Although the region falls under the government of Netherlands Antilles and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, its diversity and the strong influence of West-Indian traditions make its culture anything but exclusively Dutch. St. Maarten's atmosphere is a winning blend of Caribbean hospitality and European sophistication.
Philipsburg, the Dutch capital since 1768, is widely known for its colonial architecture. The town began as a Dutch trading center, and the forts around Philipsburg are haunting reminders of its one-time strategic importance. Traders from throughout the empire once sailed through the protective arms of its Great Bay, establishing the town as a lively center of international commerce. Although most of the vessels that arrive in the harbor today are cruise ships, international trade still thrives in St. Maarten thanks to its status as a leading duty-free port. To put it simply, St. Maarten is a shopper's dream.
St. Maarten is also known throughout the Caribbean for its eclectic nightlife. The evening ritually begins at sunset, when cafes and night clubs open their doors and the music of steel drum bands floats along the beaches. The island's festive spirit peaks during carnival, a vibrant, two-week festival of feasting, street dancing, parties, and parades. St. Maarten's dependable trade winds free the island from oppressive heat or prolonged leaden skies, and its temperate climate is consistently graced by the sun.