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This article was written on 10 Jun 2010, and is filled under To: St. Martin.

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A jewel from the Caribbean – St. Martin

Welcome to St. Martin

… an island well known for its excellent food, large resorts, flashy casinos, picture-perfect white sand beaches, and great sporting opportunities. Home to 77000 inhabitants, St. Martin, or St. Marteen, is shared by two sovereign states: France in the north, with 52 sq. km (20 sq. mi), and the Netherlands in the south, with 44 sq. km (17 sq. mi). The feel of the sand between your toes, the breeze going through your hair, the mouth-watering food, this delightful little gem will in the heart of the Caribbean will leave you breathless for more!

Visit the unhabited island of Pinel

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Discover the jewels of St. Martin

Philipsburg is the capital of Dutch St. Maarten and functions as the island’s commercial hub, with lively shopping streets, cafés, and hotels. It stretches about a mile (1.5 km) along an isthmus between Great Bay and the Salt Pond. Home to 1338 people, Philipsburg is also a popular stop for cruise ships.

On Wathey Square, the Courthouse is one of the city’s most prominent landmarks. Built in 1793, this grand white wooden structure has served as the commander’s home, a fire station, a jail, and a post office.

The St. Maarten Museum hosts exhibits on the island’s history and geology. You’ll find ancient artifacts such as pottery from the country’s first inhabitants, the Arawaks, and cargo retrieved from a sunken British ship.

Fort Amsterdam, built in 1631 on a peninsula between Great Bay and Little Bay, is the Dutch side’s most important colonial site. It was the first Dutch military outpost in the Caribbean, but was captured by the Spanish soon after and became their most important bastion east of Puerto Rico. Little is left of the original fort – a few walls and a couple of rusty cannons – but at least the site on which it’s built upon offers an outstanding view of the bay.

The main town and capital of French St. Martin, Marigot has a southern European flavor, especially its gorgeous harbor front. Colonial houses stand besides shopping stalls, open-air cafés, pastry shops and luxury boutiques. Every Wednesday and Saturday at the foot of Fort St. Louis, you’ll find an open-air market where fresh fish, produce, tropical fruits and vegetables, and all kinds of spices are sold. There are also excellent shopping opportunities at Marina Royale every Thursday.

Built by the French on a hill near Marigot Bay, Fort St. Louis was completed in 1789. Little is left of the structure itself, but the steep climb up to the summit provides a panoramic view of Marigot, its harbor, and the English island of Anguilla.

At the terrarium-like Butterfly farm, walk amongst dozens of colourful butterflies, from around the world flying freely in a quiet, tropical environment. The garden features more than 40 species of butterfly, numbering as many as 600, under a tented net.

On a beach near the northern tip of the islands sits Grand Case, the island’s most picturesque town in the heart of the French side. This little fishing town has the highest concentration of restaurants in the Caribbean and a distinctive style of architecture, with elaborate carvings and fretwork adorning the fronts of small wooden houses painted in pastel colors. You’ll find more than 27 restaurants here, including French, Italian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese restaurants, and budget-minded visitors can try local dishes at one of the barbecue kiosks called lolos.

Near Oyster Pond just north of the border with St. Maarten is the quiet fishing village of Orléans. Also called the French Quarter, it is the island’s oldest settlement. You can find some of the original West Indian-style homes built in the 17th-century.

At the center of St. Martin stands Pic du Paradis, the island’s highest point (1492 ft). From the two observation areas at the top of the peak, you can enjoy the breathtaking view of the tropical forest below. At the Loterie Farm, a peaceful 150-acre (371 ha) private nature preserve, the Fly Zone allows Tarzan wannabes to take a tree top tour on one of the longest zip lines of the western hemisphere.

About 10 minutes northeast of Philipsburg is Guana Bay, a quiet and isolated beach with a spectacular view of St. Barthélemy. The heavy undertow makes it attractive for body boarding and surfing. The hill at the southern tip of Guana Bay is favored by locals for hiking.

Located at the site of a former cotton plantation, Plantation Mont Vernon features tropical plants and a rum distillery set in a unique outdoor history and eco-museum. Descriptive signs in English and French give detailed explanations of the island’s historical and economical links to salt, rum, coffee, sugar, and indigo. You’ll find a coffee bar along the way and a gift shop at the entrance.

Nestled in the hills north of Orient Bay Beach is Cul de Sac, the French-colonial mansion of St. Martin’s mayor. This peaceful area is the perfect place for hiking and from here, you can take a shuttle boat and head to the uninhabited island of Ilet Pinel. This little tropical paradise has a beautiful beach perfect for picnicking, sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling and diving in its calm, shallow waters.

picture by divemasterking2000

The largest park of its kind in the Caribbean, St. Maarten Park features a variety of exotic animals and plants, including peccaries, cotton-topped tamarins, fruit bats, and many birds inherited from a former aviary. For those traveling with kids, the park includes a large playground.

By Michael Young, writer for Cheap All Inclusive Caribbean Vacation.

Other interesting reading :

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To: Barbados
To: Costa Rica
To: Dominican Republic
To: Jamaica
To: Mayan Riviera Mexico
To: Montserrat
To: St-Lucia
To: St. Eustatius

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