I know that you won’t be surprised to discover that there are seemingly countless stunning beaches here in the Caribbean, and many islands (like Antigua) are particularly renowned for their beaches. The debate is often which are the “Top 10” beaches, and with so many candidates, even just in this region, how can you ever choose? Unfortunately for me, St Kitts is a volcanic island so its beaches are often made up of darker sand and, although the water is a stunning blue at the right time of the day, and usually incredibly clear, it can affect the appearance of the beach and downgrades the feeling of paradise that other more starkly white-and-blue beaches deliver.
Since I swim to keep stabilised during my long absence from home, when visiting other islands, I always try and check out the beaches and enjoy a swim. If an island is particularly famous for a beach, it will go straight to the top of my “must see” list.
St Martin is well known for gorgeous beaches that truly are the real deal: fine white sand, clear turquoise water…but, given that St Martin’s main gaggle of tourists is from the US, well, suffice it to say that some areas have lost some of their European charm as they’ve given way to the tourist dollar.
One beach that is listed as a “must visit” in St Martin is Orient Beach, in a large bay. Even the au naturale crowd have set up camp at the southern end of the beach, a sight you don’t see in the English Caribbean since toplessness result in fines or averted gazes more than free-wheeling fun in the sun.
On my first morning in St Martin, after enjoying a croissant breakfast on my balcony overlooking a gorgeous view, I headed straight to Orient Beach. On the approach, it’s as if a little “community” of hotels and restaurants have sprung up around the beach. I followed the road around roundabouts to find just what the guide books had promised – a lovely beach.
But there was one thing wrong: it had been over-run with tourist activities, as “Watersports” signs and at least 7 sets of rent-a-lounge-chair-umbrella combos lined the long stretch of white sand. Local women trawled the beaches, approaching every tourist with offers of towels and bags, and it seemed tough work to move them along if you weren’t interested. Condos in dull designs lined the northern stretch of the beach.
I suppose I understand why things get like this: these islands are so dependent on tourism that infrastructure is inevitable. And families on holiday have everything they could want: water sports, good food, and stunning scenery. But is it really relaxing to line up head-to-toe in rows of sun lounges, a la sardines?
For my part, next time I’ll go in search of one of the smaller, more secluded beaches, which thankfully there are still plenty of.