Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | January 28, 2012

Shopping in Saint Martin/Sint Maarten

N 18° 03.77′   W 63° 05.31′

Simpson Bay Lagoon, Marigot, St. Martin

 

The island is promoted as a duty-free shopper’s haven. We have found a few bargains, but shopping at home still reigns.

There are more marine goods and services here than in any port we have visited since leaving Florida.  The large boating stores are Budget Marine, with both a French and a Dutch branch, and Island Water World on the Dutch side.  The French store is more convenient for us, but has a smaller inventory and only carries metric-sized hardware.  Discounts can be negotiated, although island prices are higher than those at West Marine in the US. 

It is often cheaper to have items that are light and not needed immediately shipped from the US. For example, the discounted island price for a bilge pump is about $165. We ordered the identical pump on Amazon.com for $85, and with free US shipping plus $18 to ship to Sint Maarten the total cost was $103. For shipping we have used The Business Point, a cruisers service which provides a free mailing address in Miami. We can have items shipped to Miami and they are put on a freighter to Sint Maarten once a week at a cost of $4.50 per pound. So far everything has arrived, although a small package went missing for several weeks before finally showing up.  One week all the Miami packages missed the ship.  It is not the perfect solution but gives us an option if we don’t need an item right away and decide the better value is worth chancing the possibility of a shipping snafu.  

For heavier items, like the Fagor pressure cooker I just got, it cost about the same to buy it on the island compared with ordering and shipping one from the US. It is not UL rated, and would be considered non-compliant with US safety ratings although it holds a European stamp of approval. The cookbook is in French.  The repair facilities listed are all in Spain. But overall I am happy with the product and got to take it home right away to make French Onion Soup!

Most food items we have searched for are available here. It often takes trips to different markets to find everything on the list. For small quantities of routine groceries we take the dinghy to the US Import Market, a medium-sized supermarket in Marigot. We aren’t sure why it is called US Import, because there are very few American products and many from France. We have found all sorts of interesting and delicious things there. They have a beautiful butcher shop, a weekly fresh seafood delivery, and a deli with patés, meats, spreads and cheeses. We have enjoyed new brands of dark chocolate, wonderful frozen haricots verts (skinny tender green beans), fresh-baked breads, tasty goat cheeses and bries, and a variety of fresh produce. Bob found beef carpaccio, one of his favorites, and very nice and reasonably priced faux filets for the grill. He doesn’t seem to mind shopping in this market.  The selection varies widely from day-to-day and sometimes we leave disappointed that a desired item has been sold out. A couple of trips per week are usually in order to keep the galley stocked with fresh items, and flexibility in menu planning helps. No bags are provided so shoppers must bring their own.

For larger re-provisioning needs we have used the Grand Marche on the Dutch side, a 5-minute bus ride away. They cater to boaters and will provide a driver to deliver us and our bags back to the dinghy dock free of charge, plus throw in a 5% boaters discount. We can find familiar products like ground turkey, American bacon, US and Spanish brand canned goods, crackers, yeast (even bread machine yeast!), baking powder, a variety of flours, coffees and teas, and butter packaged in pounds, not grams, which simplifies cooking.

There have been a couple of sticker shocks in the markets. Once at the checkout I made Bob put back a package of Oscar Mayer bacon that turned out to be $10 per pound. Then we found the next market charged $12 per pound. Yikes! Certain imported fruits and vegetables can be pricey, but there are usually alternatives. We have found delicious patés for about $2 per pound, French wines at $4 – 6 per bottle, and fresh-baked baguettes for about $1 a loaf. For the dogs, the butcher packages high quality meat scraps for about $1 per pound. Our pups are loving the French dining. 

We have visited the open air market in Marigot a couple of times. Fresh fruits and vegetables are sold including bananas, tomatoes, pineapples, coconuts, avocados, and all sorts of root vegetables.  They also sell seafood, spices, jewelry, lots of colorful clothes and souvenir items. After my first purchase there I noticed similar produce at the supermarket for about a third to one-half less. Local price knowledge and good negotiation skills are definitely needed to avoid paying the tourist price.

The shops in Phillipsburg on Front Street and Back Street cater to cruise ship customers and there is the expected assortment of jewelry, clothing, liquor, souvenir shops, electronics stores and an open air market. Cigarettes and certain liquors were only the bargains we noted.

Should a bikini be needed, St. Martin is the place. There are more bikini shops here than we have ever seen in one place. We were surprised that all the stores seem to specialize in teeny bikinis and none cater to the bathing suit needs of the average mature woman tourist. We wonder how they all stay in business.

There are several large Ace Hardware stores on the island – much bigger than those at home, and another potential source of marine supplies.  They also carry a good selection of housewares.  We were intrigued to pass by a huge warehouse called Kooyman on the way to Phillipsburg.  It turns out it is a Home Depot-like building materials and home improvement store, based out of Curaçao and named after its founder Adrianus Kooijman.  

Since leaving home, fuel prices have ticked up significantly and on the French side fuel runs about 1.26 euros per liter. The pricing in liters sounds less painful since that translates to about 6.29 per gallon when you convert liters to gallons and euros to dollars. For dinghy fuel, we found Cadisco, a waterfront gas station that will take dollars for euros at a 1:1 exchange so that brings the price down to about 4.28 per gallon. We are not sure what deals we shall find when it is time to purchase diesel for the big boat. The French call diesel gas-oil or gazole and regular unleaded gas is labeled essence sans plomb or sometimes diesel, which makes for a confusing first visit to the French fuel station.

Three currencies are used on the island and that creates shopping complexities and occasional opportunities. The official currency is the Euro on the French side and the Netherlands Antilles Florin or Guilder (NAF) on the Dutch side. Dollars are widely accepted on the island, especially on the Dutch side. When shopping on the French side it makes sense to carry both Euros and Dollars to be able to take advantage of the best pricing. Some establishments offer the 1 euro = 1 dollar deal, and with the current exchange rate (1 euro equals about $1.30) that is a nice discount if the product is fairly priced in euros. We haven’t found an ATM on the French side that dispenses dollars and so we go to the Dutch ATM’s for dollars. We have yet to actually see a Guilder.

Open air market along the Marigot waterfront on Wednesday and Saturday mornings

 

Some of the many shops near the Phillipsburg cruise port

 

We had a pleasant evening at anchor in Baie de Marigot while replenishing our water supply

 

We said goodbye to Sharon & Andy on Finally Fun as they continue northward to the USVI's and BVI's. Finally Fun was the third Defever trawler we have met since leaving the Bahamas. It is always a special treat to visit with fellow Defever Cruisers.

 

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Responses

  1. It’s nice to know you all. We missed Sharon & Andy in Statia 😦

    • We really enjoyed meeting you guys too!!! Hope we can catch up again, but we are slowpokes. We have visitors coming – yeah!!- and won’t leave here until at least late Feb. We love following your blog and will take advantage of your experience as we hop down the islands. Stay safe!!


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