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About Oyster Pond
The northern, French side of the island is known as Saint-Martin, and is 54 km²/21 square miles. The southern, "Dutch side" of the island is known as Sint Maarten, and is 41 km²/16 square miles. The Dutch side has recently formed its own government and legal system, with its relations with the "French side" to remain unchanged. To avoid confusion between the three variations on the name, the two regions are commonly referred to as "the French side" and "the Dutch side".
Although this island is controlled by two different countries, there is no real border. There are only monuments and signs that delineate the border. Over 350 years ago the two countries decided that residents of either country could travel across both sides of the border without worrying about any trouble. The two countries live peacefully without difficulties, which helps tourism considerably. Any separation is more from separate and dissimilar utilities systems, e.g., power on French side is 250V 50 Hz, while the Netherlands side is 110/120 60 Hz. In addition, one must take special care when dialling from the French to Dutch or Dutch to French side as it is, in effect, an international call and requires special dialing instructions. These instructions are typically posted at hotels and tourist locations.
The Dutch side, Sint Maarten, has become a leading destination in the property market with more and more developments being constructed. There are high-rise flats and waterfront communities, all of which are popular to buyers, especially American. Tourists on the streets are frequently approached by time-share offers for them. The language on this side of the island is Dutch, but almost everyone speaks English.
On the Dutch side, grocery stores and other businesses may have prices expressed in Netherlands Antilles Florins (NAF) which is the Local currency also called Guilders, but the US dollar and the Euro will be gladly accepted at these establishments as well. The florin is officially pegged to the USD, with a fixed rate of 1 USD = 1.79 NAF. Many large resorts have been built and on many days cruise ships flood Philipsburg with their passengers. Philipsburg is one of the Caribbean's best shopping towns. If shopping's not your thing, you can sit out back on Philipsburg's harbour beach and have a drink. Or play at one of the casinos just down the street. There are nine on this side. When it all gets too mellow, go rip it up with a 4x4 excursion around the island. Visit the Maho and Cupecoy area for some of the best nightlife on the island and some of the best beaches.
The French side, Saint Martin, consists of the Northern two-thirds of the island. It is governed by the neighbouring island of Guadeloupe, and is more European than the Dutch. The native language is French and has the same guiding laws as France. There are no casinos on the French side. It is less developed than the Dutch side, but contains more of the island's natural wonders. The French side is popularly known for clothing-optional Orient Beach and the adjacent nudist resort, Club Orient (the clothing optional portion of the beach lies at the far southern end, and can be easily recognised by the large bright yellow beach umbrellas; while the Club Orient does own its beach area, it is open to the public, so you will see both clothed and unclothed people on this particular stretch; if you are with small children, and you don't want them to see unclothed people, it is probably best to not bring them to this part of the beach).  However the towns of Marigot and Grand Case provide some of the best gourmet meals anywhere and plenty of interesting shops. Beauty abounds on the island, with bluffs overlooking pretty harbors, sandy-cliffed beaches and tranquil rocky coves where fish provide the beauty.
Beaches are a main attraction on the island of Saint Martin. It has 37 beaches total, with hotels holding property on most of them. Beach Bars and Cafés are very popular attractions on the island. Many offer unusually good dishes with European and Caribbean inspiration. Frozen cocktails are also a trendy treat to keep down the heat.
- Orient Bay, for example, has an underwater marine reserve where snorkeling and other water sports are available.
All beaches of Saint Martin are fine for swimming and sun bathing, though the west half of the good beach at Philipsburg has better water. The island caters to all, with beaches of fun things to do as well as secluded and more private ones.
Clothing optional beaches. As a European island, topless sun bathing is frequently seen. Some tourists come to Sint Maarten / Saint-Martin because there are clothing optional beaches & resorts on the island. Not every beach is clothing optional.
- On the Dutch side, there is Cupecoy Beach in the far western tip of the Dutch jurisdiction. The beach is not officially clothing optional, but the local administration does look the other way on nude sunbathing on the far western edge of the beach (Cupecoy is a very small beach located at the base of a cliff face). No other beaches on the Dutch side tolerate it, and you will be fined by the Sint Maarten Police for indecent exposure and/or lewd behavior.
