St Barts or St Martin: Which Should You Pick?
As two of our most popular destinations, both St Barts and St Martin make amazing vacation choices. And while they’re very close and thus similar in some ways, there’s no doubt that each island has its own advantages and disadvantages. Let’s go over some of those differences so that you can decide which island is right for you.
Where are St Barts and St Martin
St Barts and St Martin are both considered part of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles, which is a group of islands located in the Southeast of the Caribbean Sea and the West Indies. St Barts is only about 30 kilometers south of St Martin. As a result, visitors to one island will often ferry to the other for day trips, with the ferry running about 3 times per day during high season and taking about 45 minutes.
Are There Any Similarities Between St Barts and St Martin?
While St Barts is an overseas collectivity of France, St Martin is split between a French side and a Dutch side. The French side of St Martin has a lot in common with St Barts thanks to this shared political identity and heritage. French is the official language of both islands, for example, and is found on all street signs and official documents. There is also a strong tendency towards French food, French architecture, French brands, and French culture to be found on both islands in general. But while St Barts is exclusively French, St Martin does have the opposing Dutch side, and so these similarities are restricted to half the island only
The relatively short distance between the two islands also means that they share the same climate. Average temperatures and rainfall are nearly identical across both islands, and any weather system affecting one island will likely affect the other as well. Expect average temperatures between 27- 30°C (80-86 °F) for highs and 22-25°C (72 – 77 °F) for lows (80-86 °F), as well as 1000 millimeters (40 inches) of rain per year.
The Ideal Time to Visit
The Best Time to Go to St Barts
Because of the high prices seen during the holidays, the best time to go to St Barts [add link once the article is published] is in April and May. These months see beautiful weather and the island operating at full capacity, while still allowing travelers to get reasonable rates on some of the most stunning villas in the Caribbean. Springtime also sees top-tier sailing events, including the Bucket Regatta, the Sail of St. Barts, the West Indies Regatta, and the Tour of St Barts, meaning the island has a great atmosphere, regardless of how into sailing you may or may not be.
The Best Time to Go to St Martin
St Martin is an especially great Caribbean destination to visit in May-June and November-December. The weather is perfect at this time of year, and while there is a risk of an occasional shower in the afternoon, there are plenty of indoor activities to keep you occupied. These months also see a near 50% reduction in prices compared to peak season, allowing you to enjoy a beautiful St Martin luxury villa rental for less.
St Barts’ Beaches
As you can see from our list of top 5 St Barts Beaches, St Barts has some stunning beach options. From the vibrant beach scene on St Jean Beach to the pristine white sand and clear water of Flamands Beach, all the way through to the more low-key vibe on Grand-cul-de-sac and especially Petit-cul-de-sac Beach, travelers will have no problem finding a gorgeous spot in the sun to relax for the day. Some, like St. Jean and Flamands Beach, also have lots of places to stop for a bite or a cocktail, including the famous Nikki Beach on St Jean, though in general expect a more chic, relaxed atmosphere compared to some of the bigger beaches in St Martin.
St Martin Beach
St Martin has a larger variety of beaches compared to St Barts, as well as some bigger beaches overall. On the French side, you’ll find Orient Bay Beach, which has a definite party vibe and often features live performances, water sports, and more. There are more relaxed hidden gems in St Martin as well, including Friar’s Bay Beach on the French side and Great Bay Beach on the Dutch side. Maho Beach, on the Dutch side, is also famous for having planes landing directly overhead beachgoers. Check out our list of the top beaches in St Martin to get a better feel for what to expect.
Shopping in St Barts
As one of the most luxurious destinations in the Caribbean, it should come as no surprise that St Barts has a fine selection of upscale shopping options. As seen in our guide to shopping in St Barts, the island is home to luxury fashion boutiques, high-end jewelry stores, galleries hosting one-of-a-kind pieces, and even interesting furniture stores (with many smaller pieces, thankfully). This is all in addition to the high-end duty-free and branded stores like Cartier that you might expect to find on a French island.
Shopping in St Martin
While St Martin has some equally chic shops, what really sets its shopping experience apart from that of any other island is its sheer size. The island is home to an unparalleled variety of shops and boutiques and is rivalled only by Charlotte Amelie in terms of options. Major French brands like Cartier, Lacoste, and Longchamp are well represented with boutiques across the island, and there are also a ton of independent shops that are expertly maintained by locals. Indeed, a big difference compared to the rest of the Caribbean is that many of the shops are designed for locals, including St Barts locals who often ferry over to shop. Particularly hot shopping areas include Marigot on the French side, which features a 2-story duty-free emporium, as well as Front Street, Back Street, and Old Street in Philipsburg.
