Let me introduce you to a Caribbean island that you probably never heard of before. Saba is a small dot on the map, stretching only 3 miles across, located in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. It is often referred to as “the unspoiled queen” because it is largely uncommercial and well preserved. You will not find any cruise ships, all-inclusive resorts or mass tourism on this Dutch-Caribbean island. But you will see gorgeous scenery, experience friendly hospitality and indulge in unique eco-friendly experiences. If you are planning a trip to Saba, or just wanting to learn more about it, here are some fun facts to know before you go…
Shortest Runway in the World
Landing on Saba is an experience in itself! Smaller jumper planes touch down on the 400 meter long “world’s shortest runway” at the Juancho E. Yrauquin airport. You will be very close to the water and mountains at this tiny one-room airport. Arrivals and departures are also super easy as the airport is really small.
In less than 5 minutes after landing, you will be ready to go explore Saba.
The Island Has Funny Names
The names of locations on Saba are named appropriately to take the guesswork out! Sabans have a witty sense of humor it seems. The airport is located on Flat Point and the tallest peak on Saba is called Mount Scenery. The Road connects the four settlements – Windwardside (tourist center), The Bottom (Saba’s capital), Hell’s Gate and St. Johns. The first two are named because of their geographical locations.
Saba Has a European Feel
My first view of Saba reminded me of the scenery of Switzerland. First, it was a lot cooler in Saba than where I was coming from (the neighboring island of St Maarten). The morning mists rose above the lush green valleys, veiling a rising Mount Scenery towering over the entire island. Below it were uniformed red roofed, green shuttered, and white colored West Indian style cottages dotting around the villages. Cobblestone streets with little houses made up the charming hamlets. There were rabbits and chickens running around. It looked like European countryside.
Saba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the official language is Dutch. Besides the scenery, you can feel the European influence in the local culture and lifestyle.
Saba is For Outdoor Lovers
Saba does not have long stretches of beaches other Caribbean islands are known for. It is mostly green, mountainous, and has sea views from practically every spot on the island. Saba attracts those who like a peaceful and quiet atmosphere but also enjoy outdoor adventures. You can hike up 800 meters to the summit of the volcano, Mount Scenery. The Mt Scenery trail is a must-do even if you visit Saba for a day trip. You will need to climb 1064 steps among mahogany and palm trees, orchids, banana and hibiscus to see amazing views of Saba and its surrounding islands.
Alternately, you can take a guided hike to 15 other trails with Saba Conservation Foundation. Your guide will point out the ancient flora and fauna, in what feels like a tropical rainforest. My guide, known as “Crocodile” James Johnson, was born and raised on the island and told me he had only seen one bad hurricane in his entire life. We went on a relatively easier hike on Mas Cohones Trail and still enjoyed pristine views.
On the water, dive, snorkel or swim in the crystal clear waters around the coast and 1300 hectares of Saba National Marine Park. Interesting lava rock formations, clear visibility (over 90 meters), and abundance of professional diving schools, makes Saba show up as one of the top 10 diving destinations in the world. You won’t find any speedboats or jet skis here. The coral reefs and underwater world are protected to allow sustainable visitation.
The People are Very Friendly
With a population of little over 2,000 stuck on a small island, it is likely that everyone in Saba knows each other. The Bizzy B Bakery at Windwardside is a favorite gathering spot in the morning, where people get their cappuccinos and croissants and read their newspapers. You can start a conversation with anyone, no one is a rush to get anywhere. Sitting in the open-air terrace on a high elevation feels more like a European village, rather than a Caribbean beachfront.
The population is also very diverse and enterprising. You will find several artists and curators around the island, offering workshops and selling handmade products. Stroll through Kakona and the Five Square Art Gallery for locally made paintings, jewelry and gifts. Visit world-renowned quilter and dyer, Els Mommers studio in Troy Hill, and take an indigo dying workshop with Anna Keene at Windwardside where you can make your own souvenir t-shirt, scarf or napkins to take back home.
Another thing you may not know about Saba is that it is home to Saba University School of Medicine, one of the most esteemed medical schools in the Caribbean. It attracts students from all over the world to study in an “undistracted” environment.
Saba is an Affordable Travel Destination
There are absolutely no name brands on Saba. Every restaurant, hotel and shop is locally owned. However, it is still affordable as a tourist destination. You can find low budget accommodations (under $100 a night) at Lollipop’s Inn, a rustic, woman-owned home with private rooms with shared baths and beautiful views. Even the more upscale cottage or suite at Juliana’s Hotel, a gorgeous boutique hotel perched on the top of the mountain, costs between $150-250 per night. The newest hotel on the island – Saba Arawak Hotel, is what comes closest to a resort. It has a swimming pool, restaurant, bar and 27 rooms and suites.
Though there are only about 15 restaurants and cafes on the island, they are reasonably priced and offer fresh quality food. Make sure to ask for the fresh catch of the day and lobster tanks!
Tips for Visiting Saba
If you only have a few hours or a day, you can take a small plane from Sint Maarten (SXM) to Saba. The 28-mile flight on WinAir takes less than 12 minutes, but it is an international flight, so you will need to clear customs and immigration. An Airport and Harbor departure tax fee of $10 is payable when departing Saba. There are no ATMs at the airport and harbor so bring cash.
Scheduled ferry rides from St. Maarten operate throughout the week and offer a scenic 90-minute ride over to Saba.
Pack for cooler weather. Most people arriving from surrounding Caribbean islands don’t realize how different the climate on Saba can be. You can have spring-like mornings, afternoon showers, and warm evenings – all in one day! Make sure to pack a rain jacket, light sweater and good walking shoes.
Saba is truly a hidden gem designed in a way that it is visited by very few tourists to sustain its nature and people. If you visit, you will be pleasantly surprised by how the small island has managed to be developed, environment friendly and constantly innovative.
And if you have more time, continue your island hop to nearby St Eustatius, St Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, St Barts, Anguilla, Saint Marten (French), Sint Maarten (Dutch) – all located within a few minutes from Saba.