- On the French side, nudity is permitted officially at the Club Orient beach (Papagayo Beach), and topless sunbathing for women is accepted throughout the French jurisdiction. Unofficially, nude sunbathing is "tolerated" at some of the smaller, less touristy beaches (the southern ends of Prune and Rouge Beaches) generally on weekdays when there are fewer beach patrons. As long as beach guests do not make spectacles of themselves, French gendarmes (police) may overlook your lack of clothing.
One particularly famous beach is Maho Bay beach on the "Dutch side". The beach is situated at the end of the airport's runway, so landing large aircraft fly just feet over the beach. Some people (attempt to) hold on to the fence on airport premises as aircraft depart...not recommended due to flying gravel and debris. People have been injured, a very few killed doing this. However, the spectacular view of airplanes landing so close is one that you might find stunning. The greatest number of large aircraft arrivals and departures takes place in the early-mid-morning and mid-late afternoon.
Just beyond Maho Bay is Mullet Bay; some say it has the nicest beach on the island, with food and drink vendors and beach lounger rentals but few facilties. Virtually all beaches are described in web sites for the island. A full complement of tours and excursions are also available as well as watersports and parasailing.
Casinos are also a popular attraction on the island...only on the Dutch side. Some of them are in the Cupecoy, Maho, Cole Bay areas, while in Phillipsburg you'll find five.
- Kid Connect, ☎ +1 (721) 526-6152. An activity center for kids open daily form 9AM until 7PM and until 11PM on Friday and Saturday. Kid Connect is on the Dutch side across the street from Caribbean Cinemas and not too for from both Paradise Plaza Casino and Tropicana Casino.
Loterie Farm, Rte. de Pic du Paradis, Phone: 590/87-86-16 or 590/57-28-55; . Location features an excellent restaurant, a Lounge with Tapas, Hikes and Ecotours on a 150 acre preserve, and "The Fly Zone" a fun Zip Line experience with rope zips and an obstacle course high up in the trees. Also has a "Ti' Tarzan" zip course for the kids and "The Fly Zone Extreme" a new Zip that goes up over 100ft. On the "French side" but patronized by many American tourists, prices are shown in euro's and dollars. You should call in advance for prices and to check whether a cruise ship shore tour is visiting, as it is pretty packed on those days. If you're going on the Zips, wear closed shoes, flip flops are a no-no. The Activities are open only during the day, but the Restaurant and Lounge are open in the evenings as well...try the Curry Chicken.
- Harley Davidson, Cole Bay, ☎ +1 (721) 544-2704. Don't hop on a bus and get herded around. Ride a hog and enjoy the views, the right way. Contact Super Bikes located in Cole Bay on the Dutch side of the island and rent a Harley Davidson Fat Boy (My Favorite), or any of the other super bikes for the day or for your whole trip. There are special Harley Cruises that let the riders travel with their bikes and then head out with locals for a ride that hits all the hot spots. Go to this link (http://www.h-dstmartin.com/) and view a short video that includes footage of one of the rides. The Caribbean Eagles have their monthly ride on the first Saturday of every month, or just climb onto one of the most famous of all motorcycles and go your own way. If interested, contact Neo at SuperBikes for more info.
Phone: +1 (721) 544-2704
- Harley Motorcycles Tour (Guided Rides on a Harley around St Martin), Cole Bay. Enjoy the freedom of the road and the intoxicating sights, smells and sounds of Saint Martin - St Maarten sitting on the saddle of a classic Harley.
The tour takes you along roads where you are overlooking beaches with white sand and turquoise sea, passing lush, green hills and colourful meadows. On the tour you will be escorted by two experienced guides who know the island well. With one guide leading the way riding a Harley and the second driving the back up jeep. It also secures the side roads and protects the rear. Check some photos at 
The island has some 300 restaurants with a wide variety of offerings available to both tourists and locals. The French cuisine and local fare is an exciting experience to most, but if you are apprehensive about trying new things, there are other restaurants. The island has restaurants that are American, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, vegetarian and more. If self-catering, you'll large modern supermarkets with excellent selections of American, European and other products as well...all imported.
