BEGINNING TO THE HURRICANE
by Wolfgang Godai
Sint Maarten or Saint Martin is something very special: it is the smallest Caribbean island in the world belonging to two countries, the south as an autonomous region within the Netherlands, the north as part of France. Lonely beaches there are only a few but can be found on just 88 km ² almost everything that the Caribbean stands for. And the people here are grateful that something is going on again because only a short time ago everything was completely different.
When Irma, the strongest Atlantic hurricane in history, swept across the island on September 6, 2017, life literally went down for the locals. Up to 95% of the buildings were damaged, and the economy, whose income comes from 90% of tourism, was on the ground.
How the KURIER was able to convince itself in February 2019, meanwhile, is largely normal again, the structure is in full swing and thanks to a lot of support on the part of the mother countries and the EU, almost everything works again. Some hotels were able to reopen in full, but some are still being restored.
The tourists are back anyway. This can also be seen in the harbour of Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch part, through whose streets, thanks to the duty-free zone, people are moving again during the day. Four huge cruise ships are often anchored here at the same time. Despite the short visitors, the shipping companies are particularly popular, as they were the first to bring not only supplies but also paying guests back to the island after the hurricane.
Beach at the runway
The Princess Juliana International Airport has long been fully intact again, which is not unimportant, as it is the most famous attraction on the island. Less than twenty meters above the heads of plane spotting and bathing tourists on the famed Maho Beach, the planes set off for landing. Even more special are those tourists who, usually after several cocktails in the adjacent bars, directly to the fence, where the starting jets have to start because of the nearby mountains with full thrust. There were already fatal accidents. We stood ten meters away on the beach and were still almost blown over by a hot, after kerosene stinking sandstorm.
Spectacular, but completely harmless is a new attraction near Philipsburg, the “Flying Dutchman”, according to operators, the steepest zip line in the world. Before that you take a chairlift to the 340-meter-high Sentry Hill, from whose mountain station you can admire the neighbouring islands of Saba, St. Barthelemy, St. Eustatius and Anguilla in addition to a 360-degree panorama of St. Maarten.
If you want to see more, you need a rental car. Buses are scarce, and the quickest way to get to the broad beaches of the Dutch part, the crusading Great Bay in front of Philipsburg, the hotel beach Little Bay (see info) and the popular dream beaches Simpson Bay and Mullet Bay.
Idyll Grand Case
More idyllic is the French part. From the lively, very Caribbean capital Marigot one comes every few minutes past a nice photo stop. Especially recommended, if not the most beautiful place on the island is the place Grand Case with a beautiful, long beach, colourful, small shops and the supposedly best restaurants.
The north is hardly crowded and natural. Between the Anse Marcel beach embedded in the green hills and Baye Orientale, populated by nudists, we find beautiful viewpoints. Highly recommended: the ferry to the tiny island Pinel, with sugar beach and bars.
If you are travelling by car, there is an inestimable advantage: In almost every small town you can find wonderful restaurants with comparably reasonable prices. If the numerous hotel renovations and new buildings that we were able to observe are done, that could change. On the other hand, then perhaps the room rates would fall again because they are due to the lack of beds in winter currently indecent high. But one should not forget: every tourist more helps the hurricane so terribly plagued residents.
The dry season is from December to April, the hotels are mostly fully booked by US tourists, the price level is very high.
KURIER tip: May to July is much cheaper, there is a rainy season, but the sun still shines mostly and the temperatures are almost more pleasant. In the winter it can be quite cool in the evening. Hurricane driving from August.
Most comfortable with Air France (1x change in Paris CDG), from about € 900, – h + r.
From Philipsburg and Marigot there are ferries and excursion boats to the neighbouring islands Saba, St. Barth, St. Eustatius and Anguilla, do not forget pass! Good diving and snorkelling areas.
In the Dutch part US-Dollar, in the French part Euro, ATMs available.
Divi Little Bay Beach Resort, right on the beautiful beach and with great views of Great Bay and Philipsburg, large hotel with good infrastructure and mostly quiet rooms. Star of the house is the tame parrot Gizmo. Double / Single from € 220, – in summer,
Bleu Emeraude, in Grand Case, right on a great beach, Caribbean feeling and good infrastructure, double/single from € 210, – in the summer, both hotels in the winter much more expensive.
On the road:
Hotels offer cheap car hire, taxis on the island have (bearable) fixed prices, inexpensive minibuses regularly only on main routes.
Rum with pickled spices and fruits, Guavaberry jam, paintings.