St. Maarten's Best Beach Bar
Or at least it seems that way to me, a passenger on one of five cruise ships docked at Philipsburg, St. Maarten this sunny February morning. At the taxi stand, what should be an orderly line is instead a chaotic scrum of sunscreened cruisers, striped towels and massive beach totes hanging from their shoulders. Everyone’s impatient and jostling to be next aboard vans destined for the Promised Land, Maho Beach.
I can’t say I blame them. The sandy curve is, after all, one of the Dutch side of the island’s most famous. Separated from the runway at Princess Juliana International airport by only a narrow road, the beach’s best-known bar, Sunset Bar & Grill, is a plane spotter’s nirvana where jets announce their presence with a deafening roar as they take off and land mere feet above your head. Fence surfing – clutching the chain link fence as the planes ascend, trailing a 100 miles-per-hour gust behind them – is the thing to do (and well documented on YouTube, in case you’re curious).
But I’m not in search of such thrills. Today’s trip is all about tranquility. Which is how my husband and I find ourselves the lone passengers in a cab headed 20 minutes across the island to Simpson Bay’s Karakter.
Just like Sunset, the watering hole sits on the beach adjacent to the airport. But that’s where the similarity ends.
The hub of the seven-year-old beach bar and restaurant is actually a school bus, driven right onto the sand. Painted white with red and blue accents, the vehicle has been converted to a bar, from which frosty bottles of the local brew, Amstel Bright, appear every couple of minutes.
We set up camp on chaises positioned near the water’s edge (there’s no rental charge if you’re dining), and it isn’t long before someone comes along to offer us an American Character (cheeseburger and fries).
Involuntarily our heads start nodding to the languorous beats of the Euro-style lounge music pulsing in the background. And we’re quickly entranced by the mile-long strip, populated by giggling children, topless sunbathers, and a scrappy island mutt, tenaciously digging for doggy treasure in sand the color of Demerara sugar.
Breezes carrying the sweet coconut scent of tanning oil and the tang of sea salt cool my skin. The incessant rhythmic rush of turquoise waves frothing ashore offers a soothing lullaby. I close my eyes and focus on the moment. I feel as relaxed as if I’d just had a massage, a world away from the chaotic crush of the cruise port and completely removed from the stress of the bumper-to-bumper traffic we endured to get here.
I struggle to raise my head, lazily open one eye and ask my husband – a Karakter virgin - if he’s disappointed not to be fence-surfing with our fellow cruisers.
“Not at all,” he says, taking a long swig of his Amstel Bright.
“Lying here, doing nothing, is what being in the Caribbean’s all about.”
I'll drink to that.