Tuesday, February 26, 2013

St. Maarten trip report part 5 - the beaches!

If you're going to St. Maarten, chances are you're going to the beach. It's the Caribbean - why else would you be there? The amazing architecture?

I've already written about Maho Beach, but St. Maarten actually has more than 20 beaches on its tiny coastline - too many to visit in one trip! We had actually planned to take a day trip to St. Baarth's while we were there, but realized we paid all this money to go to St. Maarten - we may as well enjoy it first.

We ended up spending time on four beaches on St. Maarten, carefully picked from a combination of online sources and recommendations of the locals. These four were Maho Beach, Mullet Bay Beach, Orient Beach and Dawn Beach. All of these beaches are serviced, meaning you can get drinks and food from an adjacent beach bar. Just these four will give you a good variety, although if I went back, I'd love to explore the Coralita/L'embouchure/Oyster Pond area some more - this area reminded me a lot of Northern California, with a lot of walkable sandbars, mini-islands and rocks, and not a lot of people. We only saw it from the car on this trip - it teased us pretty much every time we went anywhere.

Below I'll run through the other beaches we did visit.

Note: because I know this is vital info (either because it makes you uncomfortable or the opposite), I'm going to rate the topless factor of each beach. St. Maarten is generally a top-optional island, and while that was fine with us, families with kids or those with a more conservative world view might want to avoid some of these beaches (or St. Maarten altogether, quite honestly - this island might just not be for you).

Maho Beach
Check out my previous post on planespotting on Maho Beach for an in-depth report, but here's another photo of this beach just for the heck of it:

Maho Beach is a small, steeply banked and busy beach - it's really there for a single purpose, and that's watching planes landing and taking off at the airport across the street. Still, it's fun to do that while swimming or just lounging on the sand. Maho Beach is also smack in the middle of the Dutch tourist area of the island - if you're the kind of person who likes staying "in town", then you'll probably want to visit this beach.

The people on this beach are a complete mix of young and old (though skewing older).

Topless factor: 2. We saw just one person without a top on two visits to this beach, though the Sunset Bar and Grill gives free drinks to topless girls. We didn't see anyone partake in that while we were there.

Mullet Bay Beach
Just about 1,000 feet from Maho Beach as the crow flies - walking distance, really - is probably my favorite beach of those we visited. Mullet Bay Beach is the perfect Caribbean beach - perfect white sand, beautiful water (usually calm), and lined with palm trees in a a near-perfect semi-circle. There seems to be only one bar/restaurant but that's enough, and it means the rest of the beach is quiet and pristine.

This is looking south from about the middle of the beach.

A boat parked itself while we were there and let people off to swim around it.

This is looking in the other direction; you can see how quiet the other side of the beach is.

Incidentally, the beach is close enough to the airport that you can still watch planes if you want, without the noise or the sandblasting:

That gives you an idea how close it is to Maho Beach, which that plane would be flying right over just a second or two later.

There were more young people at this beach than other beaches we visited - a mostly European and pretty hot crowd, to be perfectly honest.

Topless factor: 1. We actually didn't see any, but no doubt the beach is not immune, like all St. Maarten beaches. It just doesn't seem that common here.

Orient Bay Beach
Some people consider this to be "the" St. Maarten beach, so we felt obligated to check it out. In fact, we spent almost an entire day there. It's definitely a destination beach, almost more like a theme park than somewhere you'd go to try to relax. I think it's more like Long Beach (either California or Long Island, take your pick) than what I think of when I think of a prototypical Caribbean beach... but hey, some people want a party beach, and I don't judge them. We enjoyed our day there.

One advantage Orient Bay Beach has is that there are literally about a million beach chairs for rent from the beach bars spaced about every 100 feet, so even though it gets really crowded, the chairs never totally fill up like on other beaches. We got there pretty late and still got a set of chairs in the "front row" at the Bikini Beach bar.

Parasailing is one of the activities you can do on this beach - they also have waverunner tours. (Honestly, the parasailing looked pretty fun, but I'm still getting over a bad rib muscle strain so I was kind of afraid to try it this time.)

We actually didn't get too many photos on this beach because we'd read that photography was not allowed, and that's probably because it's partially a nude beach. Not the area we were in, but there was definitely a lack of tops on along the entire beach. (This is not as titillating as it sounds - most of the people who go topless are older and just don't care anymore.) So we have basically no shots with people in them, but trust me when I say this beach was crowded.

Topless factor: 9. Lots. Mostly older people. There's also a fully nude section of the beach, though we didn't see it. (Probably just as well.)

Dawn Beach
Right next to our hotel - and the huge Westin resort - is Dawn Beach, so named because you can sit on it and watch the sunrise:

I was there five days and that's the best I got - sue me!

Dawn Beach is bigger than we initially thought - there are actually two parts of it, both accessible through resorts (though it is a public beach). We went through the Westin on our first visit.

That's the south end looking up towards the Westin.

This part of Dawn Beach is really quiet, and strangely kind of "dead". It may be more of a morning beach because of the sunrise - we went kind of late in the day. It had a weird vibe to it, and my wife was not very comfortable because she thought all the Westin people were staring at us - it's a public beach, though, so who cares? There really weren't many people on this beach at all besides people who were obviously Westin guests (they were all using their chairs), and those people had kind of a zombified look to them - like they were still shell-shocked from seeing their overinflated hotel bills.

On our last day in St. Maarten - literally just before going to the airport - we decided to eat at Mr. Busby's Beach Bar in Oyster Pond, which we only then realized actually opens up to the north end of Dawn Beach:

That's part of the view from our table at the restaurant - can you believe that? And that's where we ate before going to the airport. I love St. Maarten! Hey man, I'm from New York - we don't have this kind of thing. Here's a panorama shot:

The full size of that (which also has my wife on the right side of the frame) is one of my favorite shots from our trip.

Anyway, this part of the beach felt more alive, and I'd like to come back here again.

Topless factor: 1. We saw not a one.

Coming up next (and probably last in this trip report): the food of St. Maarten! To whet your appetite, here's a shot of the Grand Case beach - we didn't actually spend any time on the beach there (we just ate and ate and ate!), but we got this great panorama:

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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.


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