I just got back from an awesome bucket list trip. Have you heard of Maho Beach in St. Maarten? Even if you haven’t, you’ve definitely seen it in pictures!
Maho beach is a must-see for any aviation enthusiast, as you can watch large and small aircraft land just yards above you. Saying it was a cool experience is an understatement.
Fellow BoardingArea blogger, Renes Points, came up with the brilliant idea to have an #avgeek plane-spotting meet up weekend in beautiful Sint Maarten.
Fun in the sun was enough to convince me to join, so I also blogged about the meet-up, and in the end we had a nice group of about 20 of us.
Enjoying the warm weather and the beach while planes passed above one after another is truly the best of both worlds.
Many carriers fly nonstop to SXM (Delta, American, JetBlue, United, etc.). I flew in on JetBlue for 8,600 points (and I’ll even get 10% of those back with The JetBlue Plus Card), and flew home on United on a decently-priced paid ticket.
Once you exit the airport, you can either take a taxi to Maho beach for $4 per person (its literally a 2-minute drive), or you can walk for 10 minutes. We chose to take a taxi to the Algeria hotel, and then decided to walk to the airpot for our flight home. Keep in mind though, if you chose to walk, there aren’t really any sidewalks, so use caution, and it’s best if you don’t have much luggage.
St. Maarten is a beautiful island and I’m sure if you visit, you’ll want to explore as much of the island as possible; however, some people take short trips here just for the plane-spotting experience at Maho beach (which by the way, is on the Dutch side of the island), so it may be convenient to stay right there by all of the action.
I spent all 4 nights at the Algeria Hotel (taking advantage of the Citi Prestige 4th night free benefit). While it’s location was ideal to Maho Beach, I wouldn’t stay there again for a number of reasons, but if you have Choice points readily available, it could be a good deal for you at 20,000 points per night. After all, a bed is a bed, right?
An Awesome Resort Day Pass Option
I brought along my mom and 2 kids on this trip, and luckily I discovered an incredible way for us to spend our days. The Sonesta resort on the other side of Maho beach is simply amazing, especially for families traveling with kids. For a price of $89 per person, per day (kids under 4 are free), you can enjoy every amazing amenity of this great resort between the hours of 9 am – 5 pm. We purchased our day passes right at the front desk.
The Westin in St. Maarten also offers a similar day pass option for $199 for up to 4 guests during low season. You can see all of the options at Resort For a Day.
I know it sounds steep at first, but hear me out. This is an all-inclusive resort, so that means all meals (including unlimited alcohol) are covered. The grounds are gorgeous, the pools are great, and the beach is perfect, with free lounge chairs, umbrellas, and towels (which can be rented on other beaches for 5-10 Euro a pop).
For kids, this resort also has a great kiddie water park/pool that was a true lifesaver for my 2 and 3 year old. There’s also several playgrounds and an indoor kids club that kids of all ages are welcome to enjoy.
St. Marteen in general is extremely expensive in my opinion (example lunch for 2 without alcohol can easily add up to $55 including tax and gratuity). Considering all costs I’d incur for my family in a single day, paying $178 all in was worth it for us.
I loved everything about the Sonesta and will 100% be staying there if I ever visit SXM again in the future. Not to mention, you can get some killer photos of the planes landing from almost anywhere on the resort.
You can enjoy great views of the planes right on the beach, or while enjoying lunch or drinks at the adjacent Sunset Grill (I loved the Sunset Sangria).
There is a surfboard flight board right there in the sand that shows some of the incoming arrivals to look out for. You can also view flight schedules (arrivals and departures) on the SXM airport website or the Flight Radar app if your mobile data or wifi is fast enough.
Since Maho Beach has pretty much become a tourist hotspot, the beaches and bars get crowded (in a fun, party way), especially during cruise ship dock days. The bars are lively and fun with happy hours, live DJ etc, and it’s a great place to meet other avgeek travelers from around the world.
Getting Great Pics
If you’re not a professional photographer, you can still get some amazing shots from your phone. My single recommendation is to use your phone’s “burst” photo option as the plane is coming in and then choosing the best shot from that.
Be careful who you ask if you want a stellar picture of you with a plane in the background. I waited all day for AF498 to come in, and I prepped my mom ahead of time to take a picture of me with it only to see that she took a picture of the sand. You can imagine the disappointment, lol.
A selfie stick may be helpful if you are worried about a missed opportunity for that perfect Instagram-worthy shot, though I really don’t like selfie sticks because they take away the human component fun when traveling. Like I said earlier, everyone on Maho beach is just as excited to be there as you are, and it’s a very social environment.
Luckily John from Laptop Travel *is* a professional photographer and saved the day as he got this great capture for me on my last day!
Fence Surfing / Jet Blast
With every take off, you’ll see a crowd of people hanging by the fence to experience the wind effect of the jet blast. It’s definitely not advised, but people do it any way (I thought about it a few times myself).
It’s a spectacle to see hats, sunglasses, umbrellas, and other personal items blow into the ocean with the sandblast that happens during takeoff. Sadly there are also many injuries too, so be aware of your location whenever a plane takes off and be sure to secure your belongings (kiddos, included!).
I really had such a great time with an amazing group of like-minded avgeeks. I highly recommend this experience if it’s on your bucket list too.
The only thing I was bummed about was the fact that KLM no longer flies their 747 jumbo jet to SXM. The largest plane to arrive now is the double-engine Air France A343, which is still really neat to see flying over your head!
I’d love to hear some of your own tips too if you’ve ever visited Maho beach at SXM! T