Maho Beach, on the Dutch side of St. Maarten, is the best vantage point to watch planes land at Princess Juliana International Airport (aka Maho Beach Airport). There are not more than a few yards between the edge of the beach and the edge of the runway–only a two-lane road separates them. That means that the planes have to approach the beach at a low altitude in order to hit the runway at just the right time. It makes for quite a show.
Until recently, the major attraction at Maho Beach was the landing of KLM’s regular 747 flights. Photos of the massive plane’s flight path make it look like it’s mere inches from beachgoers as it heads toward the runway.
Alas, the 747 doesn’t fly into Princess Juliana International Airport (at least not regularly) anymore. But that doesn’t mean that there still aren’t great things to see at Maho Beach, especially from our chosen spot at the Sunset Bar and Grill.
Getting a good spot at Maho Beach
We knew that Maho Beach would be popular and crowded as we were cruising in high season around the holidays. To get a good spot and have the most opportunities for watching landings, we decided to start our day at the St Maarten airport beach early.
Coming in from St. Kitts, our ship was cleared in port in St. Maarten just before 9am. Not long after that, we were off and ready to start our day. A taxi to Maho Beach from the cruise port was only $7 per person each way, so we found a shuttle at the port and headed for the beach.
It was only about 10am when we arrived at the Sunset Bar and Grill. The restaurant was nearly empty, but the relatively small beach was already filling up with people. We realized that Maho Beach had the potential to get quite packed as the day went on and setting up shop there would put us directly in the middle of the crowd.
Instead, we opted for cushy beach chairs beside Sunset’s pool where we could relax all day, have dedicated food and drink service, and pop over to the beach whenever we wanted. For a rental fee of $10 per chair, which included use of the pool, it turned out to the perfect decision for us. If we hadn’t gotten that spot, our day at Maho Beach wouldn’t have been nearly as enjoyable.
Watching the planes
As soon as we had our chairs at the Maho Beach bar, our server pointed us to the daily schedule that showed the times the planes were slated to land. What wasn’t immediately clear was that the planes listed were only the major airlines. Throughout the day, there were dozens of small planes approaching the airport that bridge the gaps between the jetliners’ landings. No matter how small the planes are, it’s exciting to watch them appear seemingly from nowhere and head straight toward where you’re standing on the beach.
Photographing the approach
Watching planes land at Maho Beach is truly a unique experience, and most people are focused on getting great photos. Unless you have a great travel camera or excel at taking action shots, it can be difficult to time things perfectly.
Tips for visiting Maho Beach
- It can get crowded—tour buses continue to arrive throughout the day
- Timing is everything—get an early start to get a prime spot
- Be patient—the restaurant gets particularly busy 12:30-2:00 but is much quieter before and after
- It’s possible to avoid the masses (sometimes)—most people swam within 10 feet of the beach, but we swam out a little farther and were alone with schools of fish, sea urchins, and coral. Consider bringing a snorkel set to see them up close. [Also, check out our helpful guide on the best snorkel gear for traveling.]
- Transportation is convenient—we had no trouble getting a shuttle to Maho Beach from the cruise port or getting one back
- Leave plenty of time to return to your ship—St. Maarten has a number of drawbridges that can stop traffic for some time; while it only took about a half-hour to get to Maho Beach, it took us closer to an hour to return to the ship in the afternoon
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