Gay St Martin, French West Indies: Cosmopolitan island of the Caribbean

Only a few hours flight from Florida, St Martin/St Maarten is a step into the magic of The Caribbean's rich fusion of cultures. It is also the smallest island in the world that's divided into two countries, one-half French and the other half Dutch.

The island is a major party destination for the mainstream crowd, who pack into the beachside bars and drink day and night, but the island also has great ecotourism activities, including some of The Caribbean's best snorkeling and diving.

Here are some high points about the island:

Diversity: It is home to 100 different nationalities, creating an open-minded spirit.

Food: With such diversity, and the French influence, the village of Grand Case is known as the gastronomy capital of the Caribbean.

Beaches: With 32 to choose from, from quiet and secluded to vibrant and partying, from walking to nude sunbathing, there is a beach for everyone. Yes, St Martin features a gay beach, where snorkeling and scuba diving are popular. One diving facility is even a member of IGLTA.

Arts: There is a multitude of workshops, art galeries, where both local and International artists share their work,

Nightlife: From outdoor lounges to wild night clubs and busy casinos, there's plenty.

Duty free shopping: The streets of Marigot, the French-side capitol, features luxury boutiques. On the Dutch side, the larger city of Philipsburg has a front street with nearly one hundred boutiques for cruise ships passengers--perfumes, electronics, liquors, etc.

Gay life: While it remains somewhat discreet at times, St Maarten boasts a gay beach. Many American and European gays have established residencies here, in all avenues.

Getting there

There are 100 flights from the US every week, daily direct flight from Paris, Amsterdam, Montreal, Toronto and other cities during high season. From the US, American, Continental, Delta, United Airlines, US Airways, Jet Blue, and Spirit all have direct and connecting flights.

Once you are there

Upon arrival, consider renting a car because the beaches and nearby restaurants are not always within walking distance. The island is small, so distances are short, but the roads can be steep and bumping leading to to the gay beaches.

And from St Martin, you can very easily organize day trips (by boat or plane) to nearby islands, like Saba (the Unspoiled Queen) with a nice volcano to climb, Anguilla (great powder sand beaches), or St Barth (for the rich and famous).

Restaurants to check out