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Bill and Cathy - Numerous Visits
Our first visit to St. Barth was 15 years ago. Albeit a short two day venture, we found the island charming, and vowed we would return. Since that initial short visit, we've visited St. Barth January 2006, 2007, and 2008. And our total combined nights spent on the island total approximately 34. While I don't consider myself an expert on French culture, I do consider myself an expert on fun in the sun, and great places to run naked on the beach, and this is one of the best, albeit extremely pricey. Because this is not wild crazy like Hedonism II in Jamaica, those seeking adventure should try nearby alternative, St. Martin. St. Barth is a sleepy little island, and the attraction will surely be more the sound of the cackle of the local rooster, great restaurants, and unspoiled and generally uncrowned beaches moreso than discos, loud music, and toga parties. There are some water sport activities at Grand Cul-De-Sac, and St. Jean, but there are no water parks, and this is probably not the place that serious scuba divers would choose to visit.
The island offers extraordinary luxurious hotel accommodations such as the Carl Gustov with private rooms with private pools, private villas (homes for rent), and ordinary hotels that are priced like they are the Ritz Carlton, though they are not.
We stayed at the least expensive (at that time) hotel on St. Barth Hotel at Grand Cul-De-Sac in 1998, but have rented villas the next three visits. The tradeoff: a hotel provides services, but lacks privacy. Some villas provide total privacy, but most services are limited to maid service. We prefer the Villas, and specifically seek those with extreme privacy and amazing views. There are no major chain hotels like Best Western, Hilton, etc. There are no hotels that cater to the au natural crowd.
Getting to St. Barth is the best part of the adventure. We've never taken the boat, but for those squeamish of flying in small planes it is the way to go. We love the small propeller planes so via the air is the way we go. Normally, regardless of what flight you book from SXM to SBH, you will simply get on the next available plane, and you might need to sort of nudge to the front of the line. Beware number 1: the pilots are jokesters. On our first flight, flying though a thunderstorm, the pilot handled us a manual and asked us to figure out what the red light on the dash was all about. Ha, ha, ha. Beware number 2: when landing you will pass through a valley seeing trees out both sides, and the ground through the cockpit window during a steep decent. It's a little scary if you don't know to expect this. He'll pull up at the last minute, hopefully. Once on the ground, you'll quickly pass through customs and you'll claim your checked luggage. Proceed outside, turn right, and up the little ramp to the rental car companies and the villa rental companies. Or, proceed outside, turn left, and there are restrooms should the landing have proved too frightful.
When you return, you'll check in an hour before your flight. Ask them to check your luggage to your final destination home so you don't have to claim them in SXM. Then, we normally run across the road and go to the courtyard restaurant in the shopping area, I don't recall the name, for a quick drink and bite to eat, then return to the airport and hop on the plane, and back to SXM you go. Most flights will connect through St. Martin (St. Maarten). If your layover is more than two hours, grab a cab to the Sunset Beach Bar at the end of the runway where topless women drink for free and have your final fun in the sun. They will call a cab to get you back to the airport. Figure about $5 going, and $8 coming back. Don't count on the driver having change, so carry plenty of singles. US dollars are okay.
You need a car to get around the island. I recommend a SUV type vehicle, but avoid full sized vehicles like the Jeep Wrangler. Go with a Suzuki Samurai sized vehicle because the roads are very narrow. Mini Coopers seem to just be appearing on the island, but I don't recommend one. First, if you get off the road, you need some ground clearance, second, when it gets wet, the roads get slippery. 4 wheel drive is very helpful. The island is VERY hilly. We always rent through Gumbs Car Rental. Email your reservation request to firstname.lastname@example.org, or telephone 05 90 27 75 32. English communication is possible, but quality varies depending on who answers the phone. Get a road map, though even without one, you cannot get lost. It's a small island of eight square miles. There are only two gas stations, and neither is always open, so plan on filling up before you run out of gas. The one in St Jean is automated out of hours, but I've never been able to get my credit card to function outside of hours. I usually ask a nice local also getting gas to fill my tank for me, and I pay them excess Euros for their trouble. Scooters dominate the island, and if you choose to rent one, heed the warning about hilly and slippery roads. We've seen several instances of scooter on top of driver rather than driver on top of scooter.
All beaches are topless, Saline and Gouverneur are the two defacto nude beaches, though Columbier gets some nude use, but wouldn't be my pick due to the "crowds". There are abundant beaches on the island facing North, South, East, or West to your liking. St Jean is one of the most developed with plenty to do and great bars and restaurants. Sunday morning/afternoon at Nikki Beach Club is the hot spot in my opinion. Conditions range from rugged rocks with huge waves at Grand Fond (do not attempt to swim, just enjoy the beauty), to calm water with thousands of tiny seashells at Shell Beach.
