The flight from St. Maarten is just 10 minutes long, but for many people, landing on a tiny airstrip between two volcanic hills and braking mere feet from sunbathers on the beach is 10 minutes of terror. The makeshift landing strip at St-Jean airport on St. Barts is just 651m (2,170 ft.) long and accommodates only STOL (short takeoff and landing) aircrafts no bigger than 19-seaters. Even on these small planes, landing on St. Barts has often been compared (and not favorably) to touching down on an aircraft carrier. The pilot must divebomb between two mountains (one with a giant white Swedish cross), then pull up abruptly: no extra charge for the thrill ride. (In fact, any pilot who plans to land in St. Barts is required to qualify for a special permit first.) No landings or departures are permitted after dark.
There are no nonstop flights to St. Barts from North America. From the United States, the principal gateways are St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Guadeloupe. Most people from the U.S. or Canada first fly to St. Maarten. From St. Maarten, Windward Islands Airways International (known by everybody as Winair; tel. 866/466-0410 in the U.S. and Canada, or 590/27-61-01; www.fly-winair.com) offers 10 to 20 daily flights to St. Barts. One-way passage costs around 64€ -- but that figure excludes taxes and surcharges, which can double the cost (including inflated fees for credit-card charges). Flight duration is a mere 10 minutes.
Our favorite carrier is St. Barth Commuter (tel. 590/27-54-54; www.stbarthcommuter.com), which flies four flights Monday through Saturday (two Sun) from little L'Espérance Airport in Grand Case, St. Martin (one-way fares 60€ adults, 45€ children 2-11). It flies once daily from St. Maarten's Princess Juliana Airport (one-way fares 65€ adults, 50€ children 2-11).
Air Caraïbes (tel. 877/772-1005 in the U.S. and Canada, or 590/82-47-00 and 590/27-71-90; www.aircaraibes.com) flights depart four or five times a day from Pointe-à-Pitre's Pôle Caraïbes Aéroport in Guadeloupe. Round-trip passage to St. Barts starts at 236€; trip time is 45 minutes.
Tradewind Aviation (tel. 800/376-7922; www.tradewindaviation.com) offers two daily first-class charter flights to St. Barts from San Juan; the flight is an hour long and round-trip cost (including taxes and surcharges) is $395 per person Monday through Thursday and $495 per person Friday through Sunday.
Airline Advice -- Always reconfirm your return flight from St. Barts with your interisland airline. If you don't, your reservation will be canceled. Note: On rare occasions, a flight will be rescheduled if the booking doesn't meet its fuel quota. Also, don't check your luggage all the way through to St. Barts, or you may not see it for a few days. Instead, check your bags to your gateway connecting destination (usually St. Maarten), then take your luggage to your interisland carrier and recheck it to St. Barts. Just in case, pack a change of clothes, any required medicine, and a bathing suit in your carry-on.
The Voyager vessels (tel. 590/87-10-68; www.voy12.com or www.voyager-st-barths.com) make frequent (usually twice daily, sometimes more) runs between St. Barts and either side of St. Maarten/St. Martin. The schedule varies according to the season (and the seas), but the MV Voyager II usually departs Marigot Harbor for St. Barts every morning and evening. MV Voyager I travels from Oyster Pond to Gustavia two to four times daily. Advance reservations are a good idea; fares run around 50€ to 58€ adults, 30€ children 2 to 12 one-way (plus taxes). The trip can take around 45 minutes and can be rough; it's recommended that those with weak tummies take seasickness medication before the trip.
The technologically advanced, speedy, more luxurious and stable 20m (65-ft.) aluminum mono-hull Great Bay Express (tel. 590/27-60-33; www.sbhferry.com) offers daily 20- to 40-minute crossings between St. Maarten's Bobby's Marina in Philipsburg and Gustavia. The boat can carry 130 passengers. Reservations are essential; the round-trip fare is 56€ to 95€ adults, 40€ to 50€ children 2 to 11 years (plus taxes).