What can you do on this island?
- Relax on the soft sandy beaches. There are lovely beaches on both the Dutch and French sides of the island, including Little Bay, Mullet Bay, Cupecoy, Pelican Bay, Indigo Beach Bay, Orient Beach, and of course Maho Beach—where you can get sandblasted as planes fly into to Princess Juliana International Airport directly above your head!
“This tiny island is shared by the Netherlands and France, as the two former colonial powers. The cruise ship port is in Philipsburg, on the Dutch side. I wasn’t exactly expecting to be greeted by Dutch girls with clogs and tulips, but the fact that I didn’t see the faintest indication that this was a Dutch possession did surprise me a little. I’m not referring to the fact that most inhabitants are black and speak English, but neither the official uniforms, nor the cars, nor even their license plates show any European traces. Dollars are already the primary currency, and while euros are accepted, it’s at a one-for-one rate with the dollar. I am convinced that not a single soul on the island speaks Dutch – not even the cheesemaker who offers locally made six-week-aged Gouda cheese near the port. Not so on the French side. There you often hear French spoken, and the EU stars appear on the license plates of the cars.
After a short deliberation, we decided to visit the beach where the planes land just a few meters above your head. Here too, the transportation of large numbers of people works smoothly. The taxi dispatcher classifies people depending on whether they want to go downtown or out to that particular beach next to the airport. Why did I even think I wanted to go there? By taxi here I mean minibusses, which can accommodate 8-10 people and only start when they are full. From the port to Maho beach a return ticket is $16. That’s why we got an armband and were already able to board the air-conditioned Chevy Van. (You probably don't see many of those in the Netherlands.)
The road was quite busy, and in some places, there were even smaller traffic jams, but we didn't mind, because that way we had more time to look around. It’s clear that they get a lot of money from the ‘old motherland’, but don’t imagine another Amsterdam! The Caribbean character completely dominated here, except that now there’s KFC and Burger King, too. At the marina near the airport, we were greeted by the saddest sight: Lying all around were dozens of ships stranded or submerged by the hurricane. Some seemed to have been rotting on the shore for half a year already, but it is likely that his owner has already taken the compensation from his insurer, and it would only be an extra cost to deal with the wreck. The local authority is most likely powerless, the owner has long since walked away, and the insurance company has washed its hands of the matter.
Arriving at our destination, the taxi driver told us that taxis going back by the same route depart every half hour, all we had to do was show our armband and it would take us back to the boat. You can’t really see it in the photos, but the sandy beach is very narrow along this stretch, and there’s even a busy highway in front of the airport fence. The beach is generally crowded, and everyone wants a selfie with a Jumbo Jet in the background. But such large planes rarely come to the island, and in the two hours, we spent there we only saw a small commercial plane and several even smaller planes land. We only saw a propellor plane taking off, though the most fashionable extreme sport here is played whenever a large passenger plane takes off. That’s when idiots cling to the fence and try to withstand the blast of air pressure. YouTube is full of videos of when they fail and their heads are smashed into the concrete curb.
The armband system worked great, and a taxi took us (together with several others) back to the boat and us to the city center, which is about one kilometer from the port.
St. Maarten is famous for its tax-free, cheap drinks, so it's no wonder the city center is full of liquor stores. Here you can buy whiskey at the same price you’d find it in a big-box supermarket back home, and here that’s ridiculously cheap. We had just one cocktail in a seaside bodega, which cost us about four dollars fifty each and was served in plastic cups, so I wouldn’t say especially cheap, but still only a third of the price on the ship. We also visited the Hard Rock Cafe to see if we could find any good badges in the collection, but how should I put this? I have never seen such a small, unassuming, run-down HRC anywhere in the world. There was a tall black woman at the bar, and she seemed offended that I even said hello, never mind expected to serve. When I inquired about prices, she made a disgusted face and asked what item I was talking about. Then, when I gave her a hard look, she listed the various prices with some good grace.” (2019)