- Geography and environment
- Marine Protection
- Immigration formalities
- Currency and banking
- Getting around
- The post office and post
- The beaches
- Local events
Saint-Barthelemy, “Saint Barth” for the intimates, the heavenly french island, the most greatly prized in the Caribbean is also called : The Carribean’s pearl.
The island of Saint-Barthelemy is situated at Latitude 17.55° north and Longitude 62.50° West just above the Tropic of Cancer in the extreme north-east of the Caribbean Sea. It is 6000 km (3750 miles) from Paris, 2500 km (1550 miles) from New York and 180 km (100 miles) from Puerto Rico.
Saint-Barthelemy is part of the Leeward Isles or Lesser Antilles. It is situated between the Islands of St Martin and St Kitts and Nevis in the South-West and the Islands of Antigua and Barbuda in the South-East. It is 25 km (15 miles) South-East of Saint Martin and 230 km (126 miles) North-West of Guadeloupe.
Saint-Barthelemy is in fact an archipelago as it is surrounded by a number of small islands; Chevreau, Coco, Fourchue, Frégate, Tortue, Le Boulanger, Les Grenadins, Pain de Sucre, Petit Jean and Toc Vert.
Nestled between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean in the north of the West Indies, the island has preserved the charm of its wilderness and its precious environment.
Saint-Barthelemy was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and named after his brother, Barthélemy.
Saint-Barthelemy was colonized for the first time in 1648 by people from the neighbouring island of St Kitts but this first colonization was not successful and in 1651 the Island was sold to the Order of Malta.
Purchased by France
In 1674 France bought Saint-Barthelemy from the Order of Malta. With no production of any sort, Saint-Barthelemy was soon considered useless.
French sailors from Normandy and Brittany found themselves there and improved conditions thanks to the important treasures captured from the Spanish Galleons. Little by little the pirates became traders, shop keepers, fishermen and small time farmers. The island was too small, too rocky and too dry to become part of the sugar economy of the larger islands.
Exchange with Sweden
By the treaty of 1st June 1784 between the king of Sweden, Gustave III and Loius XVI of France, Saint-Barthelemy was exchanged for the right of access by French Sailors to the port and warehouses of Gothenburg.
A Free port by Swedish law, Saint-Barthelemy eventually became the commercial centre and supply point for the different factions of the colonial wars during the 18th Century. This prosperous period terminated rapidly withy the cessation of hostilities and the change from sailing ships to steam ships.
Retrocession to France
A century later, by a treaty signed the 10th August 1877, Saint-Barthelemy was retroceded to France and attached administratively to Guadeloupe. The treaty guarantied the continuation of a free port and was approved by the people of Saint-Barthelemy by referendum.
David Rockefeller purchased a property of 27 hectares (66 acres) for a few thousand dollars and started the progressive transformation of the island to “an exceptional site assuring tourists a family ambiance with privacy in the high season and a strong degree of security which distinguishes this destination from the other Caribbean islands.” The high price of a second home or a just a holiday on Saint-Barthelemy as well as the problems of access by airplane (only planes smaller than a 20 seater can land here) meant that only the most privileged tourists, wishing to keep this destination confidential, could come here. Tourism is the principal economy of the Island.
French Overseas Collectivities
On the 15th July 2007 Saint-Barthelemy became a “COM” or “Collectivité d’Outre Mer” Instead of being administered by Guadeloupe it is now administered by its own council and the “Mayor” has become “President”.
Geography and environment
Saint-Barthelemy is a mountainous Island of about 21 km² (8 square miles) and has 32 km of coastline (20 miles).
The capital is Gustavia.
Steep hills divide the island into valleys which often open down to the sea. The highest point on the island is Vitet Hill “Le Morne Vitet” at 286m (940ft).
At the last census in 2007 Saint-Barthelemy had 8450 inhabitants.
The residents are divided into three categories:
- The original descendants, came from Normandy, Brittany, Poitou-Charentes. Charente-Maritime, Charente, Gironde and Anjou and they and their descendants are called the St Barts.
