Saint-Barthélemy (St. Barts)
In June of 2016 we travelled to the French West Indies and visited the Island of Saint-Barthélemy, or St. Barths as the French refer to it, or St. Barts as it is commonly called in English. I found that this gets a little confusing depending on who you are talking to. The predominant language on the island is French, however not once did we encounter a person that could not speak English. Regardless, it’s a beautiful and lush Caribbean Island and we spent 8 glorious days and 7 blissful nights there; staying at some of the most luxurious resorts the Island has to offer.
My next entries will have my experience at these resorts along with pictures of our accommodations, their property, food, etc. But first, a little background on St. Barts (I’m just going to go with that version of the name…). Here, I want to provide you with general information on the Island itself. If you are a history buff and want the geopolitical and historical background and all that, and trust me I love history, there are plenty of places for you to go…
Quick Facts on St. Barts
Location and Size:
St. Barts is a small island located in the Caribbean Sea. It is approximately 25 square kilometers, 9.7 square miles, in size and has a population of just over 9,000 people.
You can see it here in this map:
Can’t find it? Ok, how about this one:
You should be able to see it here:
The island that you see just above and a little to the left is St. Maarten.
To get to St. Barts, you typically will fly into Princess Juliana International Airport located in Philipsburg on St. Maarten, which is on the Dutch side of the island; the other side belonging to the French.
We took a direct flight out of JFK in New York which was a little over 4 hours, but numerous cities around the world also provide direct flights into St. Maarten.
The Airport in St. Maarten (SXM) is notorious for planes landing just a few meters away from a public beach. Here is a quick clip I made while landing (through a dirty window with my iPhone… cinematic gem, it is not):
From St. Maarten, you then have the choice to take a short island hopping flight from SXM to Gustaf III Airport (SBH) on St. Barts, or you can take a ferry service if small planes aren’t your thing. The ferry takes approximately 30 minutes if you leave from the ferry port at Oyster Pond which is on the East side of the island closer to St. Barts. The other port is located on the North (Northwest?) side of the island and the trip is about 1 hour. That’s all I can really tell you about the ferry service, as we flew to St. Barts.
Flying to St. Barts from St. Maarten
We took a flight with WinAir which provides many daily flights to and from St. Barts from St. Maarten with the total flight time being around 15 minutes. Now, I should mention that this was my first experience to hear the phrase “Caribbean time” during this trip, and certainly was not my last! A rough translation of this phrase in this instance would be “Don’t worry about time schedules, we’ll get you there eventually.” Our flight was not even close to leaving on time, and in fact flights to St. Barts that were scheduled after our flight actually left before we even boarded our plane.
As far as I was able to ascertain, they have enough planes to overbook their flights and then make arrangements for the passengers that they didn’t have room for on the original flight. I can’t really be sure about this, because every time I asked for an update, I was told it was ok and that it was Caribbean time and that I should “stand over there” while being directed through pointing to a non-specific area in the airport. The funny part is that I found this all very amusing as did the perplexed gaggle of my fellow passengers who collectively decided to just go with it. I think part of it is just an effect of being in the Caribbean and just feeling the relaxed atmosphere wash over as well as the polite and calm manner in which the staff, although not great at providing details, spoke to you.
Once we were finally instructed that our flight was boarding, we were led to an airport shuttle bus the drove us to our plane. Let me say, I love flying. I mean from the moment that I arrive at an airport to the moment we land, I love it. On this occasion, however, I was a little apprehensive as I had never been a small island hopper plane before and was not totally sure of what to expect. Add to that Gustaf III Airport (SBH) on St. Barts is one of the most difficult airports to land at due to the runway lying between the foot of a steep embankment on one end and the ocean on the other, my excitement for the actual flight was battling my flight or fight response (no pun intended). Here are some pictures of the plane and as well as a brief video of our landing at St. Barts.
As the plane approaches the runway, it seemed that the pilot needed to drop the plane vertically by cutting the power a little and then increase the power once again to keep forward momentum… or so it seemed to me…
My anxiety was completed unwarranted, this flight was spectacular and the views of the crystal clear ocean, the numerous islands dotting the water along our way, and the professional crew made the flight an experience to remember.
We had finally arrived in St. Barts and were looking forward to exploring not only the island but three Luxury Virtuoso resorts at which we would be staying.