|Philipsburg, The Great Bay and The Salt Pond
I like to write about places I’ve been, things I’ve done and from time to time places that pique my interest, places that end up on my wish list for future travel. But today, I wanted to share with you “The other side of the coin, Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Recently I shared with you my views of Marigot, St. Martin which is the largest city on the French side of the Island, today it is all about Philipsburg, St. Maarten the biggest city on the Dutch side of the Island.
I really love the Island of St. Maarten/St. Martin. I have been there many times, I have daydreams about retiring there. Building myself a nice little bar on the beach somewhere, never having to wear pants again, Oh wait, don’t worry I will wear something; living on that fictitious Island Time, making friends and living the life of a nomadic beach bum, friends, fun and sun and a Rum Punch or two. I have written a few stories now about this Island, if you would like to get caught up click on the stories below.
There are two large cities on the Island, Marigot and Philipsburg. Today I thought it might be fun to explore Philipsburg. As much as I love Marigot, Philipsburg is equally loved, but for different reasons. The ambiance of Philipsburg is uniquely Caribbean, there seems to be a slight dutch flavor, but nothing like the French feeling you will find in Marigot. In Philipsburg there is on doubt your on a Caribbean Island.
Philipsburg was discovered by Christopher Columbus on November 11th, 1493 but there was already an Arawak settlement there before he made the discovery. Philipsburg was founded in 1763 by John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch navy, and soon became a bustling centre of international trade. Two historic forts bear witness to Philipsburg’s strategic importance in St. Maarten’s history: Fort Amsterdam and Fort Willem.
Philipsburg is four parallel streets squeezed between Great Bay and the Salt Pond, where various types of salt were produced many years ago. If you are a Cruise Ship traveler you may have docked in the Great Bay at some time. This is where all the Cruise Ships dock. The vision of the early settlers to this part of the Island has been to maintain the Creole houses on the shore, ensuring arriving boats get a look back in time to the Island’s beginning.
The entire area has been improved greatly over the last few years. The harbor was dredged so that Cruise Ships could tie up at a new terminal. The sand from the dredging was used to replenish Great Bay beach and a boardwalk was built running the length of the beach.
The main street, Front Street has been beautified with paving stones, benches, new sidewalks, palm trees and cast iron streetlights. However if you drive to Philipsburg, be prepared there is no parking on Front Street and the parallel streets. This was done to ensure that the streets are pedestrian friendly, the streets are now a mile long shopping mall.
Although Philipsburg may be only four streets deep and one mile long, but it contains everything that anyone and especially a tourist needs. All St. Maarten is duty free, but Philipsburg has shop after shop after shop each trying to outdo the others offering electronics, alcohol, jewelry, linens, perfume and much much more.
And if shopping, excellent dining and the beauty of the setting isn’t enough for you, well hit the ATM because there are Casino’s just waiting to entertain you while they drain your wallet. Some of the Island’s finest and oldest restaurants are located in Philipsburg. Although the Island is well known for it’s French and Creole cuisine, you will also find outstanding Chinese and Indian cuisine as well. Where ever you decide to enjoy your lunch or dinner don’t miss the bars along the Boardwalk. Some of the best bartenders are located in these bars, try a hand mixed Rum Punch and get back to me.
This much is true, no matter where you want to spend your dollar, which is duty-free by the way, there is a place to do so. Also, always keep in mind negotiation is part of the buying process here. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for a better deal, you may just get a pleasant surprise. On my most recent trip, visiting my favorite jeweler, he told me that the listed prices are for the Cruise Passengers, and in fact he can cut the price in half without even thinking about it if he wants, so make sure you negotiate. In fact not only should you ask for a better deal, you should ask for a cocktail while your shopping. Seriously, a recent excursion at a jewelry store resulted in the most expensive 12 pack of Heineken in history, haha. The point is, you’ve been taken if you pay full price in Philipsburg.
When on the Island of St. Maarten make sure you make your way to Philipsburg, it is well worth the effort, the pay off will be a lifetime of memories.
Heres a tip for you: No matter where you are on the Island, it may be much easier to take a water taxi to Philipsburg. It is faster, easier and when your busy shopping and drinking you won’t have to worry about driving back to your hotel or house.