Philipsburg is the capital of Dutch St Maarten and the only town of consequence on the island. It has two main streets, Front Street (Voorstraat) and Back Street (Achterstraat), connected by several bustling thoroughfares, and filled mainly with duty-free shops, cafes, hotels and courtyards overflowing with flowers.
The town has an unusual setting, sitting on a narrow stretch of land between Great Bay, on the south coast of the island, and the Great Salt Pond (a huge marsh). It is the port of call of hundreds of cruise ships, filling the primary need of the day-tripping passengers who come ashore to shop for everything from Italian leather goods and Japanese cameras to native crafts. Philipsburg's nightlife is regarded as among the liveliest to be found in the Caribbean.
Architecturally the town, founded in 1763 by John Philips (a Scots captain in the Dutch navy), is quaint, with characteristic pastel-coloured West Indian houses lining the streets, and a few Dutch colonial landmarks, including Fort Willem, built in 1801, and Fort Amsterdam, constructed nearly 200 years earlier.
The favourable wind and clear seas around St Maarten make it the perfect place to host the Heineken Regatta, held each spring in Simpson Bay. Nearly 200 boats from around the world compete in 18 classes, ranging from high-tech racing yachts to pleasure cruisers. Non-sailors can join the fun as well, as top international bands like the Black-Eyed Peas and Wyclef Jean perform at parties around the island. It is a festive and fun time to be in St Maarten.
Though not as famous as the Carnivals in Rio de Janeiro or Trinidad & Tobago, the St Maarten Carnival offers 18 exciting days of music, parades, pageants, dancing, and parties. Locals prepare elaborate costumes and floats for months ahead of the festival, and steel-drum bands compete in lively calypso competitions. The St Maarten Carnival has activities and entertainment for the whole family, with special events and parades for children.
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