- Those who came from France and are called Metros.
- Those who came from the United States of America.
The coast and marine depths are a precious source of food for Saint-Barthelemy. Protected zones and natural reserves have been created around the island.
“GRENAT” is an association formed to manage the totality of the natural reserves with the participation of the Collectivity and the State. Ultimately its objective is to protect the numerous species of marine life of the island to ensure their continued existence.
Fishing is prohibited in the Reinforced Protection Zones with special rules. A plan of these zones is available.
The most important role of the association is to make aware and inform the local population, as well as the tourists, the need to preserve this environment.
Information and awareness is not always sufficient and the guardians must also assume the role of police in the reserves. In effect, as well as fighting against theft and the protection of the environment, it also carries out surveillance of the land and sea.
The coastal marine population and the sea population are undoubtedly one of the riches of the Island, with notably 51 types of coral reef, 31 different marine species, naturally evolved reefs and sea grasses.
Solely in the natural reserve 183 species of fish were observed in 2007 with an average density of 238 fish per 100m², an honourable level compared with other Caribbean islands. The SEI (Institute for sustainable Ecosystems) has already shown that the population has grown since 1996 around certain of the small islands like Gros-Islets and Pain de Sucre, a regeneration that seems to be linked with the establishment of these reserves. Fishing is not totally forbidden in the reserves but regulated.
Water is a most precious asset. The island of Saint-Barthelemy is “a dry isle” Water is scarce, which explains the high price of water, the highest in France.
There are no natural resources of water. The desalination of sea water produces enough drinking water for the island. This unique project, a world’s first, realises a 40% rate thanks to the harnessing of energy for the desalinisation plant, produced by the waste factory where all the garbage is sorted and much burnt.
The climate is a dry tropical marine type which signifies that it rains infrequently and that the average temperature varies from 22°c in winter to 30°c in summer, allowing an incomparable quality of life.
One can bathe all year round in clear water which is never less than 26°C.
Easy to wear, light cotton clothing is welcome. Swimming costumes are reserved for the beach.
The official language is French but a large part of the population speaks English.
The St Barts use two dialects, Patois on the leeward side and Creole on the windward side. The origins are probably Normand for the first and Creole for the second.
On the 15th July 2007 Saint-Barthelemy became a “COM” or “Collectivité d’Outre Mer” The statute of the COM was enacted in accordance with the “Organic law of 21st February 2007”.
The COM is administered by a territorial council of 19 elected members and an administrative council of 7 members, led by the President of the territorial council.
The seat of the Council is the “Hotel de la Collectivité” in Gustavia, formally the town hall.
The island relies principally on the international airport on St Martin situated on the Dutch side of the island and known as St Martin Juliana International airport. (SXM) There is also the regional airport at “Grand-Case” on the French side of the Island. Both airports are about 15 minutes flying time from Saint-Barthelemy.
Saint-Barthelemy is equally served by airlines that fly from Anguilla, Antigua, St Kitts and Nevis, Guadeloupe, San Juan and several other larger Islands.
Most direct flights from the USA or Europe fly to St Martin or Guadeloupe.
Several ferries assure the connection between Saint-Barthelemy and the French and Dutch sides of St Martin. They are several return trips each day and the timetable and information of ports of call are easily found.
There are also private charter companies available for the trip between the two islands.
The trip itself can be between 30 minutes to an hour depending on the type of craft and the weather. Beware those of you who get seasick!
For a tourist trip or short stay, American and Canadian citizens just need a valid passport and a return ticket to their own country.
For a tourist trip or a stay of any length, EEC citizens just need a valid passport.
For citizens of other countries outside the EEC, a tourist visa may be necessary. Please contact the French Embassy in your country of origin.
For citizens of other countries outside the EEC, contemplating a long stay, a visa will be necessary.
No vaccinations are required.
All animals arriving at Saint-Barthelemy must have a valid anti-rabies vaccination certificate and a health certificate less than 5 days old. Animals belonging to French citizens must also be tattooed or chipped.
