Simpson Bay, Saint Maarten

An Aviation Enthusiast’s Version Of Heaven!

Saint Maarten is one of my favorite travel destinations but it’s not for the reasons you might think. Sure, the ocean is a beautiful blue color, the weather is always warm, there’s a constant ocean breeze, along with all the other great things about being in the Caribbean. Indeed, Saint Maarten does have a lot to offer, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m not straying too far from the airport.

And I’m not alone. Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM), or more specifically Sunset/Maho beach, has become an attraction onto itself with large crowds that start gathering in the early morning hours. Why are people flocking to this part of the island? There’s no other place like it in the world. Here you can get so close to landing airplanes that it feels as if you could reach out and touch them! Its spectacular frightening! When you see that large aircraft coming your way you start to ask yourself “Does he seem a bit low to you?” “Should I run?”

747 Landing on Maho Beach

KLM B747 on short final at Princess Juliana Aiport (SXM)

And it gets better! The best viewing spot is located on a beach, next to a bar! That’s right, near the approach end of Princess Juliana International Airport runway 10 on Sunset/Maho Beach sits Sunset Bar and Grill. They make sure the drinks keep coming while tourist and aviation enthusiast like myself geek out on airplanes nearly decapitating us! Each morning, the bar staff updates the aircraft arrival times on a surfboard chalkboard and they even broadcast air traffic control!

This is my version of heaven on earth. A drink in one hand and my camera in the other, sand covering my toes, and airplanes zooming 30 feet above my head. Heaven!

Fence Surfing

For the more adventurist traveler, a visits to Sunset/Maho beach would’nt be complete without “fence surfing.” When aircraft depart using runway 10 they taxi very close to the runway threshold so that the pilot can use all available runway during their takeoff roll. This means that people standing on the beach are pretty close to the business end of the engines, without a protective barrier. When the pilot advances the throttles the engines create a strong jet wash which, depending on the aircraft, is strong enough to flip a car! So what is a person to do in this situation? You could take the safe route and move to the side or you can risk it and grab hold of the airport perimeter fence. But don’t let go. Once the engine start to rev up you’re committed! Letting go will end up in you rolling down the street with a bruised ego to match your bruised body. Note: This can be dangerous, especially with larger aircraft such the B747 and A340. Fence surf at your own risk.
Sunset Beach 2

Sign Warning of Jet Blast Danger at the Approach End of Runway 10 at Princess Juliana Airport (SXM)