St. Barts is back in business: You’ll know it by the sailboats in the harbor, as spring regattas go on as planned. Hotels are coming back online, and the island’s private villa rentals are in a more than healthy state.
It’s been called the French Riviera in the Caribbean. St. Barts is a place where mega-yachts preen for other mega-yachts, where the well-heeled come to chase eternal youth under the tropical sun. In addition to historic architecture and thrilling aquatic activities, St. Barts offers pampering without pomp, inimitable French flair and a congenial Caribbean vibe, world-class beaches, and the promise of eternal sun and blue skies
Boasting a handful of world-class hotels and villas, posh designer boutiques, and miles upon miles of postcard-worthy swaths of silky shoreline, the über-chic island of St. Barts is a splurge in and of itself. Add gourmet French, Creole, and Caribbean-fusion cuisine to her laundry list of assets, and it’s easy to see why this petite volcanic isle is a favorite among celebrities and jetsetters. Forget any notion of a ‘vacation budget’ when you descend upon the swanky, 8-square-mile island, and give yourself permission to indulge.
Factor in a day of travel on both ends to create an extra long weekend. Your best option, currently, is to fly from the U.S. to San Juan, Puerto Rico, or the island of Antigua. Tradewind Aviation flies from both airports to St. Barts in about an hour. It’s pricey but chic, with firs class–style seats in roomy Pilatus PC-12 aircraft.
Once on the island, a car rental is essential for exploring. Driving, on the right-hand side, isn’t fast, but roads can be challenging with tight turns and steep hills—often rewarding with breathtaking views
Ask most island-hoppers about their most memorable airplane landing, and chances are they’ll tell you – St. Barts. Just a 15-minute commuter hop from neighboring St. Maarten, the flight itself is standard fare – that is, until the descent. The island’s mountainous topography, strong trade winds and abbreviated runway are so challenging that only small planes dare attempt a landing, and whether you fly commercial or charter, you’re in for one truly hair-raising ride. But the bird’s eye views of the lush isle are worth every stomach flip on the way down, and why not kick off your trip with an adventure? You could take the 60-minute ferry from St. Maarten instead – but where’s the fun in that?
Despite its reputation as a playground for the rich, a friendly, laid-back attitude prevails, as does casual dress — sandals, flowing kurtas, tousled hair, bangles, little else — though the sandals are likely Manolo and the bangles 24-karat gold. Yes, St. Barts can be prohibitively pricey, from the upscale resorts and tony French restaurants to the luxury brands and couture fashions. But it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to stay here: You can rent a villa or private home (half the visitors who come here do), cook your own meals, and beach-hop with the rest of the islanders — all the beaches are public and free. And yes, you may spot a celebrity living it up, but then again, you may be too busy living it up yourself to care.
You’re unlikely to find a better selection of designer and duty-free shops in the Caribbean than in lovely St Barts. With over 200 boutiques, including Hermès and Longchamp, Louis Vuitton and Calypso St. Barth, you could easily spend the entire day wandering along the picturesque streets of this hub of haute couture, window-shopping the world’s best luxury brands.
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 three 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.
November through June is the best time to visit St. Bart’s. From December through April, the sun is especially scorching. December is considered peak season and requires bookings six months in advance. Clouds and showers sometimes interrupt the warm weather, especially during the fall. Avoid the rainy season in September, October, and November, when many establishments close.
French is the official language, although English is widely spoken.
There is no public transportation on the island. Many travelers pick up a rental car; there are 20 agents on the island, including Avis and Hertz. There are also 38 licensed taxi drivers. Hotels will be able to call one for you.