Major Update 8/11/2015
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Some of St. Maarten's beaches change shape and size according to the whims of weather. They range from places with lots of surf to quiet, nearly deserted coves. This page tells you about every significant SXM beach -- including those that are clothing optional.
Also...this page contains some topless photography. If you may be offended, don't look -- and don't go to SXM's clothing optional beaches.
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Detailed Info on St. Martin / St. Maarten Beaches
W=Windward (East) Side
L=Leeward (West) Side
Check current conditions through these three SXM beach cams:
Club Orient Beach Cam
Sunset Bar & Grill Webcam at Maho Beach (SXM Airport)
Great Bay Beach Cam (SXM Harbor)
Windward side beaches face easterly tradewinds and tend to be windier. Leeward side beaches are less windy but hotter. Here are our reviews:
F, W Orient Beach, the largest and most popular on the island, is loaded with beach bars, restaurants, shops, and watersports facilities offering parasailing and other watersports.
Club Orient, the world-renowned naturist (nudist) resort at the southern end of the beach, is a sun worshippers' Mecca. The popular Papagayo restaurant, part of Club Orient, offers a variety of delicious fare plus burgers and drinks. Papagayo is open to the public but it is located within Club Orient so the couple seated at the next table may be nude. The same holds true for the Perch bar at the northern end of Club Orient. In the past, it has also applied to other restaurants on Orient, particularly those closest to the Club O. Photography is not allowed, and gawking is not regarded favorably. Nudity is permitted ONLY at Club Orient; topless is ok everywhere else on the beach but not in most restaurants outside Club O.
Orient beach is always bustling. For several views of Orient beach supplied by Club Orient, click to go to Club Orient's site itself, but do expect nekkid people -- it is a nudist resort. The Club Orient site is frequently updated.
Clothing optional sunbathers should be aware that "boat people" (cruise ship tourists) are routinely ferried here by industrious cab drivers. They tend to gawk and occasionally take pictures, but naturists at Club Orient often stop them. Day visitors can park just inside the gate for about $5/day. There's a separate charge for beach chairs and umbrellas. Guards keep an eye on your car.
Besides being the home to the naturist Club Orient, the Southern end of Orient Beach has a number of small shops. In the picture at the right, Tracy (more on Tracy and Mike is below) shops at one of them. Many of the shops are scheduled for demolition in 2015 as the Reserve Naturelle (nature reserve) goes for a more contemporary non honkey-tonk look. (It's overdue).
Above -- Tracy shopping at Orient Beach. More on Tracy & Mike is below
D, L Cupecoy, tied for the title of our favorite St. Maarten/St. Martin beach along with Happy Bay, is actually a string of beaches at the island's westernmost corner. Sandstone cliffs and caves are the backdrop for this unusual beach, one of the world's most beautiful. Its steep drop-off, which changes shape almost daily, makes Cupecoy hazardous for young children. The sands shift constantly -- there may be room for 300 people one day, and barely room for 30 the next.
Cupecoy is mostly clothing optional. In early Summer, 2011, there was some police harassment here, but we've heard nothing more recently.
Best car access: go into the lot next to Ocean Club and drive west on the dirt road that begins there (if it's available, it may be blocked) until you see a number of cars parked near the western-most beach and the road ends. When you visit the beach, say hello for us to John and Dany, who run a tabletop bar next to the beach. Snacks are available too. Dany and John are great guys -- they watch your car as well as offer drinks, lounges, and umbrellas. Thanks to those whose pictures are featured here. Parking is free next to Ocean Club, but $5 to park on private land right next to the beach entrances.
For the latest updates on all beaches, subscribe to our free St. Maarten and St. Martin Weekly News which provides updates on the island every week.
Many more beach descriptions follow a few pictures:
TOP: The famous "Cupecoy Boulder" (also called the monolith) at midbeach. It has been disintegrating the last several years due to battering by storms. This picture was taken several years ago and the monolith now shows a lot of wear. ABOVE: A pre-beard, bad-hair picture of me at a nude beach in St. Barths. That's a live young conch in my hand; I threw it back.
