St. Martin

  • Language: French (English widely spoken)
  • Currency: Euro
  • Temperature: Average 80°F year-round
  • Square Miles: 21 Approx.
  • Population: 38,000

ABOUT. The island of St. Martin sits at the heart of the Antilles Archipelago in the Northern Hemisphere, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator. The island of St. Martin occupies a central position midway between Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe at the heart of the Caribbean Sea, and is the closest part of France to US shores. The island of St. Martin also known as “Oualichi” Land of Women faces the Atlantic on its eastern side and the Caribbean Sea on the western side. There is no physical barrier between St. Martin and St. Maarten. Relations between St. Martin and St. Maarten were established by the Treaty of Concordia. French St Martin occupies the northern half, and larger part, of the island shared with Dutch St Maarten. The Tainos were the first tribe to live on St. Martin before Christopher Columbus discovered the island of St. Martin on November 11, 1493. The island of St. Martin became a separate Overseas Collectivite on December 11, 2007.

Located in the northern part of the island, the French overseas a total surface area of approximately 54km and the inhabitants are known as Saint Martiners. The capital city is Marigot, where the “Hôtel de la collectivité”, prefecture and most of the collectivity’s administrative buildings and services are located. Other towns and districts include Grand Case, Colombier, Cul-de-Sac, Quartier d’Orléans, Nettle Bay and Terres Basses.

The Dutch part of the island, Sint-Maarten, covers a total surface area of around 34km. The inhabitants of this region are known as Sint Maartiners. Located in the southern section of the island, St. Maarten was part of the Netherlands Antilles, a group of five islands that included Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, Statia and St. Maarten. Sint Maarten’s capital is Philipsburg, where the Parliament and most administrative buildings and services can be found. Other towns include Simpson Bay, Madame Estate, Cul de Sac, Dutch Quarter, Cole Bay, Oyster Pond, South Reward, St Peters, Pointe Blanche, Middle Region, Cay Hill, Upper Prince’s Quarter and Lower Prince’s Quarter. On October 10th 2010 Sint Maarten became a country within the Dutch Kingdom. The Dutch government remains responsible for defense and international politics within this autonomous status. This change of status ended the Netherland Antilles that were created in 1956.

Over 120 nationalities can be found on St. Martin, with significant numbers of French, Haitians, Dominicans, Americans and people from other European countries. There are also communities originating from other Caribbean islands, South America, Asia and Africa. The most widely spoken languages are English, French, Haitian, Guadeloupe and Martinique Creole, Papiamento, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.

St. Martin’s architecture has many influences. The island features beautiful slave masters’ houses, dating back to the days of slavery. Some of these houses are now museums. On the French side, traditional Creole buildings are elaborately-decorated and brightly-colored homes with carved wood decorations located along the streets of Marigot and Grand Case. Traditional Creole wooden houses were built to withstand hurricanes. St. Martin is also renowned for the ‘Aliturian’, ” influence of the architect Ali Tur, who brought his architectural style to the Antilles in the 1930s, blending tradition, effective ventilation, and protection from the sun, alongside innovation and the use of concrete. On the Dutch side, half-timbered Dutch houses have more of an American architecture style.

Saint Martin is a musical island moving to the rhythm of tropical music and styles of  soca, salsa, samba, steel band, beguine, reggae, zouk and even rock. Music can be heard all over the island adding to the island’s warmth, “joie de vivre” and its welcoming hospitality. St. Martin is also an island of games and traditions. Dominoes is a favorite Caribbean pastime and enjoyed much more by the residents than card games. The challenge is to arrange and balance all seven wooden tiles in a single hand. Bingo is a popular game among the Haitian community. The first to get a full row, column or diagonal with five corn seeds wins Bingo. Cockfighting is a cruel form of entertainment but remains part of the island tradition.

St. Martin attracts many artists, painters, sculptors, and potters with many world-renowned. The “Hôtel de la Collectivité,” formerly the town hall, showcase an “Artists’ Corner” where every month, a local artist displays their work there. Once a month, the garden at the “Hôtel de la Collectivité” becomes the “Poets’ Garden” for the evening, with prose and poetry reading, jazz interludes and tastings of local dishes.

1995 will always remain a significant year in the history of the island. Hurricane Luis, on September 5th 1995, annihilated the entire island during a time of great prosperous economic growth. Around twelve people died, hundreds were injured, and thousands lost their homes. Aside from the human toll, the full force of Luis destroyed so much in its path. Most hotels and tourist accommodation facilities were destroyed leaving hundreds without jobs.

Saint Martin’s dry climate lends to cactus, bougainvillea, hibiscus, paradise flower, poinsettia and alpinias as its plant species. Many species of seabird can be found living along the beaches and rocky shores, including terns, frigate birds, brown pelicans, ospreys and many others. Many rare wild and plant life species are concentrated in the mangrove swamps in the north of the island, near Oyster Pond. In addition, Saint Martin is famous for its 37 white sandy beaches.

The creation in 1998 of the St. Martin National Nature Reserve  is located in the north-eastern part of the island and the offshore part of the Reserve is its largest portion. The aims of the nature reserve are naturally to preserve the biodiversity and the potential of the wild, plant and marine life of the three great ecosystems present on St. Martin. The onshore part of the Reserve comprises rocky coasts, cliffs and beaches which are home to many species of seabirds such as terns, Northern gannets, frigate birds, brown pelicans and other species who nest in the mangroves.

Ponds and mangroves are highly productive biological systems that provide a safe haven for young crustaceans and fish. They also provide food and shelter for many various birds. Sea turtles also visit the large beaches of the east coast and the islets to lay their eggs. The offshore area is composed of marine flowering plants and many coral formations which provide shelter for many species of invertebrates and mollusks such as starfish, sea urchins, lobsters, slipper lobsters and conches, and many other species of fish. From January to May, the offshore zone is a favorite area for humpback whales, who are particularly fond of the shallow waters in the mating season and can be observed swimming offshore as well as large dolphins.