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Introducing St Maarten And St Martin

Lake Gunn, South Island © Jocelyn Kinghorn

Tucked away in a small corner of the Caribbean lies the island of Sint Maarten and Saint Martin, the world's smallest area of land divided into two nations. The French and Dutch have shared this strip of paradise peacefully for more than 350 years, ever since a gin-drinking Dutchman and a wine-imbibing Frenchman allegedly walked around the island to see how much territory they could claim for their country in a day. The French won more land, but the Dutch lay claim to the most prized part.

The Dutch may well have a point. Sint Maarten is known for its beaches, casinos and rum-fuelled festive nightlife. Duty-free shopping is the order of the day for tourists filling the numerous condos and resorts. Those who find it overdeveloped and artificial can get a taste of a different side of the Caribbean on the quiet, picturesque beaches of Simpson Bay and Little Bay, while visitors looking for a more rugged holiday would do well to head north to the French side of the island.

Saint Martin is significantly quieter than its Dutch counterpart. The French side of the island is a lovely mix of white-sand beaches, small town centres and beautiful stretches of mountainside. Shopping is a more relaxed affair at the outdoor markets, offering up some of the finest Caribbean cuisine.

The island as a whole hosts 120 different nationalities, giving it a rich cultural heritage. Food, drink and friendly Caribbean hospitality are all on the agenda. Visitors enjoy snorkeling, diving and jet-skiing, or head inland to hike in the mountains or zip-line through the treetops.

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