Saint Barthélemy, officially the Collectivity of Saint Barthélemy, is an overseas collectivity of France. Also known as Saint Barth in French, or St. Barts in English, the collectivity is one of the four territories among the Leeward Islands in the Caribbean that comprise the French West Indies, and is the only one to have historically been a Swedish colony.
St Barts experiences trade winds, blue skies and puffy clouds for most of the year. The temperature varies between between low 80s F (27-32 C) during the day to mid-70s F (15-25 C) at night. The temperature does not increase significantly in the summer months. The island is very arid. However, there are occasional rain showers where clouds will pass over the island.
St. Barth has long been considered a playground of the rich and famous and is known for its beautiful pristine beaches, gourmet dining in chic bistros and high-end designer shopping.
St. Barth has about 25 hotels, most of them with 15 rooms or fewer, and the largest, the Guanahani has just 70 rooms. Hotels are classified in the traditional French manner 3 Star, 4 Star and 4 Star Luxe.
Villa vacations are extremely popular and there are hundreds of villas terraced into the hillsides throughout the island as well has many beachfront locations. Villas here by definition can range from one-bedroom bunglalows to large luxurious homes.
Of the 20 beaches on the small island, several are considered especially inviting. On the southern side of the island, Grand Saline is a pristine beach with no development. On the western edge of the island is Colombier beach, which is only reachable by boat or a hike. St. Jean, Flamands and Grand-Cul-de-Sac beaches are also popular and attractive beaches which have hotels and other establishments on them. Shell Beach is popular for families with kids as it has little surf.
St. Barths has a tidal difference of only 8–15 cm. The beaches vary according to ocean currents — the weather travels onto the island following the sun from the East. One of the main surfing beaches (Toiny) is known for its riptide, while Grand Fond is one of the island’s only non-swimming beaches. Although tourism doesn’t allude to it, there are a small variety of warm water sharks in the Caribbean. So, swimming at dusk and dawn or in murky waters is not recommended. Otherwise, scuba and snorkling are a great way to see the nurse sharks, lobsters, conch and green sea turtles that abound in the waters surrounding St. Barth.
The beach of Grand Cul-de-Sac is the easiest beach in the Caribbean for learning sailing, windsurfing and kitesurfing as it has a reef which closes off the entire bay. The current that passes outside the reef here also carries the migrating whales and dolphins.
Saint Barth has a small airport known as Gustaf III Airport that is served by small regional commercial aircraft and charters. Most visiting aircraft carry fewer than twenty passengers, such as the Twin Otter, a common sight around Saint Barth and throughout the northern West Indies. The short airstrip is at the base of a gentle slope ending directly on the beach at St Jean. The arrival descent is over the hilltop traffic circle and departing planes fly right over the heads of sunbathers on St. Jean Beach (although small signs advise sunbathers not to lie directly at the end of the runway). Due to the close proximity of arriving and departing planes, either location is ideal for viewing by aircraft enthusiasts.
The nearest commercial jet airport is on the neighboring island of Sint Maarten. There are also charters to St. Barth from San Juan, Puerto Rico, available through Tradewind Aviation.
Ferries to and from Sint Maarten are the only other real option (although the passage from St. Martin to St. Barth is often rough), unless one is arriving by private charter boats/yachts.