Beyond boasting beautiful beaches, St. Maarten is also well known as the gourmet capitol of the Caribbean and a duty-free shopper’s dream. Their gala Carnival and Heineken Regatta also attract visitors from all over the globe. But there’s one more thing this little island is becoming world famous for these days and that’s plane spotting! Maho has put it on the map as having one of the craziest, thrilling, and photogenic plane landing spots on the planet.
So why do the planes fly so low over Maho Beach? It’s because the runaway at Princess Juliana Airport is so short! Though at 7,054 ft. it’s not the shortest runway in the world- Saba has that distinction- for commercial jets it’s certainly one of the toughest to navigate. Pilots must approach as low as they can for quick touchdown- they need time to stop the plane before it rolls right into a mountain! The bigger the plane, the more spectacular the sight- and aviation enthusiasts arrive in droves daily to capture photos as they soar in at a mere 30 to 60 feet right over your head. One team of professionals photographers were so enthralled with the sight that they created an entire book based on the landings entitled "Jet Liner-The Complete Works".
Maho Beach itself is quite lovely with clear aqua waters, talcum white sand, and rocky outcroppings that make it a sweet spot for snorkeling. To enjoy the beach, you can rent lounges and shade umbrellas from the Sunset Beach Bar- the main outpost for plane-spotting visitors. They even post arrival and departures, and broadcast the chatter between the pilots and flight control. It’s also a popular dining spot and beach bar in its own right.
But if you think watching the planes make those harrowing landings is the only aviation drama at Maho, you’d be wrong. Plane departures create their own buzz. The jet blast from the engines toward the beach is unreal. It can reach hurricane wind force speeds of up to 100-mph, and it can send everything in its path careening over the beach right into the sea! People included!
Now, one would think that it would be smart to steer clear of such a resounding thrust for safety’s sake. In fact, there are huge signs with the words: “Jet blast from departing and arriving aircraft can cause severe physical harm resulting in extreme bodily harm and /or death!” But that’s not the case. You’ll see lots of folks placing themselves directly in the blast path, and even hanging on the fence to fight the force for as long as they can. It’s a risky pastime to be sure, and injuries have occurred; yet it seems little deters those seeking this offbeat thrill or the bragging rights that go with it. But personally, just watching the planes land is thrill enough for me. Preview some “Spectacular Landings” on the new Princess Juliana Airport website here: http://www.sxmairport.com.
Although it's a great pastime, there's a lot more to do at Maho than plane spot.There’s an entire half-mile of fun in the village full of great dining spots, shops, bars, and the island’s largest casino to discover as well. Visit our Special Offers site for coupons and deals at the best places.
Photography: Bernie Veroeven