The question isn’t why go to St. Barts; it’s why would you ever leave? The Caribbean Sea is exactly how you imagine it: crystal clear and blue. You’ll want to swim in that water forever.
St. Barts (Saint Barthélemy) is known for being the island for the world’s rich and famous. But if you want to get your St. Bart’s on and avoid that scene, go in the off season. I was there in May for a friend’s wedding and it was trés magnifique. The crowds are gone, the weather is perfect, and the hotels are a lot less expensive.
St. Barts’ airport isn’t big enough for a commercial jet to land (it’s actually one of the smallest airports in the world), so you’ll have two choices once you arrive in St. Marteen: board a puddle jumper for an eight-minute flight with a “white knuckle landing“ or a 45-minute ferry ride that one man described as 45-minutes of pure hell. Apparently, they hand out barf bags when you board.
My first thought was, “No way in hell I’m doing either of those things.” But it was my friend’s wedding, so I had to ‘pick my poison.’ (A third option is Tradewinds, they offer a one-hour flight from Puerto Rico to St. Barts. It’s very pricy, but you get champagne.)
In the end, I chose the eight-minute plane ride on St. Barth Commuter. I took a Dramamine, strapped myself in, and prayed. The take-off was fast and probably one of the easiest I’ve ever felt. You’re up in the air in two seconds and you fly pretty low over the gorgeous Caribbean Sea. You’re so distracted by the water, you don’t care you’re in a small plane. Seriously, I’m freaked out by flying (you can read my previous post about it here) and I thought it was fun.
Let’s get right to the reason you came: the beaches. St. Barts has 22 of them, but the seven below are more than enough to satisfy your Caribbean beach fantasy.
But first, pack a picnic
Do like the French do and pack a picnic. Some of the beaches are in remote locations without food or fresh water nearby, so bring a beach bag and pack it with reef-safe sunscreen (check out my previous post for how to find the best ones), beach towels, water, and a picnic lunch. Make sure to bring your beach umbrella and snorkel gear.
Tile Beach Signs
One of the most charming things about the beaches on St. Barts are the tile beach signs that front 16 of the most popular beaches. They were created by local artist Veronique Vander Noot and funded by the St. Barts’ local government. Each sign portrays the unique character of the beach it depicts.
THE BEST BEACHES ON ST. BARTS
Anse de Colombier is a stunning beach with white sand and no waves, which makes it a perfect beach for swimming. Definitely take your snorkeling gear to this beach. It’s also one of the least accessible beaches on the island, unless you glide up on your yacht. It’s about a 45-minute hike to get to Colombier Beach, but it’s so worth it. Learn from my mistake and avoid the goat trail straight down the mountain (unless you want a serious workout in the hot sun on the way back up) and take the path that goes around the mountain. Be sure to start at the trail that has the Colombier Beach tile sign in front of it. Go early to avoid hiking in the intense heat. Bring water.
A hurricane ripped through St. Barts two years ago and the island has experienced a bit of a drought, so the lush green trees haven’t returned to their full splendor yet, but you won’t care when you see the water.
This little black goat gets airborne running to its mama on the cliffs above Colombier Beach.
You might get lucky and see a crab. Good luck trying to catch it.
Anse des Flamands is on the way to Colombier. It’s not as secluded as Colombier and the waves can be rough, but it’s a lovely beach.
Anse du Governeour is wild and untouched. It might be your favorite beach on St. Barts. There are no houses, clubs, or restaurants on this beach, but depending on the weather, it might not be ideal for swimming.
There might be a turtle waiting for you when you get there.
Anse de Grande Saline is a pristine beach with white sand and calm seas. I promise, you’ll never want to leave her.
Baie de St. Jean (pronounced St. John), is the “be and be seen” bay that fronts Eden Rock Hotel and Nikki Beach Club. There are no waves on this beach (except for the kind you give the planes on their way out of town), which makes it great for swimming. If you go in the off season, it’s pretty low-key.
Shell Beach literally has shells lining its shoreline. There’s a small restaurant right on the beach, which means you won’t have to pack a picnic. It’s an excellent beach for swimming and snorkeling, and for watching the sunset. If you want a mountain view of Shell Beach, check out Fort Gustav.
Corossol is a charming little fisherman’s village. The water off the end of the pier looks like a pool and it’s hard to fight the urge to jump off and float around out in the water with all the boats.
Toiny Coast & Grand Fond
Hire Héléne Bernier (firstname.lastname@example.org), a local guide whose knowledge of the island’s most beautiful and secret places is unsurpassed. Ask her to take you on a guided tour to the “Blow Hole” and the “Washing Machine” in the Grand Fond.
I love how the French repurpose Coke cans as beach ashtrays. This sign (below) reminds the French that the sand isn’t an ashtray.
If you’re going to St. Barts soon, here are a few things to know.
St. Barts is a small Caribbean island in the French West Indies.
St. Barts is spelled different ways. Basically, it boils down to this: St. Barts if you’re American and St. Barth, if you’re French.
Yes, it’s a French territory, but you won’t need to parle francais while you’re there; almost everyone speaks Anglais.
Remember, the currency is Euros.
Pick up a small map from your hotel. The internet is spotty.
If you want to hang out at the beach, try to get a base tan before you get to St. Barts. It’s no fun getting burned the first day.
