One island, two countries. St. Martin / St. Maarten is the smallest place in the world shared by two nations, France and the Netherlands. This may be the only Caribbean vacation or cruise port of call you’ll ever take that will have you crossing borders once, twice, or more on the same day.
You may not be able to visit every beach on the island: it's only 37 square miles, but there are the same number of beaches! Each St. Maarten beach is a very different experience. Here are four beaches – and beach bar or dining experiences – you just can't miss.
Great Bay Beach / Phillipsburg – breezy boardwalk and boutiques
International flights and cruise ships arrive on the (smaller) Dutch side. Cruise ships dock at the capital, Phillipsburg. It’s a short walk to the town’s stunning stretch of beach that rises up from piercing aqua water the full length of the bay. The terrific boardwalk along Great Bay beach is lined with noisy island bars, rented segways, boutiques, and duty free shopping.
Just off the boardwalk, Phillipsburg. c BestTrip.TV
We took a break from filming on the boardwalk at the Holland House Beach Hotel. It's a taste of Miami's South Beach with European flair, with an elegantly breezy feel, low teak lounges, canvas, white stucco and bougainvillea creating a beach-chic ambiance for the bar and restaurant facing the boardwalk and beach. With exceptionally attractive and charming 20-something local and Dutch staff in attendance in the lounge at the private beach area, the cocktails go down easy and the time slips by as you absorb the action around you in the hotel, on the boardwalk, the beach, and the ships in port.
Maho Beach – daredevils and spring break
The one beach that sets St. Maarten apart from any other beach in the world is nearby Maho beach. It's pretty enough, but the real attraction is its location at the end of the Princess Juliana International Airport’s runway, and the bizarre tradition that brings tourists from all over the world to see what it feels like to stand on a beach in the jet stream of a 747 taking off just feet away.
The 747's are the blast everyone waits for. c BestTrip.TV
No one reads this sign. c BestTrip.TV
I wonder if the makers of the movie Jackass were inspired by this daily phenomenon. The signs and police warnings do nothing to stop the frenzy of bathing suit-clad thrill seekers crowding the beach mere feet from the engines of 747’s about to take off. Just how strong is the jet stream? Before barriers were erected along the road, we were filming there and saw two parked cars rolled over across the beach and into the sea. People actually try to stand there, even hold onto the fence that separates them from the plane as it takes off!
Just starting up... c BestTrip.TV
Sandblasting. c BestTrip.TV
Bars bookending the beach outside the blast zone (but still within deafening earshot) offer the room with a view to enjoy the 'entertainment' of watching risk-takers getting their skin sandblasted. Voted one of the best beach bars in the world, the boisterous Sunset Bar and Grill is right on the beach at the end of the runway. It continues the frat house feel of the beach with a chalkboard schedule of the 'entertainment': the day's flight departures and also broadcasts a live web cam feed of other raucous bar activities.
Orient Beach – nudists and water sports
On the French side, Orient Beach is the place to go if you're terrified of returning from your holiday with tan lines. Taking its cue from the casually sophisticated topless beaches of the south of France, one end is famously designated clothing optional. For some visitors, that ‘view’ at Orient Beach is the big attraction, although if it's your first clothing optional beach, I warn you that most people on a clothing optional beach are not the people you want to see there.
These ladies are. c BestTrip.TV
There are plenty of reasons to love Orient Beach besides ogling – or joining - the bathing suit-free. On the windward side of the island, it's a two-mile beach of sugary sand that attracts all kinds of water sports enthusiasts and especially kite surfers and paragliders.
Whenever I visit St.Martin, I make it a habit to inhale the fresh breezes off the bay in the ambiance of one of the Orient Beach restaurant/bars that provides all day drinks, dining, and rental beach lounge chairs to catch the breeze.
Grand Case – romance and fine cuisine
The charming sea-side village of Grand Case is at the heart of French St. Martin's famed gastronomic scene. At the casual end of dining are some of the island's best lolo's or barbecue street stands that specialize in seafood. For Grand Case's real magic, try one of the open-air restaurants right on the sand that line the crescent moon beach facing west – into the setting sun. Exquisite, authentic French food, French servers, sun setting over the waves, it all conspires to create an atmosphere you couldn’t design any better for a romantic movie set.
Any of the wonderful French restaurants on the sand will kindle the romance, and you can end the evening on the beach with one last drink under tiki torches watching the dying rays of the sunset.
Grand Case. c BestTrip.TV