We've never spent much time on any beach other Saline and Gouverneur, and I think I'm an expert on these two, so here are the details. Both beaches face south, so you enjoy looking towards the ocean while you tan. Both beaches are void any facilities, restaurants, restrooms. So bring what you need, and take it with you when you leave. We have a soft cooler backpack that handles our food and drink needs for the day, a couple towels, and a knapsack with iPod, camera, etc. Both beaches are pristine. Gouverneur is probably about 1/3 the size of Saline. It tends to have rougher surf. Upon entering from the only entrance at the East, you'll find it's predominately textile. Heading to the West side of the beach, more clothes are shed. Depending upon the wave action and the tides, you may find there is very little dry sand. Beware of rocks in the water. Some are large, others are just big enough to break a toe and ruin your vacation. If the water is calm, you will see everything below the surface. The area at the entrance of the beach tends to have the smallest waves due to the cliffs breaking the every present breeze/wind coming from the East, and the ocean floor is very sandy. To the West, the waves are bigger and more rocks lurk below. However, we've only once ever had to walk to the East side to swim because of the waves blocking what lurks below. Families, and couples can be found on the beach. There are rarely singles, and no one will bother you. This is a very safe beach in that sense.
Weather patterns are strange. I've seen the ocean as smooth as glass with only gentle 8" waves lapping at the shore, and I've seen terrifying bone crushing 8' waves the next day. Saline is our favorite beach. There are two entrances to the beach. One route enters the middle, and is reached by following the path along the fence. The other enters to the West and is reached by passing though the chain link fence and following the somewhat muddy path. My impression is that the West end gets some gay use, but in general, the majority of the couples are heterosexual, and there doesn't seem to be a strong gay presence anywhere on the island, say, like what we experience in Mykonos Greece. We prefer the East end of the beach, so we enter the middle, and walk, and walk, and walk. All along the beach you'll find combined textile and nude use. Beyond the rocks to the East, you will see another smaller beach. We climb the rocks to that beach. The rocks are not slippery, quite the contrary, they are sharp and grip well. There's no need to go high up the hillside, stay kind of close to the water, maybe five feet above see level, and you'll find your way around. Foot protection of some type such as cheap flip flops are sufficient, just be careful, the rocks are jagged and scraping a heal will ruin your Saline adventure. On the rare occasion that the ocean is ultra calm you can walk in the ocean ahead of the rock outcropping to get to the little beach. This little beach holds about five couples, spaced 50 feet apart, all working on their all over tans. Of all our visits, and we spend from noon to four on the beach, we've only had it completely to ourselves for about 30 minutes - which resulting in some great fun-in-the-sun photos. We've only once been on this little beach with someone wearing a bathing suit, and once there were, God forbid, children; yikes. The ocean floor just East of the rock outcropping is always very sandy. To the far East of the little beach, it gets a little rocky. The water at the little beach is calmer due to the cliffs creating a windbreak from the ever-present Easterly breeze/wind.
Both Gouverneur and Saline are popular boat destination, though not as popular as Columbier, which is why I say Columbier is not a good destination…just too much traffic and children swimming from boat to shore. On a calm day, there will be five boats anchored off shore of Saline, and maybe two at Gouverneur. Like Gouverneur, if the winds are wrong, and the waves are big, finding dry sand may be a challenge. There are no beaches you can have all to yourself. There are no beaches where public sexual behavior is appropriate or welcome. Both Gouverneur and Saline have goats in the hills, and you'll hear and see them occasionally. Both beaches may draw some cruise ship gawkers, but the black socks rarely venture as far down the beach as I've recommended. The gawkers are barely existent, and nothing like the opposite end of the spectrum of places like Orient Beach St. Martin or Haulover Beach Miami Florida where they swarm like flies.
There are many great choices. You'll love them all, of this I am sure. Here are a few tips:
Le Select for a hamburger and fries
Andy's Hideaway for pizza or their hot stone grill
Le Ti St Barth for dinner and dancing on the tables - check, but I think Saturday night only for dancing
Santa Fe for football watching and great sunsets. Emanuel is proud of his new restaurant, stop in and wish him well
Do Brazil for sunsets
Le Gaïac or Carl Gustof for dinner or appetizers in an exclusive expensive setting
Le Mandela for Asian and great city light views
The Wall House for their grilled fish
BAZ Bar for entertainment and sushi
Nikki Beach club for Sunday brunch
Eden Rock for great food in an amazing setting.
And the list goes on and on… great restaurants abound on this tiny island. We never get bored, or run out of places to eat. Linger longer… don't rush. At the better restaurants they will likely serve a vanilla rum with your check. Hang out and enjoy.
Damn this island is expensive! But, that's what makes it great and why there are not transients roaming the beaches, nor people pan handling money, and why it is very safe. Our normal two week trip costs $18,000 (US dollars) for a top notch villa, first class air, the short flight from SXM to SBH, rental car, and dining. Going off season and flying coach will probably cut that nearly in half. The island uses the Euro, so the exchange rate, currently, is quite poor due to the weak US dollar. US dollars and Euros are accepted everywhere, but the conversion rate is rarely favorable to the US dollar with a beer costing, for example, €3.50 versus $5.00. We always use our credit card, but most cards charge a currency conversion fee of about 3%. We racked up about $2,000 in food, gas, and drinks over two weeks, so about $60 went to the credit card company for their conversion fee. There are money machines, and most limit the amount of Euro you can retrieve per day or transaction. We normally grab about €70.00 a few times during the trip and that works out fine for incidentals like drinks from a bar while waiting for tables. We spend our final remaining Euros at the Sunset Beach Bar or the SXM airport bar while waiting for our return flight back to the United States.
EDITOR NOTE: We have replaced all our older photos in the photo album with Bill and Cathy's... Thanks guys
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