Saba, known as "The Unspoiled Queen" due to the protection of its unique ecosystem, is a 13 sq km (5 sq mi) volcanic island in the Leeward Antilles. Since it is not a reef island, it does not have the sandy beaches most notable in the Caribbean, but rather mostly cliff faces and rocky shores. The island, however, attracts tourists for the diverse and vibrant ecosystem and the unique diving experience (pinnacle diving, wall diving, etc...).
The population of Saba is 1,991 people spread into four major villages and includes the 200-300 medical students attending the Saba University of Medicine. The medical school houses a hyperbaric chamber, which coincides nicely with Sabas extensive diving draw.
To view the official promotional film of Saba, comissioned by the Saba Tourist Board.
Politically, Saba is a "special municipality" fully integrated in the Netherlands proper.
It is said that Christopher Columbus sighted Saba on his trans-Atlantic voyage, but did not land due to the rocky shores. The island was colonized in 1640 when a group from the Dutch West India Company were sent in from neighboring Sint Eustatius. In 1664 these settlers were evicted by the notorious buccaneer Sir Henry Morgan. This is one of the few times that the rough terrain of Saba was successfully invaded. The Netherlands finally took over in 1816, and that is how it remains today.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Saba was a haven to pirates throughout the Caribbean. Most notably, Hiriam Breaks took residence in Saba, who coined "Dead Men Tell No Tales."
Sugar and rum were Saba's chief exports through the 18th century, as well as fishing (particularly lobster fishing) later. Once trade routes became more open, Saban Lace (a derivative of Spanish Lace) became very popular. By 1928 the women of Saba were exporting $15,000 (USD) worth of lace yearly.
For a long time the only way in and out of Saba was through treacherous Ladder Bay. The Ladder is a series of rocks with a near vertical grade. Finally in the 20th century, a self-educated local engineer took interest in connecting the villages of Saba with a road deemed impossible by engineers before him.
There are four small villages on Saba.
Josephus Lambert Hassell was the engineer who, in 1943, designed and supervised the building of the road from Fort Bay to The Bottom. Over the next 20 years, 14 km of road was painstakingly laid by hand and wheelbarrow by locals. It is said the men of Hell's Gate put in the most effort on the project because they were the farthest removed from the bay. Of course, the addition of the airport later would turn the main arriving point of the island around.
Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport
The danger of the airport comes from its location in relation to the island. The side by which aircraft come in is flanked by a large cliff that the plane flies directly toward before banking hard left to get in line with the runway. The airport is 60 feet above the ocean, and sheer cliff on both sides of the runway leads to those rocky depths, running the risk of airplanes over shooting the runway and falling into the ocean. A crosswind will cause airplanes to renege flights, as the rough turbulence can give even good pilots a hard time.
Travelers should know about this ahead of time, but the lack of a tragedy should put them at ease about the trip which occurs 5 times a day. The airport is the shortest international runway in the world. It has a bar, no air traffic control station, and the airport manager is known by pilots for paying close attention to every incoming flight, and if it rated as too sloppy he will most assuredly complain.
Flora, Fauna, and Ecology
Saba has a lot of different types of plant life on the island, most notably its wild orchids. An orchid researcher found 9 different types of wild orchids on the island on his initial 2 week trip in 2003 and is expecting to find many more in the future. You can't go too far without seeing these wild orchids as they grow along hiking trails, in gardens throughout the island, and even along the side of The Road.
Over 60 species of birds inhabit the island, while over 200 kinds of fish swim near its shores. All of this diversity comes from Saba's unique ecology. The ocean surrounding the island goes from fairly shallow to very deep, with pinnacles scattered throughout. A fair portion of the island is considered rain forest, and Mount Scenery gives a diverse range of climate in which living things can thrive.
Be it lizards, aphids, sea life, or otherwise, Saba offers a level of diversity that seems impossible given its extremely small size.
There are two official languages in Saba: Dutch and English, which is the predominant language.
By planeSt. Maarten's Juliana International Airport, the regions largest airport with flights to the US and Europe. Winair is the airline used to get to and from Saba, and flights occur about 5 times a day (wind permitting).
Two boats offer ferry service to and from Saba: Dawn II and The Edge. Dawn II travels on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Check out www.sabactransport.com for the current schedule and rates. The Edge travels between Saba and Saint Martin Wednesday through Sunday, leaving St. Martin.
Saba has one main road which was laid by hand starting in 1939 and wasn't complete until 1961. It runs from the airport to the harbor, and passes all 4 villages of the island. Taxis can be called to travel from one town to another, and considering the treacherous nature of the road (not to mention the length), it is probably not wise to walk it.
The taxi rates from town to town are strictly regulated, so, your likelihood of being hustled is slim. Two people with 3 bags, airport to Windwardside: $15. Windwardside to The Bottom, 2 people: $10. (prices as of 1/1/2011)
It is also possible to rent a car in Saba at:
Pay attention on how the locals drive on the road and be careful of the steep roads when going down.
