The Caribbean Islands are full of sunny days, warm nights and a cultural flare like no other vacation destination. With two complimenting cultures on one island, St. Martin is a great place to start exploring the Caribbean. Steeped in rich history, the antics and politics of the island’s past and present show great perseverance and fortitude in creating a paradise for all to share.
A Divided Island
The partitioned island of St. Martin (French) / Sint Maarten (Dutch) provides guests a coupled experience of two nations on a single island. Located in the Caribbean southeast of Anguilla, the island’s French territory covers 16 square miles to the north, while the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten spans the southern 21 square miles. The island is filled with tales of ancient people, battles of imperialism, discoveries of resources, and the change in power between the Spanish, Dutch and French. There are still remnants of old stone forts at island inlets that serve as reminders of the turbulent past.
The earliest signs of life on the island were traces found of Stone Age people dating back to 4,000 B.C. Around 800 A.D., the earliest known tribe to inhabit the island, the Arawak Indians, made their way from South America to the waters of the Caribbean and named the island Soualiga or “Salt Island.” The Arawaks were a cultured peaceful people who introduced agriculture and pottery to the region. However, they were vanquished by a cannibalistic tribe called the Carib Indians who came from North American and later gave the Caribbean waters its name. The Carib tribe later disbursed among the Caribbean Islands.
The Great Discoverers
As legend has it, around the 14th century, discoverer for the Spanish, Christopher Columbus sighted the island on November 11, 1493, which was also the holy day of St. Martin of Tours (a popular french bishop), therefore the name St. Martin was given. The date, November 11th is still recognized and celebrated on St. Martin today. It is still unsure if Columbus ever set foot on the island, however, he did document the area to belong to the Spanish, but they made no attempt to settle there. It wasn’t until 1630, the Dutch and French took notice and established small settlements on the island. The Spanish didn’t take kindly to the new settlements and saw them as a threat to their power in the region and attacked the island; attempting to drive out the Dutch and French settlers. The battle began with the Dutch and French forces joined together to take on the Spanish. Finally, in 1622 the Dutch-French goal was achieved; the Spanish were driven off the island and an accord was signed to divide the island between the Dutch and French. During the course of history, the island boundary between the two powers changed at least 16 times and was finally settled in 1815 with Treaty of Paris. Today, the island is called “Sint Maarten” in Dutch spelling, and “St Martin” in French, Spanish, Italian, and English spelling.
The Growing Years
The island had just 3,000 people in 1914 and that number dwindled to 2,000 by 1930. But with World War II and threats from Germany, the U.S. built runways on the Caribbean islands to eliminate air strikes from the enemy. After the war, many of the runways turned into international airports for the Caribbean islands, which holds true for St. Martin. When commercial flights began in the 1950’s, the Dutch took advantage of the opportunity to turn their share of the island into a tourist destination. It wasn’t until the 1970’s the French side of the island followed suit to capture the curiosity of the world traveler. Today between the two governing parties, the island has 90,000 people on 37 square miles and continues to be one of the most popular destinations in the world.
What to do on the Island.
- Visit the beaches. Air temperature year round in St. Martin averages in the mid-80s, with sea temperatures in the calm mid-70s. On such a small island, the sea is rarely more than a short walk away; all beaches are white sand giving way to shallow, clear water.
- Hit the casinos. There are 14 casinos in St. Martin, all on the Dutch-side of the island. All casinos offer slots and table games. A few even have bingo and live entertainment.
- Encounter the food scene. There are more than 400 restaurants on the whole island. With the French’s reputation for fine food, there is no shortage of fine cuisine and culinary delights.
- Take a hike. The island has a modest ridge running through the center presenting marked trails for the the experienced hiker and guided tours for the novice. What makes hiking so great here; there are a series of coastal paths that link the majority of bays and beaches.
- Dive into a water sport. Most hotels on the island offer jet skis, water bike and windsurf rentals. If scuba diving is your thing, there are several scuba diving centers that organize day or night dives.
Now, take what you’ve learned about this fascinating island and plan your island discovery vacation on St. Martin today! Let us help, at Caribbean Days. Preview luxury villas and discover great deals for this beautiful island with just a click of your mouse. What are you waiting for, the Caribbean is calling!
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