St Maarten/St Martin is a small Caribbean island that is shared by two countries, France and the Netherlands, and has 37 beaches. Imagine that – more than a beach a day for a month. That is some serious beach time to get through. However, most people who come to the island for a holiday can only manage between one to two weeks, so we will concentrate on the most popular beaches. Of course, the desirability of the beach depends on what you like to do on your vacation – from the action-packed wind surfing, surfing, SCUBA diving, to just plain lying in the sun regenerating.
Orient Bay (French Side)
Starting at the most popular beach and working our way around the coast, Orient Bay is situated on the windy Atlantic side of the island. They cater for wind surfing, kite boarding, paragliding, jet skiing, the new fly jet, and there is a fabulously long stretch of sand to claim for the day. The most popular parts of the beach are lined with top restaurants and beach bars and provide something for every taste. The celebrated nudist portion of the beach attracts many visitors who are of that persuasion. Be aware that topless and nude bathing are not permitted on the Dutch side of the island.
Le Galion (French Side)
Often referred to as ‘Baby Beach’ because of the shallowness and calmness of the water, Le Galion is protected from the ocean by a reef and is close to Orient Bay. Outside of the reef, though, it is surfer turf where the surfers hang ten when the swell is running. Excellent wind surfing territory too. Windy Reef Surf School teaches people how to surf and wind surf and is situated on Le Galion. There is a beach bar that serves food at the top end of the beach.
Dawn Beach (Dutch Side)
On the Dutch side of Oyster Pond, the very popular Dawn Beach is nestled in between two large resorts on either end and the fun Mr. Busby’s Beach Bar in between the two, which serves great lobster, good food all round, and ice cold beer. The wind is nearly always blowing on that side of the island and water sports equipment and kayaks are available for rent, with an eye kept on the currents and wind strength, of course.
Great Bay (Dutch Side)
The Boardwalk in Philipsburg runs the length of Great Bay beach where people can take a stroll through the many duty-free shops, or pick a spot in the sun for a lazy day watching the cruise ships. Great Bay is on the protected Caribbean Sea side of the island and can get rather hot, which is a perfect excuse for seeking refuge in one of the many restaurants lining The Boardwalk.
Kim Sha Beach (Dutch Side)
Venue for the final Heineken Regatta prize-giving and beach party, Kim Sha Beach in Simpson Bay also has two very popular beach bars right on the beach. Buccaneer Beach Bar lights a fire ball and shows beach movies for the kids on Friday nights, and La Bamba invites all to kick off their shoes and dance in the sand to the live music. Get there for Happy Hour and watch the sun go down over the calm Caribbean Sea. Not recommended for swimming during the busiest part of the season or after heavy rains because of the pollution coming out through the bridge from the Simpson Bay Lagoon.
Pelican Key (Dutch Side)
A series of very protected beaches serviced and maintained by the resorts, Pelican Key is where an evening of wonderful live entertainment can be enjoyed at Topper’s By The Sea. They are situated right on the beach with the sea a matter of steps away. At the bottom end, in the Simpson Bay Resort and Marina, is the ferry to the nearby island of Saba and the dive operators and day charter agents Aquamania.
Simpson Bay (Dutch Side)
A long crescent beach stretching all the way from the Simpson Bay bridge and following the runway, Simpson Bay beach is an ideal beach for a long walk or a challenging run. Next to the runway you will find Mary’s Boon and Karakters Beach Bar. Both have excellent food and sometimes live music.
Maho Beach (Dutch Side)
This is the beach you see on all those YouTube videos. A smallish but busy beach at the end of the Princess Juliana International Airport runway where people can relax and photograph the planes landing right overhead, or sit at the Sunset Beach Bar and Grill to get out of the jet-blown sand. There is a radio over which the captains can be heard speaking to the control tower and a webcam to see what goes on inside the bar. For something more sophisticated, the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort with its many shops and restaurants is on the other side of the beach.
Mullet Bay (Dutch Side)
A great surfing spot when the swell is running in; otherwise, a popular sunbathing beach and an idyllic place to anchor a boat for a day of swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing. The water is gin-clear on a good day. If you are going there by car, don’t leave any valuables in the car at all. The beach has a nasty collection of thieves hanging about looking out for unwary visitors.
Nettle Bay (French Side)
Standing on the strip of land with the lagoon on one side and the sea on the other, Nettle Bay has the best of both. Hotels and resorts provide quiet, clean beaches on the calm lagoon side, and on the windier sea side, there are two sophisticated restaurants to choose from, or plenty of secluded spots for some quiet sunbathing. The sea side tends to be rougher when the conditions are windy.
Anse Marcel (French Side)
A winding steep road to get there, but a pretty place with easy access to the calm, protected beach and a couple of restaurants and beach bars to refresh the spirits. There is a SCUBA diving shop there and some fancy resorts to choose from.
Pinel Island (French Side)
Regular ferries leave for this small island off Cul-de-Sac and it’s a great place to do some shallow water snorkeling. Food and refreshments are available on the island. If you carry on driving past Cul-de-Sac, then you will end up back at Orient Bay.
If you are staying for longer and want to check out the other beaches, pick up one of the island guide magazines from anywhere and you will see all the beaches marked on the pull out map.