PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten -- This bicultural, bifurcated island,
where clients can go Dutch or French as they please, is a favorite
with U.S. sun-and-fun seekers.
Today's increasingly sophisticated travelers, however, also are
beginning to crave a little culture, history and retail therapy,
and St. Maarten/St. Martin -- a mix of African, Native American and
European influences -- has plenty to offer on these new fronts.
"Travel agents find it easy to sell St. Maarten because of its
cosmopolitan nature," said Theo Heyliger, tourism commissioner for
the Dutch side of the island. "The combination of shopping [and]
cuisine and the number of day trips people can make to nearby
islands ... is quite appealing," he added.
The quaint capital of Philipsburg, at the heart of the St.
Maarten side, is home to shopping, dining and cultural and
Built on a sandbar, the city is home to lively, exotic and
architecturally significant thoroughfares, such as Front Street and
Both are lined with colorful shops, modern hotels and renovated
older buildings ornamented with typical West Indian gingerbread
With the island's increasing popularity as a cruise port --
cruise passenger arrivals rose 12.2%, to 730,000 total, in 2002 --
duty-free shopping is becoming big business.
St. Maarten is one of the world's few truly "free" ports; that
means no duties are paid on any item coming in or going out,
enabling local merchants to offer rock-bottom prices.
According to the St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry,
savings can run from 25% to 50% -- and higher -- over U.S.
The shopping streets are attractions in themselves; stylish
"arcades" that run off-street in either direction are holdovers
from the days of Dutch traders in the 17th and 18th centuries.
At the foot of Front Street, visitors will find Little Bay and
the remains of old Dutch fortification Fort Amsterdam.
The fort, constructed more than 300 years ago, stands on the
remains of an earlier Spanish fortification.
The nearby St. Maarten Museum boasts exhibits, artwork and
artifacts illustrating the island's rich history.
And for the adventurous, day trips and excursions around the
island and to neighboring islands, such as Saba and Anguilla, are
For more information, contact the St. Maarten Tourist Office at
(800) 786-2278 or visit www.st-maarten.com. Or get in touch with the St.
Martin Tourist Board at (877) 956-1234.