St Martin or St. Maartin is a 34 sq. mile island, split 60/40 between Dutch and French rule and located about 190 miles east of Puerto Rico. The island boasts 37 beaches and some are considered among the best in the Caribbean. I was only there for a week, so you’ll have to excuse the fact that I’m only covering 5 here.
Or Baie Orientale for you Francophiles, since it is on the French side, is probably St Martin’s most famous beach. Its notoriety is well deserved. This is a huge expanse of powder white sand with all the amenities including beach restaurants, bars, and watersports. It’s not beach bars that make a beach famous, so Orient is known for the nude beach on the south end. This is French territory—so seeing topless women is no big deal on the whole stretch of sand—but the nude end is what gets the most folks talking (and giggling and grinning and turning red).
Grand Case Beach
This is a long thin stretch of beach running right along the town of Grand Case. It’s bordered by gourmet restaurants, bars, and Mom and Pop eateries (Petites Boutiques since this is the French side.) The famous Creole Rock is just offshore and a spot for diving and snorkeling tours. The waters are calm and blue but the beach is a very thin strip with stores, homes, and hotels right next to you.
Red Beach to you and me is on the French side, and was one of our favorites. It’s a tiny beach with a fantastic view of calm, blue waters with rocks off to the right for snorkeling and a curving shoreline to the left ending in a picturesque red cliff. I would imagine the sunsets are awesome here. We particularly liked the world famous Gus’s Beach Bar; it’s basically a shack with a few plastic tables and chairs, but they did have a stage for bands, a grill with temptingly tasty treats, and some very nice and interesting characters.
If you’ve ever seen pictures of a jumbo jet landing right over beach-goers, you’ve seen Maho located on the Dutch side. Boats hang in the bay and tourist flock to the beach to watch the planes landing right over their heads. The funny part is watching the folks that line the fence right on the edge of the airport when a big plane is revving up for takeoff. The blast from the jets pretty much sand-blasts everyone and even sends some tumbling down the beach. The sensible way to observe is not on the beach but from afar on a boat as we did, or at the Sunset bar on one end or the Sonesta Maho Bay Resort on the other.
Great Bay is the bigger port on the island and the spot where the cruise ships come in. Phillipsburg is a Dutch town there and like Grand Case is one of the few where there is a town right on the beach. The promenade (some call it a boardwalk but to me a board walk should not be made of concrete,) runs along the beach lined with shops and funky beach bars. Chairs and umbrellas are available for rent, which is a prominent enterprise at all the beaches on St Martin. This is neither the most serene beach like Baie Rouge nor the most picturesque like Orient, but there are a lot of activities to partake in like shopping, jet skiing or just watching the massive cruise ships come and go.
The Other 32
St Martin has 32 other beaches we didn’t get to visit. Besides being split between Dutch and French rule, it has an Atlantic side and a Caribbean side. There are many other islands surrounding it with spectacular beaches of their own. We did get to a few of those, but that’s for another time.