Most visitors use taxis at some point to get around the island. Taxis are plentiful at Princess Juliana International Airport; taxi stands are conveniently located just outside the airport Arrivals section. Taxis are unmetered on both sides of the island (although drivers are required to carry government-issued rate sheets based on two-person occupancy), so always determine the rate before getting into a cab.
Rates are slightly different depending on which side of the island the taxi is based, though both Dutch and French cabs service the entire island. St. Maarten taxis have minimum fares for two passengers, and each additional passenger pays $4 extra. One piece of luggage per person is allowed free; each additional piece is $1 extra. Typical fares around the island are as follows: Princess Juliana Airport to Grand Case: $25 for up to two passengers and all their luggage; Marigot to Grand Case, $15; Princess Juliana airport to anywhere in Marigot, $15 to $20; Princess Juliana Airport to the Maho Beach Hotel, $6; and from Princess Juliana Airport to Philipsburg, about $15. Note: Fares are 25% higher between 10pm and midnight, and 50% higher between midnight and 6am.
St. Martin taxi fares are also for two passengers, but you should plan to add about $1 for each suitcase or valise and $2 for each additional person. These fares are in effect from 6am to 10pm; after that, they go up by 25% until midnight, rising by 50% after midnight. On the French side, the fare from Marigot to Grand Case is $15, from Princess Juliana Airport to Marigot and from Princess Juliana Airport to La Samanna, $15.
A couple of recommended taxi drivers are Gerard Taxi Service (tel. 599/553-4727 [Dutch side] or 0690/76-73-13 [French side]), and Renaldo, who drives Taxi 257 (tel. 0690/87-09-97 or 718/355-8166 in the U.S.).
For late-night cab service on St. Maarten, call tel. 147. To reach the Taxi Dispatch offices in St. Maarten, call tel. 599/54-67759 (airport) or tel. 599/54-22359 (Philipsburg). On the French side of the island, Taxi Service & Information Center operates at the port of Marigot (tel. 590/87-56-54).
A car is the best way to experience and explore St. Maarten/St. Martin. And renting a car here couldn't be easier; car-rental agencies are a dime a dozen, with locations at the airports and throughout the island. It's also a cost-efficient way to see the island, with rates starting around $30 or 21€ a day, with unlimited mileage, and short distances between towns.
Many visitors rent cars upon arrival at Princess Juliana International Airport. If you haven't already made a car-rental reservation, you can choose from one of the many agencies that have kiosks at the airport, both international chains (like Budget, Avis, and Hertz) and local. To get around the law (strictly enforced by St. Maarten taxi drivers' union) that forbids anyone from picking up a car at the airport, every rental agency parks its cars at a location nearby. When you rent a car at one of the agency kiosks on the Arrivals floor of the Princess Juliana airport, you will be taken by company shuttle 5 to 10 minutes away to pick up your car.
Note: Always ask how far away from the airport rental cars are located; some of the smaller agencies are a couple of miles away -- which can turn into a long trip when traffic is heavy around the airport.
Car-rental agencies at the airport include Budget (tel. 800/472-3325 in the U.S. and Canada, or 599/54-54030 on the Dutch side; www.budget.com), Avis (tel. 800/331-1212 in the U.S. and Canada, 599/54-22847 on the Dutch side, or 590/87-50-60 on the French side; www.avis-sxm.com), Hertz (tel. 800/654-3001 in the U.S. and Canada, or 590/545-4541 on the Dutch side; www.hertz.com), and Alamo/National (tel. 800/328-4567 in the U.S. and Canada, or 599/54-55546 on the Dutch side; www.nationalcar.com). Also at the Princess Juliana airport are Best Deal Car Rental (tel. 866/826-2205 or 599/54-53061; www.bestdealscarrental.com) and Safari Car Rentals (tel. 800/736-6917 or 599/54-53185; www.safaricarrentals.com).
Budget (tel. 599/543-0431) also has an office at the cruise-ship terminal in Philipsburg.
All these companies charge roughly equivalent rates. The major car-rental agencies require that renters be at least 25 years old.
Many rental agencies will also deliver cars directly to your hotel, where an employee will complete the paperwork. Some hotels, like La Samanna, actually have a fleet of cars to rent on the premises -- but try to reserve well in advance because supply is limited.
Driving is on the right side of the road. Seat belts and child car seats are mandatory. International road signs are observed, and there are no Customs formalities at the border between the French and Dutch sides -- in fact, you might not even realize you crossed the border.
Expect traffic jams in and around Philipsburg during rush hours -- particularly in the Simpson Bay area when the Simpson Bay drawbridge is raised to let boat traffic through (six times daily in high season). Tune your car radio to Island 92 (91.9 FM) for traffic updates.
Traveling by public bus (more like a minivan) is a reasonable means of transport on St. Maarten/St. Martin if you don't mind a bit of inconvenience and overcrowding. Buses run daily from 5am to midnight and serve most major locations on both sides of the island. The most popular run is from Philipsburg on the Dutch side to Marigot on the French side. Privately owned and operated, minibuses tend to follow specific routes; the fare is $2 ($2.50 8pm-midnight). Buses accept both dollars and euros.