Christine Rogador is a full-time traveler, travel writer and web publisher who manages several travel websites. She’s lived in four continents, as well as the Caribbean. Here, she shares the inside scoop on visiting St. Barts.
You’ve probably heard of this chichi Caribbean island many times from celebrity gossip magazines or TMZ.
St. Barts, St. Barth, St. Barths or Saint-Barthelemy is the go-to place for Hollywood celebrities and the world’s elite travelers.
But if you plan carefully, it’s within reach even for luxury lovers with little loot.
St. Barts travel guide: The island
Where is St. Barts?
This volcanic island lies 22 miles (35 km) southeast of the island of St. Martin and north of St. Kitts in the French West Indies.
I’ve already mentioned that St. Barts is well known by discerning travelers as a luxury Caribbean getaway.
You can sip champagne on the beach and shop for a $50,000 Louis Vuitton hammock by day, then dream blissfully in a butler-staffed villa or posh hotel at night.
As a French overseas collectivity and a former territory of Sweden, St. Barts exudes a mix of European influences.
Think a tropical version of France.
But there’s more to St. Barts than its secluded beach coves, chic boutiques and sophisticated hotels.
You can also poke around colorful villages, hike (yes, there’s hiking in St. Barts!), go kite surfing and dine like a foodie should.
So are you ready to learn more about this billionaire’s island and dive deeper into our St. Barts travel guide?
Do you need a visa to enter St. Barts?
Visa requirements depend on your citizenship. You should check the visa requirements from your own government’s website on the St. Barts’ entry requirement.
The following are the general entry requirements for Americans, Canadians, Europeans and Brits.
U.S. and Canadian citizens:
You don’t need a visa if you’re staying for less than 90 days.
But make sure to bring a passport with you that’s valid for an additional 3 months beyond the date you plan to leave St. Barts.
St. Barts is an overseas collectivity of France and residents hold French passports. This means it’s also a European Union overseas territory, and EU citizens can enter the island with just an ID.
However, as EU citizens might have to pass through a non-EU territory during layovers, it’s recommended to bring passports as well, just to be on the safe side.
(I actually always recommend taking your passport for any international travel.)
British citizens can enter St. Barts visa-free for up to 3 months.
For other countries that require a visa
You’ll need to get a visa from your nearest French embassy to travel to St. Barts.
Please note that you can’t use a Schengen visa issued other than by a French embassy as St. Barts, although a French territory, is not part of the Schengen zone.
How to get to St. Barts
St. Barts doesn’t have an international airport of its own.
It’s just hard enough to get to that it discourages the masses – making it all that more exclusive (like Bora Bora, part of French Polynesia, which is also a French overseas collectivity).
It can be reached from the other French overseas territories of St. Martin and Guadeloupe.
Most major airlines from the U.S., mainland Europe, the UK and Canada fly to St. Martin.
From St. Martin, you can easily take a commercial flight through the regional commercial airlines, a chartered flight, a local ferry or even a chartered boat to St. Barts, as it’s only some 60 minutes away by sea.
Another alternative is to fly to Guadeloupe then take a short flight to St. Barts.
The local St. Barts airport is right beside St. Jean Beach. It’s a heart-stopping landing when you fly in, as the airstrip is one of the shortest runways in the world!
To get to St. Barts from Saint Martin, you can fly on regional airlines such as Winair and Air Antilles Express.
The flight to the St. Barts airport in Gustavia is only 15 minutes.
From Guadeloupe, you can fly to St. Barts on an Air Antilles flight in less than 45 minutes.
There are 2 ferry companies that sail from the dual-nation island of St. Martin and St. Maarten to St. Barts.
Great Bay Express runs from Philipsburg, St. Martin, to Gustavia, St. Barts twice a day.
One goes in the morning at 7:30 am and another sails in the afternoon at 5:30 pm. Travel time is around 45 minutes.
Voyager runs from Marigot, St. Martin, to Saint Barthelemy three times a day. The ferry schedule is weather dependent though. It can also change, depending on high and low season and visitor numbers.
I recommend checking the schedule live from the transport providers’ websites for the most up-to-date information.
Best time to visit St. Barts
The climate is quite lovely in St. Barts most of the time, ranging from the low 70s F (low 20s C) at night to the low 90s F (low 30s C).
