St. Maarten is blessed with 37 beaches–one for each of the island’s 37 square miles. Busy bays are venues for watersports, swimming, and snorkeling, while secluded coves offer private retreats. The dress code ranges from modest (on the Dutch side of the island) to nudist (on the French side). Half-day or full-day sailing excursions to undeveloped beaches nearby are also available. Both sides speak English and accept US dollars, they still retain a lot of their European origins with great Dutch and French cheeses, fine French restaurants, Indonesian rijstafels brought by the Dutch.
St. Maarten enjoys an unusual status as a commercial center: it is among the world’s few duty-free ports. This means that no duty is paid on any item coming in or going out. Luxury items cost up to 50 percent less than in other countries, and it is a small wonder that shoppers and cruise ships from around the world head here to buy jewelry, electronics, perfume, crystal, and other expensive goods.Most of Dutch St. Maarten’s shopping is concentrated along Front Street in Philipsburg. Boutiques stretch along the entire length of the street, and stylish arcades lead off in either direction. A truly international center, Front Street offers top-of-the-line products from around the world. Prices are quoted in US dollars, saving shoppers the confusion of sorting out exchange rates.
Jewelry is a perennial favorite for St. Maarten shoppers. The Front Street jewelers offer everything from loose diamonds and emeralds to original creations in gold and silver. Many jewelers also sell exclusive Swiss watches. Other great buys are international fashions, from Gucci to Ralph Lauren, fine leather goods, and top-of-the-line French cosmetics. Front Street also offers the best of 20th-century electronics, including televisions, CD players, cameras, and fax machines.Native arts and crafts are not lost among all the Euro-ware. The more popular offerings are West Indian hammocks, wood carvings, handmade jewelry, and bottles of local Guavaberry liquor. Private galleries showcase the work of artists from all over the Netherlands Antilles. Shops on Front Street are open from 8 or 9 am until noon, and then again from 2 until 6 p.m. Some stores remain open during lunch as a convenience to visiting cruise ship passengers. Most shops are open every day except Christmas and Good Friday.
Many stores on St. Maarten remain open until the wee hours, alert to the sudden desire for acquisition triggered by casino winnings. Among the late-night shopping areas, Maho Bay has gained a particularly high reputation. Chic boutiques selling high fashion clothing, perfumes, and cosmetics now stay open almost as late as the surrounding nightclubs.
A note about duties: Every country has its own customs requirements on goods brought back from duty-free vacations. Front Street merchants can give details on most countries’ requirements.
We have put together a few comments on St Martin’s many beaches. Remember that beaches change gradually via erosion and replenishment and drastically via storms. The information is accurate having been updated in the 2003 season, but things change. The beaches on the east provide lots of morning sun while facing the shore and the beaches on the west will provide you with a glorious sunset into the water. Most beaches have some, if limited, amenities.
Some of the more famous beaches include mile-long Mullet Bay Beach, perfect for swimming; Dawn Beach, known for its incredible sunrises; and Little Bay Beach, a favorite of snorkelers, with calm, clear waters that offer excellent visibility.
Great Bay Philipsburg is known for shopping, casinos, and restaurants.
The beach and beach bars offer plenty of facilities. A boardwalk is being added and is considered one of the longest beaches on the island.
Maho Beach is one of the island’s most dramatic swimming spots. Swimmers splashing in the water can experience the unusual thrill of airplanes passing right over their heads as they head for the nearby runway. The craggy rocks lining the white sand beach add another dramatic touch. There are also wet bikes available for rent
Simpson Bay Beach – One of St. Maarten’s more private beaches is Simpson Bay Beach, a long half-moon of white sand set between a picturesque fishing village and the murmuring sea. There are no watersports, no resorts, just the sound of water gently lapping at your feet. You can stroll, swim, or simply relax, all the while seeing barely another soul.
Orient Beach is on the windward Eastern Coast but tends to be on e of the gentlest of beaches because of the protection afforded by the reef running from Green Cay to Pinel. The southern end of this beach is clothing optional.
Cupecoy Beach is another unspoiled landscape with pure white sand, sandstone cliffs, and shoreline caves as a setting. The surf can be strong, but the wind is blocked by the rocks. Lying near the border with St. Martin, its dress code is influenced by that of the French beaches: clothing is optional.
Dawn Beach – A pretty beach that is fairly well protected. There is good snorkeling or if the surf is up, good boogie boarding.
Lots of activities: Orient and Great Bay Beach have the most.
No activities: Cupecoy (Nude beach at the end) and Mullet have nothing. There is little on Bay Long, Plum Bay, and Bay Rouge.