Up, up and away: Plane spotting in St. Maarten


Nirvana for Plane Spotters

From humble beginnings as a small military airstrip, Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Maarten is today one of the busiest in the Caribbean. It is also the most popular for plane spotting

Air France arriving. Plane spotting in St. Maarten
Air France, approach for landing over Maho Beach. Credit: Unsplash.
Extreme plane spotters wait in the water to catch the jets come in for a landing
Extreme plane spotters wait in the water to catch the jets come in for a landing. Credit: SXMAirport.com.

Aviation Fans Front Row Thrills & Chills

On the southwest shore of the dual-nation island, the airport that serves 24 international airlines was named for Queen Juliana who landed in 1944 while still the Dutch heir presumptive.

Plane spotting in St. Maarten, simply the best

Coveted by aviation enthusiasts, big jets and small planes fly 40 – 80 feet above Maho Beach; one of 37 sandy swaths that ring the 37 square mile island.

Insel Air flies between the Dutch Caribbean islands
Insel Air flies between the Dutch Caribbean islands. Credit: SXMAirport.com.
JetBlue offers nonstop service from New York and Fort Lauderdale to St. Maarten. Credit: SXMAirport.com.

May-Ling Chun, Director of Tourism, St. Maarten Tourism Bureau

“Plane spotting is one of the most popular activities on the island,” said May-Ling Chun. Our airport is unique in the world with runways so close to the beach that plane spotters can watch the big jets soar overhead from safe viewing points on Maho Beach and the adjacent Sonesta Resorts Sint Maarten.”

Sunset flights landing at the Princess Juliana Airport
Sunset flights at the Princess Juliana Airport. Credit: Fiona van Kampen.

Diehard jet junkies & Extreme plane spotters

Catnip for jet junkies, diehards claim the pilots’ fly so close to the beach they wave from the cockpit as they land and take-off from the runway measuring 2320 meters long.

For extreme spotters worth their sea salt, Sunset Bar and Grill at the end of the beach is where flight schedules are posted and the aptly named Runway Rum Punch is potent with spiced rum.

United Airlines take-off, plane spotting at Juliana Airport (SXM)
United Airlines is one of several airlines that fly to the island. Credit: Alexandra Gnigler.
Maho Beach is the place to be for extreme plane spotting
Maho Beach is the place to be for extreme plane spotting. Here is an American Airlines B757 coming in for landing. Credit: Sonesta Resorts Sint Maarten.

Peak viewing times for plane spotting

Peak viewing times are between 1 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. when jets make a graceful grand entrance over the beach.

Vanessa Kortkamp, visitor

“It’s been on my bucket list for years to be under those planes,“ said Vanessa Kortkamp. She visited the island for the first time this past spring and has already booked a return trip.

“For our next visit, we booked a stay at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort both for the location near the SXM airport and the all-inclusive option.“

Vanessa Kortkamp plane spotting St. Maarten
Plane spotting is a vacation must-do for Vanessa Kortkamp who vacations on the island with her family. Credit: Eloan Kortkamp.

Double your pleasure

The primo perch for viewing the planes, Sonesta Ocean Point Resort and Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, Casino, & Spa are adjacent all-inclusives with a combined 550 rooms and suites.

The largest on the island, Sonesta Maho Beach Resort is family-friendly with 420 rooms while the adults-only Sonesta Ocean Point Resort invites with swanky 130 suites.

Sonesta Resorts Sint Maarten

For those who might not fancy sand-between-the-toes, pools for families include the ginormous Oasis pool and a kiddie pool. At Sonesta Ocean Point, The Edge hosts poolside parties, Point Pool invites with cabanas and the Meandering Pool is for those bunking in the swim-out suites.

Jen Paszkowski, Aviation Photographer & AVgeek

An avid plane spotter, Jen Paszkowski is also an aviation photographer and self-described aviation geek:

“Staying at the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort was an obvious choice for our holidays because the location is perfect for taking photographs without having to get up from your sunbed.”

Caribbean Airlines landing at the Princess Juliana International Airport
Caribbean Airlines landing at the Princess Juliana International Airport. Credit: Jen Paszkowski.

Get the party started

A roster of activities aims to please like beach bocce, poolside games, and yoga at sunrise. Beach House Kids Club is fun with animal-themed water slides and for the older set; Teen Zone entertains with gratis Wi-Fi for social media postings.
Brandon and Ethan Lem. St. Maarten junior plane spotters
Brandon and Ethan Lem are junior plane spotters from Toronto. Credit: Les Lem.

