I really don’t think you can say you have been to St. Maarten (St. Martin) unless you have been to the beach at Maho Bay. While Maho Beach may not be the most scenic beach on the island, it is the most famous because planes fly low right over it to land at Princess Juliana International Airport. When planes take off, it’s another story, you can watch fellow beach goers battle the jetblast. Maho Beach came in at #3 in the world on Tripadvisor’s 10 unique beaches you need to see to believe.
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As you can imagine, this is not your typical beach. It’s one of the best places in the world to watch planes land and take off. KLM used to fly a Boeing 747 into Princess Juliana Airport, but since October 2016 they started using a smaller plane (A330). The beach can get very crowded especially on days when there is a cruise ship in port. I don’t recommend setting up camp on the sand. It has a steep slope and if you sit above the slope you will be pounded with sand when jets take off.
Luckily, there are two tropical beach bars on either end where you can hang out when you are not in the water. The Sunset Bar and Grill, located on the south end is more popular. At the other end of Maho Bay, you will find Guy’s Driftwood Boat Bar. Both have plenty of drink options and food.
The Sunset Bar has a chalkboard with the flight times for the day. Since most of the planes take off and land in the early afternoon, you don’t need to spend the whole day at Maho Beach. You must make sure you see at least one plane land and one take off though. Also, you should go for a dip since the water is nice and calm, especially if it’s a warm day. Please make sure someone from your party stays watching your stuff at all times though.
For arriving flights, it is fun to watch the planes fly right over you. You will be amazed by how close they come. If you want to get video or photos, I would recommend taking them from the side (one of the bars). If you are directly below the plane, you won’t really be able to capture the perspective. Once you have your photo, go in the water and watch the planes land from there.
Departing flights are a different story. The planes usually take off going away from Maho beach so they don’t fly over you. But that does not mean there isn’t anything to see. When a flight departs the plane waits by the fence right across the road from the beach and then revs up its engines. The engines generate a very powerful wind (jet blast) that pushes anything its path towards the water.
In spite of the warning signs, people line the fence behind the planes that are taking off and try to hold on once the plane starts its engine. This does not go well! Pretty much everyone is pushed backward and falls onto the sand. I don’t recommend that you try this. The warning signs are there for a reason and I don’t want you getting hurt during your vacation. It is just not worth it.
I hate to admit it though, I do really enjoy watching the people hold on to the fence when the planes are ready to take off. It is always good for a few laughs. For the best view, I would recommend watching from one of the bars. Even standing a bit back from the fence, you will have sand blown on you. Please be careful and mind your belongings, hats and other loose items can easily blow away.
After all the planes have come and gone or if you just need to go to some place less crowded, head to Mullet Bay only a short drive away. There is plenty of parking and the beach is prettier and calmer. Mullet Bay is also a pretty long beach, perfect for an afternoon walk. Rocks line the both sides of Mullet Bay and the water is clear, so you can try to do some snorkeling. If you are hungry, they have a few snack bars. Rocks line the both sides of Mullet Bay, making for some great snorkeling.
How to Get to Maho Bay
Maho Beach is located in St. Maarten (the Dutch side of the island), literally at the end of the runway. Only a narrow road and those fences separate the beach from the airport.
The beach can be easily reached by car if you just circle around the airport, but there is limited parking. Guy’s Driftwood Boat Bar has a small area where cars can park, but it’s not really a formal parking lot. Someone parked behind us and we had to ask them to move so we could get out. There is also a parking lot a short walk from the south end of the beach.
Maho Bay is a great option for cruise passengers too. Just take a taxi from the port to Maho Beach. It takes about 20 minutes and costs $9 per person. Please make sure you allow plenty of time to return to your ship.
Where to Stay in Maho Bay
Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and Casino is a popular hotel option that is walking distance from Maho beach. It is an all-inclusive resort with a swim-up bar, two pools, five restaurants and five bars, spa, fitness center, tennis courts, and casino. If you are staying in St. Martin without a car, the Sonesta Resort is a great option because it is only a five-minute drive from the airport, plus there are other restaurants, casinos, and bars that you can walk to. Check availability and current rates here.
Update: Sadly the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort suffered significant damage during Hurricane Irma and as of September 22, 2017, it looks like the resort will be closed to guest until at least March 2018. Our thoughts are with all those that have suffered from all the terrible hurricanes during the 2017 season.
Have you been to Maho Bay or another place with great plane spotting? If you have, I would love to hear about your experience in the comments.
Update: Sadly I have learned that this week a beach goer was severely injured by a jet engine blast and later died of her injuries. My condolences go out to her loved ones.
Expert Tips for Plane Spotting in St. Maarten:
- Time your visit to Maho Beach for when planes will be taking off and landing – usually early afternoon. If you can avoid, going to Maho Beach on days when cruise ships are in port.
- Don’t try to hold on to the fence or stand behind the planes when they are ready to take off.
- Use one of the bars as your home base. If the Sunset Bar is crowded try Guy’s Driftwood Boat Bar.
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