The importation of personal belongings such as tobacco, cameras, and personal computers is allowed without formality or tax. For the importation of firearms for example French law, similar to many other countries’ laws, applies.
Currency and banking
As in Europe the EURO is the legal currency on Saint-Barthelemy however the US Dollar is often accepted.
The main banks all have exchange facilities with ATMs or cash dispensers. Only French Banks operate on Saint-Barthelemy.
- La B.F.C – La Banque Française Commerciale has a branch in St Jean and another in Gustavia, rue General de Gaulle.
- La B.D.A.F – La Banque des Antilles Françaises is in Gustavia, rue Samuel Falhberg.
- Le Crédit Agricole is in Gustavia, rue Jeanne d’Arc.
- La BNP Paribas is in Gustavia, rue du Bord du Mer.
- La Bred – La Banque Populaire is in St Jean opposite the airport.
There are two currency exchanges (Bureaux de Change) both in Gustavia:
- Change Caraïbe – rue de la République.
- Point Change – Quai de la République opposite where the ferries dock.
The banks are normally open Mondays to Fridays and from 8am to midday and 2pm to 3.30pm. Some are open Saturday mornings as well.
There is also an American Express office for those who have an American Express card.
The island has lots of hills and valleys and a car is needed to tour the island. There are several car hire companies including some of the best known ones with offices at the airport.
Motor bikes and scooters are also rentable. Be careful of the roads as they are narrow and steep.
The current is 220 V and 60 HZ. 220v/110v transformers are useful as well as French plug adaptors.
Equipment marked 50HZ, normally from Europe, may not work correctly.
All local telephone numbers start with 05 90 for the fixed phones and 06 90 for mobiles or cell phones, to which add the 6 other digits.
So 4 + 6 gives the 10 figure phone number used for all local and French mainland calls.
To call any French Overseas Territories (TOM) or to call international, dial 00 followed by the country code. For example USA is 001+
To receive international calls the caller should dial 00 590 590 + 6 digits for fixed phones or 00 590 690 + 6 digits for mobile or cell phones.
You can also purchase prepaid telephone cards so that you can use the villa phone and benefit from preferential telephone charges.
Saint-Barthelemy benefits from a small hospital, a dialyses machine in the dispensary, several doctors, dentists, a few specialists, a laboratory for analysis and a radiology centre.
The post office and post
The main post office is in Gustavia. Opening hours are Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 8am to 3pm. Wednesday and Saturday 8am to Midday.
There is a second small Post Office in Lorient.
UPS, Federal Express and DHL are present on Saint-Barthelemy.
Seventeen beaches covered with white glistening sand surround the island. Each has its own special character. Most are protected from the seas by coral reefs. As all French beaches are public, access is free.
Accessible only by boat or a short 20 minute walk along a charming footpath from Flamands, Colombier is both wild and exclusive. Often yachts will use the moorings provided in the bay which is part of the protected reserve zone. The seabed and the rocks around the north side of the bay are wonderful and Turtles, Rays, Lobsters and starfish can frequently be seen.
This famous beach, where the airport runway ends, is one of the longest beaches on the island. Wonderful to walk along its soft golden sand with the turquoise waters at your feet. You can have breakfast, lunch or dinner in one of the beach restaurants accompanied by the gentle sound of the waves. There is also a centre for water sport activities on the beach.
The far end of Lorient Beach has pounding waves that are prime surfing waters. The rest of this long beach is usually quiet, calm and ideal for swimming.
Anse des Cayes
A lovely unspoilt beach, one side is rocky, the other sandy. With its incredible rollers this is the surfers’ beach.
Saint-Barthelemy’s largest beach, wonderful to walk along. The sea here can be very rough and it is exciting to watch the big waves breaking. Beware of undercurrents.
La Petite Anse
Just after Flamands, it is ideal for small children. Do not forget your snorkelling equipment as this little corner of paradise is very protected and perfect for looking at the fish and coral.
The beach of this little charming and local fishing village is sprinkled with dozens of coloured boats. It is the beach volley ball rendezvous for the young. Every year on the 25th August the festival of St Louis, one of the great annual events, is held here.
