BeachNuts Beach Guide for:
Saint Martin Beaches
This 37 square mile island contains two countries, French St Martin and Dutch St Maarten and although both sides speak English and accept US dollars, they still retain a lot of their European origins with great Dutch and French cheeses, fine French restaurants, Indonesian rijstafels brought by the Dutch, a European indifference to topless, even nude, beaches, and much more. All of this is colored with the Caribbean, leading to sunny, hot days on beautiful beaches and warm nights with soft breezes blowing through open-air, seaside restaurants. Add in casinos and bars for nightlife, calypso-filled carnivals, and duty-free shopping for jewelry, alcohol, and cigars, and you'll have the perfect vacation.
The beaches change gradually via erosion and replenishment and drastically via storms. The beaches on the east provide lots of morning sun while facing the shore and the beaches on the west will provide you with a glorious sunset into the water. Most beaches have some, if limited, amenities.
Lots of activities:
Orient and Great Bay have just about everything. L'Embouchure or Galion have Chez Pat with windsurfing, kayaking, snorkeling, and more.
Bad news. While you can wear anything you want, topless sunbathing cannot be ruled out on any beach or even at any hotel pool. Your best bet for not seeing any offending body parts would be on the Dutch side in the more crowded beaches: Great Bay, Little Bay, Kimsha/Simpson, Maho, and Mullet. Great Bay has plenty of bars, restaurants, and activities. Access to Little Bay is controlled by Divi Hotel at one end and Belair Hotel at the other. Thus, there are amenities, but not as much as in Great Bay. Kimsha has some bars and watersports, but there are almost no amenities (and few people) on the vastness of Simpson Bay. Maho has almost no beach, but is famous for Sunset Beach Bar, airplane landings, and sunsets. Mullet has amenities and some good snorkeling.
You can find topless sunbathing at almost any beach and many hotel pools. Unlike the US, it's not a big deal for most Europeans. For that reason, you will find more topless bathing on the French side because most English-speaking people stay on the Dutch side where English is more readily spoken.
You have three semi-official choices: Orient, Cupecoy, and Happy Bay. Orient has an official nude section at the SE end in front ot the naturist resort. They fill up most of the beach with chairs and umbrellas and, via security guards, pretend that they have the authority to prevent picture-taking, hawking, and a few other activities. In truth, all beaches are public property and the resort's private security has no authority on the beach, but they do have big sticks. The nude beach is bounded by Papagayo restaurant at the SE end and the Perch bar at the other end. Nude dining is permissible at Papagayo, but bring a towel to sit on. The nude happy hour is happier than most hours and the nude dance is well attended, but not by the well-attired. North of the Perch bar (stroll up nude if you wish) is the rest of Orient Beach, in theory, not-nude, but who enforces laws in SXM? The answer is the mouse! Sometimes, the gendarmes, who do have authority (and even bigger sticks, plus handcuffs and jails) show up in the parking lot next to Pedro's and send any escaping nudists back south. It is rumoured that these times coincide with the arrival of Disney's cruise ship in Pburg. When the gendarmes aren't around some nudists stroll over the entire beach, even stopping to dine with the textiles.
Cupecoy is an extremely long beach, when it is a beach, rather than a series of beautiful cliffs. The northern end nearest the French border is nude and seems to have sand most of the time. John and Danny provide drinks, grilled food, chairs, and umbrellas.
Happy Bay can only be reached by walking from Friar's Bay. This keeps most everyone away. Thus, no amenities at this time. However, a resort is on the drawing board.
There is great snorkeling on several beaches. Mullet Bay has an interesting reef near the ruins of the large units at the north of the Bay. Cupecoy has a reef near Sapphre Beach Club that has some interesting fish. Bay Rouge has David's Hole on the right as you enter. The islands at Orient (Pinel, Green Cay, and Tintemare, plus smaller rocks) offer some interesting sights (so does the nude beach for that matter!). Seriously though, there is a reef running SE from Pedro's at the northern end of the nude beach that is full of fish and even an eel or two. It is best to approch it from the south and swim with the current. Galion and Dawn boast the best reefs on the island, but require a fairly calm day for their exploration.
With Saba to the SSW, Anguilla to the north, Tintamarre , Pinel, and Green Cay to the ENE, St Barts to the SE, and St Kitts and Statia to the S, almost every beach has a view of a tropical island. Orient has spectacular views, but L'Embouchure, and Dawn have similar views of nearby rocks and distant St Barts. Any beach with a southerly view can have some great views of Saba, St Kitts, and Statia. Seeing rather flat Anguilla is not the greatest of these views, but it beats nothing but water, which, in turn, beats almost everything else. Paradise View above Orient has a great montage photo showing Orient Bay with its islands, Orient Salt Pond, and L'Embouchure with a hint of St Barts in the distance. For an idea of what a great view of nearby rocks.