I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the taxi to Maho Beach in St Maarten. I mean, how exciting would it be, for someone who is not an airplane enthusiast, to watch a plane land or take off? I see thousands of them do this daily, from afar, because I live in Toronto which is one of the busiest airports in North America. I have flown on large commercial flights for 24 years. It’s not like I would not know what to expect, simply by being in proximity to them. I was very wrong in my assumption.
I did not want to waste any portion of my day on this beautiful island, even though this was my 6th visit here. We were sailing on Independence of the Seas, as part of a Seminar at Seas group of Travel Professionals. This was our first port of call. Plus, the airport was on the other side of the island from where the Cruise ship terminal is and so I was concerned about wasting time in a vehicle, when all I wanted was the beautiful white sand beach and soothing, warm, salt water.
As we made our way down the boardwalk of the town, our group of 5 ran into 3 more Travel Agents from our ship and we made the decision to grab one of the many taxi’s and head out to the famous “Airport Beach.”
First, let me explain the actual size of the island. St. Maarten is unique in that it is comprised of 2 nations. The southerly portion is made up of the Netherland Antilles, while the Northern portion is under the rule of France. The entire island covers only 37 square miles!
Even with 6 cruise ships in Port that day, 2 of which were flagships carrying 4500 people and the other 4 with 3000 guests, the town does not feel busy by the standards we associate with as being “busy” from living in a large city. There is one main road encircling the entire island, which goes up and over mountains, giving views that take your breath away with their beauty. There is some local traffic but most of it is comprised of tourist taxi’s ferrying people to various beaches.
Most pictures taken from these lookouts could be framed as artwork, showing the Caribbean blue waters with white tipped waves, crashing against the shimmering shorelines of pink sand beaches. The lush green sides of the mountains and the occasional splash of color from blossoming vines or painted houses, made you wish you could stay forever; to call St Maarten your island home.
So even with all of the tours being given to all of the tourists, the roads are not busy and you have bright vistas laid out in every direction. It only takes a little over an hour to circumnavigate the entire island, so the 30 minute distance between the cruise ships and Maho Beach is well worth the drive and cost, which is roughly $20.00 US per person, for a return trip. While their government does set out standards for the basic cost of a trip, it is a negotiated price and can be reduced if more people go, or increased if there are less.
Do not worry about using the same taxi driver for the return trip, unless you want to; there are many drivers with extra seats available, so if something happens and you miss your ride, you always have a way back, as long as you are aware of the time you need to be back for your ships departure.
The low approach of an airplane, signaled to us that we were close to the beach and as we turned a long sweeping curve towards the shoreline, past the airport, we drove along the right side of the runway. The fence surrounding it was approximately 10 feet from the road. At the end of the runway, the 2 lane road is directly beside the fence one side and the beach on the other. There is a 1 ft high wall that tries to keep the sand off the pavement.
The white sand beach is flat for about 6-10 feet, and then drops down at a severe angle directly to the ocean. There is an underwater reef which is about 15 feet from shore, which causes the waves to crash against the shoreline at about a dramatic height of 8-12 feet. To say it is impressive is an understatement.
This is NOT a beach for young children. The wave surge comes up a good 15 feet and sometimes over the angle and onto the flat portion of the beach. It is crowded by people who are there to enjoy the spectacle of the low flying airplanes, with a beach as a convenient addition to their day. Young teenagers and strong swimmers loved the huge crush of the waves, close to shore and it was incredible to watch people fight through them to get to the calmer waters beyond the breaking waves.
On the far right of the bay is the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort which is set high on the rough craggy rocks overlooking the beach and airport; it would give their guests a magnificent panoramic view or the sea, sky, beach and runway. On the left is a wonderful bar, with live reggae style music, which has a surf board posted outside the establishment, with the expected times that each Carrier is expected to land.
If you really want to ensure you get to see some of the larger planes land, like KLM, then make sure you check the flight arrival AND departure for different carries BEFORE you go. They typically start arriving anywhere from 12Pm through 3PM. Then you can plan your arrival at the beach to coincide with them. This will make sure you manage your time wisely if you are on a limited schedule, like we were that day.
You tube has many videos of planes both taking off and landing over this beach, but they do not convey the sense of power, the thrill of mankind making machines that can FLY; like being directly under one that is doing so. The planes are 20 feet over your head, it is loud and it is thrilling! The blast of sand directly behind the jets thrusters makes it impossible to be there for any longer than a few seconds at best, though you see people trying time and again.
Going to MahoBeach when you visit St Maarten is an absolute must if you have not gone there already. It is not your typical Caribbean type of excursion, such as sailing on a catamaran or snorkeling with sting rays, but it is such a unique experience, it is simply not to be missed.
Our group of women Travel Agents, made our way back to the Port, excitedly chatting about everything we had seen. All of us grateful that we had the chance to not only explore the Island, but to go outside of our comfort zone and experience something that we had almost passed by. Our trip to the famous “Airport Beach” in Maho renewed our childlike sense of wonder at the amazing things we can accomplish as humans, when we set our minds to it. When ingenuity, creativity and technology meet, our potential is as limitless as it is uplifting; just like the planes of Maho Beach.