Saint Martin is a tropical island in the northeast Caribbean, approximately 300 km (186 miles) east of Puerto Rico. The 87 km2 island is divided roughly in half between France (53 km2) and the Netherlands Antilles (34 km2); it is the smallest inhabited sea island divided between two nations. The southern Dutch half comprises the Eilandgebied Sint Maarten (Island area of St. Martin) and is part of the Netherlands Antilles. The northern French half comprises the Collectivité de Saint-Martin (Collectivity of St. Martin) and is an overseas collectivity of France.
The highest hilltop is the Pic Paradis (424 m) on center of a hill chain (French side). There is no river on the island, but many dry guts. Hiking trails give access to the dry forest covering tops and slopes.
The average yearly air temperature is 27 °C (min 17 °C, max 35 °C) and sea surface temperature 26.4 °C. The total average yearly rainfall is 995 mm, with 99 days of thunder.
Sint Maarten, the Dutch side, is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewelry, exotic drinks made with native rum-based guavaberry liquors, and plentiful casinos, while Saint-Martin, the French side, is known more for its nude beaches, clothes, shopping (including outdoor markets), and rich French and Indian Caribbean cuisine.
The island is home to several world-class accommodations, including hotels, villas, and timeshares, many of which are privately available for rent or sale. Some properties have over 200 rooms, while others have fewer than twenty. Many are located directly on beaches and in upscale shopping districts. Villas pepper the coast, boasting private beaches. Some are private residences, while others are available to affluent renters.
Rental cars are the primary mode of transportation for visitors staying on island. The island is served by several well-known agencies. If any driving is expected off the major roads (such as to some of the more secluded beaches), a 4-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. It is important to monitor local weather information during this time.
The island is widely known for its hundreds of gourmet (and more moderately priced) restaurants on both sides of the island.
Shopping on St Maarten and Saint Martin offers high quality duty-free goods in numerous boutiques. The island has a well-earned reputation as a "shopper's paradise". Popular goods include local crafts & arts, exotic foods, jewelry, liquor, tobacco, leather goods, as well as most designer goods. Because of Duty free Tax free abound the island has become more of a shopping and relaxing destination. Most often the designer goods are offered at significant discounts, often up to 40% lower than US retail prices.
Saint Martin uses the euro as its currency, while Sint Maarten is currently outside the Eurozone and uses the Netherlands Antillean guilder, pegged at 1.79 per United States dollar. It is unknown if Sint Maarten will shift to the euro some time after the Netherlands Antilles dissolves. Almost every store on the island also accepts the United States dollar, although sometimes a more expensive exchange rate is used (even 1 to 1 is no exception).