Can you name a small island country that is governed by two separate nations, has more gaming machines per person than any nation on earth, can spell its name several different ways and is also home to mountains, lagoons and white sand beaches? Surely there isn’t such a diverse country located just a short cruise away from the United States, right? If you chose St. Maarten, your guess is spot on. This unique island nation is truly unlike any other in the Caribbean, with one half of the island ruled by the Dutch and the other by the French. This duality, mixed with native island culture, makes buying souvenirs and gifts in St. Maarten a special experience. While you’re exploring the island’s 37 square miles, here’s a gift guide for what to buy in St. Maarten.
1. Dutch Porcelain
St. Maarten has two distinct sides that have lived in harmony for over 200 years. You will see them reflected in the goods and gifts while shopping for souvenirs in St. Maarten. On the Dutch side of the island, which is spelled “Sint Maarten,” you’ll find traditional blue and white Dutch porcelain. This is the only licensed outpost of the famous hand-painted porcelain outside of the Netherlands. You might not have expected to purchase fine porcelain goods while on your cruise excursion, but you’d be remiss if you skipped this opportunity. You’ll recognize the white and blue porcelain hues in traditional Dutch shapes such as windmills, tulips and row houses. A bonus? The island’s tax and duty free status will save you additional fees that a trip to Amsterdam wouldn’t provide.
2. Hot Sauces
Do you have a heat-seeker in your life? You can’t miss the hot sauces produced on St. Maarten, which use peppers that grow easily in the island’s wet, tropical conditions. Jalapenos, scotch bonnets and habanero peppers are all used to create sauces that range from just a little kick to a major taste bud explosion! You may even find an island barbecue sauce that is made with island chilies or local guavaberry liqueur made from local fruit.
3. Guavaberry Products
Originally found in the Caribbean, the guavaberry plant produces a fruit known as the rum berry. Locals knew a good thing when they saw it– they harvested the fruit, and used it to make juices, rum, liqueur, jams and desserts to preserve the sweet fruit’s short growing season. Don’t mix up “guava” with “guavaberry,” as the two are different products. When exploring St. Maarten, keep your eyes peeled for products that list “guavaberry,” and you’ll be able to bring back gifts with a true taste of the island.
4. Flavored Liqueurs
If you want to bring home a pretty gift, look for flavored liqueurs sold in hand-painted glassware and family-owned rum producers that are known for their banana-, vanilla- and passionfruit-flavored rums. Afraid of carrying glass back home in your suitcase? No worries… they also sell flavored rums in plastic bottles as well. These souvenirs will also last once the tasty liqueur is gone — refill them with your favorite sauces or condiments for an island reminder of your dreamy time ashore.
You’ll find beautifully crafted French wines that can be purchased for a fraction of the price because of the island’s tax and duty free status. Grab a bottle for a seaside picnic, or ask that it be wrapped for your suitcase to take home. If you’re an oenophile, St. Maarten is your shopping destination for hard-to-find wines that you’ll want to sip and savor.
6. Designer Clothing and Shoes
Take a stroll through a myriad of high-end stores to peruse the latest in French and European fashions. Even if you didn’t budget for high-end merchandise, stop into these designer boutiques to check out what’s new from the runway. Again, taking advantage of the island’s tax and duty-free status will make a luxury gift more affordable.
7. Perfumes and Cosmetics
Calling all beauty lovers! If you fall in love when you enter cosmetics stores, St. Maarten is the place to find exclusive European cosmetics that will certainly become your new holy grail favorites. Thousands of highly coveted products that are hard to find outside of the EU dot the shelves, making you wish you brought a larger suitcase! You will find these high-quality European cosmetics and perfumes on the Dutch side of the island. Are you going to stock up? Bien sur!
Much like Dutch porcelain, you may not expect to buy tablecloths and napkins on your beach holiday, but be assured that St. Maarten has some of the best quality linens outside of Europe. A pro tip: measure your table before you go and tuck that info into your wallet. That way, you won’t have to guess the table’s size once you’re in the linen store and can buy with confidence.
A trip to St. Maarten allows you to glimpse how the French, Dutch and Native island cultures have married into a unique island hybrid that you can experience during your cruise stop. While shopping in St. Maarten, you’ll find gifts that reflect the island’s flavor and keep a treasured reminder of your fantastic Caribbean cruise.