There is something quite magical about waking up with the sun while island hopping across the Caribbean. Cruising into Saint Barths for our first ever view of this renowned playground for celebrities and tycoons was no exception.
Perhaps Columbus felt the same when he first sailed here in 1493 and named the island St. Barthélemy, after his brother Bartoloméo.
The port at the main town and capital, Gustavia, is pretty little so there was not enough room for even a smaller expedition sized ship such as Viking Octantis to dock.
That meant we would stay in the harbor and take the tender boats in to shore. On the bright side, that gave us a chance to get a close up look at some of the yachts of the rich and famous that are always abundant here.
In keeping with our good ole Gypsynester motto “the plan is no plans,” we had very little idea of what to expect as we came ashore. Our rough outline was to find a scooter to rent and then go off half cocked and barnstorm as much of the island as we possibly could in one day.
After a brief walk through the town and poking our heads into a few of the incredibly high-end shops, we found our rental place. With some instructions under our belts, and a giant deposit charged to our credit card (about $2,000 or basically the value of the scooter) in lieu of insurance, we were off.
Right from the start we instantly realized that by far the biggest challenge for this bonkers adventure would be the incredibly steep hills.
Turns out that there is almost no flat ground on this little isle so even leaving the rental place to get back to the main road became quite an undertaking.
After a few minutes we got more comfortable with riding and settled in for some exploration. From town we headed to the east end of the island for a look at the salt ponds and some superb scenic overlooks.
The salt pond, known as Grande Saline, was a source of salt for use and trade going all the way back to the native Arawak and Taíno people, who named the island Ouanalao, meaning Land of Salt. The salt was commercially produced until 1972, but now it simply covers the ground in a bright white layer as the water evaporates.
Leaving the salt behind we crested a ridge and an amazing panorama of Grand Fond spread out before us. This huge bay opens out to the south with practically perfect views of the Caribbean.
After stopping to take it all in for a few minutes, we followed the road down and along the beach before climbing back up and crossing over to the north side of the island.
This brought us to the neighborhood of Lorient and since we were beginning to get a little hungry we stopped off to pick up a very simple, traditional French picnic at a local market. With our bread, cheese, fruit, and of course a spot of wine we were ready for St. Barth’s most popular and wildly entertaining beach, Saint-Jean.
The reason for that, other than the fact that is is an absolutely gorgeous beach, is that one of the wildest airstrips ever ends right at the sand. The Gustaf III Airport is well known, especially among pilots, as one of the world’s most dangerous.
Landing aircraft must drop down just a few feet above a small gap in the hills at Col de la Tourmente and then smash the brakes to stop on this less than a half mile of runway. If they over shoot, they end up in the ocean.
That’s why a special certificate is required for pilots to be allowed to use the airport. But for beach goers like us, it was a gas watching the planes come and go with so little room for error. We sat for quite some time leisurely snacking on our lunch and checking out the show until it was time to go and turn in our scooter.
Once we returned our trusty steed I noticed that I had blisters on both thumbs from squeezing the brakes so hard. Yup, those were some steep hills!
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
Thanks to Viking Cruises for inviting us along and providing this adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.