St Barts is the jewel of the Caribbean. Frequented by the rich and famous, it’s low key glamour is a step above most other islands in the area. If you really want to experience the lifestyle, a private flight to the island is the best way. You don’t have to own your own jet, you can do this on Tradewind Air out of San Juan. Once you arrive, rent a Mini Cooper convertible to drive around the island. Stay at Eden Roc on St Jean Bay if you have disposable income.
St Barthélemy, St Barts (English), or St Barths (French), is a mountainous, volcanic island hidden in the heart of the French Antilles. It is a small slice of the French Riviera transplanted to the eastern Caribbean. Billionaires and celebrities frequent this idyllic place, staying in the secluded villas dotting the hills. You will not hear steel drums here, but chic Euro pop. French is the main language, English is spoken everywhere and US dollars are often welcome along with the Euro.
St Bart is not accessible by major airlines or large cruise ships. You must fly in from another island and land on the world’s third most dangerous runway. The approach includes flying over a mountain, clearing parked cars and spectators on the hill, diving downward with the stall warning blaring, and making a quick stop on a short, downhill runway ending in the sea. Pilots need a special class to land here, and thankfully, the landing is not necessarily visible from most passengers seats.
St Maarten to St Barth (SXM-SBH)
Since landing here is part of the experience, you will want to fly into St Barth. You can take WinAir or St Barth Commuter from St Maarten. The flight from St Maarten takes about 10 minutes at 1,000 ft.
If booking two separate flights here rather than an end to end flight, book the St Barth flight first, and allow for 2 hours to go through customs and change planes in St Maarten. You may clear it early by shortcutting through the transit desk, but allow 2 hours just to be safe. There is also a boat from St Maarten if all else fails as flights to SBH only occur during daylight.
San Juan to St Barth (SJU-SBH)
Since San Juan is a major hub in the Caribbean, you may find it easier to fly from here. The flight is 55 minutes at a slightly higher altitude. Tradewind Air flies direct, with a private lounge and security delays are minimal. You will enjoy VIP style treatment. Our flight from San Juan to St Maarten was cancelled, and we ended up on Tradewind. This substantially cut our travel time but at a high cost. We got our own plane which felt almost like a private jet, so the experience was worth the money at $500 per ticket for a same day, high season, weekend fare.
One Beautiful Island
St Barth is home to 22 amazing beaches. The water is clear and reflects a brilliant blue sky with white sand underneath. Some beaches are graced by trendy hotspots, some are deserted. Yachts and sailboats decorate secluded harbors. The land can be arid, covered in tropical flowers with palm trees and cactus. Iguanas are native, as are the occasional rooster. More common are Mini Coopers and small Jeeps. Scooters and four wheelers also abound.
The island is decidedly French, with croissants for breakfast, boulangeries and haute cuisine. Most visitors come from France and beautiful people are everywhere – in the clubs, on the beaches, in the pricey villas on the hill and the yachts in Gustavia Harbor.
Staying on St Barths
St Barths is made up of 70% villas, 30% hotels. Villas are managed by two main companies – Wimco and Sibarth. Major hotels are Eden Roc, Hotel Guanahani and Christophers. Villas are often rented by the week, with the absolute height of season being the week of Christmas to New Years. Expect to pay a premium and see celebrities this week. High season winds down in April.
Restaurants & Clubs
Well known restaurants are Bagatelle on the harbor, Sand Bar at Eden Rock and Do Brazil on Shell Beach. Hot spots are Le Ti St Barth in Point Millou, Nikki Beach in St Jean and Le Yacht Club in Gustavia. It doesn’t take very long to drive around this small island but roads are narrow, windy and steep. The only flat ground is under the runway at SBH, and it is not very flat.
The most recommended beaches are St Jean Beach on either side of Eden Roc, Shell Beach near Gustavia and Gouvernors Beach. Many women sunbathe topless here with occasional nude sunbathing as well. If the beach includes a nearby restaurant or club, a light beat is often played by a DJ.
We went to St Barth to celebrate a milestone birthday. The weather was picture perfect in early April and the weekend was enjoyable. When we first arrived we had lunch at LaPlage – a beachfront restaurant at Tom’s hotel on St Jean beach. Food and drinks were excellent, people watching was top notch and the brilliant blue bay was mesmerizing. Also iconic were the many airplanes taking off overhead. Saturday is the weekly Bikini Brunch event.
We booked last minute and so ended up at a combination villa/hotel called the Villa Lodge 4 Epices in Grand Cul de Sac. Decor and amenities were chic and modern, the view was phenomenal and the onsite sushi restaurant was high quality and convenient. At night we wandered over to Indigo at the Hotel Guanahani, enjoying an app and a drink on the palm lined beach. Le Sereno hotel, villas and restaurant are also nearby.
We celebrated the big day at Le Ti St Barths, a restaurant & club with a pirate theme, situated in the quiet cove of Point Millou. Recent celebrity sightings here include Sting 2 weeks earlier and Cindy Crawford in the prior month. Most staff hail from France and the club puts on quite a cabaret show, bringing a little bit of Moulin Rouge to the Caribbean. Our server told us each table regularly brings in $15,000 a night so we asked him if he owned one of the villas on the hill. We didn’t spend $15k but marveled at a bottle of Dom Perignon covered in gold with a price tag of 79,000 euros.
The next day we had lunch at Do Brazil on Shell Beach. After driving around to see every beach on the island, we consider this one to be the best. We rented two beach chairs and watched the pounding surf after a brief swim in the ocean. The next day we flew back via WinAir to St Maarten. Though a whirlwind trip, visiting St Barth is like savoring a fine dessert. Many people return again and again through the years.
St Barths Tourism Video