deceptively small Dutch St. Maarten presents some interesting
contrasts for the explorer. Wide beaches along the coast, full
of sunbathers and watersurfers, seem a far cry from the quiet
country roads and small towns of the hillsides. In the evening
the hills of the interior become even more peaceful, while the
glittering casinos and pulsing clubs of the coast just begin
to come alive.
Heading north by car on Pondfill Road from Philipsburg,
visitors soon arrive at the Madam Estate area, site of the island's
zoo. Governed by the St. Maarten Zoological and Botanical Garden,
it features animals, birds and plants native to the Caribbean Basin
and South America, including St. Kitts monkeys.
Northeast of the zoo are Dawn Beach and Oyster
Pond, the first best known as a favored snorkeling and windsurfing
beach. According to legend, Oyster Pond is the point where a Frenchman
and Dutchman stood back to back and starting walking around the
island in either direction, determining the present-day boundaries
between Dutch and French St. Maarten. Oyster Bay remains divided
between two governments, but the border is extremely informal--swimmers
can cross back and forth between French and Dutch territory without
For a view and a taste of history, visitors can
climb Mount Concordia, which rises along the border in the center
of the island. In 1648, the treaty that divided the island was
signed here, and Mount Concordia continues to serve as a proud
symbol of St. Maarten's 350-year history of peaceful co-existance
between the two cultures.
Bay Hill, just west of Philipsburg, has an observation platform
at the top. A stop here is highly recommended for views of surrounding
islands, including Anguilla, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, and
Nevis. Down along the coast, a popular walking trail leads from
Cole Bay to Cay Bay. The walk takes about an hour.
Further west is Simpson Bay Lagoon, a large,
enclosed stretch of water perfect for waterskiing. The road leading
along the south side of the lagoon goes past the island's largest
resort, Maho Bay.
Cupecoy Beach is the last beach
in Dutch territory on the western side of the island. Visitors
who want the full St. Maarten experience can follow the road through
the French side.