It’s mainly dry between the months of December to August. In the fall months – from September to November – you’ll experience more rain (this is the hurricane season).
The high season is December to March/April. Daytime temperatures are usually in the mid 80s F (high 20s C), and it rarely rains.
This is the best time to visit St. Barts for the most pleasant weather – if you can afford it.
April to June is slightly hotter, hitting the high 80s Fand low 90s F (low 30s C).
But hotel rates drop, so this is a great time for a more affordable St. Barts vacation.
You’ll likely want to avoid visiting St. Barts August through November. This is the low hurricane season, when many businesses close.
Interesting facts about St. Barts
This Caribbean island was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and named after his brother Bartolomeo.
St. Barts is small at only 9.7 sq. miles (25 sq. km), just a bit bigger than Los Angeles. You can actually explore the whole island in a day.
St. Barts is lush and hilly.
On average, St. Barts is sunny 300 days a year.
After dinner at a restaurant on St. Barts, you’ll likely be given a complimentary glass of rum.
The Euro is the official currency on the island but the US dollar is also accepted everywhere.
The population is almost 10,000 as of the recent census.
Nude and topless beaches
Being a French island, it has “au natural” beaches (try Anse de Grande Saline). And it’s perfectly okay to go topless at any other beach on the island.
French is the official language of St. Barts but English is also widely spoken.
St. Barts doesn’t have any rivers or access to fresh water.
Islanders get their fresh water from cisterns installed in private homes and hotels, as well as from desalination plants. So please use water efficiently.
Wild goats live on St. Barts. Go for a hike on one of the island’s trails in the countryside and you’ll probably spot a goat (or ten).
St. Barts is the only Caribbean island ruled by Sweden (with the exception of Guadeloupe, which was ruled by Sweden for less than a year).
The Swedish ruled St. Barts for almost a century, when France gave up the island in 1784 in exchange for trading rights in one of Sweden’s major trading ports in Gothenburg.
France bought the island back in 1878, and it’s been under the administrative division of France since then.
How to get around St. Barts
St. Barts is not a walkable island (except in the main town of Gustavia).
Although the island is small, getting around St. Barts is tricky without a car.
There are taxis but they can get expensive, as points of interest are spread out and limited to certain parts of the island.
You might also need to call them in advance just to get anywhere. (You can’t hail a passing taxi.)
Big rental companies such as Avis and Hertz have offices at the airport and rental rates start at $25 USD a day – depending on the type of car and add-ons.
Be forewarned: Driving is a bit of an adventure, as some of the hilly roads are very steep.
Things to do in St. Barts
1) Shop and eat in Gustavia
Gustavia, the capital of St. Barts, used to be a sleepy fishing town.
But then Hollywood stars and wealthy and influential visitors from the U.S., such as David Rockefeller and the Rothschilds, started coming in during the 60s.
The island became the “it” Caribbean playground and Gustavia grew to cater to luxury travelers.
The capital is quite small but it’s very scenic with its cherry red-roofed buildings and yacht-filled bay.
One of the best things to do in St. Barts is simply to walk around its colorful streets, enjoy the architecture of mixed European influences and find a seat in one of the cafés by the bay to soak in the ambience.
On an evening stroll, you might come across an outdoor screening of a French documentary with English subtitles down by the harbor.
Food connoisseurs, in particular, will enjoy the wide selection of French-influenced gourmet restaurants in town.
Shoppers will be surprised by the number of chic boutiques and luxury brands you can find on this little island.
Hermes? Cartier? Bulgari? You bet!
And the best thing? These luxury retail outlets are tax-free.
2) Go wreck diving at Kayali
As is the case with other Caribbean islands, scuba diving is another one of the top things to do in St. Barths.
One of the popular shipwreck diving spots is Kayali. This trawler sunk in 1994 and lies at a depth of just under 100 feet (30 meters).
Although it’s one of the safest shipwreck dives in the Caribbean, only experienced divers should try this activity.
3) Relax at one of St. Barts’ secluded beaches
You don’t go to the Caribbean and not enjoy its most coveted white-sand beaches.
There are 22 beaches in St. Barts.
And St. Barts’ beaches are considered some of the best in the Caribbean.
Not only do they offer up warm turquoise water and long coves of white-sand. The scenery is also a visual treat – most of the beaches are surrounded by dramatic landscapes of lush jungle and hills.
