St. Barth evokes images of yachts, restaurants, and nightclubs populated by the rich and famous – and it’s all that, but more. Whether you are among the privileged few or just a daytripper from St. Martin, you can enjoy this French island’s fine beaches, excursions above and below the waves, small-town life, and even a few unexplored corners where few tourists tread.
St Barts is a small island, and its coastline happens to be home to some of the world’s prettiest stretches of sand. It’s possible to hit two different beaches each day, and possibly a third for sunset. Spend one morning at local-favorite Grand Saline beach; where turquoise water is enclosed by two rugged rocks jutting out into the sea to create a calm cove for swimming. The entrance is a little hidden, but when you see a pretty walkway shaded by an umbrella of palms that means you’ve arrived. On your way out, stop for a beer at the unassuming Creole restaurant across from the parking lot, Le Grain de Sel.
Afterward, make the 10-minute drive to Saint Jean beach, the see-and-be seen spot on the island. You can watch the planes take off while you swim in the warm waters, or sip on an icy cocktail from one of the beach bars like Le Nikki Beach. On day two, explore the island’s west side with a hike to the secluded sands of Colombier Beach after soaking up the sun at Gouverneur Beach.
St. Barths may be highly developed as far as Caribbean islands go, but residents also have taken great care to preserve the local marine habitat from overuse and exploitation. The Natural Reserve of St. Barthelemy includes five sanctuary zones around the island that provide protection to underwater habitats while also allowing diving, boating, and fishing under controlled circumstances.
Take a walk on St. Bart’s wild side with a visit to the Toiny coast area, which includes L’Anse de Toiny and Grand Fond beaches. The local waters are better for surfing than swimming, but the rocky shoreline and cliffs are fun to explore, particularly on the walking paths around the Le Toiny hotel, which wander around a former coconut plantation. You also can walk from Grand Fond to a series of beautiful natural pools.
Sailing on St. Barth is much like the island itself, slowly paced and spectacularly beautiful with no high gales but rather warm, steady moderate trade winds at 10-20 knots. Lively St. Jean Beach and Grand Cul de Sac are ideal for water sports – windsurfers love the just-right breezes. Lessons are available. Try it!
The promenade parallel to Rue de la Republique in Gustavia, which feels more like a collection of oversized dollhouses than an actual city, is perfect for a sunset stroll. St. Barts has no sales tax, which might make a shopping expedition to places like Dolce & Gabbana a viable option. Move along to nearby Shell Beach, a favorite both for champagne-sipping adults and conch-crazed children.
Touring St. Barth with a knowledgeable guide in an air-conditioned vehicle provides an excellent island orientation and stunning views combined with interesting history and anecdotes. Hiking can be a great way to explore the island too. The most popular trail is the goat path (about a 20-minute walk) from Petite Anse to stunning Colombier Beach, which otherwise can only be accessed by the sea.