|Size||9.7 square miles (25 square kilometers)|
|Population||9,500 (majority white, minority black and Creole)|
|Status||Overseas collectivity of France|
|GDP per capita (2007)||$37,000|
|Electricity||European standard two-prong|
|Driving||on the right, renters must be 25 or older|
If you ever wanted to go to a place where you are constantly surrounded by sophistication, glamour and luxury, the French overseas territory of St. Barts (officially Saint Barthelemy) is a very good bet. Colonized by the French in the 17th century and wrestled back from Sweden in 1878 after it held the territory for over 100 years, this tiny island of less than 10,000 permanent residents is today the spot in the Caribbean where rich and famous come to for their extravagant vacations. Consequently, you will hopefully not be too shocked to learn that St. Barts is also the most expensive island to in the Caribbean to visit. An average cost for a hotel room here is about $850 (€750) though you can get lucky with a basic accommodation off-season for under $300 per night. If the prices don’t scare you away completely, the good news is that St. Barts is a very modern, safe and opulent place. What is more, the island is fantastically beautiful, peaceful and is home to lots of small and hidden beaches offering unparalleled privacy. Therefore, it is no wonder celebrities like to come here to get away from fans and paparazzis!
The small size of the island and its airport means that there are no direct flights to St. Barts from outside the Caribbean. Instead, to get here you can either take a connecting flight from St. Martin, San Juan in Puerto Rico or Anguilla. A flight from Princess Juliana International Airport in St. Martin takes as little as 15 minutes and almost all, if not all, flights from that island are operated by Winair airlines. The other option you have is to take a high-speed ferry to Gustavia from Marigot Ferry Terminal or Oyster Pond Marina in St. Martin, and which usually leave twice a day and operate on a reliable schedule. You can get round trip tickets for between $100 to $150 and the two companies offering ferry services are Great Bay Express and Voyager.
There are no trains or buses on St. Barts and cars are in limited supply. In fact, you will be well advised to pre-book a rental car well in advance if you decide you want to get one. Rentals are especially popular due to the fact that taxis on the island are very expensive. Even a short ride from the center of Gustavia to a nearby hotel will easily exceed 30 euros ($40). However, renting a car here is also not the easiest as the service is only available to those aged +25 and there is usually a three day minimum rental period required. In addition, roads on St. Barts are narrow and steep and so, for those who are not very confident behind the wheel, driving here can be a very stressful experience. With the above in mind, consider getting scooter or bike instead of car. Renting a scooter costs half of what a car would and there are many companies offering such rentals in and around Gustavia. Finally, keep in mind the whole island is only about 10 miles across (which would take about three hours of fast walk to cover). Henceforth, if you are in decent shape and don’t mind walking, you can get around reasonably comfortably with just your own two feet.
Things to explore
As mentioned above, St. Barts is so small, one could walk all around in a day. As such, all of the key towns and attractions in them can be explored pretty quickly. However, the two things that St. Barts is most famous for can take days and weeks to do and you may still not have enough of them! We are speaking of luxury shopping and beach hopping and lounging, which keep locals and visitors alike much occupied on weekdays and weekends alike… When it come to the first activity, Gustavia is the best place in the Caribbean to exclusive fashion, accessories, cosmetics and jewellery. In fact, there are many premium products offered for sale here that are only also available in high end boutiques in the fashionable districts of Paris. It is no wonder than that many affluent Americans travel to St. Barts exclusively to do their seasonal or monthly shopping spree. In case you are or want to be one of them, you will find most of the high-end boutiques along Rue de La Republique in and two streets parallel to it. Once you are done with all the shopping in Gustavia (or are not interested in it), explore a couple of the town’s attractions like Le Musee Teritorial in Wall House, which is the official museum of St. Barts or the beautiful overlook out to the Caribbean Sea located a short climb from the end of Rue des Dinzey.
We mentioned shopping so now it’s time to describe an activity that brings as much, if not more, fun to do – exploring 22 of St. Bart’s gorgeous beaches. Incredibly, despite all of them being close to each other on this small island, many of them look completely dissimilar as if they were from completely different continents. Many of them are also somewhat tricky to get to, but in return there is a good chance you will have the full beach just to yourself. Of the 22 beaches mentioned, at least 15 are swimmer friendly. Of those, there is one in particular that will give you swimming thrills like nowhere else in the world. Baie de St-Jean is located right by the runway of Gustaf III Airport so planes land and depart literally within feet above swimmers splashing in the bay! This is a heart pumping experience and plus, the beach itself is beautiful with turquoise shallow waters and rolling green hills surrounding it. Other notable beach mentions are Anse de Grand Cul de Sac, which is popular among snorkelers and surfers as well as Anse de Grande Saline in the south of the island, which is about half a mile long and gives out a sense of true Caribbean wilderness (you will get the same feeling if you head north and reach another impressive beach still untouched by human development – Anse a Colombier).
