The Most Dangerous Beach in the World

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Shortly after arriving in St Martin to live on a friend’s sailboat for a few weeks, we took a drive to Sunset beach. With a name like that, I had visions of a stunningly romantic scene perfect for admiring the setting sun with a mojito in hand and toes in the sand. The warning signs along the roadside suggesting I might lose my life should have been my first clue that this wasn’t your average beach – in fact, it was the most dangerous beach in the world.

See also: 18 of the World’s Fastest, Highest, Longest (etc) Things to Do

This post was originally published in 2012. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

At the beachside, people were studying a chalkboard with what looked like airline arrivals information. Being close to the airport, I presumed that many of the beach-goers were awaiting friends arriving by plane and were just killing time near the airport until the plane landed.

Little did I know…

While settling into my beach chair, suddenly there was increased activity. People stood up and grabbed their cameras, looking expectantly at the ocean. Some people even ran to a point in the middle of the beach, and positioned themselves carefully and strategically near a fence post.

plane coming in for a landing at St. Martin airport

My gaze followed the collective’s, to discover that coming straight towards us over the ocean was a very large airplane. A very large, very low-flying airplane.

Like, I-could-see-detail-on-the-landing-gear sort of low.

Panic struck me. Is this normal? A plane like that, flying so low? Is it making an emergency landing somewhere close by? Will the plane even make landfall, or are they preparing for an emergency water landing?

And for god’s sake, should we not be moving out of the way?!

airplane coming in low over the beach in St Martin

Before I had a chance to save my own life (much less the hundreds of other beach-goers who were way-too-casually contemplating their own impending deaths), the plane flew directly overhead with a deafening roar and landed 100 feet away on St Martin’s airport runway, which perpendicularly meets the beach.

I could have practically touched the plane. I could see individual bolts on the belly of the plane. The sound of the jet engines was so loud I had to cover my ears. A small sandstorm erupted beneath the plane’s flight path and a wall of sand flew violently and horizontally towards the ocean. People tumbled into the ocean along with the sand.

The plane touched down on the runway and cacophonously turned all thrusters on to slow its thunderous body down.

A wave of gratitude washed over me for surviving such a near miss, along with the other beach-goers and plane passengers. We all survived.

an American Airlines airplane just clears the beach at the end of the runway in St Martin

Then people cheered, and raced back to the “arrivals” board to see when it would happen again.

Welcome to Sunset Beach in St. Martin – the most dangerous beach in the world.

I’m not sure there’s anywhere else in the world you can go and actually find yourself standing directly underneath (and so close to) the flight paths of landing aircraft. The blast of air that gets displaced from a plane landing is incredibly dangerous, and can knock you off your feet – or worse.

Danger sign at airport in St. Martin

But here, despite the warning signs, some people are brazen enough to grab onto the fence and brace themselves for this event, as if it were an amusement park ride. If the plane is big enough (and low enough), its final approach will actually lift these thrill-seekers off the ground, their feet waving almost horizontally behind them as they hang on to the fence for dear life. Other people stand closer to the water and allow the airflow to carry them into the surf where they tumble and giggle.

It’s surreal.

I don’t know about anybody else on the beach that day, but with each landing, I had to work hard to ignore the knowledge that if something should go just a little bit wrong with the landing, we all could be in a world of trouble. I do believe that Sunset Beach in St Martin must be tops among the world’s most dangerous beaches.

So it was with gritted teeth and a charge of adrenaline that I joined the ranks of the other beach-goers with my camera in hand to capture an experience that I wasn’t likely to see again (assuming I survived).

For your viewing pleasure (or terror, depending on how you see it), check out this video of the experience!

Check it out here on Youtube.

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11 thoughts on “The Most Dangerous Beach in the World”

  1. That’s NUTS! I think there is another one (in Honduras or Belize maybe?) where you can go and sit on the edge of a runway while the plane is coming in for a landing. I have zero desire to do such a thing…

  2. LOVE that beach (even if I got a bee sting last time I was there.) For some reason, I feel safest in the water when the planes are landing. Makes no sense. Hope you had fun!!

  3. @Dalene – It’s an interesting experience, but not something that I’d particularly say is worth traveling for! ha ha

    @Sarah – There’s another beach along Simpson Bay that runs parallel to the runway. Sit at Karakters on the beach and you’ll get a few thrills there too! 🙂

  4. Ha! My mates go there time and time again, as plane spotters, and rave about it. I, like you, would probably be paranoid about all the what ifs….I mean, those are some big planes coming at you!

  5. @Tash – Yes, it’s not exactly what you would envision as an ideal day at the beach(!), but it’s certainly an interesting one!

    • Nora, I do not see any recent dates here, but I hope there are travelers still going to some of these places.
      The way those planes were coming in, helps me to see why we have Air Traffic Controllers in our countries!
      Wow, that was very close. Glad you survived it!

      • Sis McCray – Yep, it’s a crazy beach! Quite the tourist attraction as well, although I’m not sure it’s the safest attraction to see…. ha ha

  6. This is awesome. Just adding a little danger to an otherwise perfect day.

    St. Martin is in our sights for 2015!


    • Hi Ben – Great! St. Martin is a fun island, with lots of variety between the Dutch and French sides.

    • Hey Jennai,
      Funny! I didn’t actually end up going in the water there….I’m sure it would have been an experience to watch the planes come in on top of you like that!

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