St Maarten / St Martin Culture: a True Binational And Multicultural Melting Pot 


Just 37 square miles, St. Maarten / St. Martin is the smallest island shared by two nations, France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and its residents represent the cultures of more than 100 nations spanning the globe.

Originally settled by Taino – Arawak and Carib Indians from South America’s Orinoco Basin, the island came to the attention of European colonizers after Christopher Columbus sighted it in 1493. Both France and the Netherlands coveted the island as a strategic outpost between Europe and North America but avoided conflict by dividing it in 1648 along the treaty of Concordia. The French would keep Saint Martin in the north and the Dutch would maintain an existing fort in southern Sint Maarten. The inhabitants then would share the island’s natural resources.

In succeeding years, St. Maarten / St. Martin saw people arrive from around the world. Answering a call of then governor Philips (providing his name to Philipsburg) of Scottish descent to make St Maarten their home in the 18th century, many of the plantation owners were British of origin. This is why English became the dominant language of St Maarten / St Martin and most original surnames show the same backgrounds. Enslaved Africans worked sugar plantations and salt flats until both sides abolished slavery in the mid-19th century, many of their descendants continuing this hard labor for decades to come.

As St Maarten was part of the Netherlands Antilles between 1954 and 2010, you will find many people of Aruban, Curacaolean, AnguillianSaban and Statian descent on St Maarten. The same also applies to people from Dutch speaking Surinam, as well as people born in the European Netherlands. On French side St Martin, you will see comparable ethnic groups of Guadeloupe, Martinique and France – all part of the French republic. 


Even More Nationalities


As Sint Maarten / Saint Martin grew from a salt and agriculture focused economy to a leading tourism destination in the region in the 1970s, more cultures migrated due to the island’s demand of labor. Migrants also arrived from India and neighboring Caribbean islands, as well as from French colonies in southeast Asia and Dutch holdings like Indonesia. Large communities of Dominican, Guyanese, Haitian and Jamaican descent have been added to the country’s melting pot.  

In a research pertaining to St Maarten’s most admired points, many tourists mentioned its familiarity and village feel. As a tourist from a big city you might feel new to this, but on St Maarten everybody still greets each other on the street. Mingle in and greet us with a good morning, good afternoon or good evening – it is prone to be returned on the Friendly Island!

Today St. Maarten / St. Martin is one of the most culturally diverse destinations in the world. On the French side, French is spoken in government departments and schools; on the Dutch side, Dutch is used in government departments and some schools, but English is widely spoken everywhere. You also may hear Spanish, Creole and Papiamento on both sides of the island.

Getting Around on St Maarten: Some Culture Tips

Some suggestions for understanding local cultural habits.


When people say they are going to “town” on the Dutch side, they always mean Philipsburg. This stems from the time that now also bustling areas like Simpson Bay were still smaller fishing villages.

St Maarten vs St Martin vs SXM

On both the Dutch side and the French side, you might run into the abbreviation SXM a lot. 

The three spellings in French / English and Dutch of the patron that St Maarten was named after leads to a wide diversity of how people address the island. St Maarten (Dutch and official name for the Dutch side), Saint Martin (French and English). On the Dutch side, you can also run into beloved local dialect name “S’Maatin”. Tourists have also added names like Saint Marteen, St Martins, Sint Marteen and Sint Martin. These are not correct by any language. 

While the best way to address the island as a whole would be Sint Maarten / Saint Martin or St. Maarten / St. Martin, you can imagine for its citizens that is quite a sentence. That is why locals in writing mostly abbreviate the island as a whole to “SXM”, as per the international flight code of main hub Princess Juliana International Airport.



If you’re a people person, interested in the ways and traditions of others, you’ll be right at home in St. Maarten/St. Martin, where two European nations have spawned a vast historical cultural mélange that’s reflected on the menus of its many restaurants. As with many Caribbean islands, Rum has played a special role in St Maarten culture over the ages. From a full fledged distillery of German Rum producer Pott’s to local brewers, Rum has been produced on St Maarten for many centuries. Guavaberry Rum making its rum from locally famous Guavaberry fruit and Topper’s Rum especially known for Banana liquors are the main exporting rum companies on island. In addition, locally made rums have been a long tradition as dessert in our restaurants.



Lolo’s are the restaurants with creole cuisine and fish dishes. This is especially a French Side St Martin term, but would also be used on the Dutch side.


Johnny Cakes

No pastry as Sint Maarten “own” as Johnny Cake. Ask any St Maartener what is the most typical island food, and he will confirm. Many known Johnny Cake serving restaurants like Carl & Sons in Philipsburg stand proud of their recipe of this Caribbean specialty. 

Johnny Cakes, also known as Jonny or Johny cakes, originally derive from “Journey” cakes as they were consumed on the road. Baking powder makes the dough bread of the Johnny Cakes rise; no yeast needed. Johnny cakes come with various toppings, amongst which cheese and salt fish, but can also be consumed without topping.


Cultural Events: Carnival & St Maarten / St Martin’s Day

St Maarten has a very vibrant cultural life. As the only island where you find 2 major carnivals (Both St Maarten and St Martin have their own carnival, in April and February respectively), rest assured to see weeks of events in these timeframes. The 11th of November, St Maarten or St Martin’s Day is a joint day. Emancipation day is celebrated on Dutch side by means of an annual play at July 1st. On the French side, abolition of slavery is remembered on Abolition Day (28th of May). See for a full overview of annual events our Events Calendar.


Important Cultural Monuments

The main monument symbolizing St Maarten / St Martin unity as a unique binational island, is the Concordia Monument in Cole Bay celebrating close to 400 years of open borders under the treaty of Concordia (1648), a world record. Fort Amsterdam in Little Bay on the Dutch side and Fort Louis in Marigot, French side are the most tangible monuments referring to colonial history. On the Dutch side, Emancipation Monument in Philipsburg is a memory of the slavery timeframe. See for an extensive list of monuments on each side our monuments list.


Where to find our cultures

Clearly, we celebrate our Caribbean culture. Take a look at our museums St. Maarten Heritage Museum, the Amuseum Naturalis or the Rainforest Adventure Park Museum for information about our culture, history and nature.

For a glimpse of the European cultures we got related to, see for suggestions our Touch of Dutch / Feel of French segment.

The many cultures that have joined us over the past century can often be found represented in our wide culinary variety, celebrated once a year in our November St. Maarten Flavors Culinary Month.

Try for example a taste of Mexico in La Patrona restaurant; Sicily in Sale & Pepe, India in Spices of India; Tunisia in Al Pasha, Indonesia in Aziana, Lebanon in Beirut and Austria in Schnitzelhouse.



Only a marker separates the French and Dutch sides, yet each retains its distinctive cultural flavor in the evening. Quiet elegance and world-class cuisine characterize French St. Martin in Grand Case and Marigot, while the Dutch side yields casinos, nightlife and vibrant entertainment venues in especially the Maho and Simpson Bay areas. For those who want to immerse themselves in St Maarten  culture, follow the experts and see our Go where the locals go segment!



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"Shopping is one of the most awarded features of St. Maarten. Come and indulge in the experience in our famed shopping street Front Street, Philipsburg"

Mike & Peter Mirpuri, Ballerina Jewelers

"The Boutique Hotels of St. Maarten made the islands’ repute of "The Friendly Island". Come and stay where everybody remembers your name from last year!"

Samantha Layne & Patricia Rogers, L'Esperance Hotel

"Research has shown one of St. Maarten's key features is its wide offer of activities. As an island, don't forget to indulge in the many tours on, in and under the water!"

The Aquamania Team