BELOW: Looking East from the Western portion of the beach, with the boulder in the distance. Both photos © Maryann Barvinski, reprinted with permission.
The far Eastern portion of Cupecoy, looking West. Boulder is out of sight in the distance.
Back to the beach description in a minute.... first:
Like Cupecoy and/or Orient? Interested in learning more about clothing optional beaches & clothing optional recreation, or trying it elsewhere?
Many visitors to SXM fall in love with Orient Beach or Cupecoy and look forward to trying clothing optional recreation elsewhere. Two suggestions:
Check out naturism / clothing optional recreation thoughts and ideas at the Naturist Society website. They are the foremost proponents of clothing optional recreation and they publish the World Guide to Nude Beaches. Joining the Society gives you a subscription to their magazine and access to a host of other useful information about beach and other sites worldwide.
Tracy getting an all-over tan outside Andy & Cheryl's, one of the bar/restaurants on Orient Beach, before reconstruction in 2015. Images are copyrighted by Tracy & Mike and are reprinted with permission.
D, L Mullet Beach, the very popular strand at Mullet Bay is where the waves and the surfers are. Although it's on the Dutch side, you'll see many French families here especially on weekends. Topless. Surf can be rough.
F, L Prune Beach, also known as Plum Bay, is a sweet, intimate, crescent-shaped strand frequented by an eclectic crowd including occasional surfers, despite rocks among the breakers. Topless, with some nudity on the southern end despite the French entry sign to the contrary.
F, L Rouge Beach, one of the island's longest and most beautiful, is a must. Like all beaches on the French side, tops are optional here. The more southerly end of the beach is de facto clothing optional. Great snorkeling at the northern end, but beware of the waves/currents.
F, L Long Beach, with the "rich and famous" Hotel La Samanna at its southern end, gives you a great spot for relaxing. There's little shade and few breezes here, so this can be the hottest beach on the island. We've never seen it crowded. The far Northern/Western end is de facto clothing optional (despite signs to the contrary and occasional gendarme appearances) and it's highly secluded for those who prefer privacy. Part of the beach is rocky near shore and there may be a fairly steep drop-off.
F, W Le Galion Beach, also known as Embouchure or Coconut Grove, on the site of the long-defunct Le Galion Hotel, is the island's best windsurfing beach and is ideal for children because of the usually shallow, calm waters near shore. Windsurfing rentals available. Always keep an eye on your kids any time they're near water - even if it's only two inches deep. Le Galion is topless but nudity is forbidden. NOTE: We've seen sea urchins here, little black spherical objects with spines sticking out of them. Do NOT stop on them...it will wreck your vacation.
More beach info is below.
Top is Cupecoy. Tour the island and you'll find lots of great beaches. These photos courtesy of SXM Tourism.
Much more beach info follows....
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NOW MORE BEACH LISTINGS....
D, L Pelican Beach / Flamingo Beach, at the Simpson Bay (formerly Pelican) Resort and Flamingo Resort complex, remains very popular. Manageable surf. Beach chairs are for Simpson Bay or Flamingo timeshare owners. The view of ocean sunsets here can be gorgeous -- and you can watch the pelicans dive for dinner just offshore.
Little geckos are common. To egrets, they taste like chicken. Photo courtesy of Divi Resorts.
D, L Kim Sha Beach, between Atrium and Royal Palm Resorts, Simpson Bay, is very calm and popular. There are sometimes sandcastle building contests here. Popular with local radio stations and organizations for outings. Light surf, fine white sand. Restaurants nearby including Buccaneer Beach Bar. Easy parking.
D, L Simpson Bay Beach rings Simpson Bay, and on it you'll find resorts like Mary's Boon and Horny Toad, which are described on our Where to Stay page (see link at left).
D, L (but fairly breezy) Maho Beach, at the southern end of the runway of Princess Juliana airport, is an almost equally attractive strand, as long as you don't mind the 747s and 757s approaching the airport only about 50 feet (or lower) above your head. Beware of jet blast, blowing sand, flying belongings, and occasionally a blown-over car. If you want serenity, this is NOT the place. DON'T stand at the fence to watch the planes take off; you're liable to get eyefuls of gravel. In fact, anywhere on the beach, close your eyes as planes go overhead and keep them closed until the vortex ends. Some people like Maho. I like it only from Sunset Bar, next door. Note: Sunset offers free drinks to women who go topless. This is also a great place to see sunsets (hence the bar's name).
