On 1st January 2009, the population of the whole island was 77,741 inhabitants, with 40,917 living on the Dutch side, and 36,824 on the French side.
Collectively, the two territories are known as "St-Martin / St Maarten". Sometimes "SXM", the IATA identifier for Princess Juliana International Airport, is used to refer to the island. St. Martin received the ISO 3166-1 code MF in October 2007. The Dutch part changed in status to a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 2010 and was given the code SX.
Saint Martin has a land area of 87 km2 (34 sq mi), 53 km2 (20 sq mi) of which is under the sovereignty of France, and 34 km2 (13 sq mi) under the sovereignty of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This is the only land border shared by France and the Kingdom of the Netherlands anywhere on Earth, the country Sint Maarten being the sharing part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The main cities are Philipsburg (Dutch side) and Marigot (French side). The Dutch side is more heavily populated. The largest settlement on the entire island is Lower Prince's Quarter, on the Dutch side.
The highest hilltop is the Pic Paradis (424 metres (1,391 ft)) in the center of a hill chain on the French side. Both sides are hilly with large mountain peaks. This forms a valley where many houses are located. There are no rivers on the island, but many dry gullies. Hiking trails give access to the dry forest covering tops and slopes.
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. It is one of the Renaissance Islands.
In 1493, Italian / Genoan explorer Christopher Columbus (1451-1506), embarked on his second voyage to the New World on behalf of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella I of Spain. 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 then named the island "San Martin". This name was translated to "Sint Maarten" (Dutch), "Saint-Martin" (French) and "Saint Martin" in English.
At Columbus' time, St. Martin was populated, if 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 Spaniards who 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 (later British), Dutch, Danes and Spanish for control of the West Indies islands around the Caribbean Sea.
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. One year later, they built a fort (now Fort Amsterdam, near Philipsburg) and another artillery battery at Pointe Blanche to assert their claim and control access to Great Bay salt pond. A massive influx of African slaves took place in the 18th century with the development of sugarcane plantations by the French and Dutch. Slavery was abolished in the first half of the 19th century. On some of their territories the British imported Chinese and South Asians to take the place of slaves. Thus, St. Martin and the other islands are populated by a mixture of Amerindian, European, African, Indian and Asian peoples.
On March 23, 1648, the Kingdom of France and the Dutch Republic agreed to divide the island between their two territories, with the signing of the Treaty of Concordia. 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 littoral 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 (they earned their respective lands 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."
Under the Köppen climate classification, the island has a tropical monsoon climate with a dry season from January to April and a rainy season from August to December. The precipitation patterns are due to the movement of the Azores high during the year. With the wind direction predominantly from the east or the northeast, northeasterly trades, temperatures remain stable throughout the year and temperatures rarely exceed 34 °C (93 °F) or fall below 20 °C (68 °F). Temperatures remain steady throughout the year with an average mean temperature of 27.2 °C (81.0 °F). The average sea temperature is 27.2 °C (81.0 °F) ranging from a low of 25.9 °C (78.6 °F) in February to a high of 28.4 °C (83.1 °F) in October. The total average yearly rainfall is 1,047 mm (41.2 in), with 142 days of measurable rainfall. Thunderstorms can occasionally occur, with 18 days with thunder per year. Precipitation totals are quite variable from year to year, depending on the number of passing tropical cyclones.
On 6 and 7 September 2017 the island was hit by Hurricane Irma (Category 5 at landfall), which caused widespread and significant damage to buildings and infrastructure. A total of 11 deaths had been reported as of 8 September 2017. France's Minister of the Interior, Gérard Collomb, said on 8 September 2017 that most of the schools were destroyed on the French half of the island. In addition to damage caused by high winds, there were reports of serious flood damage to businesses in the village of Marigot. Looting was also a serious problem. Both France and the Netherlands sent aid as well as additional police and emergency personnel to the island. The Washington Post reported that 95% of the structures on the French side and 75% of the structures on the Dutch side were damaged or destroyed.
Some days after the storm had abated, a survey by the Dutch Red Cross estimated that nearly a third of the buildings in Sint Maarten had been destroyed and that over 90 percent of structures on the island had been damaged. Princess Juliana Airport was extensively damaged but reopened on a partial basis in two days to allow incoming relief flights and for flights that would take evacuees to other islands.
INSEE estimated in 2005 the GDP per capita of Saint Martin for 1999 to be €14,500 (about USD15,400).
The main industry of the island is tourism. In 2000, the island had about one million visitors annually. About 85% of the workforce was engaged in the tourist industry.
On January 1, 2009 the population of the entire island of Saint Martin was 77,741 inhabitants, 40,917 of whom lived on the Dutch side of the island, and 36,824 on the French side. A local English-based creole language is spoken on both sides of the island.
St. Martin's Dutch side is known for its festive nightlife, beaches, jewellery, drinks made with native rum-based guavaberry liquors, and casinos. The island's French side is known for its nude beaches, clothes, shopping (including outdoor markets), and French and Indian Caribbean cuisine. English is the most commonly spoken language along with a local dialect. The official languages are French 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).
Among the leading cultural artists of the island are Youth Waves, music band; Isidore "Mighty Dow" York, kaisonian, panman; Roland Richardson, Impressionist painter; Ruby Bute, painter; Nicole de Weever, dancer and Broadway star; Lasana M. Sekou, poet, author, independence advocate; Clara Reyes, choreographer; and Tanny and The Boys, string band music group.
Public buses are the primary mode of transportation for visitors staying on the island. Traffic on the island has become a major problem. Long traffic jams between Marigot, Philipsburg and the airport are common.
In recent years sargassum weed has arrived on the south ("Dutch") shoreline, but the northern French coast is generally free of the weed.
Because the island is located along the intertropical convergence zone, it is occasionally threatened by Atlantic hurricane activity in the late summer and early fall.
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 EU retail prices.
Saint Martin uses the Euro as its currency, while Sint Maarten uses the Netherlands Antillean guilder, pegged at 2.00 per Euro. 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 the coming years. Almost every store on the island also accepts the United States dollar, although sometimes a more expensive exchange rate is used.
Neither side of the island is part of the Schengen Area; full border checks are performed when travelling between the island and Europe. Passport controls are also exercised when taking the ferry from Marigot or Princess Juliana International Airport to Anguilla. There are rarely checks at the border between the two sides of the island. The Franco-Dutch treaty on Saint Martin border controls requires a working group that has never been set up, to harmonize external checks at the two main airports. The Dutch side has expressed concern that new and tighter French visa requirements would harm their tourism income.
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" arriving from off-island, and only admitting foreigners having permission to travel on both sides of the island. After some delay, the treaty was ratified in November 2006 in the Netherlands, and subsequently entered into force on 1 August 2007. Its provisions are not yet implemented as the working group specified in the treaty is not yet installed.
The island is served by many major airlines that daily bring in large jet aircraft, including Boeing 747s and Airbus A340s carrying tourists from across the world. The short main runway at 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 on Maho Beach.
There is a small airport on the French side of the island at Grand Case, L'Espérance Airport for small aircraft serving neighbouring Caribbean islands. It frequently suffers thick fog during the hurricane season due to its location.