Saint Martin (French: Saint-Martin; Dutch: Sint Maarten) is an island in the northeast Caribbean, approximately 300 km (190 mi) east of Puerto Rico. The 87 km2 island is divided roughly 60/40 between France (53 km2) and theKingdom of the Netherlands (34 km2); however, the Dutch side has the larger population. It is one of the smallest sea islands divided between two nations, a division dating to 1648. The southern Dutch part comprises Sint Maarten and is one of four constituent countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The northern French part comprises the Collectivité de Saint-Martin (Collectivity of St. Martin) and is an overseas collectivity of France.
Collectively, the two territories are known as "St-Martin / St Maarten". Sometimes SXM, the IATA identifier for Princess Juliana International Airport (the island's main airport), is used to refer to the island.
Map of Saint Martin.
The highest hilltop is the Pic Paradis (424 m) on center of a hill chain (French side). There are no rivers 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.
The island is located south of Anguilla, separated from the British territory by the Anguilla Channel. Saint Martin is northwest of Saint Barthélemy, separated from the French territory by the Saint-Barthélemy Channel.
Flags flying in Marigot harbor, Saint-Martin.
In 1493, Christopher Columbus embarked on his second voyage to the New World. According to legend, Columbus sighted and perhaps anchored at the island of Saint Martin on November 11, 1493, the feast day of Saint Martin of Tours. In his honor, Columbus named the island San Martin. This name was translated to Sint Maarten (Dutch), Saint-Martin (French) and "Saint Martin" in English.
At Columbus's time, St. Martin was populated, if populated at all, by Carib amerindians. The former Arawaks had been chased by the Caribs coming from the North coast of South America a short time before the arrival of the Spaniardswho followed in Columbus' wake. The Arawaks were agricultural people who fashioned pottery and whose social organization was headed by hereditary chieftains who derived their power from personal deities called zemis.
The Caribs' territory was not completely conquered until the mid-17th century when most of them perished in the struggle between the French, English, Dutch, Danes and Spanish for control of the West Indies. The Dutch first began to ply the island's ponds for salt in the 1620s. Despite the Dutch presence on the island, the Spaniards recaptured St. Martin in 1633 and, one year later, built a fort (now Ft. Amsterdam) and another artillery battery at Pointe Blanche to assert their claim and control access to Great bay salt pond. The Spaniards introduced the first African slaves to the area in the 16th century but the main influx of African slaves took place in the 18th century with the development of Sugarcaneplantations by the French Protestants and Dutch. Slavery was abolished in the first half of the 19th century, whereupon on some of their territories the British imported Chinese and East Indians to take the place of slaves. Thus, St. Martin and the other islands are populated by a mixture of Amerindian, European, African, Indians and Asian peoples. West Indian cultures such as in St. Martin are, consequently, exceedingly rich and varied.
Border crossing between St. Martin and Sint Maarten.
A newer monument, crossing from St. Martin to Sint Maarten, dedicated in 2008.
Folklore surrounds the history of the once ever-changing border division between St. Martin and Sint Maarten, and a popular story among locals narrates that "to divide the island into two sections, [in 1648] the inhabitants were told to choose two walkers, one chosen by the French-dominated community and the other one by the Dutch-dominated community, who were put back to back in one extreme of the island, making them walk in opposite directions while stuck to the litoral line, and not allowing them to run. The point where they eventually met was set as the other extreme of the island, and the subsequently created line was chosen as the frontier, dividing Saint-Martin from Sint Maarten. Seemingly, the French walker had walked more than his Dutch counterpart (each one earned his land, respectively, 54 km² and 32 km²). As the first man chose wine as his stimulant prior to the race, while the latter chose Jenever (Dutch Gin), the difference between such beverages' lightness was said to be the cause of the territorial differences by French locals, while Dutch locals tended to blame the French walker for running." 
In 1994, the Kingdom of the Netherlands and France signed the Franco-Dutch treaty on Saint Martin border controls, which allows for joint Franco-Dutch border controls on so-called "risk flights". After some delay, the treaty was ratified in November 2006 in the Netherlands, and subsequently entered into force on 1 August 2007. Though the treaty is now in force, its provisions are not yet implemented as the working group specified in the treaty is not yet installed.
St. Martin received the ISO 3166-1 code MF in October 2007. The status of the Dutch side was due to change to a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in December 2008, but this was postponed to (and took place on) 10 October 2010. The Dutch part now has ISO 3166-1 code SX. 
On January 1, 2007 the population of the entire island of Saint Martin was 74,852 inhabitants, 38,927 of whom lived on the Dutch side of the island, and 35,925 on the French side of the island. Although half-French and half-Dutch, English is the dominant language. A local dialect is spoken informally on both sides of the island. In addition there is an average of 1,000,000 tourist visitors per year.
, Dutch side.Marigot
, French side.
St. Martin's Dutch side is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewelry, exotic drinks made with native rum-based guavaberry liquors, and plentiful casinos. The island's French side is known for its nude beaches, clothes, shopping(including outdoor markets), and rich French and Indian Caribbean cuisine. English is the most commonly spoken language along with a local dialect. The official languages are French and English for Saint-Martin, and both Dutch and English for Sint Maarten. Other common languages include various French-based creoles (spoken by immigrants from other French Caribbean islands), Spanish (spoken by immigrants from the Dominican Republic and various South American countries), and Papiamento (spoken by immigrants from Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao).
The island is home to accommodations including hotels, villas, and timeshares, many of which are privately available for rent or sale.
Rental cars are the primary mode of transportation for visitors staying on island. If any driving is expected off the major roads (such as to some of the more secluded beaches), a four-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.
The island is widely known for its hundreds of gourmet (and more moderately priced) restaurants on both sides of the island.
Neighbouring islands include Saint Barthélemy (French), Anguilla (British), Saba (Dutch), Sint Eustatius "Statia" (Dutch), Saint Kitts and Nevis (Independent, formerly British). With the exception of Nevis, all of these islands are easily visible on a clear day from St. Martin.
Shopping on St Maarten and Saint Martin offers duty-free goods in numerous boutiques. Popular goods include local crafts & arts, exotic foods, jewelry, liquor, tobacco, leather goods, as well as most designer goods. 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 uses the Netherlands Antillean guilder, pegged at 1.79 per United States dollar. As a consequence of the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, the Netherlands Antillean guilder will cease to be legal tender and be replaced by the Caribbean guilder in 2012. 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).
Air France Airbus A340
Neither side of the island is part of the Schengen Area; full border checks are performed when travelling between the island and Europe. There are rarely checks at the border between the two sides of the island. The Franco-Dutch treaty on Saint Martin border controls is being implemented to harmonize external checks at the two main airports.
Sign warning people that standing too close to the airport fence onMaho Beach
can be dangerous.
The island is served by many major airlines that bring in large jet aircraft, including Boeing 747s, Airbus A340s, and McDonnell Douglas MD-11s carrying tourists from across the world on a daily basis. The short length of the main runwayat Princess Juliana International Airport, and its position between a large hill and a beach causes some spectacular approaches. Aviation photographers flock to the airport to capture pictures of large jets just a few metres above sunbathers (who are often blown away by the jet blast if they are standing in its path) on Maho Beach.  There is a small airport on the French side of the island at Grand Case, L'Espérance Airport for small jet and propeller planes serving neighbouring Caribbean islands. Due to its location, Grand Case-Esperance Airport frequently suffers from heavy fog during the hurricane season.