L’Anse de Public
This is the beach for the sailing school. It is the starting place for the young “hopefuls”, the “Laser” class regattas and a meeting point for all sailing fans. The regattas take place on the 15th August, St Pitea day.
Just outside Gustavia and once called “Grands Galets” This lovely beach gets its name from the millions of sea shells that cover large parts of it. Well protected from the wind it is ideal for swimming. The more courageous can dive from some of the rocks further along the beach. It is also a great diving spot and there is a lovely restaurant on the beach which is a perfect place to watch the sun set.
Without doubt one of the best beaches of the island and prized for its natural beauty. Legend says that the famous pirate Monbart hid his treasure here. A must visit beach.
Grande Saline or Saline
After a short walk along a winding footpath you suddenly find your self on a beautiful and wild beach. Nudists have made this their beach and it is the only beach where nudism is tolerated. However it is a beach with golden sand and clear waters. A beach not to be missed under any circumstances.
Anse de Grand Fond
On the wilder side of the island and reminding us of the coast of Brittany, this is a dangerous beach with strong currents and heavy seas. Swimming is not recommended. It is used by surfers and frequented by lovers of sea shells, coral and stones.
Also on the wilder side of the island this is another dangerous beach with strong currents and heavy seas. Swimming is not recommended. Only experienced surfers come here to savour the marvellous waves.
Situated in part of the marine reserve, it is a special place for snorkelers who can watch the multi-coloured fishes swimming among the coral reef.
This is the island’s lagoon with shallow, turquoise waters. Surrounded by several hotels and restaurants, it is an ideal place to spend the day with the family withy, on the menu, white sand, palm trees and sunshine.
This is a quite beach, very calm and with access through the Hotel Guanahani. The beach has some beautiful palm trees.
L’Anse de Marigot
Very protected, beautiful but wild, it is the only beach with grey sand. Surrounded by palm trees it is a great place to relax in the shade with the gentle sound of the waves. Opening on to the marine reserve it is an ideal place to watch turtles, fish and lobsters.
Saint-Barthelemy is known internationally as a gastronomic island. There are more than 70 restaurants serving specialities from around the world from gastronomic French cooking to traditional Creole dishes through Fusion food.
Every restaurant has its own special atmosphere allowing you to vary your evening out according to your whim. There are high class restaurants, hotel restaurants and beach restaurants.
Saint-Barthelemy is a free port with no TVA (sales tax). Those who like to shop in boutiques will not be disappointed by the variety of goods and the number of them, from the small stand under a sunshade selling local goods to the sophisticated boutiques selling the latest fashions from the top designers.
Gustavia has the largest concentration of shops but there are many in St Jean and further along this road.
The beaches and all they offer are not the only things to be appreciated on the island. You will find on Saint-Barthelemy a large choice of sporting and outdoor activities.
Have confidence in our qualified professionals who can advice you on what is available and where.
Whether you use snorkelling equipment or you dive with bottles you will be enchanted by this rich and wonderful marine world.
You will discover in the not very deep waters, the magnificent coral reefs, the multitude of multi-coloured fishes and turtles (which have been illegal to fish since 1991).
Each beach has its coral reef; each small island has it rocks and grottos. The best diving is to be found around Pain du Sucre just out side the port of Gustavia, around the point at l’Ane Rouge in Colombier and around the Isle of Coco. Just outside the harbour in 1991 a ship sunk and you can have fabulous dive around this wreck at a depth of 75 meters.
Every person who dives in the protected marine reserves must pay 1 euro per dive. The funds raised go to help to maintain the moorings made available for boats wishing to visit the reserves.
- Surfing and Windsurfing
St Jean and Grand Cul-de-Sac are best for Windsurfing whilst Anse des Cayes and Lorient are more frequented by surfers. Windsurfing boards and catamarans can be hired on the beach at St Jean.
As a novice or at competition level, specialist schools and shops will advise you in either of these water sports.
