Plane-spotting in St. Maarten
Azamara: Sint Maarten or Saint Martin
This little island is packed with diversity and lots to do. Half Dutch and half French, it’s an interesting blend of Afro-Caribbean with a European flair and some Spanish thrown in. In fact, as Miamians we felt right at home.
We had reserved a Jeep ahead of time and set off on our island adventure. We did a similar trip 20 years ago and immediately noticed a lot more cars on the road this time. Even with it being high season, we heard from some locals that there are just too many cars on the island at this point. And, other than a new bridge, the roads are in pretty bad shape. Driving is on the right and a GPS was extremely helpful, since the map we got from Hertz did not identify the major roads by name.
We circumnavigated the interior, taking in the small town of Grand Case and making the trek to Pic Paradise (Paradise Peak). We survived the rough one-lane road only to find a padlocked gate at the top (at 1,400’).
In the charming, crowded French capital of Marigot, we broke away from the crowds to lunch at La Belle Epoque along the small Marina Port La Royale; we have some good friends that have been visitors to the area for the past several decades and gave us some good insider info. They also warned us how difficult it would be to park and it did prove challenging. There are plenty of good (duty-free) shops, on both sides, to log in some retail therapy.
The highlight of our visit had to be stopping in at the Sunset Bar to watch the low-flying planes land over Maho Beach. The local Princess Juliana International Airport has a very short runway and it starts just behind the beach. We checked the arrival schedule earlier in the day, since our goal was to see a jumbo jet, generally KLM or Air France, land. We knew the larger planes were arriving between 1:30 and 3, so we staked out a perfect spot along the beach-side edge of the bar, ordered some rum drinks and waited. It was a blast in every sense of the word! People on the beach also get a charge from being blown away as the jets take off, not my idea of fun. I was just happy not to be directly under the planes.
We finished off the afternoon with a stop at the nearby Casino Royal, formerly of James Bond fame, but today famous for having celebrities Ludacris and Kevin Hart playing at the other occupied Black Jack table.
A nice drive through quaint Front Street in Philipsburg got us back with the car just before dark.
Cabs are available to get to Maho Beach and back. The Sunset Bar posts the daily flight arrival schedule and other patrons are pretty friendly, so don’t be shy about asking to join someone at their table if there are available seats. There is a $40 minimum to charge, or you will need cash; they do serve food.