St. Barts
November 22, 2021

We’re back in St. Barts for Thanksgiving 2022 after a long 3-year break from our last trip. It feels great to be back. For those who’ve made this trip to the tiny, eight square mile island with an even tinier airport and band aid sized landing strip, there’s nothing quite like the exhilarating landing at the tip of a pristine beach that is St. Jean. Getting to St. Barts is a challenge no matter where you are coming from, but most either get to San Juan where you can buy seats on Trade Wind airlines which flies direct to St. Barts. The other primary way to go is to find your way to St. Martin and get seats on any number of commuter flights that go between S. Martin, St. Barts and Anguilla. There’s always the ferry as an option to from St. Martin, but word of warning it’s not for the faint of stomach as the water can get quite rough.

I won’t belabor the fact that landing in St. Barts is quite the thrill and for anyone who’s been here you know what I mean. Depending on the wind, if solidly blowing steadily off the beach, the pilots will descend at an astonishing angle over a mountain to land on the band aid sized landing strip finishing up at St. Jean Bay. The other way is around the island to come in over the bay and land again on a tiny air strip where you can grip your seat arms and pray you don’t go hurtling into the mountain before you stop at the end of the strip. Either way once here, you are officially inducted into the St. Barts flight fan club for life.

What’s more important to know about St. Barts is how to get around. I admit, it can be challenging as the roads are tight, hilly, and curvy and taxis are virtually non-existent. The taxis that are on the island are for site seeing so unless you are being picked up by your  hotel or the villa rental agency and don’t really plan to get out much around the island, you’re going to need a rental car. The rental cars are typically compact, which is good for the tight roads, and have enough power to get you up and over the steepest hills on the island. We tend to rent the mini cooper as the convertible top is a nice feature to ride around with the top down. For our honeymoon years ago, we rented a mini Moke which is the equivalent to an elongated golf cart that has front and back seats but no doors and most importantly no air conditioning. If you are like me, I would want the air conditioning as an option particularly as the weather on St. Barts is typically hot year-round.

Mini Mokes in St. Barts

If you’ve rented a villa, typically the rental agency will have a representative meet you at the airport, assist you with your luggage and guide you to the car rental agencies. Unless you’ve rented the villa before, this is key as finding your villa can be a challenge if not impossible given the tucked away roads and invisible driveways. Once you get your bearings you should be fine, but for first time rentals you’ll be grateful for the assisted guidance to the villa. My husband and I prefer to rent a villa versus staying in a hotel so that we have the cook in option and can provision fresh baked croissants and fruit for our breakfast usually out on the deck overlooking the Gustavia Harbor or the Caribbean Sea. Wimco, Ici Et La, and St. Barts Properties are all reliable villa rental agencies.

The hotels on the island for the most part are ocean view/access but not generally walkable to shops, grocery stores, bakeries, and other island amenities unless you opt to stay at the newly renovated Eden Rock hotel which has hotel rooms and villa options. You have the whole of St. Jean Beach with shops, restaurants, sports rentals, and the beach just outside your door at the hotel. Also, the newly reopened Carl Gustaf Hotel is accessible to the amenities in the main town Gustavia but be prepared for an ass blasting hike up and down a long, steep hill. We prefer to rent a villa in Gustavia where we can walk to shops, grocery stores, wine shops and restaurants and there’s a relatively short walk (less than 1 mile generally) to Shell Beach.

Whether staying in a villa or at a hotel, if you do go out in a rental car there are some things you should know. First is parking being mind numbingly hard to find as the whole island has more cars than land. There are cars parked in every conceivable nook and cranny and at times at impossible angles. Then there are the motor scooters that wedge in between anything bigger than 8 inches wide. For this reason, it’s good know there are parking lots at the beaches, but it’s advisable to get there before noon to find a space. Parking in St. Jean or Gustavia is a challenge as the locals claim the obvious spots. My advice is to be patient, try circling around a few times and you may get lucky with someone leaving after you’ve wasted 15 minutes of your life you’ll never get back. The key is patience and persistence. If you are heading out to a hotel for lunch or dinner there will most likely be valet parking which is usually free but be prepared to tip when you get your car back.

If you thought the flight into St. Barts was harrowing, driving the roads is even worse. It’s a combination of islanders driving way too fast around the island that literally only has 2 flat roads and the locals riding motor scooters that have their own rules of the road, meaning none. We call the motor scooter driver “gnats”. They swarm around your car, following impossibly too close, where all you can see ia the helmeted face in your rear-view mirror. A quick stop and you’re going to have a passenger in your backseat, uninvited. The gnats get impatient driving behind you as you are inevitably going too slow, never mind you are going the speed the massive traffic jams allow. They will buzz around you and drive straight down the middle of traffic at times creating their own two-way superhighway between the regular cars and then they will maddeningly cut in front of you when their own highway lanes become too perilous for their standards. The gnats know how to take care, so we’ve just come to ignore them as much as their noisy scooters allow. I admit it takes a bit of time to get used to them, but just think of them as pesky pests.

The island is in a constant state of construction all over the island, so be prepared to stop dead in your tracks to allow for massive cranes, dump trucks, and other odd assortment of construction vehicles to move past you. You may also get stuck behind trash pick up trucks, construction workers hauling 3 long pieces of wood that sticks almost entirely out of the back end of their truck, which could hold about a hundred boards, but they are carrying three, and other pickup trucks carrying top deck heavy loads of supplies. The roads are in general in pretty good shape, but it’s good to know there are no stop lights. Where there are intersections there are round abouts where you need to not be shy. Just floor it and know the islanders know what they’re doing and don’t want an accident any more than you do.

So, my friends, if St. Barts is in your future, you now know how to get around and the last bit of advice is to pack your patience. You’re going to need it, but St. Barts is entirely worth it.

We’d love you to join our Surf & Vine mailing list to follow our latest travel content.
Thank you for joining the Surf & Vine family.
Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form. Please try again later.