St. Barts Travel Guide
St. Barts Summary
- Beautiful beaches for surfing (on the windward side) and scuba diving (on the leeward side)
- An exclusive, luxurious vibe with top-notch dining and shopping
- Great weather: little humidity and lots of sun
- Lack of cruise ships keeps the crowds away
- Fresh local seafood
- Very little crime; one of the safest islands in the Caribbean
- Some attractive architecture
- Hotel prices drop drastically during the off season
- Almost everything is expensive
- Direct access to the island is difficult; most visitors take a small plane or a boat (with a rocky ride!) from St. Martin
- Hotel and restaurant reservations can be hard to come by during the high season
- Most stores close at lunchtime (but stay open 'til late in the evening)
- Lots of rain during the off season
What It's Like
Nicknamed St. Barts, St. Barthelemy in the French West Indies has been a playground to the rich and the famous for several decades. Though the island's first foray into tourism was in the 1960s, the real tourism boom was in the 1980s, and nowadays the well-heeled venture out to St. Barts for its gourmet restaurants, high-end designer shops, secluded beaches, and exclusive location. Celebs such as Jimmy Buffet, David Letterman, and Steve Martin own property on the island and are frequent visitors.
St. Barts, nestled among the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean Sea, was a French colony until 2007 when it officially became a "separate overseas collectivity." French is spoken by many locals (although almost everyone on the island can speak some English) and much of the cuisine has a French flair. This, paired with the fact that almost all food products are imported from France, means meals can be pricey. Seafood, however, including conch -- an island speciality -- is caught locally.
A volcanic island surrounded by reefs, St. Barts is home to 22 public beaches, 15 of which are good for swimming and other water activities. With this plethora of beaches, there seems to be a beach for everyone; the leeward side of the island is home to calmer waters, great for divers and families, while the windward side is a popular spot for wind-surfing and surfing. Both sides have their fair share of nude beaches as well.
The hub of activity on the island can be found in St. Bart's capital, Gustavia. Home to the main harbor, Gustavia has streets lined with high-end shops and restaurants and locals sell homemade wares such as hats and bags make from palm fronds along the streets as well. The capital looks out at the beautiful natural harbor where impressive yachts dock and no harbor on the island is large enough to accomodate cruise ships, a pro for many who enjoy the exclusivity of the island. Some beaches and restaurants can get crowded during the high season (from December to April) but for the most part, St. Barts is a quiet escape for those who can afford the top-notch accomodations.
Where To Stay
There are few hotels on St. Barts, and most are boutique hotels with fewer than 25 rooms; many of these hotels are set up as a cluster of villas, and villa rentals are also a common form of lodging on the island. Most of the hotels on the island are very luxurious and thus very pricey. During the high season (especially around New Year's Eve) rooms book up quickly despite the steep prices, but prices fall drastically by the end of March for those looking for a deal.
- Gustavia: The capital of St. Barts, Gustavia is a quaint (and St. Barts' only) seaport. Narrow streets are lined by historic homes, the harbor is home to tiny fishing boats alongside massive yachts, and there are numerous cafes, art galleries, and shops -- and even a small museum.
- St. Jean: St. Jean is a ritzy, resort town (or as "resort town" as you can get in St. Barts). St. Jean is close to the airport and its beach is a popular spot for water sports like wind-surfing.
- Anse Toiny: Staying on Toiny Beach is a good choice for those looking for a quiet, secluded location. On the windward side, this beach gets plenty of challenging surf so it attracts surfers who come for the waves, not for the posh scene (only those who are very strong swimmers should venture into these waters).
- Anse de Cayes: This beach is also a popular spot for surfers due to the turbulent surf.
- Grand Cul-de-Sac: Grand Cul-de-Sac has that resort-like vibe as well. The beach is lined by high-end bistros with fabulous views and water sports have become a popular pastime.
- Lorient: The small town of Lorient is peaceful, with a locals' beach (although tourists are always welcome) and some attractive historic buildings. Its graveyard is a popular spot to visit, as many of the graves are adorned with bright decorations.