Dutch St. Maarten shares its small island space with French St. Martin, and the region has a bustling shopping scene of its own. The country is known for imaginative art (think vibrant paintings depicting Caribbean life) and the famous guavaberry liqueur (only found in St. Maarten). Most passengers head straight to Front Street, the island’s biggest shopping area, for duty-free finds. There’s really no need to exchange your money to St. Maarten’s local currency of Netherlands Antillean guilder (or florin), because the U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere.
Here are the five must-have souvenirs that can be scooped up at one of the Caribbean’s largest shopping ports, St. Maarten.
A popular take-home treat for tourists is Gouda cheese, imported from the Netherlands (St. Maarten is part of the country’s territories along with Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao). These rich and creamy dairy wheels can be bought at Philipsburg’s Amsterdam Cheese and Liquor Store, a 10-minute walk from the port on Juancho Yrausquin Boulevard. Samples are generously given, and the cheese is tightly wrapped, making it allowable as a “food item” by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Alcohol is a popular item to pick up, but only St. Maarten produces the sweet, potent guavaberry liqueur and St. Martin produces the sweet Ma Doudou rum. The former is made with a berry (no relation to the guava fruit) infused into aged rum. Once only made in local homes, today many of the island’s bartenders add it to drinks like daiquiris and margaritas. The Guavaberry Emporium on Front Street is a 15-minute walk or $4 taxi ride (for two people) away from the pier. The emporium sells a good selection of liqueurs and even a barbecue sauce — great for a bit of kick to grilled chicken.
Though you can find St. Martin’s Ma Doudou “rhum” in retail shops, take the 30-minute, $25 cab ride from the pier to the Cul-de-Sac region a few minutes away from Orient Beach. Here, the liquor is produced in a tiny pink house. Flavors vary from vanilla-banana to passion fruit and, of course, guavaberry.
Not everyone can handle St. Maarten’s fiery flavored hot sauces. Luckily, jams appeal to those with sensitive and sugar-loving taste buds. The Antilles Spice Clipper jams are completely made from local fruits. The Shipwreck shops, a chain of souvenir stores scattered around the island, sell these delicious spreads in mango, passion fruit, coconut and even banana flavors. Of course, guava is a top seller. All go great with cheese or pastries.
Jewelry is a common purchase in the Caribbean, and Philipsburg’s Front Street is lined with many retail shops selling shiny baubles from big names you may find back home.
But if you’re looking for locally made shell and sea glass bracelets and necklaces, head to the Marigot Market in St. Martin’s. Smaller than Front Street, Marigot’s main streets are more apt to house smaller boutiques selling French wares. Don’t be afraid to bargain, especially with market vendors — you may luck out and pay a little less than you would back home.
Cigars are high in demand here, and many stores sell stogies from the Dominican Republic and Cuba. Although Cuban cigars cannot be taken into the United States, tourists can enjoy them while on the island. The Cigar Emporium on Front Street has an impressive selection.
Those in search of something a bit different from duty-free shopping can take a water taxi from the port to The Art Box gallery at Bobby’s Marina. There, you’ll find handmade glass and silverware, housewares and chic jewelry from local artist Zdenka Kiric.
There are even more art vendors in St. Martin, such as the revered Roland Richardson Gallery, three blocks from Marigot harbor. The two-story, 19th-century home is filled with works of celebrated native artist Sir Roland Richardson’s vision of St. Martin’s bright and tranquil landscape and history.