A visit to Sint Maarten is incomplete if a visit to neighboring sister island Saba isn’t included in your itinerary. And the fastest way to get there is of course with Winair offering 5 flights daily. The best-case scenario if you are only visiting us for a day is to fly over on the first flight of the day and return to Sint Maarten on the last flight. This will give you ample time to sample the delights of Saba.
SABA: A FAIRY-TALE ISLAND WITH IT’S HEAD IN THE CLOUDS AND ITS FEET PLANTED FIRMLY IN THE DEEP BLUE CARIBBEAN SEA…….
Discovering this little gem of an island is truly a step back in time, to a simpler life, touched by progress but treasured enough to be handled with care. There are no beaches to speak of on this 5 square miles of heavenly rock where steep mountainsides sweep up and plunge abruptly to the sea, creating some of the most memorable and dramatic scenery anywhere. The Sabans, all 1700 of them, live a gentle lifestyle, where change comes slowly and with a measured pace. The island got its full-time electricity in 1970 and it still uses the age-old method of cisterns to store rainwater collected from the guttered rooftops. Neat, little picture-book villages are real here, and the green, red or brown shutters and red-roofed white houses with their gingerbread trim naturally fit in with the mountainside among the lush foliage of palms, hibiscus, bromeliads, wild orchids and pines.
The Saban ladies still produce delicate, handmade lace, and the island’s artists working in oils, pastel watercolors, clay and colorful cotton take their inspiration from their surroundings. Mt. Scenery, the island’s highest point and the highest point in the Kingdom of The Netherlands, rises to 2,855 feet, challenging hikers to try their skill and endurance, while the surrounding sea with its Pinnacles entices divers to explore the marine life that abounds in the blue depths. The underwater sea mounts (pinnacles) rise from the bottom of the ocean floor to varying heights and are home to some of the most pristine coral anywhere.
Very conscious of its underwater treasures, Saba has strict rules which govern the protection of the marine environment. The Saba National Marine Park was established in 1987 to preserve and manage the island’s marine resources. This assures the health of the undersea environment and sustains dive tourism which provides a major contribution to the island’s economy. One of the few self-sustaining marine parks anywhere in the world, the Saba National Marine Park raises its revenue through very reasonable visitor fees, souvenir sales and donations. The Saba National Marine Park and the Saba National Park (parks, nature trails, etc.), are administered by the Saba Conservation Foundation, a not-for-profit organization with a mission to contribute to the development and preservation of the island’s natural and cultural heritage. The Foundation also encourages the preservation of historic buildings and promote relevant scientific research and education. The Foundation is responsible for meeting the major expense of nature management and most funds are raised through private contributions and of course with the assistance of the Island Government of Saba.
Saba is part of the Windward Islands of the Netherlands Antilles. The whole island is a volcano which has been dormant for over 5,000 years. Columbus spotted this tiny isle in 1493, but except for the Carib Indians who may have inhabited the place around 800 AD, Saba remained uninhabited until Dutch settlers arrived from St. Eustatius in 1640.
Once settled, it became the focus of the French, Spanish and English, who all fought for control of the little island. History notes that the island changed hands 12 times before permanently raising the Dutch flag in 1816. The island’s local administration manages its internal affairs and elected representatives go to Curacao to participate in the decision-making on regional matters.
The capital of Saba is The Bottom (which is thought to be the bottom of the volcano’s crater). The early settlers lived hard lives, negotiating the rocky terrain below the rainforest line. In the early to mid-1800’s, most of the men went to sea, becoming highly skilled fishermen and seamen. Their long absences made Saba known as the
“Island of Women”. The fishing and seafaring jobs brought much needed cash to the local economy, a tradition that endured well into the 20th century. Agriculture was possible on the mountain slopes because of the soil and water conditions and the 19th century inhabitants developed and farmed that terrain.
Life continued to be hard for the determined Sabans, mostly descendants of the English and Irish, with everything that was imported being hauled up 900 steps from the port at Ladder bay to The Bottom. In the 1940’s an enterprising carpenter, Josephus Lambert Hassell, took a correspondence course in engineering and set out building a road after Dutch engineers deemed it impossible. It took 25 years of determination to build “the road that couldn’t be built” and the Road, likened by many to a roller-coaster ride zig-zagging up 1,968 feet and dropping down to 131 feet above sea level to the airport, serves the area to this day.
Small and Welcoming Places to Stay
Although Saba does not offer something for everyone, the island’s small hotels, little inns and guesthouses nestled among tropical gardens or on strategic outcroppings of rock with unbelievable views, are very welcoming. There are also apartments, cottage and villas for daily, weekly or monthly rental. The variety of accommodations affords a range of prices for the avid nature lover, diver or just someone in search of a little peace and tranquility.
The island’s restaurants get near full marks from its frequent guests, and the casual visitor is pleasantly surprised. Fresh seafood and Caribbean specialties tempt the palate and reservations are recommended, since mot places are small and seating is limited.
The dress code is informal, but suitable for dinner rather than the beach. A good thing to remember is that the elevation makes the nights rather cool and a wrap or light sweater is recommended.
Each restaurant has theme nights and special events, from Brunches to barbeques.
Friday night Sabaoke at Scout’s Place, also their new Saturday nightlife events.
Dancing at Guido’s or Lollipop’s on the weekends, or just having a cocktail at a favorite watering hole.
There are bulletin boards in each village just check them for updates on “What is happening”
Diving, snorkeling and exploring the coves around Saba draws the active visitor. It is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading dive destinations. The visibility underwater is astonishing and the dive sites are alive with wonderful varieties of marine life.
Diver have a pick of 28 sites, with some starting within half a mile off the shore.
Well known sites like Third Encounter, a top-rated pinnacle dive, are recommended for advanced diver. Man of War Shoals, Ladder Labyrinth and many, many more are sites that aficionados from around the world dream of someday diving.
In 1990, The Saba National Marine Park became the only such facility in the world to manage its own hyperbaric facility.
The four-person chamber, located at Fort Bay, features a double lock system and full monitoring. It was donated to the island by the Royal Dutch Navy, and it is the official hyperbaric facility in the region for treating dive-related injuries.
Snorkelers have plenty to keep them interested too. The Marine Park has several marked spots like Torrens Point on where reefs or rock sit in shallow water and can be safely explored.
Hikes and Nature Walks
Hiking and escorted nature walks are a natural for the terrain. Saba has over 18 recommended botanical hikes to choose from. The nature trails are maintained by the Saba Conservation Foundation and the Island Government.
Saba is home to over 60 species of birds, many of which are shore birds – varieties of terns, brown noddies, tropic birds, frigate birds, brown boobies and more. The island’s diverse terrain creates the ideal environment for a wide variety of inland birds as well.
Five species of doves and pigeons inhabit the island and several others are occasional visitors. The common ground dove can be found at the lower dry elevations, whereas the secretive bridled quail dove prefers the higher cloud forest region, as do the thrashers, hummingbirds and banana quits. Red-tailed hawks make an appearance on the lower slopes and the pearly-eyed thrasher frequent both the villages and the forest.
Saba Lace, made by the Saban ladies is an art brought to the island over a century ago and practiced to this day. Items are sold by the artists from the Community Center in Hell’s Gate, from their homes and from a scattering of gift shops. Saba Spice is a home-made liqueur which packs a punch. The base of this elixir is 151- proof rum.
Paintings by local artists, hand made jewelry in glass beads as well as silver and gold, hand screened fabrics and clothing make for some very interesting souvenir shopping.
For additional information or to contact the Saba Tourist Board at + 599-416-2231/2322