- Yachts and Sailing
To relax and get away into the calm, turquoise waters or race, hiring a boat will help you discover Saint-Barthelemy from another angle, that of the sea with its steep cliffs, large bays and sandy beaches.
For a day, half a day or a sunset cruise, several boat hiring agencies propose relaxing outings with a crew or without, for the more experienced, either around Saint-Barthelemy or a trip to one of the islands near Saint-Barthelemy; St Martin, Anguilla, Fourchue or Tintamarie. Take your snorkelling equipment and swim amongst the thousands of fish of all varieties and colours. Be tempted by a real Planters Punch and a wonderful meal followed by the legendary afternoon siesta under the tropical sun.
You could also take a 3 day trip, even a week or more, with a crew and visit the other islands.
Small sporting catamarans, principally the “Hobbycat” type of 13 to 20 feet, are available in St Jean for an initiation course with a professional or to navigate alone or with a small group. The sailing school situated in Public offers several types of boats for hire. They also organise boat races at all levels all year long.
For several years the reputation of Saint-Barthelemy as a top deep sea fishing rendezvous has been confirmed again and again. Tuna and Wahoo fishing are proposed by several companies with half or full day trips and all the equipment necessary supplied.
The heat will not stop you and nothing is more agreeable than to start off with a good round of tennis to put you in form for the rest of the day.
Many public and private courts are available. Let our professionals guide you.
Several hotels have tennis courts and professional tennis coaches are available to help you perfect your game.
- Pétanque or Boules
This is a real French sport and played a lot by the locals, as well as tourists who want to try their hand at a game that is apparently 6000 years old!
The idea is very simple. You must throw your ball (le boule) the nearest possible to a small ball (le cochonnet or little piggy) on a gravel or earthy pitch. The friendly Pétanque players will be glad to help you play this game from the South of France.
- Horse riding
On one of the largest private estates on Saint-Barthelemy this riding centre will allow you to discover yet another facet of the island. Be prepared for a sumptuous ride of discovery; animal life, vegetation and spectacular view points. Saint-Barthelemy will hold no more secrets for you. Don’t forget a strong pair of boots, a hat, sun cream and trousers.
The 640 meters of runway finishing on the beach of St Jean where one can say “with your feet in the water” and with a 20 seater being the largest plane able to land here, has been one of the most attractive subjects of photos and film of the island.
Thanks to the 2 Flying clubs, Les Ailes de St Barth and AASB, private flying, baptisms, lessons and chartering have become an important activity for the lovers of flying.
- Hang gliding
During a calm flight you can admire Saint-Barthelemy and its multiple tropical colours from the sky. The club “Ascendance Cactus” can advise you about trips over the island.
The Wall House Museum
The principal museum of Saint-Barthelemy houses the largest and most important collection of artefacts and documents (Sociologic, Ethnic, Economic and other) on the island.
Inter Oceans Museum
Ingénu MAGRAS, a man with a passion for the sea will open the doors of this museum for you to marvel at the variety of Sea shells and other items from over 6000 exhibits.
Historical and listed monuments and other tourist sites
- The “Maison Dinzey” (Le Brigantin) in Gustavia
- The Catholic Church in Gustavia
- The old presbytery of the Catholic Church in Gustavia
- The Fort Gustave in Gustavia
- The light house on the heights of Gustavia
- The Swedish clock in Gustavia
- The Governors house (the old town hall) in Gustavia
- The bell in the Church in Lorient
- The Karl fort in Gustavia
- The “Sous-préfecture” in Gustavia
- The Swedish cemetery in Public
Amuse yourselves. Having eaten a marvellous meal in one of the islands fine restaurants go where ever the feeling takes you. Elegant or local bars or mingle with the jet set in a night club or take part in one of the many local “Fetes”.
- The music festival in January
- The carnival in February
- The Saint-Barthelemy national day in August
- The “Transat” AG2R yacht race every 2nd year. Arrives in Saint-Barthelemy around May10th
- The “Bucket” yacht race every 2nd year (even number) Saint-Barthelemy to Nantucket
- The New Year’s yacht race. December 31st
- The French national holiday. July 14th