One island, two nations
Offering some of the best vistas in all the Caribbean, St. Maarten is the smallest inhabited island in the world shared by two nations - France in the north and the Netherlands in the south. Dubbed the true melting pot of the Caribbean, the 37-square-mile island is home to people of 47 different nationalities and more than 400 restaurants, featuring a hugely diverse variety of cuisine.
The island also has two capitals: Philipsburg on the Dutch side, and Marigot in the French part. Once you arrive on an MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruise in St. Maarten, explore how the two cultures have blended their very distinct characters on one of our MSC excursions.
Your St. Maarten cruise will dock in Philipsburg, founded in 1763 by John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch Navy. Philipsburg, with its pastel-coloured West Indian houses, is known for its duty-free shopping along Front Street, the Great Salt Pond, which once made the island literally “worth its salt,” and attracted the attention of the French, and Fort Willem, built in 1801, with mag-nificent views of the bay and the surrounding islands.
From there, several MSC excursions take you on a hilly drive to the French side of the island to experience Marigot. Originally a fishing village on a swamp for which it was named, Marigot became the capital during the reign of Louis XVI. Fort Louis, which overlooks Marigot Bay and Anguilla, was built in the late 18th century to protect the town’s warehouses of salt, coffee, sugar cane and especially rum from the English. Today, Marigot showcases quaint colourful gingerbread-like houses, tasty sidewalk bistros and a waterfront market selling fruit and vegetables, spices, local meats and fresh fish from Creole huts worth exploring.
For something special, spend the day on the Dutch side of the island at the restored sugar planta-tion at Rockland Estate. Take in a history lesson at the Emilio Wilson Museum or a nature hike and 360-degree views from Sentry Hill. Participate in a hands-on cooking demonstration of authentic local cuisines with lunch at Emilio’s restaurant, in an exclusive Martha Stewart excursion curated for MSC Cruises.
Also at Rockland Estate, thrill seekers can book other MSC excursions on the Flying Dutchman, a fast and furious zip line ride that will have you whizzing down the line at speeds of up to 56 mph (90 km) per hour. Then take the Pirate Sky Ride cable car back up the top to the Crow’s Nest where several platforms encircling the mountain afford panoramic views of the neighbouring islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius, Saint Barthélemy and Anguilla. Then plunge down the mountain on a Schooner Ride inner tube along a specially designed track.
To experience one of the island’s hottest spots and most popular attractions, visit the famous Maho Beach, also called Airplane Beach. Don’t get too comfortable, though. This is because you watch as planes pass only a short distance above your head as they land and take off from Princess Juli-ana Airport’s short runway next door.