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How can budget travelers find inexpensive vacation packages, cheap places to eat and affordable local transportation and tours in St. Maarten?

At the St. Maarten travel auction you can bid on packages that include hotels, car rental, and discounts on food, shopping and entertainment. One-week packages begin at US$400. Examples of travel packages, posted every three weeks, are hotels or inns for seven nights, car rental for four days, a shopping discount certificate at AMA Jewelers for US$75, two tickets for St. Maarten's 12 Metre Challenge and a 50 per cent lunch or dinner for two discount at 12 Metre Yacht Club.

Discounted St. Maarten hotels, inns and packages

St. Maarten boasts several inexpensive accommodations. Carl's Unique Inn, a short drive from the airport and Philipsburg in a quiet residential neighborhood, has discount weekend packages. Located near Simpson Bay Beach, Turquoise Shell Inn offers affordable weekly rates.

The least expensive way to travel around St. Maarten is by bus for just US$2 a ride. Because there are no designated bus stops or timetables, you wave to the bus driver when you want him to stop. Travelers in a hurry can take local taxis. The average cost of a cab ride from the airport to Philipsburg is US$12.

Cheap places to eat, drink and shop in St. Maarten

Johnny Under the Tree BBQ, in Cole Bay, serves barbecued ribs and chicken with rice and beans for less than US$10. Mr. Busby's Beach Bar & Café, at Dawn Beach, offers large lunch platters and inexpensive drinks. Anane's, in Philipsburg, has cheap, but good, Indian food.

Across from the St. Maarten airport, Uncle Harry's sells steak dinners and a glass of wine for two for less than US$50. If you want a picnic lunch to eat on one of the 37 beaches in St. Maarten, buy a baguette for US$1 at Zee Best, some cheese and Amstel beer.

Guavaberry Emporium offers free tastings of Guavaberry Coladas. The shop sells liqueurs made from Guavaberry, a fruit that grows only on St. Maarten.

Inexpensive things to see and do on St. Maarten

Reasonably priced tours in St. Maarten include self-guided hiking at Loterie Farm, the highest point on the island and a former sugar plantation. For an additional fee, Loterie Farm offers treetop ziplines on an obstacle course with rope bridges and swing crossings. At the Butterfly Farm, colorful butterflies flutter around visitors.

Besides duty-free stores, shoppers should visit Island Arts of the Yoda Guy, on Old Street, in Philipsburg. Star Wars memorabilia decorates the store. Owner Nick Maley, creator of Star Wars' Yoda, loves to talk to Star Wars fans.