If you stay in Windwardside, you can walk to anywhere in Windwardside, and likewise for any of the other villages. But if you stay in one village and want to get to the next, it's probably best to just call a taxi or get a ride in some way. Some of the grocery stores will offer delivery service to where you stay, so don't worry about not being able to carry them all back with you if you walked there (be sure to ask if they offer it before you start buying). Walking along The Road to the Bottom is not particularly pleasant, since traffic is fast and the road is narrow. A pleasant alternative, if somewhat steep, is the walking trail which leaves the Road at the Saba trail shop and meets up with it again directly uphill from the Medical School.
The people on Saba are very friendly, so hitchhiking from town to town isn't rare. Taxi drivers have even been known to pick up hitchers, not charging them for the ride if that's the direction they're going anyway.
In the Sea
Wall Dives can be an almost humorous experience because the sea life that live along the wall may think that the wall itself is down, and orient themselves in that direction. Walls also offer lots of nooks and crannies in which sea life can live and hide, so you often see a wide variety of life on the wall.
The seabeds surrounding Saba are so diverse that any level of diver can go there and have a good time. It doesn't matter if you're Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Nitrox, or whatever, the sea offers dives for you and the dive shops do their best to work with your wants.
Saba is one of the top destinations in the world to go Scuba diving due to its sheer underwater cliffs, pinnacles, and the multitude of diving locations surrounding the island that each offer a unique experience. The people in the local dive shops are very friendly and great at teaching inexperienced people how to dive. They can take someone without their Open Water Certification and offer them a quick course and certification to get them in the water, or they can take them all the way into getting their Open Water Certification so they can dive without an instructor present. So even if you've never gone diving before, you can get certified in Saba.
There is also a medical school on the island, where a lot of American and Canadian students come.
Every October sees a month-long event put on by Sea & Learn : a non-profit foundation sponsoring events geared toward educating attendees about the flora and fauna of Saba and the surrounding waters. Nightly talks are given at local eating establishments by scientists from around the globe who also perform participative field experiments and/or nature surveys.
The famous Saban lace, invented by Saba's industrious women (Gertrude Hassell), makes for an excellent souvenir. Cottages, villas, and houses of the sort are currently for sale on the island ranging from approximately 180,000 USD - 1.5 million USD. Living on Saba is an every day luxury for any home buyer. With almost every house on Saba you get amazing ocean and neighboring island views, views of Mt. Scenery, and spectacular views of flora and wildlife.
There are grocery stores in both The Bottom and Windwardside in which travelers can pick up various snacks and food for meals if they want. Meals at restaurants run between $15 and $35 (USD) on average, so the grocery stores offer an alternative to that price.
There are a lot of Guava trees (and even an orchard or two) around the island. Locals have been known to share with visitors if asked nicely.
Groceries (including meat that isn't seafood) only come in on Wednesday, and this leads to a few phenomena on the island. For instance, Wednesday is the best day of the week to get red meat (from a grocery store or a restaurant) and often the locals have parties at their homes where they grill out (meeting them and being friendly ahead of time can land you an invite). Additionally, with the exception of Wednesday, seafood will be the freshest food on the island.
There are a few bars on the island including, Guido's, Lollipop, and Swinging doors. Again all of these places have the locals coming in at the end of the day, and it's great way to absorb the local culture. Also the medical students on the island get pretty bored there and you will probably get to meet them too at the bars.
The beers in Saba are mostly Belgian and Caribbean/Mexican brews. Heineken, El Presidente, Carib, and Mackeson are the ones most common throughout.
Saba offers a wide array of trails on which to hike, but know how good a hiker you are before choosing a trail. Some trails can be treacherous, and some hikes very difficult. If you don't go prepared to hike, stick to the easier paths. Beware of slippery moss, mud, and the occasional steep section. A walking stick is a tremendous help in making safe descents down the steep paths, particularly the trails leading to the coast.
Saba is no longer a safe island with increasing prevalence of drug trafficking crime and shootings.Islands' higher crime rate worries Opstelten
The usual safety precautions are required while diving. A hyperbaric chamber is available at the Saba National Marine Park at the Fort Bay Harbour and is maintained by the Saba Conservation Foundation.
It is not recommended to enter into the sulphur mine (especially not alone) as the high concentrations of sulphur in the air can cause unconsciousness within seconds and a prompt rescue would be logistically impossible.
Saba can be very windy, and the small planes of Winair cannot always deal with it depending on the direction. Check your flights leaving St. Martin, as some airlines only fly there once a week. If this is the case, planning to leave Saba a day early and spending the night in St. Martin may be a good idea. The boats can offer an alternative if planes can't make it in.