If you're looking for the most luxurious Caribbean vacation possible, then St. Bart's is second to none. Imagine mixing the opulence of an elegant Parisian hotel with the natural beauty of a tropical island and what you get is St. Bart's. While the island is usually considered a getaway for celebrities and the uber-rich—Beyonce, Jay-Z, Gwen Stefani, and Giselle are just a few examples of frequent visitors—with some advance planning and insider tips, you can visit this exclusive paradise for the same price as nearby Caribbean islands.
Saint Barthélemy, as the island is officially known, is an overseas territory of France. So even though you may not feel like you're in Europe, the island is technically a part of the EU.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: Even though temperatures don't fluctuate much throughout the year, the best time to go to St. Bart's is the shoulder season from April to June. Winter is the most popular time to visit, and the hotel prices reflect the high demand. In summer and fall, it's warm but rainy and with a higher probability of hurricanes.
- Language: The official language of St. Bart's is French, although Antillean Creole is also a recognized language. Since tourism is the primary economic factor on the island, English is also widely spoken.
- Currency: Even though Europe is thousands of miles away, the currency of St. Bart's is the euro.
- Getting Around: The best way to explore the island is by renting a vehicle. Since most roads on the island are single-lane with tight turns, smaller cars or motorscooters are usually the vehicle of choice. Don't opt for anything big and bulky.
- Travel Tip: If you want to experience St. Bart's without going over budget, consider taking a day trip to the island from St. Martin. The neighboring island is easy to reach via a short flight or ferry ride, and it's much more affordable to stay on St. Martin than St. Bart's.
Things to Do
As is to be expected, the crystalline beaches on St. Bart's are the biggest draw to visitors. People come to St. Bart's for seclusion, and on St. Bart's you can hike to beaches where you may be the only one there. Because many parts of the island are protected, there are few places better for snorkeling and scuba diving. It's also a hotspot for high-end shopping, thanks to the duty-free stores and affluent clientele.
- St. Bart's has all types of beaches, from the conveniently-located Shell Beach to the most remote Colombier Beach, which can only be reached by boat or 30-minute hike.
- Shop local at Ligne St. Barth, a cosmetic store specializing in high-end toiletries. If you want duty-free prices on international brands, you'll also find stores like Louis Vuitton, Prada, and Hermes, mostly in the capital city of Gustavia.
- The Toiny Coast on the eastern side of the island is covered with jagged rocks, cliffs, and caves. It isn't ideal for sitting out on the beach, but it's fun to explore, especially if you're snorkeling or scuba diving.
What to Eat and Drink
The dining options on St. Bart's may feel more like being on the Champ-Elysees of Paris than a tropical island. Gourmet restaurants with French names and serving haute cuisine are some of the most popular eateries, and you may even be seated at a table next to an international celebrity. It isn't all ostentatious eating, however. There are also restaurants like Mayas to Go serving handmade sandwiches prepared with fresh Caribbean ingredients to pack up and take to the beach.
Since most accommodations are villas or suites with full kitchens, many visitors use their vacation time to cook themselves. Stop by one of the local markets to pick up freshly caught fish, warm baguettes, meat from the butcher, or colorful Caribbean produce.
Where to Stay
If you're coming to St. Bart's, the biggest expense is where you stay. Staying true to the island's focus on seclusion, most visitors stay in a private villa for the ultimate privacy—often with a dock to park their yacht. There are no massive resorts on the island, and even the biggest hotels only have about 50 rooms. The island has plenty of luxury options and romantic hideaways, but finding something considered "moderately priced" is a challenge.
Remember, winter is the high season and the most expensive time to visit, especially around the holidays when celebrities are vacationing. If you're looking for a deal, the shoulder season from April to June is when you're most likely to find it. In late summer and fall, many parts of the island shut down for the low season.
The most privileged guests arrive in St. Bart's via private jet or their own personal yacht, but in case you don't have one of those available, you'll have to look into other ways. The airport on St. Bart's has a short runway and can't handle commercial airliners, so you'll have to fly to a nearby island, instead. The closest one is Princess Juliana International Airport in Saint Martin, and from there it's a quick flight or a 40-minute ferry ride to St. Bart's.
Culture and Customs
Even though the island of Saint Barthélemy is most commonly known as St. Bart's to English speakers around the world, the locals call it St. Barth's. And while today the island is undeniably French, it was actually a Swedish colony for almost a century. The only remnant of its Scandinavian past is the name of the capital city, Gustavia, named for King Gustaf of Sweden.
Money Saving Tips
- Avoid traveling during the high season of winter, when the glitterati flock to the island and prices soar. The off-season may be wetter than other months, but temperatures are still ideal for enjoying a beach vacation.
- Since most accommodations include kitchens, you can avoid eating out by cooking in your room. It may sound like a chore you don't want to deal with on vacation, but shopping at the local food markets and preparing fresh ingredients is part of the allure of St. Bart's.
- If you aren't renting a private yacht, then the majority of activities on St. Bart's are completely free. All of the beaches are public, so you don't need to pay to use them. Even the most exclusive beaches can be reached by hiking, another great way to spend time that doesn't cost a dime.