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Maho Beach: Feet in the Sand, Jets In the Sky

747-400 KLM arrival

Welcome to Paradise!

Plane Spotting in Paradise

Recently my wife and I went on a seven-day, Southern Caribbean cruise for our ten year anniversary. It was nothing short of amazing. The views were gorgeous, the ocean was as clear and turquoise as it could get, and the food was phenomenal. What was the highlight of the entire trip you may ask? Spending the day at Maho Beach on the island of St Maarten.

Maho Beach is located on the Dutch side of the island. The beach itself is located at the end of runway 10 of the Princess Juliana International Airport (Airport code- SXM), and for years has been a must see airport at the top of every avgeek and aviation enthusiast’s bucket list! From the cruise ship port, a quick fifteen minute taxi ride is all that stands between you, an ice cold beer, a beautiful beach, and the best plane spotting location you’ll ever find.

We were dropped off at the famous “Sunset Bar & Grill” around 9am and greeted with smiling faces and excellent hospitality. At that time of day, the beach had less than a dozen people on it, and over two dozen chairs with umbrellas; score for us. By 11am, the beach was packed! So for those of you who are planning or would like to plan a trip to this location, get there early & claim your chairs!

The action was nonstop all day long. The variety of aircraft arriving and departing throughout the day were everything from small, twin-engine island hoppers, corporate jets, and topping it off with the “Queen of the Skies” herself, the Boeing 747. A great point of reference of the days flight schedule can be seen on a surf board outside the Sunset Bar and Grill. The bar staff updates it every day, first thing in the morning.

The Daily SXM Schedule on a Surf Board.
The Daily SXM Schedule on a Surf Board.

I was a little nervous that morning on the ride over to the beach as we had heard rumors of people who had sat for hours on end, and not seen a single thing. I was also told that several of the major airlines including KLM, do not fly in every day. So there was a chance, that this day, could be pretty mellow. After we arrived, we went straight over to the beach and claimed our chairs. After I noticed the waitress updating the flight times on the surf board for the day, I walked over to check it out, and I instantly heard angels singing! The first thing my eyes zeroed in on was, “KLM – 12:35.” BAM! We hit the aviation jackpot. A local spotter that frequents the beach there had told me that the KLM Airlines 747 only flies in three days a week. Luckily for us, that was the day.

Throughout the day, the beach was buzzed by small island hoppers, private jets, classic MD-80’s, a handful of 737’s and 757’s, as well as the Queen’s grand arrival. That was a sight to see! The local aviation enthusiasts knew that that day was the day for the big gal to arrive, so as time grew closer to 12:35PM, so did the crowd. Finally, her landing lights, and that giant wingspan were spotted way out in the distance. As she creeped closer and closer, people scattered to get a good spot on the beach. Some wanted to be directly underneath as she passed overhead, others wanted to be just off to the side for the best vantage point of watching that graceful beauty glide in. It was amazing; the shear size of the Boeing 747 as she’s closing in and getting closer and closer, absolutely leaves you speechless. Then just like that, in a matter of 30-45 seconds, she passes over and plants her tires on the runway. What an incredible experience. For my wife who hates to fly, and not the slightest interest in aviation, her exact words were, “that was the best day of the entire trip.” You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.

The day was full of sunshine, ice cold drinks, crystal clear Caribbean waters, and a plethora of “low flying aircraft.” I’ve had Maho Beach on my radar for several years now, and I can’t say enough of how grateful I am to have been able to experience it firsthand. If it’s not already, I highly recommend moving this destination closer to the top of your bucket list; it’s truly an avgeek paradise!

Written by Brad Hayes

A dedicated Avgeek and Ohio State fan. Aviation photographer who loves fueling jets, and enjoys an occasional ice cold beer.