Read any two guidebooks and you’ll get conflicting information about whether to rent a car for sightseeing or take an organized tour.
We might drive RVs around at home, but in the case of visiting St. Maarten, we opted for a tour of St. Maarten with the knowledgeable tour guide from Viator Tours. He drove us around the entire island on a half day tour. Rather than fight the traffic that comes with having six cruise ships in town, we left the driving to our trusty driver…whose name I can’t remember! I do remember he provided a running commentary about what we were seeing and doing. He even stopped to feed a banana to a group of iguanas lounging roadside for a great photo op.
No Passport Needed
St. Maarten is a 37-square-mile Caribbean island divided into two almost-equal parts. One side is French, the other Dutch. Want to know what divides them? A ditch. Yes, a shallow ditch separates the two countries. You can walk back and forth between the two countries at any time, without going through customs or any of the other formalities usually needed when crossing a border.
Quick Overview of St. Maarten
The half day tour gave us an overview of the island and a chance to shop and sightsee in Phillipsburg and Marigot, capitals of the Dutch and French sides respectively.
While stopping at Orient Beach on the French side, I strolled down a back street and discovered people sitting on balconies, speaking French on their cell phones. French television played in the background while a local bakery posted the daily special in French, complete with European calligraphy. Naturally crepes and croissants were featured items. I felt as if the Eiffel tour could have been around the corner!
Within 10 minutes of starting the tour, we were pleased with our decision to leave the driving to professionals. The narrow winding streets filled with cars, buses, scooters and bulky three-wheeled scooters made driving perilous. Our group held our collective breath as the bus drove through streets so narrow we skimmed the mirrors of parked cars.
The tour ended with an activity not found in most guidebooks. Princess Juliana International airport’s unique location lends itself to a hair-raising, ear-splitting experience. Hundreds of people stand at the end of the runway, holding cameras and/or drinks. Waiting. Waiting for a large jumbo jet to approach from a distance. As the plane gets closer and closer you realize it needs to touch down at the end of the runway…within 20 feet or so from where you are standing. Our guide called it “The Most dangerous Airport in the World” because of the close proximity of the jet flying over your head just before it lands.
Against our better judgment, we joined the happy crowd and experienced the under belly of an Air France 737 a few feet away from us. That’s one activity American safety standards would never allow!