The tiny country with 20 times more cruise passengers than residents (2024)

Startling statistics have revealed the countries where cruise ship passengers outnumber locals.

The tiny Caribbean island of Sint Maarten sits at the top of this ranking. It has a population of fewer than 43,000 permanent residents - but welcomes a staggering 844,000 cruise tourists per year, according to UN Tourism (UNWTO) data, meaning ship visitors outnumber locals by a ratio of 20 to one.

The Caribbean features heavily in the ratio ranking, drawn from 2023 data. The Bahamas is second on the list with 13 cruise tourists to each local, followed by the British Virgin Islands (3rd) and the Cayman Islands (4th), which have passenger-to-resident ratios of around 11 to one.

St Kitts and Nevis is fifth (10:1), while the rest of the top 10 also hails from the region - Bermuda (sixth, 6:1), Aruba (seventh, 5:1), Antigua (eighth,3.85:1), Curacao (ninth, 3.45:1) and the US Virgin Islands (10th, 2:1).

So what draws such vast numbers of cruise passengers to the shores of Sint Maarten? For starters, it'sone of the world’s only cruise ports that’s able to host the globe’s biggest ships. It recently welcomed the world’s largest cruise ship - Royal Caribbean's Icon of the Seas- a mammoth vessel with capacity for more than 7,000 people.

Sint Maarten is a Caribbean paradise where cruise tourists outnumber residents by 20 to one

Lonely Planet says : ‘The sun-soaked paradise of Sint Maarten is a magical oasis with sugary beaches and azure waters'

More than 844,000 cruise tourists visit Sint Maarten per year, according to UNWTO data

THE COUNTRIES WITH THE BIGGEST CRUISE-PASSENGER-TO-RESIDENT RATIOS

1. Sint Maarten (20:1)

2. Bahamas (13:1)

3. British Virgin Islands (11.47:1)

4. Cayman Islands (11.09:1)

5. St Kitts and Nevis (10:1)

6. Bermuda (6:1)

7. Aruba (5:1)

8. Antigua (3.85:1)

9. Curacao (3.45:1)

10. US Virgin Islands (2:1)

Source: UNWTO

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Then there's the sheer beauty of the 13-square-mile (20 sq km) island, which is the Dutch side of a tiny 37-square-mile (95 sq km) island that's split with the French (Saint Martin).

Lonely Planet says: ‘The sun-soaked paradise of Sint Maarten is a magical oasis with sugary beaches and azure waters.’

The sun-soaked paradise of Sint Maarten is a magical oasis with sugary beaches and azure waters'

Lonely Planet

While small, Sint Maarten has 37 beaches and 35 dive sites.

Simpson Bay is said to be one of the island’s best diving spots while sandy Great Bay Beach stretches for miles. Lonely Planet recommends checking out Indigo Bay for a ‘secluded hideaway’ or Maho Bay for something more ‘lively’.

Be warned though, as unsuspecting tourists may get a shock at Maho Bay - the beach sits right under the Princess Juliana Airport’s flight path. Aircraft often pass within 30m of the ground and the sight is so popular with tourists that bars and restaurants display arrival and departure times for keen plane watchers.

Unsuspecting Sint Maarten tourists will get a shock at Maho Bay as the beach sits right under the Princess Juliana Airport’s flight path

Sint Maarten is now one of the world’s only cruise ports able to host the globe’s biggest ships

Cruise ships docked at Nassau in the Bahamas.Cruise ship passengers here outnumber residents 13 to one

Two cruise ships near George Town on Grand Cayman island. Cruise ship passengers here outnumber residents 11 to one

Cruise ships Riviera and Costa Magica moored in the British Virgin Islands.Cruise ship passengers here outnumber residents 11 to one

Tourists can also trek into the island’s rainforest to ride the Flying Dutchman, the ‘world’s steepest zipline’, which can go at speeds of 56 miles per hour. Guests are harnessed in a chair for the adrenaline-pumping experience.

Although some cruise passengers prefer to stick to the ship’s buffet, Lonely Planet says foodies will ‘love Sint Maarten for its diverse and highly-acclaimed cuisine, which reflects its many cultures from Pacific Islanders to Europeans, Asians and varied Caribbean nations’.

For a local treat, try Carnival Cruise Line’s recommendation of conch and dumplings - sea snails served with fluffy cornmeal dumplings. Spare ribs cooked at island barbecue shacks are another popular tourist choice.

If you need something to wash down your sea snails, there's always Sint Maarten’s national liquor - Guavaberry. It’s a centuries-old rum made from wild berries found in the island’s forests.

Sint Maarten's luxury shops are duty-free so goods are approximately 30 per cent cheaper than in the US

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Shopping might be the last thing on your mind in an island paradise, but for many US tourists, it’s one of Sint Maarten’s primary attractions. That’s because the island’s luxury shops are duty-free, so goods are approximately 30 per cent cheaper than in the US.

Brands such as Armani, Pandora and Michael Kors can be found next to Philipsburg cruise port while the quirkier Amsterdam Cheese and Liquor Store is a nod to the island’s Dutch culture with vacuum-packed Gouda and Edam for sale.

Sint Maarten’s tourism high season is between December and April but if you want to avoid the cruise passenger crush (as many as 23,000 per day can arrive in December), check out the off-season, from June to November.

The island’s tropical climate means there’s good beach weather for most of the year with at least eight sunshine hours a day. Although hurricanes are rare, Lonely Planet recommends keeping an eye on the National Hurricane Centre’s updates during the off-season.

The tiny country with 20 times more cruise passengers than residents (2024)
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