Like the island itself, hotels here are small and only a handful have more than 50 rooms. In part due to this limited supply, getting a hotel room on St. Barts is actually less popular than renting out a villa or an apartment. These are a great option if you travel in a larger group, but choosing the right one may not be easy as they range greatly in style, price and amenities. One thing most of them do share though is the inland location so if you are keen to be right on the water, a hotel room might be a better bet. And, when it comes to hotels, it is their prices that may be the most difficult factor to overcome. A $2,000 per night price tag is pretty common in the best hotels, so for many, a hotel search may become the deciding element on whether to visit St. Barts or choose another island where you can get more value for your money. Nonetheless, if you do think you can pull it off financially, consider the Guanahani Hotel and Spa that is kids friendly and has probably the best spa on St Barts, Eden Rock that has a very sophisticated restaurant and rooms to match it or Cheval Blanc Hotel in Baie des Flamands that offers unpararel privacy and numerous luxurious beachfront bungalows. However, if the prices in these fancy establishments are just way too much, do not despair! There are a few low cost options that may still fit your budget. For example, check out the tiny Salines Garden Cottages, of which there are five, include breakfast and are likely the best value for money on the island.
Food & restaurants
Just like with hotels and shopping, dining on St. Barts is a sophisticated experience with prices to match it. Moreover, the island’s fine dining is possibly the best in the Caribbean with tens of Michelin ranked chefs having their home base here or visiting often. Modern French cuisine dominates with lots of fresh fish, soups and crepes on the menus. In addition, there are also quite a Italian, Asian and South American restaurants with a total number of establishments being as many as 90 (that very likely makes St. Barts a Caribbean island with the highest density of restaurants per square mile). As with everything else, it will be surprise majority of these restaurants are clustered in and around Gustavia and its hotels. In fact, several of the most exclusive restaurants are part of equally luxurious hotels. These include Le Toiny (with spectacular outdoor dining), Bartolomeo at Hotel Guanahani (serving an often changing international menu), On the Rocks at Eden Rock (which competes with the very best restaurants in Paris) and La Plage at Le Tom Beach Hotel (which offers great views out into St. Jean beach.
Yet, there are so many more fantastic restaurants on the island it would take many pages to describe them all. Importantly, despite the fancy options being most talked about, there are also plenty of economical options for dining on St. Barts. A bunch of causual eateries are spread throughout the island where you can get a main for lunch for about €10 (under $15) and one for dinner for €20 (about $25). Check out L’Iosetta pizzeria, La Gloriette Caribbean restaurant and Mayas to Go takeaway near the airport. Furthermore, if you decide to get an apartment, pretty much all of them come with very well equipped kitchens. And, although local food stores are small, they are well stocked with fresh produce and international foods and prices are reasonable (similar to what you find on other, similar size islands). Therefore, you are sure to save loads by cooking yourself and taking your own snacks to your beach hopping (and many other!) adventures.
Evenings on St. Barts are as much about drinking as they are about eating. Many restaurants double as bars here and stay open much past midnight. Some of them will also play energetic music or host local bands and have a little dance floor space with some dancing going on until 2am or so. Nevertheless, the party scene is pretty minor and laid back here and there are no big clubs or casinos on the island. You will also not find much action outside of Gustavia, with one notable exception being Le Nikki Beach club in St-Jean, which organizes special party nights throughout the year. In case you are keen to stay on St. Barts, but don’t think it offers enough fun at night time, consider taking a ferry to St. Martin on Friday or Saturday and party there until morning hours when you can make a journey back to Gustavia.
Sports & adventure
Water sports dominate how locals and visitors actively spend time on St. Barts. Diving is very popular and there are as many as 26 diving sites around the island including four shipwrecks like the Kayali, which sits at 100 feet deep and is the most popular for experienced divers. Importantly, there are several easy to access and fun dive sites right in the waters of Gustavia making it easy for even the very beginners to take on diving without investing a lot of additional time and effort to get to and from a diving location. The harbor of Gustavia is also a popular sailing anchor spot for yachts travelling between Antigua and US Virgin Islands and there are several companies based here that offer boat tours to these islands as well as sailing classes and cruises around St. Barts itself. In fact, consider taking a cruise that sets anchor around one the uninhabited islands of Saint Barts Natural Reserve in the north. These include Ile Chevreau and Ile Fregate, which are both characterized by impressive rocky cliffs that can be seen from miles away. Lastly, although like everything else here they are very expensive, you can also get a fishing charter from La Pointe marina in Gustavia and you can expect to get a good catch pretty much everywhere you set anchor around the island!
Safety and security
St.Barts is one of the safest if not the safest place to visit in all of the Caribbean. Crime is virtually non-existent and many residents leave their houses and cars unlocked day and night. One major reason for this is that both the local population as well as visitors are highly affluent, but the other reason is that the small size of the island means everyone knows their neighbours and there is a strong sense of trusting community here. This also means you will easily make acquaintances and friends on St. Barts who will gladly provide you with assistance and advice if need be. Nevertheless, despite the overall high safety, one important factor to consider is that due to its small size, emergency and medical services on the island are limited. In effect, in case of a serious medical problem, transport to a bigger island (like St. Martin) with a large hospital and advanced equipment may be necessary.