Saba

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 shore. The island, however, attracts tourists for its diverse and vibrant ecosystem and the unique diving experiences (pinnacle diving, wall diving, etc).

As of 2013 census, the population of Saba is just under 2,000 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 Saba's extensive diving draw.

Windwardside as seen from the road to Booby Hill

Politically, Saba is a "special municipality" fully integrated in the Netherlands proper.

Understand

History

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, who coined the saying, "Dead Men Tell No Tales," took residence in Saba.

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 (elaborate pulled-thread work) became very popular. By 1928 the women of Saba were exporting $15,000 worth of lace yearly.

For a long time the only way in and out of Saba for people or for goods was via treacherous Ladder Bay and "The Ladder", which is 800 rock and concrete steps that have a near-vertical grade. At that time Fort Bay had no breakwater to shelter it, so landing there was also a risky undertaking that was quite impossible during high seas. For most of its history Saba had no road, only footpaths. Experts had expressed the opinion that it was impossible to build a road on the island.

Finally in the mid 20th century, a self-educated local engineer dedicated himself to the idea of creating a road, and succeeded in building that which had been deemed impossible by engineers before him.

Orientation

There are four small villages on Saba.

Flora, fauna, and ecology

Typical house in Windwardside

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 is home to a diverse range of climatic conditions in which an impressive variety of living organisms can thrive.

Be it lizards, aphids, sea life, or other creatures, Saba offers a level of diversity that seems impossible given the island's extremely small size.

Talk

There are two official languages in Saba: Dutch and English, which is the predominant language.

Get in

In general citizens of Western Hemisphere, European and "westernized" Asian and Oceanian countries may enter the island with just a passport and stay for 90 days. Other visitors need a visa which has to be applied for at a Dutch embassy, costs €35, and is also valid for the other islands of the Caribbean Netherlands.

By plane

Saba is a 15 minutes plane ride from St. 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).

Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport

Saba airport

Opened in 1963, Saba's airport is a 400-meter (1,300-foot) length of runway sitting on Saba's biggest flat piece of land, a cliff-ringed promontory known as "Flat Point". Many pilots consider this to be the world's most dangerous airport, even though no major tragedies have occurred there. The runway is marked with a large white X at each end signaling that it is not to be used by most commercial airplanes. In fact, pilots need special training to land here, and Winair is the only airline currently serving the airport, using the DHC-6 Twin Otter.

The danger comes from the airport's location in relation to the rest of the island. The side by which aircraft come in is flanked by a large cliff that the plane flies directly towards, before banking hard left, in order to line up with the runway. The airport is 18 meters (60 feet) above the ocean, and sheer cliffs on both sides of the runway lead to those rocky depths. There is a risk of an airplanes over-shooting the runway and falling into the ocean. A crosswind will cause airplanes to abort landings, as the rough turbulence can give even good pilots a hard time.

Travelers should know about this ahead of time, but the airport's excellent safety record should put them at ease about this landing, which in undertaken 5 times daily. The airport is the shortest international runway in the world. The airport has a bar, no air-traffic-control station, and the airport manager is known by pilots for paying very close attention to every incoming flight, and if he rates a landing as a little too sloppy, he will most assuredly come out and complain to the pilot in no uncertain terms.

By boat

Two boats share the ferry service to and from Saba and St. Maarten: Dawn II and The Edge. As of 2015, both are featured on StMartinbookings where live availability and schedules for the two can be compared.

Get around

The Road

Memorial plaque to the construction of The Road

Josephus Lambert Hassell was the engineer who, in 1938, designed and supervised the building of the road from Fort Bay to The Bottom. Over the next 23 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 their village was the farthest away from Fort Bay. However, the creation of the airport later on Flat Point meant that the main point of arrival on Saba was now diametrically opposite: in the northeastern tip, rather than in the southwest.

By taxi

Taxis can be called to travel from one town to another, and considering the treacherous nature of The Road (narrow, steep and often ringed with high stone walls), it is probably not wise to try to walk it. The taxi rates from town to town are strictly regulated, so, your likelihood of being hustled is slim. 2 people with 3 bags, airport to Windwardside: $15. Windwardside to The Bottom, 2 people: $10. (prices as of 1/1/2011)

By car

There is a car rental place in The Bottom called Caja's Car Rental; however, you might want to pay attention to how the locals drive on the road before you decide you want to rent a car. Depending on the car, rental rates are $40-50 per day or $220-288 per week. There's just one gas station on Saba, located in Fort Bay and open 9-14 on weekdays and 9-12 on Saturday. The traffic is on the right and speed limits are 20 km/h in the villages and 40 km/h outside them.

By foot

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, but be sure to ask if they offer this service 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.

Hitchhiking

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.

See

Mount Scenery as seen from the Windwardside village

On land

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.

Do

Diving

Underwater pinnacle in the waters outside Saba

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 an 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.

To protect the sea around the island, the "Saba Marine Park" has been established. There are 26 designated dive spots.

Diving companies

Hiking

Mount Scenery Track

There are several official hiking routes, which were more frequently used by locals before there were cars on Saba. If you've forgotten to bring hiking gear, head to the Saba Trail Shop in Windwardside. They also offer guided hikes for $40.

Learn

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.

There is also a medical school on the island, attended primarily by American and Canadian students.

Buy

The official currency is the U.S. dollar. There are two banks on Saba and they both have ATMs. Major credit cards and traveler's cheques are accepted on the island. There is a 5% tax on rooms automatically added to your bill and 10% tax for service charge.

Souvenirs

Saba lace

The famous Saban lace (aka pulled-thread work), originally introduced and developed by Saba's Gertrude Hassell, makes for an excellent souvenir. Local paintings and art also make unique souvenirs as they are created by the island's residents. Saba Spice, a sweet rum enhanced with local spices, is also another product worth acquiring.

Eat

Coconut curry chicken stew at a Saba restaurant

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 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 comes in on Wednesday, and this leads to a few phenomenon 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 oftentimes 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.

Drink

There are a few bars on the island including, Guido's (in Windwardside), Lollipop's (just outside The Bottom towards Windwardside), and Swinging doors (in Windwardside). Again all of these places have the locals coming in at the end of the day, and its great way to absorb the local culture. Also the medical students on the island occasionally take time off from studying, so you may also meet them 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.

Sleep

Sunny view of Saba

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Stay safe

Windwardside police station

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.

As for street crime, Saba is one of the safest places in the world. This is mainly due to the small population on the island which is exceptionally friendly to tourists as they are a primary source of income for the island. You can walk any part of the island at day or night without having to worry about your safety.

Saba is so safe that some hotels do not have locks on their doors.

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 make you unconscious within seconds and a prompt rescue would be logistically impossible.

Stay healthy

On Saba the tap water is collected rain water. Most of the time it is safe to drink, ask the locals if it has to be boiled. There are canisters with spring water for sale in the supermarkets.

Go next

Saba can be very windy, and the small planes of Winair cannot always land there depending on the direction the wind is coming from. Check your flights; sometimes planning to leave Saba a day early and spending the night in St. Martin may be a good idea. The ferry boats which service the island offer an alternative if planes can't make it in or out.

There is a departure fee of $5 if going to another Caribbean Windward island or $20 if going to other destinations.

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Tuesday, February 02, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.