7 reasons why St. Barts is my favorite Caribbean island

Saint-Barthélemy, the official name of the island, is often abbreviated as Saint-Barth. It is an overseas collective of France and is part of the Leeward Islands in the French Antilles. About 35 km southeast of Saint-Martin, it was once part of Guadeloupe until the people voted for independence. Saint-Barth is a cruise stopover and a favorite port for private yachts and sailboat charters. The nearest large commercial airport is in Saint-Martin, but Saint-Barth has a small airport known for its mind-boggling landings. Frequent ferry services also operate between the two islands.

The French influence and past history is one of the reasons why this is my favorite Caribbean island and why you will love it too. The combination of French sophistication with Caribbean savoir-vivre, lifestyle and music is utterly charming. The official language is also French with a distinct island touch.

Another reason why it is popular is the over 22 pristine beaches which play a major role in why St. Barth has become so adored by celebrities as well as visitors from all over the world. Holidaymakers flock to St. Barts, especially in winter, to be greeted by the charming red-roofed capital of Gustavia, named when the island was briefly under Swedish rule.

There is so much to choose from in St Barts, from underwater adventure to water sports, great food, shopping and great nightlife. Because the island is so small, we can discover them all.

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1. Endless beaches

Saint-Barth is a volcanic island, entirely surrounded by shallow reefs. It is separated from Saint-Martin by the Saint-Barthélemy canal with several small scattered islets. The island has 25 public beaches (some private), and depending on their location, divided into leeward and windward beaches. There is literally a beach for everyone, even a nudist one. Leeward beaches are more protected and suitable for swimming and safer for children, while windward beaches are popular with windsurfers.

In the wind, we find the quiet beach of Lorient and the very wide sandy beach of Anse des Flamands. Le Petit Anse is very safe and popular with locals who also take their children. Downwind are the Anse de Colombier, accessible only by boat, and the Anse de Grande Saline, which is a naturist beach. Shell Beach or Anse de Grand Galet is so named because of the huge amount of shells scattered on the sand. Walk carefully, you can easily cut your feet. Saint-Jean beach is the most lively because it is home to Nikki Beach and Eden Rock.

At the northern end of the island are two lagoons: Anse de Margot and Grand Cul-de-Sac.

Plane landing at Saint-Barth airport.  One of the shortest tracks in the world.
Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

2. The thrill of arriving by plane

Of course, you can reach St. Barts by ferry or private yacht in a much quieter way, but coming by plane is a pleasure that never gets old. The reason? St. Barth St. Jean Airport has one of the shortest runways in the world, just 2,100 feet. You look out the window of the small propeller plane (the only ones that can land there), the beach of Saint-Jean below is fast approaching, brushing the imperturbable bathers, biting your nails and thinking “will we get there?” Don’t worry, the airport has an excellent safety record and when you step onto the tarmac and look around you can only think that the paradise you have arrived in was well worth a moment or two of tension. WinAir is the most popular airline that operates the short flight from Saint-Martin to Saint-Barth.

Cobbled Street in Gustavia, Saint-Barth.
Cobbled street in Gustavia (Photo credit: Joe Benning / Shutterstock.com)

3. Easy to navigate

St. Barts is a small island, with only a total area of ​​9.26 square miles. There is no public transport, so people get around by scooter, bicycle, rental car or on foot. You can drive around the island in half an hour. There are a few taxis, but they are rare and very expensive. It is also easy to find your way around the capital Gustavia. It is built in a U-shape around the port and the streets (thanks to the Swedes when they ruled there) are laid out in a grid. There are also several possibilities for boat trips.

Cannon overlooking Gustavia, Saint Barthélemy.
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

4. Gustavia – Three cultures side by side

From 1785 to 1878, before selling the island back to France, Sweden ruled. Gustavia, the capital of the chicest of all the Caribbean islands, is a blend of French flair, Nordic architecture and the Caribbean calypso and salsa lifestyle. Fort Gustave, overlooking the port, was built in 1787 by the Swedes to protect the island. It’s actually three forts, but not much is left except for a few cannons, but worth a visit for the fabulous views of the harbor, dense palm forests and characteristic red roofs. from the city. There’s even a small museum on the island in a pretty white-painted house that documents Sweden’s past.

The small duty-free town boasts no less than 200 boutiques, many of which are high-end designer boutiques of French origin where French culture comes into play. Fancy a Cartier watch? No problem, a YSL perfume… no problem either. They are mainly located around the Quai de la République or a shopping center and in French buildings. Local artisans are also represented in some galleries which display not only paintings but also jewelry and accessories. You can experience more of the local culture with a drink or a simple meal at Select, which claims to be the oldest bar on the island and has been around for 70 years.

Diving near the Whale Tail reef near Saint-Barth.
Diving near Whale Tail Reef near St. Barts (Photo credit: bcampbell65 / Shutterstock.com)

5. Colorful marine life

The greatest pleasure for me was observing the colorful underwater flora and fauna of St. Barts by taking an excursion on the glass bottom boat called Yellow submarine. Yes it is painted yellow, part of Gustavia and you can either sit on the bridge and watch the side, or go down through a tunnel and look out the windows or down to everything that passes. There is even a wreck to see colonized by all manner of sea creatures.

There is also a vast nature reserve designed to protect the coral reefs and underwater species of the north of the island which is fabulous to visit and explore while snorkeling.

And, finally, a luxury day can be spent cruising around the island in a splendid catamaran.

6. More private villas than monster hotels

Many Caribbean islands have lost much of their charm with the construction of vast hotel complexes and resorts. This is not the case in Saint-Barth. There are around 25 hotels, many with 15 or fewer rooms. The most expensive, the hotel Le Toiny, has only 12 rooms or rather suites. What it lacks in size is more than made up for in quality and exclusivity with a gourmet restaurant and beach club.

On the other hand, where the very rich who come to Saint-Barth stay (apart from their own yachts) is in private villas. There are around 400 for rent in St. Barts, all with their own pools and on or near one of the many beaches.

7. Have fun with celebrities

Not a worthy international movie star has not spent time in St. Barts or is a regular. Celebrity spotting is indeed a popular pastime in St. Barts and a lot of fun as you can have a chance encounter just about anywhere. Whether in one of Gustavia’s exclusive boutiques or in a simple beach hut where tables and chairs sit on the sand and customers, more often than not, have stepped out of the waves and sat down for an always fabulous meal in swimsuit or bikini. When it comes to food, think of the freshest fish and seafood, Creole and French cuisine, although there are a few sushi and pizzerias. If you really want to hang out with the rich and famous, come for New Years Eve the day the biggest yachts arrive.

Of course, the nightlife is another good chance. Two of the most famous areas with live music are Nikki Beach and Le Plage where it gets very lively. La Ti is known far beyond St. Barts and attracting visitors just to see the outrageous shows and cabarets. Adult-themed and reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil, you should try to sit in the front row to see the performers up close. You even have the option of going behind the scenes and choosing your own costume and headdress.

Pro tip: If you spot someone famous, don’t ask for autographs. It’s bad style.

St. Barth and nearby St. Maarten / St. Martin are two of the most visited islands in the Caribbean: