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The "Welcome to St. Maarten" sign. (Photo by WanJira Banfield)

When many think of an exotic Caribbean vacation, most people envision sparkling turquoise waters, pink and purple sunsets, a coconut cup filled with sweet rum punch and miles and miles of powdery beaches.

Yet, not every island is so cookie cutter in its offerings. Each Caribbean locale brings its own zesty flavors to what could be your ideal tropical getaway.

Introducing St. Maarten

Nestled in the northeastern part of the Caribbean cluster and just a hop, skip and seashell throw away from Anguilla, St. Maarten, which is part of the Netherlands, is a tiny island nation that shares part of its landmass with Saint Martin, a territory of France.

Both make up the smallest territory in the world to be governed by two different nations.

Although the span of this tropical paradise stretches just a mere 37 miles, the compelling culture, laid back lifestyle and dramatic attractions found in both countries make this island one of the most enriching and valuable travel destinations in the world.

Yet, the irresistible utopia of Dutch St. Maarten is distinctly different from its French neighbor, even though they share one island home. What’s the difference? Many name St. Marteen as the place for more upbeat fun.

St. Maarten: A place to play

Just a short two hour flight from Miami and four hours from New York, St. Maarten has long been considered a hot spot solely for the rich and famous. Bernard Hunt, Hotel Sales Director for the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort on the island believes that to no longer be the case. He proclaims that anyone seeking to have a vacation of a lifetime can come to St. Maarten without breaking the bank.

“We have to change the stigma of being a rich and famous landmark,” Hunt told theGrio. “This place is like home and we welcome everyone who’s seeking to experience a true Caribbean homegrown paradise.”

If adventure is a part of your vision of a perfect vacation, or you prefer to be in a relative state of inertia mentally and physically, St. Maarten has it all. We’ve compiled a list of “must do’s” when on the island, so you will be well-prepared.

For the thrill

There’s no better St. Maarten attraction than the beach itself, and Maho Beach doesn’t disappoint. Bordering the Sonesta Maho Beach Resort and west of the Princess Juliana International Airport, Maho Beach is where the warm waters glisten under the sun and sunbathers relax and take in the breeze. Calypso music is often heard far in the distance.

However, the real attraction is way above sea level. Take a stroll to the northern end of Maho Beach for the most fascinating encounter you will ever have with a Boeing 747 jetliner. Travelers from all over the world flock to this specific spot on the beach to experience the incredible moment a jumbo jet descends right over their heads — so close that the passengers on board can see spectators waving. The only thing separating the beach from the tarmac is a small gate and a narrow road. This is truly an attraction for the ultimate thrill seeker and can only be experienced in St.Maarten. Planes soar in all day and night, but early afternoon between 2pm and 5pm is the best time to go.

And if that doesn’t give you a rush, walk a couple of steps inland to experience yet another unusual tradition called sandblasting. The danger signs seem to not make much of an impact because travelers still stand right at the edge of the beach to experience the dramatic moment an aircraft takes off — up close.

The blast, which is just a few feet away, can be so strong that gusts of sand are strewn into a tornado-like funnel and you are immediately blown away – many as far back as the water’s edge. This may be a bit much for the tame of heart, so there are many places along Maho Beach where calmer spectators can watch the daredevils in action and shake their heads in utter amazement.