Nestled between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, in the Northern Antilles, St. Barthelemy, popularly knows as St.Barths is a small island that manages to combine the best of everything. With a history dating back to Swedish and French settlers, this island has succeeded in guarding its untouched wildlife and precious environment while offering a sophisticated and fun place to spend a holiday.
The weather is always good with very little rain. Swimming and diving in transparent waters is possible year round expect for the occassional rain during hurricane season. St. Barths is composed of 22 beaches, a small but beautifully historical capital called Gustavia, luxury hotels, spectacular rental villas, fun music festivals & carnavals and sailing regattas.
It had been at least six years since I had last visited St. Barthelemy and it was wonderful to be back as I had voted it my most favorite island in the world back then already. It is a tiny piece of paradise that has all the ingredients for a perfect getaway in my opinion: the food and language are French but English is widely spoken, it’s quiet and lovely in the off season and fun and crazy in the high season. There are lots of gorgeous beaches that are all different and vistas to die for. The residents are a mix of characters from all over the world and the atmosphere is great.
It got even better when I found out the island has pretty good scuba diving to boot. Rich in fauna and one of the widest varieties of flora, most of the seascape in St-Barths was classified as a “Natural Marine Park” almost a decade ago.
For those of you who love to sail AND dive, St. Barths is the ideal base for a diving/sailing vacation. No boat? No problem! St. Maarten/St. Martin, an island only 15 miles away and main port of arrival into the area is home to all of the major yacht charter companies which do both crewed and bareboat charters. Charter your own boat for a couple of weeks, sail over to St. Barths and go diving and sailing all around the island.
At night you can anchor in the gorgeous harbor of Gustavia, eat at good restaurants and soak up the local color. A friend of mine and his family were doing just that. Their yacht came with a dinghy, of course, so off we went to explore the local reefs! What a wonderful surprise. St. Barths is full of very nice and completely un-crowded dive spots and the water is pleasantly warm. No need for dive schedules, you just go wherever you want to at ta moments’ notice.
Best Dive Sites in St. Barths
Most of the dive sites in St. Barths form part of the Marine Park. Caution must be exercised when diving with your own dinghy. Check the sea conditions beforehand and plan your dive accordingly. The seas can be rough, currents ripping and the trade winds strong. Make sure your engine is working properly, have additional fuel, a radio, an oxygen tank and all the other necessary equipment to make it a safe dive. Go out with someone who knows the area and learn the ropes before you venture on your own.
Anse de Colombier – Ile de la Pointe and Rockefeller Point
Depth: 27ft-7Oft / 8m-21m
Dinghy over and anchor in the lee of the Ile De La Pointe if the weather conditions permit. Explore the south and southwestern reefs. Very pretty hard and soft corals with a good variety of reef fish and also a good chance of seeing turtles, rays, great barracuda, etc. There is a white buoy for dinghies, but please note that Gustavia dive clubs have preferential use of it.
Anse de Colombier – West of Ile de la Pointe
This is a mini wall. Please anchor over sand in the area shown to the east of dive site, if weather permits. You may need a longer dinghy anchor line to ensure you do not anchor over coral. This is a magnificent mini wall with very pretty hard and soft corals with a good variety of reef fish and an excellent chance of seeing turtles, rays, great barracuda, etc.
Sea conditions: this is an advanced site and extra caution must be exercised. Current is likely due to its exposed position and the sea will be rough during northerly and westerly swells and very strong trade winds.
Anse de Colombier -Pointe Colombier
Anchor your dinghy in the lee of Pointe Colombier, or you could even scuba from your yacht if you are anchored in the north of the bay. There are pretty hard and soft corals and a good variety of reef fish.
La Baleine outide Gustavia Harbour
Depth: 24ft – 57ft 1 7m – 17m
Coral Pinnacle. Anchor off Ans de Corossol or off Fort Oscar. Both are well protected in normal trade wind conditions, but can be rolly in northerly or westerly swells. Corossol has a nice beach while the Fort Oscar anchorage is a shorter dinghy ride into Gustavia Harbour. Anchor your dinghy over the shallow patch (24ft /17m) north of La Baleine, which is the small rocky pinnacle which just breaks to surface ESE of the navigational (Cardinal) buoy shown on the sketch chart. This is an excellent dive site with very pretty hard and soft corals and plenty of reef fish. Here you will see giant barrel sponges reaching to five or six feet in height.
Nonstop wreck outside Gustavia Harbor
Depth: 2Oft / I6m to top of keel of upside down wreck and 50ft /1 5m to sand bottom next to wreck. The wreck of the Nonstop lies just to the east of La Baleine. The 200ft Nonstop, which was a well known, luxury motor yacht, sank during hurricane Hugo, the center of which passed approximately 40 nautical miles southwest of St. Barths during September 1989. After unsuccessful salvage attempts, Nonstop now lies upside down with its bow pointing approximately south and its upper superstructure crushed. Many varied hard and soft corals have taken hold on the steel hull and the wreck is teeming with a large variety of reef fish. Do not attempt to penetrate the wreck and exercise caution as this wreck is reported to be breaking up as of August 1997.
Depth: 30ft-45ft / 19m – 13.5m
This is the best easily accessible dive site in the Gustavia area with very pretty hard and soft corals and abundant reef fish. This is also an excellent snorkeling site.
Getting to St. Barths
This can be quite an adventure in its own right. You will have to fly into St. Maarten first, the biggest island close to St. Barths. From there you can choose to continue onwards by (chartered yacht), plane or by ferry.
By plane: because of the tiny runway at St. Barths airport only little prop planes can land there. The island is linked primarily to the island of Saint Martin (St Maarten) by regularly scheduled 10 minutes flight.
Departures are made from the Dutch side of St Maarten at Juliana airport international or from the French side at Grand case Espérance airport. The landing in St Barths is spectacular and a tiny bit scary as planes have to reach the landing strip right after a mountain top and the strip is very short. Most of the major international airline companies have direct flights from Europe or the US to St Maarten.
By boat: It is just as easy to fly into St. Maarten and then take a ferry to Gustavia. Departure is several times a day and it’s a scenic trip into Gustavia. The trip between the islands is fairly fast depending on the boat you choose. Be aware of sea sickness and getting wet if you choose to sit on the outer deck. The seas can be quite rough at times.
When to Visit St. Barths
The weather in St. Barths is pleasant and warm temperatures are normal year round, with sunny skies, minimal rainfall and steady easterly trade winds. Wind velocity is stronger during the winter months and weakest during late summer. The average air temperature varies from a low of 28°C/82°F from December to February, to a high of 31°C/88°F from July to September. The average sea water temperature varies from a low of 25°C/77°F from January to April, to a high of 28°C/82°F in September. All this means is that you will experience very pleasant scuba diving conditions with excellent visibility. This will be as much as 120 feet or 36 meters in very calm conditions. Although the water is relatively warm, it is advisable to wear at least, a 3mm “shorty” wetsuit which will also give you full body protection against stings.