This tiny Caribbean paradise has almost fully rebounded from a devastating hit by Hurricane Irma; for visitors, that means endless beach-going, eating, drinking and shopping.
Arriving in St. Barts can feel like a near-death experience: A pilot’s hand tugs an overhead lever and the puddle-jumper noses down sharply, the crest of a hillside dotted with red-roofed villas suddenly visible through the open cockpit door. Moments later, the plane sails just above the tourists perched on the ridge below, and then lands, with a thud, in paradise. The reward for this harrowing flight — usually from Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico or nearby St. Martin — is a craggy-but-lush oasis ringed by white sand and turquoise water.
Too rugged for large-scale agriculture, the longtime French possession was a colonial afterthought, flipped to Sweden in 1784 for trading privileges in the port of Gothenburg. Returned to France nearly a century later, the island is more Marseille than Malmo, with the ruins of Fort Gustaf overlooking the main harbor among the few reminders of the island’s Scandinavian past.
St. Barts recently survived a near-death experience of its own. In 2017, Hurricane Irma roared in with sustained winds just shy of 200 miles per hour, racking up €800 million, or about $900 million, in insured damage — a staggering average of €80,000 per resident. But with help from famous interlopers like Jimmy Buffett as well as its own funds, St. Barts started getting on its feet within months. Now, nearly all of the hotels are back online, with two luxurious stragglers — Eden Rock and Le Guanahani — set to reopen by the end of the year. With renovated restaurants, reconstructed roads and a rotating cast of festivals celebrating everything from movies to music to boats, this island gem has regained its luster.
St. Barts is blessed with 14 superb beaches—each with its own distinct character. The island is so small you could easily pack in a visit to two or more in a single day. Bring sunscreen, an umbrella, and plenty of water as few have public facilities to offer beyond those with hotels and restaurants fronting the sand.