Saint Martin is a tropical island in the northeast Caribbean, approximately 300 km (186 miles) east of Puerto Rico. The 87 km² island is divided roughly in half between France and the Netherlands Antilles; it is the smallest inhabited sea island divided between two nations.
The southern Dutch half comprises the Eilandgebied Sint Maarten (Island area of St. Martin) and is part of the Netherlands Antilles.
The northern French half comprises the Collectivité de Saint-Martin (Collectivity of St. Martin) and is an overseas collectivity of France.
Collectively, the two territories are known as "St-Martin/St. Maarten". Sometimes SXM, the IATA identifier for Princess Juliana International Airport (the island's main airport), is used to refer to the island.
The main towns are Philipsburg (Dutch side) and Marigot (French side). The island has approximately a total resident population of 85,000. The official population on the Dutch side is 50,000 while on the French side this is 35,000. Human density is 3 times that of the Netherlands. In addition there is an average of 1,000,000 tourist visitors per year.
The highest hilltop is the Pic Paradis (414 m) on center of a hill chain. There is no river on the island, but many dry guts. Hiking trails give access to the dry forest covering tops and slopes.
The average yearly air temperature is 27 °C (min 17 °C, max 35 °C) and sea surface temperature 26.4 °C. The total average yearly rainfall is 995 mm, with 22 days of thunder.
Neither of the two halves of St. Martin had separate FIPS PUB 10-4 territory codes or ISO 3166-1 codes prior to 2007; they were coded as GP (Guadeloupe) and NA/AN (Netherlands Antilles). The status of the French side changed to an overseas collectivity in February 2007, and it received the ISO 3166-1 code MF in October 2007. The status of the Dutch side is due to change to a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in December 2008, and it is expected that Dutch part will also get an ISO 3166-1 code of its own shortly thereafter.
On March 23, 1648, France and the Dutch Republic agreed to divide the island between their two nations, so they signed the Treaty of Concordia.
Since 1975, several versions of a legend about the division have become popular, especially in tourism publications. An often repeated story is that the island was divided into two sections through a race; the French-dominated community chose one person for the race and the Dutch-dominated community chose another, a man named Menno Versteeg. The two representatives were put back to back in one extreme of the island, and made to walk along the coast in opposite directions. They were not allowed to run. At the point where they eventually met, a line was drawn across the island, connecting their starting point with their meeting point. This became the frontier which divides Saint-Martin from Sint Maarten, according to the legend. The reason for the difference in size between the two sides was said to be that the French representative moved faster than the Dutch.
In one version, the explanation for the French walker's quicker pace is that he drank wine beforehand, while the Dutch walker drank beer. This is used to support the claim that wine has restorative effects and that it was the French drink of choice that enabled the French walker to move faster.
Sint Maarten, the Dutch side, is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewelry, exotic drinks made with native rum-based guavaberry liquors, and plentiful casinos, while Saint-Martin, the French side, is known more for its nude beaches, clothes, shopping, and rich French and Indian Caribbean cuisine.
Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin is home to several world-class accommodations, including hotels, villas, and timeshares, many of which are privately available for rent or sale. Some properties have over 200 rooms, while others have fewer than twenty. Many are located directly on beaches and in upscale shopping districts. Villas pepper the coast, boasting private beaches. Some are private residences, while others are available to affluent renters.
Rental cars are the primary mode of transportation for visitors staying on island. The island is served by several well-known agencies. If any driving is expected off the major roads (such as to some of the more secluded beaches), a 4-wheel drive is recommended. Traffic on the island, however, has become a major problem; long traffic jams between Marigot, Philipsburg and the airport are common.
Because the island is located along the intertropical convergence zone, it is occasionally menaced by tropical storm activity in the late summer and early fall. It is important to monitor local weather information during this time.
The island is widely known for its hundreds of gourmet (and more moderately priced) restaurants on both sides of the island.
Neighbouring islands include Saint-Barthélemy (French), Anguilla (British), Saba (Dutch), Sint Eustatius "Statia" (Dutch), Saint Kitts and Nevis (Independent, formerly British). With the exception of Nevis, all of these islands are easily visible on a clear day from St. Maarten.
Shopping on St Maarten and Saint Martin offers high quality duty-free goods in numerous boutiques. The island has a well-earned reputation as a "shopper's paradise". Popular goods include local crafts & arts, exotic foods, jewelry, liquor, tobacco, leather goods, as well as most designer goods. Because of Duty free Tax free abound the island has become more of a shopping and relaxing destination. Most often the designer goods are offered at significant discounts, often up to 40% lower than US retail prices.
Wording courtesy of http://www.wikipedia.org/
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