St. Martin is a tropical island in the northeast Caribbean, approximately 300 km (186 miles) east of Puerto Rico. The 87 square kilometers 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 the northern French half comprises the Collectivité de Saint-Martin (Collectivity of St. Martin), an overseas collectivity of France.
Today tourism is king; bustling Front Street in Philipsburg beckons bargain hunters with 500 duty-free shops. There are 36 sugary sand beaches to visit: one favorite strip is Cupecoy Bay Beach near the Dutch-French border, and windsurfers head to busy Maho Bay Beach, located near the airport. One of St. Martin’s more private strands is Simpson Bay Beach. Simpson Bay Lagoon is enclosed, making the water a natural for water skiing. Dawn Beach, Oyster Pond, and Guana Bay are favorites for snorkeling and windsurfing.
Divers can explore the coral-covered HMS Proselyte, an 1801 British frigate,that lies a mile off the coast. Visitors can lounge on the beach or spend time mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, playing tennis, or participating in watersports. Those who are more adventurous may want to try kiteboarding, or operators on the island can also arrange for parasailing, windsurfing and WaveRunner excursions with instruction. Sailing is very popular; experience the thrill of the daily 12-Meter Challenge, a three-hour staged version of the America’s Cup race. Sailors of every skill level can serve as a crew member aboard the boats.
St. Martin is blessed with 37 beaches – one for each of the island's 37 square miles. Busy bays are venues for watersports, swimming, and snorkeling, while secluded coves offer private retreats. The dress code ranges from modest (on the Dutch side of the island) to nudist (on the French side). Half-day or full-day sailing excursions to undeveloped beaches nearby are also available.
Some of the more famous beaches include mile-long Mullet Bay Beach, perfect for swimming; Dawn Beach, known for its incredible sunrises; and Little Bay Beach – a favorite of snorkelers that offers calm, clear waters that offer excellent visibility.