St. Martin’s Dutch side is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewelry, exotic drinks made with native rum-based guavaberry liquors, and plentiful casinos. The island’s French side is known for its nude beaches, clothes, shopping (including outdoor markets), and rich French and Indian Caribbean cuisine. English is the most commonly spoken language along with a local dialect. The official languages are French for Saint Martin, and both Dutch and English for Sint Maarten. Other common languages include various French-based creoles (spoken by immigrants from other French Caribbean islands), Spanish (spoken by immigrants from the Dominican Republic and various South American countries), and Papiamento (spoken by immigrants from Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao).The island is home to accommodations including hotels, villas, and timeshares, many of which are privately available for rent or sale. Rental cars are the primary mode of transportation for visitors staying on island. If any driving is expected off the major roads (such as to some of the more secluded beaches), a four-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. The island is widely known for its hundreds of gourmet (and more moderately priced) restaurants on both sides of the island. Neighboring islands include Saint Barthélemy (French), Anguilla (British), Saba (Dutch), Saint 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. Martin.
Folklore surrounds the history of the once ever-changing border division between St. Martin and Sint Maarten.
Ancient relics date the island’s first settlers, probably Ciboney Indians (a subgroup of Arawaks), back to 3,500 years ago.