Saint Barthélemy (aka St. Barths) has long been a playground for celebrities, models and “it girls.” While that might immediately make you think St. Barth’s is uber exclusive (it is), it’s also totally unpretentious. A French overseas territory, the island blends the best of laid-back Caribbean flair with the French sophistication of the Côte d’Azur. Another island paradise so close to Sint Maarten with beautiful beaches, excellent snorkeling and diving and home to the cheeseburger Jimmy Buffet sang about, a day trip to St. Barth’s is simply a must.
There are no regularly scheduled flights to the island of Saint Barthélemy, unless you charter a plane to the tiny Gustaf III Airport. And it’s definitely not for the faint of heart – the airstrip is so small that pilots are required to complete special training to land there. Since most of us don’t have our own private jets and probably don’t go around chartering them very often, most visitors to St. Barth’s arrive via Princess Juliana Airport on the nearby island of St. Maarten and then hire a boat or take the 45-minute ferry ride over. There’s also a variety of companies offering day trips from Sint Maarten, like this St. Barths day trip where you tour the island in a Mini Cooper with a local guide.
If you only have a day to explore, take a taxi tour of the island. A 45-minute tour goes from the picture-perfect capital of Gustavia through Colombier, the dramatic vistas of Flamands, Corossol and Public, before returning to Gustavia.
St. Barth’s also has 16 beautiful beaches to explore, each one unique. Most of the beaches are pretty bare bones without any tikki huts or services, and that’s not a bad thing. Just be sure to bring your own water, snacks and towels to nearly all of the beaches.
If you’re looking for a more vibrant beach scene with a restaurant, plush loungers and interesting people watching, you’ll want to head to the posh Nikki Beach. Even Beyoncé has partied at Nikki Beach. Just be sure to make a reservation at least 24 hours in advance.
Visit Le Select, an iconic dive bar, in Gustavia for lunch. It is not just any snack bar; it is THE snack bar with its burgers and the famous Marius Special, named after its owner and local celebrity Marius Stakelborough. Everybody on the island comes here for a cool beer and a burger. Jimmy Buffet, a regular customer, has made it famous by finding inspiration here for his song “Cheeseburger in Paradise”. Literally served with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57 and french fried potato, and a big kosher pickle all on a paper plate. Though Parrotheads do make the pilgrimage to Le Select, it’s the farthest thing from a a tourist trap.
Take time to visit the shops of Gustavia before heading back to Sint Maarten on the ferry. Everything from perfumes to liquor and designer duds are duty-free on the island. You’ll find famous French designers such as Hèrmes, Louis Vuitton, Chopard, Bulgari and Cartier lining the little backstreets of Gustavia. Mind the European hours: stores generally close between noon and 2pm on weekdays and after noon on Wednesdays and weekends.
If you can, charter a boat and head out for snorkeling and swimming at Ile Fourche, a deserted island that was once inhabited by goats. It’s part of St. Barth’s marine reserve and located halfway between St. Maarten and St. Barth’s. The island offers boats a nice, calm place to moor and you only have to jump overboard to see colorful reef fish, turtles, rays and sometimes even some barracuda. It’s also a popular spot to watch a panoramic view of sunset from atop one of Ile Fourche’s five hills.
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