St. Jean Bay is the most popular beach, lined with beach clubs, restaurants and the iconic Eden Rock Hotel.
At one end of the beach, you can watch the planes landing at the nearby airport.
But St. Barts also has spectacular beaches for getting away from other holidaymakers.
Some of the most secluded beaches on the island include Colombier Beach (see below under #5 of “Things to Do in St. Barts”), Saline Beach and Gouverneur Beach.
You have to hike over a sand dune to reach Saline Beach.
The stunningly beautiful Gouverneur Beach has a wonderfully wild feeling.
Then there’s Flamands Beach. It’s not as unspoilt (there are hotels and restaurants).
But it’s one of the longest beaches in St. Barth, so it never feels crowded.
It’s great for walking, and as the water is usually calm there, it’s also ideal for swimming.
4) Kitesurf at Grand Cul de Sac
Kitesurfing is a popular activity in St. Barts.
Indeed, St. Barts is world-renowned as a premier kitesurfing destination.
One of the best places to fly through the wind is Grand Cul de Sac on the Atlantic side of the island, where consistent trade winds blow.
Because it’s shallow, and a reef stops serious waves, it’s also a great place to learn this water sport.
Aside from kitesurfing, you can also enjoy windsurfing, kayaking and even fly fishing in the Grand Cul de Sac area.
5) Hike down to Colombier Beach
You heard right. I said hike to Colombier Beach.
This unspoilt beach can only be reached by boat or by hiking down from the main road.
It takes up to 30 minutes on foot – but the beach with its crystal-clear water, privacy and shady spots is all worth it.
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure, hiking to Colombier Beach is one of the most fun things to do in St. Barths!
The hike starts from the Colombier viewpoint, where you get panoramic views of the yacht-filled bay. Along the way, you might encounter the beach residents, i.e., goats, turtles and iguanas.
Because it’s inaccessible by any land vehicle, Colombier is one of the least crowded beaches in St. Barts – meaning you can enjoy a quiet day here.
You might encounter families or groups of friends from the yachts docked nearby.
But the beach is big enough for the number of people that come here daily that it’s still possible to secure a large patch of sand of your own.
Colombier Beach is also calm for swimming.
As it’s protected by hills, it’s not as windy and doesn’t get as big waves as the more popular beaches of Gouverneur Beach and Grand Cul de Sac.
6) Rent a boat and sail the Caribbean waters
You can’t go to St. Barts and not splurge.
The Caribbean is a prime destination for chartering a yacht. If you have the budget, renting a yacht, motorboat or catamaran is a must.
There are many coves and beaches that you can only access with a boat, and there’s no more quintessential experience in St. Barts than sailing.
Several charter companies offer boat rentals. It really just depends on your budget and the size and type of vessel you want.
A yacht’s daily rent can cost as much as $20,000, but some motorboats big enough for 2 to 4 people start from $400 for the day.
7) Hang out at Shell Beach
Comprised of millions of tiny shells (not sand), Shell Beach is the closest beach to Gustavia.
For a civilized time, rent beach chairs from the Shellona Beach Club (discussed below under “Recommended St. Barts Restaurants”).
Or just lay out your towel on the beach, and swim and hang out for a couple of hours.
Recommended hotels in St. Barts
By law, St. Barts hotels can be no higher than two stories.
You therefore won’t find any giant resorts on the island. Most places to stay in St. Barts are elegant and cater to discerning well-traveled guests.
1) Le Sereno Hotel St. Barth
Experience a luxurious (but not snobbish) stay at Le Sereno Hotel, located in coveted Grand Cul de Sac.
It’s set beside a shallow beachfront lagoon that’s a marine reserve for stingrays and sea turtles.
Reopened in December, 2018, after being rebuilt from top to bottom, Le Sereno’s interiors were designed by Christian Liaigre (who designed homes for Calvin Klein and Karl Lagerfeld).
It offers a mix of cottage-style rooms with their own private gardens to sleek seaview suites with four-poster beds to 7,000 sq. ft. (650 sq. m) 4-bedroom villas with private pools.
The hotel is only 15 minutes away from the capital if you want to do some shopping or enjoy a night out, but it’s also far enough away to enjoy the tranquility of the island.
