists. It is also strategically located near Pinel Island; a popular kayaking and snorkeling site. Take a short 20-minute taxi ride, and you'll be in the culturally rich French capital town of Marigot, known for its duty-free shops and twice-weekly market.
For travelers landing at St. Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport, the Radisson Blu operates a water taxi service that shuttles travelers to the resort. This takes minutes, versus approximately 40 by car. Radisson Blu St. Martin is owned and operated by Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group, usually known in the U.S. for their mid-scale hotels. The Blu brand, on the other hand, is Radisson's relatively new luxury label.
Rent a cabana at the Radisson Blu pool.
Note: If you plan to send postcards from either side, you should know that both the French and the Dutch sides of the island have their own stamps, each of which are only good on their side of the island.
The Dutch Side
Watersports are near Summit
Hotel and Resort on the Dutch side.
Maybe you want to be near the airport, so you can watch the planes land every day. In that case, you should consider the Summit hotel on the Dutch side of the island.
Peacefully perched on a bluff, the Summit Hotel overlooks the azure blue waters of Simpson Bay Lagoon. But don't worry, you wont have to hike through trees, or to the top of a hill to catch a glimpse. In fact, you wont have to leave your room.
Premium water view accommodations are located in the very first row of the hotel and offer unobstructed views of Simpson Bay Lagoon, lush green hills of both Dutch and French St. Maarten/St. Martin, and the British West Indies island of Anguilla in the distance.
Relax under the rays at Summit Hotel's tropical pool.
Each of these units include a large private balcony for you to enjoy the cooling breezes coming off the water. You'll see yachts and jet skis crisscross the lagoon while the Caribbean sun sinks into the deep blue sea.
Long term rentals are popular with medical school students and teachers from the nearby American University of the Caribbean, which just goes to show how homey this paradise truly is. They also provide a comfortable home for those travelers who are looking to vacation for a month or more. You can choose from a one bedroom unit with a kitchen and living room or a studio-style unit that also has a kitchen. Both offer enough space for studying, leisure, and relaxation.
A private balcony at Summit Resort & Hotel.
The Summit is a family run hotel located in the Dutch lowlands area, and only a ten minute ride from Princess Juliana International Airport. The hotel boasts a huge swimming pool and dining options at the Summit's two onsite restaurants and bars, Tropical Heaven, on the pool deck, and DeepBleu, located just a few steps down on the lagoon front of the hotel. Some of the other in-room amenities include:
• King Size Bed, Queen Size Pull out Sofa
• Full size kitchen (sink, microwave, dishwasher, refrigerator,
two burner stovetop, coffee maker, toaster oven & blender)
• Color Cable TV
• Free High Speed Internet Access
• CD/Clock Radio
• Private Balcony
Get comfortable in ocean-view suites at Summit Resort & Hotel.
From the sundeck surrounding the freshwater swimming pool, savor a panoramic view recognized as one of the best on St. Maarten. Across the broad panoramic sparkling views of the lagoon lies the low-lying mountains on the French side off in the distance. Poolside, enjoy a meal at the Grand View Cafe, or relax with a cool drink at the bar. You can also enjoy a game of tennis, take your pick between two beautiful Caribbean white-sand beaches just a brief stroll away, or take the complimentary beach shuttle.
Watch the boats sail in the bay from the pool.
Secluded off the main road, the Summit is a tranquil oasis in St. Marten's bustling resort center. Sailing, a wide variety of water sports, golf, duty-free shopping, fine restaurants and festive nightlife are all nearby. After a day enjoying the many activities St. Maarten has to offer, end your evening under the romantic quiet of a starry tropical sky, as the lights of the French town of Marigot twinkle across the lagoon.
Overall, Sint Maarten/Saint Martin has something for everyone including those who prefer to do nothing at all. The island's 37 beaches are all public and offer a wide variety of scenery, activities, and amenities. (www.sxm-beaches.com). Here, you'll find everything from quiet deserted coves to long, wide expanses with restaurants and bars, and everything in between. From Orient Beach, known as the "St. Tropez of the Caribbean" to Happy Bay, which requires a short hike but rewards you with peace and solitude, you're sure to find one that suits your tastes.
It is one of the smallest sea islands divided between two nations. St. Maarten's Dutch side is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewelry, exotic drinks made with native rum-based guavaberry liquors, and plentiful casinos. The island's French side is known for its nude beaches, clothes, shopping (including outdoor markets), and rich French and Indian Caribbean cuisine.
Note: Saint Martin uses the euro as its currency, while Sint Maarten uses the Netherlands Antillean guilder, soon to be replaced by the Caribbean guilder. Almost every store on the island also accepts the United States dollar, although sometimes a more expensive exchange rate is used.
Today, the allure is both complex and natural. The international division of this island gives way to two very distinct personalities despite the fact that they function as one entity. Both sides are engaged in a cultural game of tug-of-war as they struggle to assert their individuality. At times they work together, while at other times they stay focused on exaggerating the traits that makes them unique: the French cling to their European roots, as demonstrated by the food and local lingo, while the Netherlands Antilles side plays up their party atmosphere. Although neither side wants to admit it, the whole really is greater than its parts.
— Feature by Josh Edelson, Jetsetters Magazine San Francisco Correspondent; photos by Josh and courtesy of the resorts. View Josh's photo portfolio at www.edelsonphotography.com