3 February 2016
Philipsburg, Sint Maarten: Both Sides Now

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

One island, two nations: we’re visiting the Dutch capital of Philipsburg (where they officially call the island Sint-Maarten.) There are no border guards a few miles away where the French side of Saint-Martin begins.

There are also four dominant cultural heritages: African, French, British, and Dutch. And a whole lot of Americans, Canadians, and Europeans who come to the island aboard jumbo cruise ships and jumbo jets.

Unlike Hispaniola, where the Dominican Republic and third-world Haiti are at nearly opposite ends of the economic spectrum, on Sint-Maarten/Saint-Martin both sides are relatively prosperous because of thriving tourism.

The dock at Philipsburg can accommodate at least six very large cruise ships including the most mega of the megaships. The entire population of the islands–both sides now–is about 75,000 and in the heart of the tourist season there could be 30,000 guests and 12,000 or so crew heading ashore for the day.

The harbormaster has to manage the arrival and departure times of the ships like an air traffic controller.

BLOG Phillipsburg St Martin 3Feb2016_DSC3914

BLOG Phillipsburg St Martin 3Feb2016_DSC3915

(There’s also a port on the French side, at Marigot, but ships must lie at anchor and send guests in by tender boat, and the seas can be quite unpredictable. The island is small enough at about 34 square miles to allow visits to both sides quite easily, and so most cruise ships opt for the convenience of tying up to the dock in Philipsburg.)

Though he claimed it as Spanish territory, Columbus did not land on the island and the Spanish did not consider it a high priority for settlement.

On the other hand, both the French and the Dutch wanted the island.

The French saw it as a stepping stone in the Caribbean, part of their goal to colonize the islands between Trinidad and Bermuda.

The Dutch took a broader view, seeing Sint Maarten as a halfway point between their colonies in New Amsterdam (you may know the place today as New York City) and Brazil.

In a rare instance of diplomacy, the French and the Dutch signed the Treaty of Concordia in 1648 and divided the island into two sections. That’s not to say there weren’t occasional conflicts between the two sides, plus a bit of interference by the Spanish.

But in modern times the island has held on to its Dutch-French mix. There are, though, some real differences between the Dutch and French side.

BLOG Phillipsburg St Martin 3Feb2016_DSC3931

BLOG Phillipsburg St Martin 3Feb2016_DSC3933

The shops and the restaurants on one side or the other are not the same. The Dutch side is bustling, with large resorts and chain stores. The French side is more laid-back, with exclusive shops and pricey bistros.

Philipsburg can be a bit of a madhouse when cruise megaships are in town. Marigot much less so.

There are beaches and resorts all around, and each has its own character; the Dutch side has a few casinos, if that’s where you want to spend your Guilders or Dollars or Euros.

Our goal each time we come to the island is to try and find a place where we can still glimpse some hints of what remains of the local culture.

BLOG Phillipsburg St Martin 3Feb2016_DSC3926

BLOG Phillipsburg St Martin 3Feb2016_DSC3922

BLOG Phillipsburg St Martin 3Feb2016_DSC3924

BLOG Phillipsburg St Martin 3Feb2016_DSC3920

BLOG Phillipsburg St Martin 3Feb2016_DSC3918

Text and images copyright 2016 by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a high-resolution image, please contact me.


SEE THE “How to Order a Photo or Autographed Book” TAB ON THIS PAGE FOR INSTRUCTIONS


Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

If you would like to purchase an autographed copy, please see the tab on this page, “HOW TO ORDER A PHOTO OR AUTOGRAPHED BOOK”

Here’s where to order an electronic copy for immediate delivery:


Hudson Book Cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer (Kindle Edition)


SEE THE “How to Order a Photo or Autographed Book” TAB ON THIS PAGE FOR INSTRUCTIONS