St Martin

Sint Maarten vs Saint Martin: How to Decide Between 2 Sides of 1 Island

Last updated Dec 31, 2022 | St. Martin

Sint Maarten vs Saint Martin … one beautiful Caribbean island with two completely different vibes. Sint Maarten is located on the Dutch side, and Saint Maarten is on the French side. There’s no border control, and both sides are independently governed. We stayed on the French side and absolutely love it. How do you decide which is best for you? Let’s run through the 7 factors to consider. 

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Language, Currency, & Attitude

Lake Bohinj in Slovenia

Sint Maarten vs Saint Martin Map

Everyone speaks French on the French side (of course!) with some English spoken. We knew zero French besides “bonjour” and “merci beaucoup,” but we were still able to get by with limited English at the grocery stores and restaurants. 

We used our credit card everywhere we went (gotta earn those Chase travel points somehow!), but the euro is the preferred currency on the French side. 

In contrast, everyone seemed to speak English on the Dutch side, and the U.S. dollar is accepted at most businesses. 

Although I didn’t really see a difference, some say the Dutch side is more courteous, whereas the French side can be a little snobbish. 

VERDICT: If you want more of a European feel, stay on the French side. If you want more of an Americanized feel, stay on the Dutch side. FYI, the cruise ships and the airport are located on the Dutch side. 

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 Beach at Petite Clef in St Martin

Beach at Petite Clef in St Martin

The French side has gorgeous beaches with soft white sand and turquoise waters. Some of our favorite beaches were Pinel Island, Orient Beach, and Grand Case Beach. If you want to get naked, there are beaches for that too. It caught me off guard when we went to Baie Rouge Beach. Each to their own. 

In contrast, there’s no nudity on the Dutch side. The Dutch also has some beautiful coastline including Mullet Bay and Cupecoy Beach with its towering limestone cliffs that remind me of Algarve, Portugal. 

VERDICT: Both sides of the island offer fantastic beach choices, but I think the French side has the advantage. 

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Incredible French breakfast at Karibuni Hotel on St. Martin_ croissants, meats, cheeses

Incredible French breakfast at Karibuni Hotel on St. Martin: croissants, meats, cheeses

The French side is definitely known for its spectacular food. There are several French bakeries that offer incredible croissants, pastries, and baguettes. Even the local grocery stores and wine shops offer incredible French delicacies, amazing imported cheeses, and highly-rated wine. Are we sure we are in the Caribbean? 

If that is not enough, the French side has an area called Grand Case, which is known as “Restaurant Row.” Restaurant Row is a whole street that has one amazing fine French restaurant after another. It’s difficult to choose which one to try! 

It’s not all about fancy food, the French side also has lolos, which are casual open-air roadside food stands serving up delicious local Caribbean food. 

The French side of the island is also home to La Villa Hibiscus. We had the pleasure of dining at this beautiful intimate restaurant perched high up in the hills. They offer several different tasting menus. Chef Bastian heads up the kitchen and has quite a prestigious resume. 

Confit thigh, hedgehog mushroom, sauce ivoire sauce at La Villa Hibiscus in St. Martin

Confit thigh, hedgehog mushroom, Ivoire sauce at La Villa Hibiscus in St. Martin

There are several nice restaurants on the Dutch side too, but this is where you are going to find more chain restaurants like KFC and Domino’s Pizza. One advantage of the Dutch side is they offer more of a variety of dining choices (sushi, Italian, Indian, BBQ, etc). 

VERDICT: If you are a foodie, stay on the French side. 

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The Dutch side is known for having nightlife with plenty of bars, clubs, and casinos. 

The French side has plenty of restaurants, but that is where the night ends.

VERDICT: If nightlife matters, the Dutch side is the clear winner.

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Karibuni Boutique Hotel in St Martin

Karibuni Boutique Hotel in St Martin

Large hotels and condos complexes dot the beaches on the Dutch side. 

We found more secluded boutique hotels on the French side including one of our favorite hotels ever, Karibuni Boutique Hotel.

VERDICT: If you want more calm and laid-back properties, stay on the French side. If you want convenience and easy access to nightlife, stay on the Dutch side. 

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Purchasing rum and rhum while in St Martin

Purchasing rum/rhum while in St Martin

The French side has several unique quirky shops to explore and even a parfumerie, where you can design your own scent. Definitely check out Grapewine for a great selection of wine and rhum.

Philipsburg on the Dutch side has several duty-free shops, souvenir stores, and even high-end jewelers like Cartier. 

We found an incredible liquor shop on the Dutch side called Gulmohar’s, which had an outstanding selection of whiskeys and rums at fair prices. The owner said some people will stop by with a second empty suitcase to load up on their favorites. The staff was very knowledgeable. 

We picked up several bottles of rum/rhum including a few from our favorite rum distillery, Foursquare from Barbados. 

VERDICT: The Dutch side probably has the edge in the shopping category. 

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Karibuni side of Pinel Island in St Martin

Pinel Island in St Martin

The French side boasts plenty of outdoor activities including day trips to Pinel Island and Tintamarre Island where you can snorkel and kayak. Other places to check out are Loterie Farm, where you can hike to the highest point on the island, zipline, or just relax by the pool. 

Ziplining in St Martin

Courtesy of Shutterstock: Ziplining in Sint Maarten  

The Dutch side also has plenty to keep you busy. They boast the world’s STEEPEST zipline. You can also snorkel over a sunken helicopter and airplane at Divi Little Bay. Another favorite activity is watching the incoming planes fly right over your head at Maho Beach. Be careful not to be blown away! 

VERDICT: Both sides of the island offer a wealth of fun activities to keep you occupied. 

Sint Maarten vs. Saint Martin: Final Thoughts

Alright, so I know I am clearly biased. We LOVED the French side of Saint Martin due to its laid-back European vibe, amazing French food and wine, and gorgeous beaches. My husband and I also took advantage of all its outdoor activities and had a wonderful time snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking. 

Pick the Dutch side though if you want more of an Americanized feel, great nightlife and bars, a variety of food choices, lots of duty-free shopping, and fun thrilling activities. 

Sint Maarten vs Saint Martin … Are you Team French or Team Dutch?

Let me know in the comments below!


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