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Grand Case: the Portland, Oregon of the Caribbean

Meet one transplant who loved Grand Case so much he decided to live here full-time.

“We think Grand Case is the best town on St. Martin,” says Mark Yokoyama. “Grand Case is the only old town on the island of St. Martin that still has its character intact.”

grand case st martin

Image copyright Mark Yokoyama. Used with permission.

Mark Yokoyama is a fixture in the village of Grand Case. Together with a large group of enthusiastic friends at Grand Case-based non-profit education group Les Fruits de Mer, Yokoyama has devoted a significant amount of time to exploring and promoting the natural environment and diversity of St. Martin.

But he says he loves Grand Case the best.

grand case st martin

Image copyright Mark Yokoyama. Used with permission.

“Grand Case has been around since the 1600s, when it started out as a fishing village,” says Yokoyama. “Even as the growth of St. Martin itself over the past fifty years has transformed the character of the island, Grand Case’s unique location itself has made the village resistant to change. It’s still a real town.”

grand case st martin

Image copyright Mark Yokoyama / Les Fruit de Mer. Used with permission.

Grand Case feels like a community, Yokoyama says. While there is a seasonal influx of tourists, the town is also a place where locals live, work and play.

“There’s restaurant row here, but there’s also a post office and a police station,” Yokoyama says.

He also notes that other communities on the French side of the island can sometimes feel “too touristy”, or may be suited just for local residents, with not enough interesting things to do.

“The regional airport may have saved Grand Case,” Yokoyama says.

Located to the east of Grand Case on the other side of the lagoon, tiny L’Espérance Airport provides regional prop service to nearby islands.

“They probably can’t build any higher than two stories in Grand Case, which makes the village unattractive for developers,” Yokoyama says.

And so the charm of Grand Case has been preserved.

What does Yokoyama like most about Grand Case?

“Grand Case has always been a cool place. Back in the 1980’s Michael Jackson would be hanging out with Liza Minelli here,” laughs Yokoyama. “Today it feels like the Portland, Oregon of the Caribbean.”

Grand Case is located along a nice bay where you can go snorkeling and swimming, says Yokoyama. There are different beach bars, he says, and it’s a great place to see the sunset.

“If you’re coming here as a tourist there are lots of fancy restaurants,” says Yokoyama. “It’s a town where there are a lot of people out and about on the street in the evening.”

Yokoyama says another part of the appeal of Grand Case is that the town still observes local festivals and events, such as Mardi Gras and traditional boat racing.

“There are a lot of events in Grand Case that are good for families,” says Yokoyama. “There is also a lot of great French wine that is reasonably-priced.”

grand case st martin

Image copyright Olivia Roudon / Les Fruit de Mer. Used with permission.

Mark Yokoyama first came to Grand Case more than a decade ago, and wound up relocating here for good.

“My girlfriend Jenn and I were visiting on 2003. We had timeshare points. We were living in Brooklyn. We wanted something warm with good food,” says Yokoyama. “We liked it and kept coming back. We took up diving, and were coming down to the Caribbean a lot, so we said ‘let’s take a break for a year.’ By then we had a lot of friends in St. Martin. We decided to spend a year here, and that was seven years ago.”

Together with their friends, Mark Yokoyama and Jenn Yerkes have launched Les Fruits de Mer, a non-profit organization devoted to educating residents and visitors alike about the natural history of St. Martin.

grand case saint martin

Image copyright Mark Yokoyama / Les Fruit de Mer. Used with permission.

“In local schools all of the textbooks come from somewhere else,” says Yokoyama. “Kids are learning about bears, which don’t exist here, rather than local plants and animals.”

Les Fruits de Mer publishes books and hosts a variety of events in Grand Case throughout the year. The group also runs a museum in Grand Case, typically during tourist high season.

“As a tourism economy, creating value out of what remains of the natural heritage is a valuable thing to do,” says Yokoyama. It’s nice that Grand Case Case is so vibrant—we can do an event where 400 people come out.”

There’s everything to be gained, Yokoyama says, from sharing with both tourists and locals.

The Les Fruits de Mer website features information about the ecology and natural environment of St. Martin. Details about Museum Naturalis, the Grand Case museum run by volunteers in Grand Case, can be found here