If you are not feeling adventurous, the Dutch Side has several American fast food franchises including McDonalds(2), Burger King(2), Subway(5), Pizza Hut(3), Dominoes(6), KFC(4) and Bubble Tea(4). In Philipsburg, you'll find a "Macs" a block west on Front Street...at least convenient for a cold soft drink during your "hot" shopping.
If you want to save some cash, eat where the locals eat on the cheap, both the French and Dutch sides of the island feature many Chinese restaurants, but the Dutch Side is the hands down winner with over 40 of them. In addition to the regular far eastern fare, these inexpensive eateries feature many local dishes, and "Caribbeanized" (no,that's not really a word, but you catch my drift) Chinese food.
Want to try something really different, stop at one the roadside food trucks for some take-away, one of these trucks located in Phillipsburg serves some of the best Suriname food on the island. Try the Chicken Sate with Bami or go light with a Soato Soup.
Enjoy Lunch, swim on a beautiful Beach and watch the Airplanes land at Tortuga at Maho.
Saving Money, etc.
- Some restaurants on the island will add 15% to your bill and it will be listed as Tax or SC (Service charge). The truth is, the island has no dining tax so the restaurant may be taking advantage of North American tourists used to paying tax. You can consider the 15% your tip, those who aren't aware may pay another 15% to 20% when the "Tax/SC" is really a tip already going to the waiter.
- If you ask for water in any restaurant they will assume you mean bottled water which can be $4 to $5 USD per bottle depending on the restaurant. Surprisingly this is sometimes more expensive than beer or wine. If you don't want to pay the higher price make sure you specify very clearly that you want tap water.
- In many countries it is illegal to print the full credit card number on any receipt, on many islands it is not. Therefore, when you are signing a receipt make sure to check if your CC# is on the merchant copy and scribble it out. It's not illegal to do so and it protects your card.
When making an international phone call: Be sure to investigate pre-paid phone cards. The most expensive type of international phone call is to use a credit card. Companies like International Satellite Communications, which handle credit card calls, charge exorbitant connection fees and per-minute rates.
As of October 2009 the drinking age in town is sixteen, but in tourist areas they are not so strict about it. St. Martin's nightlife consists of many bars, nightclubs and casinos where drinking is prevalent. Start out with a happy hour at "Bamboo Bernies" where drinking is free for a half an hour and continues until seven with the highest drink price of a dollar! Many of the clubs have ladies' nights as well as other nightly drink specials. The Dutch side of the island has more night clubs than the French, so if you're up for the party scene, this side is the one where you should stay.
Large wine menus are also usually available at most restaurants.
Privé. Trendy sky Bar and lounge, indoor with an open terrace on the top of the Mega Yacht Building and views of Simpson Bay strip and lagoon. Open 6PM - 3AM everyday. On the Simpson Bay strip at the top of the Market Garden Supermarket
Bliss Night Club. At Caravanserai Beach Resort. Not far from the Princess Juliana International Airport Has restaurant, 2 bars, cabana seating around a pool and ocean views.
Tequila. In Palapa Village, next to Rancho in Simpson Bay. 2nd floor bar overlooking the lagoon as well as the streetside. Mexican sports bar. Various tequila based drinks, sport events shown on big screen. Free WIFI internet. Open 5PM - 12PM everyday. 
The island has a deserved reputation as an excellent place to shop, rivaling Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands for price, but with somewhat fewer stores. Some shoppers report better prices for some items than the USVI. Both "sides" offer a wide range of quality. Shopping is duty free on both sides of the island, with no tax or duty paid directly by buyers. Merchants on the "Dutch" side" do pay a five percent "turnover tax" on all items they sell...recently (late 2010) increased from 3% by the new government. A few sellers may try to add it as a separate cost item on sales slips, despite instructions from the tax authority not to do so.