Le Sereno also boasts an excellent restaurant (see below under “Recommended St. Barts Restaurants”), whose chefs helped restaurants abroad gain coveted Michelin stars.
Depending on how you book, rates at Le Sereno may include a rental car, which makes staying here more convenient.
Le Sereno Hotel: Check rates and availability
2) Villa Marie St. Barth
Less pricey (but no less lovely) than Le Sereno is Villa Marie St. Barth.
Set high in the hills overlooking Flamands Beach, this boutique St. Barts hotel has 22 terraced rooms, suites and villas.
The décor is “tropical chic” with white wooden walls and shutters, rattan chairs, four-poster king beds, colorful bohemian fabrics and bedside tables inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
There’s also a small swimming pool. Two of the hotel’s three villas have private pools too.
And if you want to sun on a secluded beach, you’re only a 20-minute hike away (give or take) from secluded Colombier Beach (referred to above in “Things to Do in St. Barts”).
Like Le Sereno, Villa Marie St. Barth has a good restaurant, the colonial-style Francois Plantation Restaurant.
Villa Marie St. Barth: Check rates and availability
3) Hotel Le Village St. Barth
Offering excellent value for the price, the charming family-owned Le Village is a 4-star hotel that doesn’t break the budget.
It’s one of the best hotels in St. Barts in the “affordable” range.
Nestled in the hills, Le Village has a range of rooms from “standard” rooms to cottage-style suites to two-bedroom villas. Many rooms have kitchens or kitchenettes.
While Le Village doesn’t have a restaurant, it’s only a few minutes’ walk from St. Jean Beach and its lively restaurants and bars.
Le Village Saint Barth Hotel: Check rates and availability
Recommended St. Barts restaurants
No St. Barths travel guide would be complete without covering the food scene.
And you’re in for a culinary treat when dining out on this island!
One of the top restaurants in St. Barts, Bonito in Gustavia is a popular haunt for celebrities.
It’s supposedly the favorite eatery for Simon Cowell (who’s supposed to be hard-to-please), the rock “Queen” (aka Beyonce) and Pippa Middleton (Prince William’s sister-in-law).
As for the Peruvian-tweaked food and drinks, let’s just say you won’t be disappointed.
Settle in with a specialty cocktail. Perhaps a lavender-infused martini?
Then start with the tuna chipotle tacos, followed by the langoustine risotto or Chilean seabass in a tomatillo sauce.
Contrary to popular belief that a good view is often just a distraction from the bad food, at Bonito, both the harbor views from this former beach house and the food are really très bon.
But like many things in life, good stuff often has a price.
So be prepared to shell out some $85+ USD for that seabass alone.
Because the island has a heavy French influence, most restaurants on St. Barth offer French cuisine.
But if you want to try something different from the usual French and Creole fare, L’Isola in Gustavia offers authentic Italian food.
An elegant establishment with white tablecloths and candles, L’Isola is the place to go for eggplant parmigiana, delicate branzino, fresh house-made pasta, veal Osso Buco and tiramisu.
The wine list is also extensive.
3) Le Sereno
Le Sereno is perhaps the best St. Barts restaurant for toes-in-the-sand dining and a true beachfront experience. (It was named one of the “world’s best waterfront restaurants” by Conde Nast Traveler in 2019.)
Located on the beach in Grand Cul de Sac, the open-air resto dishes up yummy Mediterranean-fusion fare like octopus salad, lobster with home-made linguine and seafood stew.
Interestingly, many of the staff members move to Le Sereno in St. Barts for the winter and then back to its sister property, Le Sereno in Lake Como (Italy), for the summer.
This helps maintain consistency in service and dining standards.
4) Shellona Beach Club
For a great beach club lunch experience, I love the classy Shellona Beach Club.
Its postcard-perfect setting couldn’t be better. The trendy boho-chic beach club resto hugs the edge of Shell Beach, offering full-on sea views.
The Greek-inspired food is scrumptious too – fresh grilled fish and octopus, Greek salad, lobster, feta in filo and mussels in a tomato-and-ouzo sauce.
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Photo credits: 21 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 2, 9, 17, 23 Le Sereno Hotel | 10 Villa Marie Saint Barth | 22, 29 Shellona Beach Club | Other hotel and restaurant photos courtesy the respective businesses