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Saint Barthélemy is also known as Saint Barths, Saint Barth, Saint Barts or St. Bart's. Until recently it was a part of Guadeloupe, but in 2007 it became an overseas collectivity of France. It has become a haven for the rich and famous, attracted by the pristine beaches, high-end boutiques and fine dining on offer.
Christopher Columbus, who discovered Saint Barthélemy in 1493, named the island after his brother Bartolomeo. The island wasn't settled until 1648 however, when French colonists from St Kitts made their home there. The original settlement wasn't much of a success and the island was sold to the Knights of Malta in 1951. Angry Carib Indians raided the settlement five years later, killing all the settlers and destroying the settlement. The island wasn't settled again until 1763, this time by French mariners from Brittany and Normandy. The new settlement succeeded and then sold to Sweden in 1784 in exchange for trading rights in the Swedish port of Gothenburg. The Swedish renamed the capital to Gustavia, in honor of King Gustav III, and developed it as a free port, which led to some prosperous times. France bought the island back in 1878. In 1946, St Barthélemy, as part of Martinique and Guadeloupe, became a Department of France, giving it the same legal status as the French Home Departments, roughly equivalent to Hawaii becoming a state of the US.
In February 2007, it separated from Guadeloupe and is now officially an overseas collectivity of France.
Saint Barthélemy is an island roughly 250 kilometres off the east coast of Puerto Rico and near the islands of Anguilla, Saint Martin and Saba. It is separated from Saint Martin by the Saint-Barthélemy Channel. It lies northeast of Saba and Sint Eustatius, and north of St Kitts. Some small satellite islets belong to St. Barts including Île Chevreau (Île Bonhomme), Île Frégate, Île Toc Vers, Île Tortue and Gros Îlets (Îlots Syndare). A much bigger islet, Île Fourchue, lies on the north of the island, in the Saint-Barthélemy Channel. Other rocky islets which include Coco, the Roques (or little Turtle rocks), the Tortiie, Toevers, Grogatte, the Goat, and the Sugarloaf. As a leeward island of the Caribbean Sea it has an average elevation of 130 metres with a shore line of 58.9 kilometres.
Saint Barthélemy is one of the islands in the Caribbean with the highest change of seeing celebrities. Of course, unlike Mustique in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, they most have private property and don't mix with the 'normal' people, but you might spot David Letterman or Steve Martin in the capital Gustavia. Other famous people include many French people naturally.
Saint Barthélemy has some of the best beaches in the entire Caribbean and compared to other islands, some of them are surprisinly quiet and secluded. Grand Saline Beach is nice if you like to sunbath nude. For the ones that would like their bikini or shorts on, the Colombier beach in the north of the island is very beautiful and relaxed. You can go hiking, swimming and enjoy the natural setting with some yachts, perfect! Anse des Flamands, Shell beach and Anse du Gouverneur are other examples. Saint Jean beach is probably the most popular.
Le Select is a popular and famous bar and hangout in Gustavia. It is popular among travellers, sailors and locals and also is a good place to dance the evening and night away. Good food and drinks and a bit cheaper than other places as well. That said, it is a bit run down and more famous than it deserves to be. There are better bars and restaurants in Gustavia. But the name and fame live on.
Saint Barthélemy has a hot and humid tropical climate with average daytime temperatures between 28 °C and 30º C and average nights around 23 °C. Most rain falls between June and October with a change of hurricanes from August onwards. Therefore, the drier (and slightly cooler) December to April period is the best time to visit weatherwise. Unfortunately prices rise sharply during this period and the months of November and May still have good weather. So budgetwise these latter months may be a good option as well.
Saint Barthélemy Airport (SBH) is a small airport near St. Jean Bay, that can only accept up to 20-seat planes. The airport is truly one of the most wonderful aviation experiences. Pilots are highly trained and require a special license to land here, given the maneuvering required.
Most travellers make the journey to St Barths through Juliana Airport (SXM) in nearby St Maarten, where there are daily flights from Europe and the USA. From there, it is a 10 minute flight to St Barths via one of several small local airlines.