Things to Do in St Barts
While most come to St Barts to relax, there are still plenty of great activities to enjoy. The most popular is probably a private yacht charter. From snorkeling to fishing to exploring nearby private islands, these charters go above and beyond to provide a sense of luxury and adventure, depending on what appeals most to you. Private sailing charters are also very popular, as are kitesurfing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, diving, and other water sports. St Barts is also known for its many amazing spas, while Sundays are an especially popular time to enjoy a cocktail and a DJ set at Nikki Beach.
Things to Do in St. Martin
In addition to the water activities seen on St Barts, including private boat charters, diving, and snorkeling, St Martin also has a good number of land-based activities to enjoy thanks to its size and diverse landscapes. This includes zip-lining, exploring the local nature reserve, going out to clubs and casinos at night, and visiting historic For Louis. Check out our list of the 13 best things to do in St Martin for more great ideas.
The Food in St Barts
Not surprisingly, there’s a definite French flair to much of the food in St Barts. But you’ll also find plenty of other cuisines on offer, including Asian Fusion, Latin, Creole, Caribbean, and more. The St Bart Gourmet Festival in November also sees some of the top chefs in the world visit the island and makes for a great reason to take advantage of fall specials. In general, restaurants in St Barts know that they need to appeal to discerning palettes, so they often strive to go above and beyond what is expected. While there isn’t as much in the way of cheap eats when compared to St Martin, you will find a testament to quality across almost any restaurant that has been in business for at least a few years. Top restaurants include Orega, Black Ginger and Bonito in Gustavia, and Mango and Le Ti in Gustavia. See our list of best restaurants in St Barts for more recommendations.
The Food in St Martin
St Martin also has some stunning, high-end restaurants, but the big difference is the number of smaller, more local-focussed eateries all around the island. From French bistros like La Belle Epoque and the safari-inspired Hidden Forrest Café on the French side to beachside restaurants like the Ocean Lounge and the Asian Fusion of Bamboo on the Dutch Side, St Martin has an unmatched diversity when it comes to places to eat. And then there are the famous lolos, which are open-air BBQs found all over the island that serve up ribs, chicken, shrimp, and more. Check out our list of the best restaurants in St Martin for more delicious suggestions.
St Barts Accommodations
St Barts villas are some of the most stylish and well-appointed in the Caribbean. While there are certainly the kind of exclusive 5+ bedroom retreats that you might expect from such a luxurious destination, such as the immaculate Silver Rainbow in Petit Cul De Sac or the beautiful and beachfront Sand Club in Flamands, there are also plenty of 2-bedroom villas like Alizee d’Eden in Pointe Milou or Cote Sauvage in Grand Fort that are very reasonably priced and are perfect for couples and families. In fact, these smaller villas are often designed with couples in mind, with thoughtful touches like bedrooms being on opposite sides of the villas for added privacy.
St Martin’s Accommodations
As with so many other things, St Martin sees a greater amount of overall variety when compared to St Barts, and this is no less true when it comes to St Martin villa rentals. If you’re looking for an outstanding luxury rental experience that matches the villas in St Barts, then premium villas like Chateau des Palmiers and C’est la Vie in Terre Basses will do quite nicely, though there are also smaller villas like the beachfront Baie Longue House or the super stylish Emvie in Orient Bay that are exceptional values as well. Regardless of your party size or budget, there is a villa that will likely blow you away, and this incredible selection is one of the reasons why St Martin is such an appealing destination.
Which Should You Choose?
Ultimately, your choice between St Barts and St Martin will come down to factors like whom you’re travelling with, what you’re interested in doing, and which villas are available that appeal to you most. While St Barts is smaller, chicer, and more geared towards couples, St Martin has much more variety and makes for an incredible family destination. That said, you can easily ferry between the two for day trips, which is why, for many, the decision ultimately comes down to which island is home to the villa they prefer. Talk to your Rental Escapes concierge today and they’ll be happy to not only discuss the villas that are available for your dates and budget but also how your itinerary can be customized to include the best of both islands.