Maho Beach, Sint Maarten
For a very unique experience, try a visit to Maho Beach near Philipsburg when visiting the Dutch side of Saint Martin – an island of dual nationalities known officially as Sint Maarten on the Dutch side and Saint Martin on the French side. A beautiful sandy beach sits just across the street from Princess Juliana International Airport. Planes of all sizes from small Cessnas to the largest jets fly just over the beach on their way to landing on the runway, which lies perpendicular to the beach. Tourists flock to Maho Beach in hopes of catching close-up photos or videos of the underside of things like 747’s as they fly right overhead.
Catching the underside of large airplanes on film is not as easy as it sounds. They fly over so quickly and there’s a crowd of people jockeying for space so it’s just as likely to catch the person who stepped in front of your carefully aligned camera just as the plane flies over as it is to get footage of the plane. Or they just cause you to lose your focus on the plane and then it’s gone. There’s lots of YouTube videos of these planes though, so some people do manage to obtain excellent footage. I was not so lucky. I got footage, even undersides now and then, but it’s not exactly excellent.
When we stopped in Saint Martin on our Carnival Breeze transatlantic cruise, we found that it’s very easy to catch a shuttle near the shopping area by the cruise ship dock. They have shuttles to a variety of places including Maho Beach. The per person price goes down as the size of the group goes up, so it’s best to group together with other passengers that want to go there as well. Shuttles come to the beach often so getting back to the dock is quite easy. They often fill with random groups of people that just happened to want to leave at the same time you did, so returning with the people you came with isn’t necessary.
A bar at the beach posts a sign with all the day’s take-offs and landings of large jets. They also rent beach chairs with umbrellas, very nice to have on a shadeless beach in the sun. Of course cold drinks and refreshments are available there too as well as restrooms. The bar certainly helps make a day at Maho Beach more comfortable.
People sun themselves, swim or splash about in the water, and do all the normal beachy things until time draws near for a plane to arrive. When that faint light of a jet approaching appears on the distant horizon it seems as if a herding dog suddenly came through and gathered everyone up like cattle.
They all line up in front of the runway, cameras up hoping to get that shot of the underbelly of a plane. The larger the planes are, they are the lower they come in. The biggest ones almost feel as if you could just about reach up and touch them.
Later in the afternoon, we heard, the large jets take off. Our ship left too early to stay and watch the phenomenon of people who risk life and limb to cling to the fence between the two signs warning them not to and wait for departing jets to blast them across the road.
Even on the beach people can get knocked down or blown into the water if standing in the danger zone near the runway’s end when a big jet takes off.
After a day at the beach the shuttle will let those who wish off in town and take the rest back to the cruise ship dock. From town a water taxi makes a quick journey back to the ship for a small fee.
Saint Martin has many other things to do besides visiting Maho Beach. We stopped there on a previous cruise and had a great time on a sail and snorkel excursion to Tintamarre Island.