There are also some direct flights to St Barths from Guadeloupe, which take roughly 45 minutes.
Saint Martin - Saint Barthélemy vv
There are possibilities to go by ferry from Saint Martin to Saint Barthélemy. The MV Voyager travels two times daily between Marigot to Gustavia, except on Wednesdays and Sundays, when it leaves from Oyster Pond on Sint Maarten (Dutch part of the island). It takes about 75 minutes from Marigot, 45 minutes from Oyster Pond.
Sint Maarten - Saint Barthélemy vv
The MV Voyager travels daily and on Wednesdays and Sundays twice daily (one in the morning at 9am and one in the early evening at 6.45pm) between Oyster Pound and Gustavia.
Another option is to take the high speed ferry The Edge that travels to Gustavia once a day from Tuesday till Saturday. It leaves from Pelican Marina in Dutch St. Maarten at 9am. This passage lasts around 45 minutes.
Renting a car for one or two days is the best way to cover almost everything of the island. Your national driver's licence is valid here as well and minimum age is usually 21, sometimes even 25. Roads are generally in a good condition and driving is on the right side. Best way to get one is at the airport or in Gustavia.
There are no bus services, but instead taxis can bring you anywhere for a fixed rate. Taxis are very expensive though and renting a car for a day usually is more economical. Taxi drivers also offer 1 to 3 hour tours around the island, but are only nice if you don't want to hang around too long at the beaches.
Shuttle boats can bring you from Gustavia to almost anywhere and is one of the better ways of getting to deserted beaches like Colombier, which you can only reach by a half hour walk or shuttle boat. Many snorkel tours come here as well.
Visa requirements are the same as for France, although Schengen Visa is not valid here.
See also Money Matters
As an overseas collectivity of France, Saint Barthélemy has adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which is sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them with the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
French is the official language of St. Barthelemy. Many residents, especially those involved in the tourism industry, also speak English. Creole is widely spoken on the windward side of the island, and a variety of Patois across the leeward side. These languages are sadly dying out in favour of French. Up until recently Gustavia was English speaking and the creole quarter, La Pointe, remains so.
Be prepared to spend; everything except fish is imported and it is reflected in the prices. Meals are wonderful, and a number of restaurants will let two people out for under $100.00 for an essentially basic meal (two entrees, a bottle of wine, and a salad or dessert or two.)
French cuisine, West Indian cuisine, Creole cuisine, Italian cuisine and Asian cuisine are common in St. Barthélemy. The island has over 70 restaurants serving many dishes and others are a significant number of gourmet restaurants; many of the finest restaurants are located in the hotels. There are also a number of snack restaurants which the French call "les snacks" or "les petits creux" which include sandwiches, pizzas and salads. West Indian cuisine, steamed vegetables with fresh fish is common; Creole dishes tend to be spicier. The island hosts gastronomic events throughout the year, with dishes such as spring roll of shrimp and bacon, fresh grilled lobster, Chinese noodle salad with coconut milk, and grilled beef fillet etc.
Budget hotel accommodation is available, as well as reasonably priced villas and apartments. However the island does specialise in high end tourism, and the island has some of the best hotels in the Caribbean. The island of St Barts is refreshingly undeveloped. An old French communal law mandates that no building can be taller than a palm tree, so you'll find no high rises, and no massive resorts. In fact most of the rooms allocated to tourism on the island are found in private villas, not hotels.
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 as many beachfront locations. Villas here can range from one-bedroom bungalows to large luxurious homes.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Saint Barthélemy. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Saint Barthélemy) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Saint Barthélemy. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
St Barths is without a doubt the safest island in the Caribbean, and one of the safest places in the world. There is virtually zero crime, beyond petty theft. You can go anywhere on the island night or day with no fear whatsoever for your personal safety. There are no pickpockets, muggers, dealers or street traders to hassle you. However, do not leave valuables in your car, and use the safe in your villa or hotel.
The roads are narrow and often steep and winding. Small 4x4 rental jeeps are the vehicle of preference and renting scooters is not advised.
See also International Telephone Calls
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