St. Maarten/St. Martin: One island, Two countries. Located 18N, 63W and 144 miles southeast of Puerto Rico this dual nationality island is unique in the world. Just 37 square miles this tropical isle offers the best of two worlds: French and Dutch. Set amid azure blue waters, St. Maarten/St. Martin has a vigorous economy and is perhaps the finest Freeport in all of the Caribbean.
Yet it is two separate states, flying two flags, speaking at least four languages and using three different currencies. Discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus and claimed by Spain, it wasn’t until the 17th century boom of the West Indies trade that St. Maarten/St. Martin was settled.
The Dutch wanted the island and eventually pushed out Spain only to discover a French settlement established. Legend has it that a Frenchman and Dutchman, both intoxicated, settled the land dispute by meeting in the center of the island and walking in opposite directions until they marked off their country’s territory.
Today there are no border controls thanks to the Treaty of Concordia which was signed in 1648 and which allows both countries to remain peacefu neighbors.
The Northern part of the island, St. Martin, is French territory and is referred to as the ‘French side’, whereas the southern half, St. Maarten, which used to be part of the Netherlands Antilles and is referred to as the ‘Dutch side’. On October 10, 2010 also known as 10-10-10, St.Maarten officially became the Country of St. Maarten and is one of the four constituent countries that forms the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The island has long been known as a popular vacation destination and in recent years has also been recognized as the Yachting Capital of the Caribbean.
The island’s marine sector has been growing steadily over the years beginning with a small regatta (the Heineken Regatta) that has become one of the top ten in the world. As a completely duty free port, St. Maarten serves as a center of trade for neighboring islands. Visiting yachts appreciate the excellent air and sea freight links from Europe and the U.S.A., and the absence of delays that are typically experienced where border tariffs must be collected or waived.
Prior to arriving to the island, no vaccinations are required to enter the island. St. Maarten is situated near the Equator and thus receives the full force of the Caribbean sun. A high-SPF sunscreen is essential and a good pair of sunglasses are strongly recommended.
Dengue and Chikungunya are viral diseases transmitted by the Aedes mosquito that manifests itself as a high fever accompanied by headache, muscle and joint pain and weakness, which may last for several weeks.
Symptoms appear two to seven days after a bite from an infected mosquito. In most cases, these viruses do not present complications. Nevertheless, mainly due to a low platelet count, this viral infection carries a risk of hemorrhage. You should ensure that you protect yourself from mosquito bites. If in doubt, consult a general practitioner immediately and avoid taking aspirin
Do not shelter under the manchineel when it is raining. The sap and fruit are extremely toxic. As a general rule, do not eat fruit from a tree on the island without consulting the proper authorities first. Certain fish, particularly reef fishes, contain toxins that may, if eaten, cause serious illness (paralysis and low blood pressure) and very unpleasant symptoms (itching, numbness, dizziness).
This is known as ciguatera, or gratte – “itch” in French. Avoid eating fish until you have consulted the proper authorities, especially if you have caught the fish yourself. Large fish (+1 kilo) have the highest count of these toxins.