To get an up close look at the very beginning of St. Maarten’s colonial history, head to the peninsula on the western side of Great Bay, where you’ll find the ruins of Fort Amsterdam. Built in 1631, Fort Amsterdam was the original colonial fort built on the island when the Dutch first settled here. Just two years later, both the fort and the island were taken by the Spanish, who made additions to the fort and used it until 1648, when France and Holland made the deal to divide the island that has continued through today. An excavation of the fort grounds in 1987 uncovered Spanish, Dutch and English colonial artifacts, including the skeleton of a Spanish soldier. Visitors can walk among the ruins and see several 19th century cannons.
To visit Fort Amsterdam from Philipsburg drive west through town onto Little Bay Road, and follow the road through the Divi Little Bay Beach Resort until it dead ends near the end of the peninsula. It’s a 10-minute drive from the cruise ship dock, and 5 minutes from downtown Philipsburg.