Philipsburg St. Maarten

One of the Caribbean's most popular duty free shopping ports

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Philipsburg, St Maarten

Philipsburg, the capital of St. Maarten, is second only to St. Thomas in its duty free volume.

It also happens to be an unusually easy city to walk around because it's located on a narrow strip of land between the ocean and a shallow lake.

There's enough space for only 2streets: Front and Back Streets. You can easily walk the length of the town in a half-hour if you don't tarry to shop.

Front Street has the major duty free shops and essentially is a shopping/hotel/restaurant arcade. Back Street is more suited to Chinese restaurants and low cost clothes.

Stores are open 8 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Prices should be checked carefully to make sure you're getting a good deal; some items cost the same as back home.

Shoppers occasionally complain of several devious practices: merchandise being switched when it is wrapped, and being charged a sales tax when everything is not only duty free but without any purchase or luxury tax. In other words, Let the Buyer Beware.

Philipsburg's most famous site is historic Watley Square, which faces the small pier near the middle of town. The old wooden courthouse and post office there date from 1793.

The Old Street Mall is the shopping complex where all the buildings are in traditional Dutch architecture. Although the buildings are nothing but replicas, this still is one of the most picturesque spots in Philipsburg.

This is a great place to indulge a sweet tooth. Dutch delicacies include guava berry tarts, coconut sugar cakes, potato-pudding and coconut pies.

Shopping Tips: The guavaberry liqueur is exclusive to St. Maarten. made with local wild berries that grow seasonally on hills in the middle of the island, making it truly a rare treat.

Guavaberry Liqueur has been made in local homes for over 200 years. It's made from rum and the guavaberries, which ripen just before Christmas. The liqueur has a fruity/bitter/sweet/woody taste that is distinctive.

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