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D, W (not too windy) Great Bay Beach, which encompasses the Philipsburg waterfront, is crystal-clear, huge, and inviting. When you get tired of shopping, you can always relax on this mammoth downtown beach. (If you've not visited Great Bay in a while, prepare for a pleasant shock. Sand dredged for the cruise ship terminal has been deposited here; it's a wide, natural, very popular white-sand beach, very convenient especially for cruise ship passengers.) Shelling is good near the center of town beside the cruise ship shuttle dock.
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D, W Dawn Beach is home to the Westin Resort (southern end) as well as Oyster Bay Beach Resort (northern end). Topless. NOTE: We've seen sea urchins here, little black spherical objects with spines sticking out of them. Do NOT step on them...it will wreck your vacation.
Dawn Beach has the best beach bar of all: the award-winning Mr. Busby's. Click "Restaurants" at the top of this page for more.
The walk from Friars Bay to Happy Bay takes you through virgin St. Martin countryside and gives you unforgettable views like this. Happy Bay is effectively clothing optional; Friars is tops optional. There is a beautiful sandy beach; this shot was from a hill between Friars and Happy Bay.
F, Northern side, not particularly windy (usually) Anse Marcel, at the Riu Palace (formerly Radisson St. Martin) Resort is a very pleasant, usually quiet beach, popular with French tourists.
F, L Friars Bay, not far north of Marigot, is a gorgeous, peaceful, family-oriented beach with neat refreshment stands and facilities. Behind it is a muddy lagoon with egrets and other local waterfowl, great for photographers. Good shelling here, much of the time. Relatively light surf but watch your kids -- there is a drop off. Topless.
F, L Happy Bay, just north of Friars, is one of the world's most breathtaking beaches, all the more attractive because of its relative inaccessibility. To get there, take a 10-minute walk up the hill and down a well-worn path through the underbrush just north of the last refreshment stand at Friar's Bay. Bring your camera. Happy Bay is also de facto clothing optional. There is another Danny here providing snacks.
D, W Guana Bay, just north of Philipsburg down Guana Bay Road, is on the windward side of the island, which can be breezy with blowing sand. But it's a great place for solace, since 15 people on this long, wide beach constitutes a busy day. Guana Bay is topless. "Boogie Boards" are often used here. The Guana Bay area itself is becoming a Hollywood colony: David Brenner's estate is here (he has a sign out front to tell you), and the name McEnroe is on one of the nearby mailboxes. (It's John's dad.) Two negatives: pit bulls from nearby homes occasionally wander the beach, and there can be a strong undertow / rip current, so never swim here alone. And parking is not at all easy.
SNORKELING is great at Orient and at Pinel Island, available by ferry not far from Orient. Ask the Activities Desk at your resort for details.
Another great spot is off the rocky beach near the French Side dump, which is north of where you get the Pinel Island ferry. Before reaching the ferry dock, take a left before the school (toward Anse Marcel / the Radisson St. Martin), then turn right immediately after the school and follow the dirt road toward the dump. Bring a friend. The water can be rough.
SEAWEED; WHERE TO GET UPDATES ON BEACH CONDITIONS
Long story short, seaweed from the Sargasso Sea well north of the Leeward and Windward islands has been washing ashore at eastern-facing beaches on dozens of Caribbean islands in the central and Northern Caribbean for the last couple of years, thanks to a (hopefully temporary) southern deviation in the Gulf stream. Leeward facing beaches are not affected and authorities are gathering the seaweed and taking it away every morning. The island's most popular beach is Orient Beach, the southern end of which is clothing optional. Thanks to a reef and a fastidious grounds grew, that southern "Club Orient" section remains pristine every day. Conditions change; we update the seaweed situation frequently in SXM Weekly News, which is free. It is the most respected source of tourist-oriented St. Maarten / St. Martin news and info. Subscribe here. Again, it's free.
Heavily Updated August 11, 2015.