Escape the throngs who arrive on colossal cruise ships, and Saint Martin is a surprisingly serene oasis of sandy beaches fringed by wild jungles and dotted by the occasional thatch-roofed bar. The Dutch side is more populous and action-packed; the main city of Philipsburg dazzles with casinos, duty-free shops and nightclubs. Over on the French side, Marigot is a Caribbean counterpart to St Tropez, with upscale boutiques, fine dining and perfectly tanned, kaftan-clad jetsetters. Whichever side you prefer, both have laid-back rum bars, superlative views and reefs filled with a Caribbean kaleidoscope of sealife.
When to go
The weather is pleasant year-round. The island is busiest in winter, from December through March. Though there is a rainy season from June through October, storms pass quickly, and prices are significantly lower than in peak season.
PlanesPrincess Juliana International Airport is one of the busiest airports in the Caribbean, serving cities around the world, including London (www.ba.com), New York (www.united.com) and Los Angeles (www.aa.com). For flights between islands, regional carriers include Caribbean Airlines (www.caribbean-airlines.com).
BoatsSaint Martin is a cruise capital, with millions of visitors a year. There are also smaller slips for those who wish to sail to the island. There are numerous ferries, from both the French and Dutch sides, to Anguilla and St Barths (www.st-barths.com/great-bay-express/index.html), though beware that waters can be rough, so those who are prone to seasickness should opt for a flight (www.stbarthcommuter.com).
AutomobilesThough there can be traffic, driving is the best way to see the island and visit beaches beyond your hotel's. Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road, and streets are fairly well marked. For those who don’t rent a car, there are plenty of taxis around the island, which you can hail from the street.