Canadian tourists Les Lem and sons

Canadian tourists Les Lem and sons 7-year old Brandon and 6-year old Ethan are big fans of the resort where plane spotting is a family affair:

“Both my boys have flight simulators on their tablets and are in awe every time a plane flies overhead.”

Things to do outside the resorts

Just outside the resorts, Maho Village is lively with bars, restaurants, shopping and the Casino Royale with a lounge for high rollers 400 slots and 22 gaming tables. In the Casino Royale Theater, shows include the mojo-fueled Latin Fire, Vegas-style musicals and Cirque-inspired acrobatic shows.

On Friday nights Maho Village Carnival features the Generation New Status Marching Band, stilt walkers, puppets and parades. Back at the resorts, groovy bands bust a move, singers serenade cocktail sippers and DJ’s keep the party going.

Carnival fun in Maho Village every Friday night. Credit: Melanie Reffes

No price tag

An all-inclusive stay goes way beyond the buffet and the beach. For those preferring to pack a few souvenirs after a sunny vacation rather than packing on a few extra pounds, the new ‘SunFit Body and Lifestyle Sessions’ go the distance with aerobics in the pool, kickboxing and Pilates to mediation, yoga and morning runs to see the sunrise flights come in for a landing at the Princess Juliana International Airport.

Haven of rejuvenation

With a brand new design, the name says it all at the Serenity Spa. At a spacious 2,500 square-feet, the spa invites with 6 treatment rooms and a myriad of tropical wraps and rubs.  For privacy-seekers, Serenity Point is an outdoor gazebo overlooking the calm water of Maho Bay. For plane spotters, book an appointment in the late afternoon for fabulous views of the big jets soaring over Maho beach.

Unlimited sipping and snacking

At Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, there’s plenty of choice in 5 restaurants, 5 bars, Maho Café and Napoli Pizzeria where 200 pies are devoured each day. Ocean Terrace is for sumptuous buffets, Palms Grill for dinner cooked on a hot volcanic stone plate and The Point for Italian signatures.

British grub is authentic at the Ascot Pub and for those with a yen for Asian fare; Jing’s Kitchen is the real deal. For heady cocktails, Point Bar is where you’ll find Sheryl Attidore shaking and stirring for nearly 20 years and those flirting with Lady Luck, it’s a win-win at Latitude Bar outfitted with slot machines. 

For those at Sonesta Ocean Point, breakfast is delightful at Azul perched at the edge of a cliff. Sitting pretty on top of Azul, Casa Blue Tapas is elegant with 360-degree views, lemony martinis, and shareable plates.

Shep Shepherd, Director of Entertainment, Sonesta Resorts Sint Maarten

“The Sunset Lounge & Bar offers rooftop panoramic views of Maho Bay where you can wave at the pilots as they glide by, “ said Shep Shepherd, Director of Entertainment, Sonesta Resorts Sint Maarten. “Guests get a front-row view of the landing path at the Palms Grill and our new Birdseye aviation viewing platform was created for capturing the perfect selfie. “

Make it legal, St. Maarten wedding information

Plane-spotting couples are welcome to say I Do anywhere on the island as long as the paperwork is filed 2 weeks in advance. Both partners have to be over 18 years old and a licensed official must be on hand to make it legal. Popular picturesque ceremonies include in the oceanfront gazebo, perfumed garden and, of course, on the beach as a big jet soars overhead.
Wedding and plane spotting on Maho Beach in St. Maarten
Weddings on Maho Beach in St. Maarten are perfect for plane spotting couples. Credit: Sonesta Resorts Sint Maarten.

Get in touch

Named for the airport code SXM, the Facebook group MySXM is a boatload of travel tips and discounts. To track the planes in real time, click on FlightAware and sxmIslandCam.

About the Author

Melanie Reffes is an island girl at heart. Born in Manhattan, she now lives on the sunny island of Montreal and covers the Caribbean for a variety of publications including Montreal’s The Suburban; largest English-language weekly in Quebec, USA TODAY TRAVEL, USA TODAY 10BEST, Captain Jetson Aviation & Travel, CaribbeanTravel.com and MarryCaribbean.com. A journalist with a boatload of writer awards under her belt, Melanie’s affection for the Caribbean started young when her family vacationed in Puerto Rico. Melanie holds a Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Toronto. You can find her via Twitter @Reffes1, Instagram melanietravel2019, Facebook melanie.reffes and LinkedIn melaniereffes.

Featured Image: Plane spotters gather on the beach every day for thrills and chills. Credit: SXMAirport.com.

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Nelanie reffes, Captain Jetson contributing journalist
Melanie Reffes

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