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St. Barts

Great Destination:

Value for Money:

Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • On discovering the island in 1493, Christopher Columbus named it for his brother, Bartolomeo.
  • In 1784, France traded the island to Sweden for a warehouse in Gothenburg.
  • The capital Gustavia is named for Sweden’s King Gustav III.
  • St. Barts is less than an eighth the size of Washington, D.C.
  • Sweden freed the island’s few slaves in 1847, and most left for the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Small and exclusive

Part of the French West Indies, St. Barts is similar to other Caribbean islands with its warm, clear waters, white sand beaches and casual atmosphere. But it is also unique. French culture, language and attitudes dominate the island, and locals can be a bit surly with visitors who don’t speak French. Take comfort, though, English is spoken at most hotels and restaurants.

Many refer to the island as the St. Tropez of the Caribbean. It has the finest luxury shopping in the Caribbean and a number of its 80-plus restaurants have four-star ratings. It attracts the rich and famous such as Steve Martin, David Letterman and Donna Karan who stay in private villas.

It has preserved and protected its natural wonders, which led Conde Nast Traveler magazine to name it “one of the 20 most enduring Edens.” A number of its beautiful, pristine beaches offer privacy and seclusion. It’s likely to remain that way because of the difficulty of getting to it. The island is sexy and hedonistic with topless sunbathing even at family friendly beaches. But, surprisingly for the French, nudity is generally banned. Like most sun-and-fun spots, it offers a variety of options for water sports.

Before making this choice though, consider some other facts. Covering only eight square miles, the arid, rocky island doesn’t fit the image of a lush Caribbean paradise. Nightlife, except for a few bars, is almost nonexistent.

Only small commuter planes serve St. Barts (mostly from St. Martin). Alternatively, visitors can take a ferry or water taxi to get to the island. Pilots receive special training to land at St. Barts’ small airport, especially on windy days which can give an exciting ride — even for those taking a ferry across the water.

It is the most expensive of all Caribbean islands because it is not self-sustaining. Food, water and fuel must be brought in, and they come mostly from France. Nevertheless, all things considered, St. Barts gets high ratings in our surveys. For those who have the money and want a secluded, laid-back vacation, this may be just the right spot.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Scuba diving and snorkeling are a great way to see nurse sharks, lobster, conch and green sea turtles in the waters surrounding St. Barts.
  • Hike to some of the sheltered inlets that can only be reached on foot or by boat.
  • Do some kite surfing at Grand Cul-de-Sac Beach, the most popular area for this activity.
  • Explore the island on horseback, a wonderful way to enjoy the warm tropical sun and see great vistas.
  • Give your venturous self a rest. Totally unwind from your hectic schedule back home with no TV, newspapers or other intrusions from the real world.
  • If you want true seclusion, Anse Colombier Beach can only be reached by boat or a half-hour walk down a goat trail. Topless sunbathing is allowed.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Learn sailing or windsurfing at Grand Cul-de-Sac Beach, a bay which is closed off from currents by a reef.
  • Head to Petite Colombe bakery in Lorient for a morning French pastry or a chocolate fix where waiters will serve you with attitude if you don’t speak French.
  • Drive a rental car around the island. Some roads are narrow and steep, so choose a small car.
  • Or, take an air-conditioned public bus that goes around the island. It costs only about U.S. $15.
  • If you truly hunger for entertainment, Bete a Z’Ailes, La Plage and Nikki Beach sometimes have live entertainers at their bars on weekends. It can be ear-splitting.
  • Visit Saline Beach, the island’s largest and most popular, where gay (sometimes nude) bathers are on your right and topless straight visitors usually go to the left.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Splurge a bit and buy the latest French fashion or jewelry piece at Calypso shop in Gustavia, the capital city.
  • Have dinner and watch the sun set in Lurin from Cafe Santa-Fe perched atop a high peak with a stunning island panorama view.
  • Or hang around the beach at Baie de St.-John where you might run into some of the rich and famous.
  • Take your family to Shell Beach because it has little surf, allowing children to play safely.
  • Take an afternoon off for a short trip to St. Martin, St. Thomas or St. Croix to play a round of golf. No course exists on St. Barts.
  • St. Barts lacks a movie house but you can gather on Saturday nights at the A.J.O.E. tennis courts in Lorient to watch a recent movie projected on a huge painted wall. It has serve-yourself chairs and a stand for popcorn and hot dogs.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the St. Barts Tourism Committee at www.saintbarth-tourisme.com and choose your language.