At the recent CTO conference hosted in St. Kitts the main focus was the need to creep away from the traditional Sun, Sea and Sand Caribbean holiday concept and move towards a more sustainable tourism product… St Maarten is one island that knows the importance of moving away from simply `sunning your bum` and has the product to match…
How can someone truly say that they have experienced an island if all do is arrange their backsides on a beach and slowly marinate in the sun like a slab of meat? While there definitely are benefits to this kind of relaxation (although following the recent revelations that sunscreen perhaps isn`t quite as effective as first thought, these benefits are slowly shrinking), fuller holiday experiences await when a sun-filled trip is combined with at least some of the local flavours, activities and offerings that islands have. Dutch St. Maarten, for example, may pride itself on having 37 beaches (literally one for every square mile of the Dutch territory) but it also has a rich history, landscape and culture that it wants to share with its visitors.
In fact, Dutch St. Maarten is in the enviable position to not only have its own offerings but it also provides easy access to the highlights of its French neighbors. Whether you are staying on the Dutch or French sides of this island, it would be advisable to cross the border and explore the other side for some time. With a solid infrastructure, a car rental is an easy choice for a day trip around the entire island; just remember to bring along your passports when planning to cross over to the other side. Back on the Dutch side, there is a wide range of activities awaiting visitors. Following is a roundup of some land-based activities that will make a simple beach holiday into a more rounded cultural experience. For more information on Dutch St. Maarten, visit: [www.st-maarten.com].
Not much remains of the various forts that played major roles in the constant battling for control of the island, but they are still worth a visit if not for the history at least for the views they often provided. Fort Amsterdam is the main fort in Philipsburg, located on Great Bay Harbor. Built in 1631, this was the first Dutch military outpost in the Caribbean that was later taken over by the Spanish. It was here that Peter Stuyvesant (a future governor of New York) lost his leg while battling for control of the fort. Fort Willem, also located in Philipsburg, provides amazing vistas of the island and neighboring isles. The English began its construction in 1801 and the Dutch took it over in 1816; it is now home to a television transmission tower.
St. Maarten Museum:
Located on Frontstreet in the capital city of Philipsburg, the St. Maarten Museum provides a comprehensive overview of the island’s past. A great choice for history buffs, this museum features artifacts that date back to the Arawak Indians around 500-600 A.D.; weapons, utensils and other items from the original Dutch settlers in 1631; furniture, jewelry, pottery and other items from the days of the plantations and slavery; recovered shipwreck items; information on the island’s environment and geology; and the effects of 1995’s Hurricane Luis. Open from 10 to 4 during the week and from 10 to 2 on Saturdays, the St. Maarten Museum only charges US$1 as an entrance fee.
Emilio Wilson Historical & Cultural Park:
This park has been undergoing some major changes in recent years and visitors are now enjoying the first stage of its overhaul. Located on the site of the former Golden Rock Plantation, the park now has different types of historical houses that tell the tales of life on St. Maarten with special attention paid to the issue of slavery. Replicas of the Thatch House, Wattle House and the school each offer a different perspective into the past. These opened up last summer and work continues on the park. There are plans to build a complete replica of a plantation house as well as to develop a section of the grounds for local schoolchildren’s projects. Admission is free, although donations are accepted.
If nothing else can convince you to explore the island, perhaps the great shopping deals available will do the trick. As a truly duty-free port, St. Maarten retailers do not pay any taxes on items coming in or out, so they are able to sell their wares at a considerable discount and still remain profitable. Shoppers will find great deals on jewelry, electronics, china, crystal, linen and native crafts, especially in Phillipsburg. U.S. citizens can bring back up to $800 in duty-free goods.
Sports and Active Exploration:
For the active holiday-maker who wants to experience St. Maarten in different ways, there is always some type of sport or recreational activity available. Golfers will enjoy the island’s 18-hole Mullet Bay championship golf course. Hiking and mountain biking are also popular activities on St. Maarten, with plenty of trails and paths that introduce people to the lush vegetation of the island; There are also a number of horse stables that offer organised rides for a variety of ability levels. Among those available are the OK Coral, which provides a 2.5-hour beach ride, or Lucky Stable, which also offers a variety of ride types. Most hotels will be able to recommend or set up these kinds of activities for your clients.
And if you decide after all of that hard work you’ll be sure to work up a healthy appetite and they are in luck. The dining scene in St. Maarten has really taken off and guests have more than 300 restaurants from which to choose a variety of cuisines. French, Indonesian, Caribbean, Creole, Italian—you name it and you can find a chef cooking it on Dutch St. Maarten. So what are you waiting for tuck in..!