Euros and US dollars are commonly accepted on both sides of the island, as are credit cards. However there are many places that do not accept cards, so you should ask beforehand. Always have some cash on you in small denominations for small purchases and for transport. Expect change in local currency for lesser cash transactions.
French side. Items are often priced in Euros on the French side, so some items are or appear to be more expensive (after currency conversion) than on the Dutch side or elsewhere in the Caribbean. Many stores on the French side close between 12 and 3PM. That side has a smaller number of retailers, and their goods (e.g., clothing, perfumes, wine) tend to be premium, European brand-name or designer items at fairly competitive prices.
- However, unique items (e.g., souvenirs, spices) particularly at the water-front open-air market (large and growing) in Marigot are reasonable, and the banter among vendors is worth the visit...especially mornings on Wednesday and Saturday.
- French wine and delicacy lovers may find premium offerings on this "side" that are available perhaps nowhere else in the Caribbean.
- If you are shopping on Sunday, forget the French side...the only places open are most restaurants and some food stores.
Dutch side. Front Street in Philipsburg is the center of shopping on the Dutch side. Numerous stores offer jewelry, liquor, cosmetics, cameras, electronics and tobacco, with souvenirs everywhere; you'll find a small open-air bazaar behind the courthouse.
- Those looking for well-priced beachwear and souvenirs might try the few places on Back Street...one block farther from the beach than Front Street and parallel to it.
- Grand Marché and Sangs supermarkets (the latter beyond the east end of Front Street in Philipsburg) both offer a wide range of items, e.g., mild Dutch Gouda are popular buys.
- Shops are generally open from 8 or 9AM until noon, and then again from 2 until 6PM If one or more cruise ships are visiting, many stores remain open during the "lunch" period and on Sundays.
Warranties: Any electronics (including cameras, lenses) purchased here will have an international warranty...or grey-market or none. You should clearly understand what any warranty covers and what's necessary to obtain service at home.
Store recommendations by cruise ship port shopping "advisers" are usually reliable, but the stores pay very large fees for those "endorsements"...virtually all for stores on the Dutch side. Recommended by advisers or not, large or small, most stores (e.g., Kay's Jewelry) are reliable, and will rectify any problem truly their responsibility. You're wise to thoroughly examine an item before purchase & obtain a warranty, or formal appraisal for pricey gems/jewelry.
Most merchants touted by those "advisers" are near or east of the courthouse on Front Street. Those stores and others offer excellent selections. The center and easterly parts were recently renovated for pleasant walking despite heavy vehicle traffic and sometimes crowded sidewalks. Many liquor stores there box bottles and may deliver to your hotel or ship if purchased early enough. West of the courthouse, and on "Old Street", you'll find smaller stores, e.g., for aggressively discounted liquor...often cash-only, boxes only for multi-bottle purchases, usually no delivery (so you'll need a sturdy bag and padding to safely carry bottles). (See Saint_Thomas#Returning_home for tips on going home with purchases.)
Whenever considering a significant purchase, negotiate amiably; you may well save a bit.
Anyone on the streets touting "freebies" or "cash" will likely lead you incrementally and smoothly to a distant, on-site sales pitch for resort condos or time-shares. Once there, you'll encounter high-pressure tactics over an extended time, with "freebies" governed by willingness to buy. If you have only limited time for your visit, it may be totally consumed at the sales pitch.
- St Martin is a duty-free port, so merchants pay no up-front duty or tax as they price merchandise. They must, however, pay the above 5% "turnover tax" (TOT), and those funds come from somewhere...you.
- It offers no special customs duty advantages over other Caribbean islands, and for U.S. citizens a slight disadvantage compared to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
- Nonetheless, you may find well-priced items here that you won't find elsewhere, and prices on commodity items (e.g., some premium liquors, wines) may be better than the USVI. Take care when calculating cost per liter for purchases, and when declaring liters for Customs, because bottle sizes vary. Don't allow yourself to be dissuaded from a purchase here just for fear of customs duties, which may be modest. (See Saint_Thomas#Customs_and_Duty for U.S. Customs details.)
This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Saint Martin on Wikivoyage.