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This beautiful Caribbean island has been attracting visitors for decades thanks to its stunning beaches, excellent cuisine, phenomenal shopping and thrilling nightlife. Indeed, the island’s 37 beaches are its main draw, and with a car they can all easily be admired. Visitors can drive around the entire island, along the peninsulas that surround Simpson Bay Lagoon and through the hilly interior to Pic Paradis to discover both the French and Dutch sides of this split island.
Driving here is stress-free, with well-maintained roads and little traffic. The ring road makes it possible to reach all beaches on the island. Livestock appears on the roads and by law has the right of way. Signage is good and in French, Dutch and English, with distances posted in kilometres.
Driving licences: UK drivers must hold an International Driving Permit as well as a UK driving licence in order to drive here.
Which side does Saint Martin drive on: the right-hand side.
Motorways: 37mph (60kph), if not posted otherwise.
Rural areas: 37mph (60kph)
Built-up areas: 25mph (40kph)
Alcohol limits: stricter than the UK limit at 0.05 per cent, with steep fines and regular police check-points, especially on the French side of the island.
Driving age: 18 years old.
Seatbelts: the driver and all passengers must wear seatbelts at all times. Children under the age of four are required to be seated in a suitable child seat, while children under the age of 10 cannot sit in the front seat.
Mobile phones and GPS: driving and using a mobile phone is illegal and may result in a fine. GPS is allowed but is not necessary as the main road is a ring road and the island is easy to navigate.
Cost of fuel in Saint Martin: cheaper than in the UK.
Car hire and fuel payment: credit cards are regularly accepted at petrol stations and car hire depots around the island. UK visitors should inform their card issuer that they plan on using their card here before leaving home.
Insurance: third-party insurance is integrated in car hire rates but additional insurance is highly recommended.
Traffic and parking: parking in the cities can be hard to find though elsewhere it is easy to source, and most hotels offer parking to their guests. Parking in a restricted area may result in the towing of the vehicle. Outside of peak seasons, there is little traffic.
There is an abundance of taxis available, most of which are vans that serve cruise ship day-trippers. Taxis have fixed rates that are regulated by the government and are generally based on a minimum of two passengers. Rates increase when there are three or more passengers, as well as in the evenings. To tour the island costs around £15 for two people. Most hotels can call taxis, which are available 24 hours, for their guests.
Buses regularly run between both sides of the island and between Philipsburg and Marigot. They are in the form of a van and are a cheap way to get around, with rides costing around £1.25 for each town passed. Buses in Saint Martin are slow and do not run on a set schedule, but can be flagged down anywhere.
The port at Philipsburg is a major stop on the Caribbean cruise ship circuit and over one million visitors arrive this way each year. The port at Marigot also receives cruise ships though not on such a large scale. Ferries also arrive from other Caribbean islands, such as Anguilla and Saint Barthélemy, with companies such as the Anguilla Ferry Service and The Link. The 25-minute journey to Anguilla runs from around £6 to £9.
Saint Martin’s Princess Juliana International Airport, which is on the Dutch side, is the island’s busiest airport as well as one of the busiest airports in the Caribbean. There are no direct flights to the UK though it is easy for UK visitors to get here via Paris or Amsterdam, or by making a stop in a major hub in Canada or the US. If visiting from Guadeloupe, Saint Barthélemy or Anguilla, it is possible to fly into L'Espérance Airport on the French side of the island. UK nationals do not need a visa to enter but they do need some sort of identification, such as a passport or official EU identity card. Upon departure, all international travellers are required to pay an exit tax of around £18 though this is sometimes included in the cost of the air ticket.
Orient Bay, on the French side, is one of the most popular spots on the island thanks to its underwater marine reserve and its clothing optional beaches. The beaches here, in which there are five, are dotted with beach bars and are great for jet-skiing, paragliding and sailing.
On the Dutch side is Mullet Beach, which is said to be the nicest beach on the island. It is a picture-perfect white sandy beach with blue waters and swaying palm trees that is ideal for surfing, sunbathing and relaxing.
Grand Case, on the French side, is the food capital of the island, famous for its plethora of excellent French gourmet restaurants. The beach here is great for water sports, including diving, snorkelling, kayaking and waterskiing.
Philipsburg, the capital city of the Dutch side, it famed for its duty-free shopping and houses a great zoo. It has a thriving nightlife scene and more than enough casinos to satisfy any gambler. Also here, on the peninsula dividing Great Bay and Little Bay, are the Fort Amsterdam ruins.
The interior is home to Pic Paradis (Paradise Peak), the highest point on the island, which boasts stunning views of the island and the surrounding sea. En route to this point is Loterie Farm where visitors can enjoy a zip line, hiking excursions and a jungle obstacle course.
The island has an average annual temperature of around 27°C though it can get as hot as 35°C. August and September are the hottest and most humid months, but are also hurricane season on the island. February and March are the driest months, as well as the coolest months, while December and January are the most popular times to visit.