Sunday, February 24, 2013

St. Maarten trip report part 4 - planespotting at Maho Beach

A lot of Caribbean islands can offer you perfect weather, brilliant turquoise water and white sand beaches. But only St. Maarten can offer you this:

That's Maho Beach, one of the most unique experiences in the world. The end of the runway for Princess Juliana Airport is literally across the street from the beach. It's not just that you're watching planes land 20 feet above your head. It's not just that you're on a beautiful Caribbean beach. It's that you're on a beautiful Caribbean beach watching planes land 20 feet above your head.

The combination of those two things is what makes this place so special. Normally when you think of watching planes land, what probably comes to mind is dingy industrial areas or getting strip-searched by an overzealous cop who thinks you're planning another 9/11 - at least if you're in the United States.

But on Maho Beach, you can relax in the sun, swim in the warm, tropical water or enjoy a beer at the Sunset Bar and Grill - all while large commercial jets fly so low above you that they can literally blow you into the water if you're not careful.

Here's the Air France A340 landing right on top of us:

There aren't that many widebodies at St. Maarten - that A340, a KLM 747-400 and an occasional Corsair 747-400 charter.  The Sunset Bar and Grill posts an arrivals board on a surfboard.  There are plenty of smaller commercial jets, though, and tons of commuter and private planes.  It's a busy airport.

We caught the KLM flight just as we arrived on our first day there (we went back a second time later) - this photo was literally shot from our car:

We were lucky enough to "see" it takeoff as well. Takeoffs can be an adventure too, as I found out. No, I wasn't completely stupid - I did not try riding the fence during a 747 takeoff like these guys. But I did stand directly behind the #4 engine. And yes, I was sandblasted, and blown into the water. It was nuts - I was crashing into people running in all directions, it was like a mosh pit in a fog of sand. Video of this exists, but my wife won't let me post it because she's embarrassed.

Here's proof, though - I took a screengrab of the plane turning towards the runway. That's me in the red shirt on the right:

I did get video of a 737 takeoff - watch the poor little girl on the beach below.  A private plane took off just after this that I really wish I'd filmed; one guy went completely end over end into the water, and the entire Sunset Bar laughed.  It would have gone viral.  But you'll have to settle for this.

If you want to check out the beach yourself, the best time to go is between 12 and 4. You'll catch any of the big jets coming in, a bunch of other commercial jets and most of the noteworthy takeoffs during that time.

Maho Beach itself is not the best beach on St. Maarten - the reason you go is to watch the planes. It's why everybody's there - you see how everybody's into it in these videos. Otherwise you may as well go to Orient Beach or Mullet Bay Beach. (More on those later.)

A little tip: a great place to watch takeoffs is in the car rental area on the side of the runway. Our first day there, we were surprised to hear the A340 screaming towards us and then see it lift off right next to us at the Dollar Rent a Car outlet. Didn't get a photo of it, but the JetBlue flight to San Juan was probably the next to depart, if I remember right:

A couple other photos from the beach - here's an AA 757:

This is probably the best photo of the beach and a plane that I got - and it was a throwaway cell phone pic as we were walking back to our car to leave on the second day:

The lowest landing we saw - Insel Air MD-83 - looked like he was going to take someone's head off!

Here's a 360 degree (yes, not 180!) panorama of the beach:

And lastly, if you go to Maho Beach, you're probably going to want to make the Sunset Bar your base of operations - here is it from the outside:

Their beach chairs go quick, so if you want one, go early. But you can sit in the bar as long as you want, their beer is cheap and their food is good. They also have a souvenir shop where you can buy t-shirts to commemorate your tumble from the top of the beach to the water at the hands of a jet engine.

This was actually a bucket list experience for me and the main reason I wanted to go to this island, and it exceeded my expectations. How many people can say they've been sandblasted by the jet blast from a 747? Even my wife had to admit it was pretty cool - you can hear her laughing at the end of the A340 video above.

No comments:

Post a Comment

About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP