St Barthélemy, commonly referred to as St Barths, is a volcanic wonderland of stunning beaches, atmospheric fishing villages, towering coastal mountains, and windswept, postcard-perfect headlands, all ringed by pristine coral reefs. The island’s French colonial heritage is served up at fantastic bistros across the island; upscale boutique hotels offer R&R in spades; and the sea—that gorgeous, glorious sea—is never more than a skipping stone away.
Due to damage sustained from Hurricane Irma in late 2017, some hotels, shops, and restaurants still remain closed. AFAR will continue to monitor the progress of the island’s recovery and update properties as they reopen.
When’s the best time to go to St. Barths?
With more than 300 days of sunshine a year, packing for St Barths isn’t tough; make sure your sunblock reserves never run dry and you’ve got enough fresh water to last all day at the beach, and you’re set. During high season (mid-December through mid-April) the temperature rarely rises above 90. May through November brings the rainy season, though it rarely rains for more than a few minutes each day. Many resorts close in September—the height of hurricane season—and use the time to perform renovations.
How to get around St. Barths
All visitors must possess a valid passport and proof of onward or return travel. There are no nonstop flights from the United States to St Barths; most visitors arrive in St Maarten and then take the 10-minute flight to St Jean Airport (one of the more thrilling commercial rides one can take, due to the airstrip’s short length and the island’s mountainous terrain). Charter flights are available through providers like Tradewind Aviation.
St Barths is a relatively small island. Taxis are easy to come by and can be arranged at the airport, via your hotel, or through any restaurant or shop. Note that there is a 50 percent surcharge on cab fares on Sundays, holidays, and after 8 p.m. The best way to get around St Barths is via rental car; many agencies will arrange to have your car dropped off at your hotel for you. Foreign driver’s licenses are valid, and the maximum speed is 50 kph (about 30 mph). Note that only two gas stations exist on the island (one at the airport, the other in Lorient), and both are closed on Sundays. Running or biking on the main roads is not recommended; vehicle traffic is heavy, shoulders are narrow, and the terrain winds wildly.
Culture in St. Barths
The culture of St Barths is informed primarily by its French colonial heritage; the French settled the island in 1763 (it was originally discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493). The island remains an overseas collectivity of France, though residents are as likely to identify with Carib, South American, and African identities as European. St Barths is the only Caribbean island that was under Swedish rule at any time in history; remnants, mostly in the form of colonial architecture and symbols on the St Barths coat of arms, can still be found, though the island is largely French in cuisine, culture, and language. Handicrafts such as woven textiles and braids (made from palm fronds), crafted by indigenous people, are popular, and subsistence fishing is still practiced by small populations, while tourism is the main driver of the island’s economy.
St Barths is a world-renowned yachting paradise and features a calendar packed with big ocean races and nautical events. There’s plenty, though, to keep landlubbers occupied for a good long while, too. The New Year’s Eve Regatta, St Barth Cata Cup Regatta (mid-November), Tour of St Barth (May 1), Transat AG2R (April–May), and the Fete du Quartier de Public (August 15) are just some of the nautical events the island hosts annually. The Taste of St Barth (early November), Festival de Musique de Saint Barthélemy (January), and the St Barth Film Festival have each gained international attention in recent years.
Flash Parker is currently studying to become a wilderness survival expert in the same tradition as Paul Bunyan, though his beard has yet to mature, and blue ox are less common than they once were. His graduate thesis is titled “Grizzly Wrestling, Turtle Surfing, and the Art of Moose Poop Chandling.” To make ends meet, Flash moonlights as a writer, photographer, and photojournalist. His work has been published by AFAR, Lonely Planet, Conde Nast, Canadian Living, USA Today, Get Lost Magazine, GQ Magazine, Asian Geographic, Escape Magazine, American Cowboy, and more.