Put reef-safe sunscreen on endlessly, especially if you’re in the water. The sun in the Caribbean is intense.
Pack a carry-on. You won’t be able to bring a lot of luggage on the small plane.
Bring mosquito wipes (they are easier than the sprays). I’m mosquito bait and the mosquitos weren’t bad. If you don’t scratch the bites, they disappear in a few hours.
Forget about styling your hair. The weather is hot and humid and you’ll be in-and-out of the sea all day, so don’t bother.
Like most islands, St. Barts has a casual laid-back vibe.
The restaurants on St. Barts have been described as world-class. They have to keep their rich and famous celebrity clientele happy, right? But be warned, the restaurants are really expensive. Almost everything on St. Barts has to be imported from France, Europe, or the US because the climate isn’t suitable for agriculture. If you’re planning to eat out in St. Barts, make sure you budget for meals, and remember that the currency is Euros.
Santa Fe, French, located in the tiny town of Lurin with great views of Gouverneur Beach.
L’Espirt, French with local flavors, located near Saline Beach and tucked away in a tropical garden. At L’Espirit, you can have a fine dining experience under the stars.
Tamarin, A little bit of everything on their menu, it’s located near Saline Beach and has a gorgeous setting in their garden. Try it for brunch.
L’Isola, Upscale Italian, located in Gustavia, the pasta is either homemade or comes from Rome, Italy. Prego!
Orega, French-Japanese fusion, located in Gustavia.
Bonito, French, located in Gustavia.
Black Ginger, a very popular Thai restaurant in Gustavia.
L’Isolett, Italian, owned by L’Isola, a casual spot for pizza and Italian food.
Worth a stop
When Eden Rock reopens (it closed due to hurricane damage), eat or drink something there.
Have a drink or a bite at the Hotel Manapany. The view from their restaurant is gorgeous.
Maya’s To Go is located in St. Jean across the street from the airport. It’s the place to go for picnic supplies or a quick lunch. If you’re into local honey, pick up a small jar.
La Petite Colombre in Colombier is a small bakery that makes affordable baguette sandwiches, pastries, and juice to take with you to the beach.
Kiki-e Mo in St. Jean has plenty of food and juice to help you assemble a picnic on St. Jean Beach, which is located right across the street.
American Gourmet is in Gustavia. If you’re craving healthy gourmet staples from home, or high end supplies for your beach picnic, you might find them here.
If you want a luxury stay in St. Barts, there are plenty of drool-worthy resorts. You’ll pay for them, but you’ll also never forget them. If you can’t swing the high prices, there are affordable Airbnbs and villas (although some go for as much as 20,000 per week).
Eden Rock Hotel & Villas, located on St. Jean Beach (Bai de St-Jean), which is a perfect location for swimming.
Hotel Manapay, is a gorgeous low-key eco resort located on Anse des Cayes bay.Hotel Christopher, located near Anse de Lorient. The spa uses Sisley products.
Cheval Blanc, a chic, beautifully designed hotel, located on Flamand Beach.
Villa Marie Saint-Barth, small, boutique hotel tucked away on a hill near Flamand and Colombier.
CAR RENTAL WARNING
The roads in St. Barts are pretty beat up and that means there are tons of opportunities to get dings and scrapes. If you do, be warned, you might have to pay a steep price for even the tiniest scratch or ding. This includes cars loaned to you by local hotels. Rent a small car. The roads are narrow and windy and if you get a big car, the locals will think you’re an a**hole.
Parking is kind of a free-for-all. The locals park on the roads, sidewalks, and in ditches, or wherever. But if you’re in Gustavia, you must place a “blue disk” you’ll get from your rental car company on your dash. Remember to set the time. You’ll have two hours of free parking.
THINGS TO DO
Spend some time wandering through the capital city of Gustavia. Check out the shops, restaurants, and boutiques, as well as the views from Fort Gustav, and then head over to Shell Beach for a swim, a snack, a snorkel, and a sunset. If you’re interested in the history of St. Barts, check out the Wall House Museum and read my previous post.
St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church
In the middle of Gustavia sits a small, picturesque church alongside the docks.
St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church was built during Swedish control of the island. Unlike other islands in the Caribbean at the time, the Swedes encouraged freedom of religion. A massive fundraising effort helped sequester the money to construct the church, which was completed in 1855. Today, St. Bartholomew’s Anglican Church is a place of worship and a sort of community hub offering wedding services, AA meetings, and meditation classes. My friend had her wedding ceremony there.
Visit Corossol, a small, charming fisherman’s village. Live it up and jump off the pier. The water is gorgeous!
Sample the seafood at the Gustavia fish market. Get there before 8am to watch the fisherman sell their catch to restaurants and locals.
Explore the shops around St. Jean.
Visit the cemetery near Lorient Beach. Johnny Hallyday (The French Elvis) is buried there.
Play with the wild cats! They’re all over the island.
Watch the planes land
Yes, it’s a thing on St. Barts. People will stand on the top of the mountain above the landing strip and wait. When the planes come in, it feels like they’re going to land on your head.
More EVENTS on St. Barts.
Read about the island’s unique history in my previous post.
THINGS YOU WON’T FIND ON THE ISLAND
Chain restaurants or hotels, stop lights, or crime.[ssba]