The northern, French side of the island is known as Saint-Martin, and is 54km² 21 square miles in area. The southern, "Dutch side" of the island is known as Sint Maarten, and is 41km² 16 square miles. The Dutch side has recently formed its own government and legal system, with its relations with the "French side" to remain unchanged. To avoid confusion between the three variations on the name, the two regions are commonly referred to as "the French side" and "the Dutch side".
Although this island is controlled by two different countries, there is no real border. There are only monuments and signs that delineate the border. Over 350 years ago the two countries decided that residents of either country could travel across both sides of the border without worrying about any trouble. Local legend says that two men representing the two respective countries met on the island to define the border. Both men wanted the majority of the land for their nation, so they decided to have a contest. They would both start at the same point and walk along the coast in separate directions. When they both met on the other side of the island, they would draw a line from point to point, and that would serve as the border. However, the Dutchman was a drunk and was hammered when they started the contest. He was stumbling and kept falling down, which is why the Netherlands has less of the land. The two countries now live peacefully without difficulties, which helps tourism considerably. Any separation is more from separate and dissimilar utilities systems, e.g., power on French side is 250V, 50Hz, while the Dutch side is 110/120V, 60Hz. In addition, one must take special care when dialling from the French to Dutch or Dutch to French side as it is, in effect, an international call and requires special dialling instructions. These instructions are typically posted at hotels and tourist locations.
The Dutch side, Sint Maarten, has become a leading destination in the property market with more and more developments being constructed. There are high-rise flats and waterfront communities, all of which are popular to buyers, especially American. Tourists on the streets are frequently approached by time-share offers for them. The language on this side of the island is Dutch, but almost everyone speaks English.
On the Dutch side, grocery stores and other businesses may have prices expressed in Netherlands Antilles Florins NAF which is the local currency also called Guilders, but the US dollar and the euro will be gladly accepted at these establishments as well. The florin is officially pegged to the USD, with a fixed rate of USD1 = NAF1.79. Many large resorts have been built and on many days cruise ships flood Philipsburg with their passengers. Philipsburg is one of the Caribbean's best shopping towns. If shopping's not your thing, you can sit out back on Philipsburg's harbour beach and have a drink. Or play at one of the casinos just down the street. There are nine on this side. When it all gets too mellow, go rip it up with a 4x4 excursion around the island. Visit the Maho and Cupecoy area for some of the best nightlife on the island and some of the best beaches.
The French side, Saint Martin, consists of the Northern two-thirds of the island. It is governed by the neighbouring island of Guadeloupe, and is more European than the Dutch. The native language is French and has the same guiding laws as France. There are no casinos on the French side. It is less developed than the Dutch side, but contains more of the island's natural wonders. The French side is popularly known for clothing-optional Orient Beach and the adjacent nudist resort, Club Orient the clothing optional portion of the beach lies at the far southern end, and can be easily recognised by the large bright yellow beach umbrellas; while the Club Orient does own its beach area, it is open to the public, so you will see both clothed and unclothed people on this particular stretch; if you are with small children, and you don't want them to see unclothed people, it is probably best to not bring them to this part of the beach. However the towns of Marigot and Grand Case provide some of the best gourmet meals anywhere and plenty of interesting shops. Beauty abounds on the island, with bluffs overlooking pretty harbours, sandy-cliffed beaches and tranquil rocky coves where fish provide the beauty.
NOTE: Effective 30 September 2011, international telephone dialling to locations on the Dutch side changed when Sint Maarten joined the North American Numbering Plan. The correct phone number is now +1 721 current 7-digit number