Saba, Dutch Caribbean: Things to See And Do

Saba promotes itself as The Unspoiled Queen, and rightly so. This gem is a very small 13-square-kilometre island that is nevertheless breathtaking.

Saba is called the Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean. It lies in the Dutch Windward Islands, in the same row as Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Cuba. It is only a 20-minute ferry ride or 10-minute flight from nearby St. Maarten or St. Eustatius. Saba is a diver’s haven and is very relaxed. It has 10 hotels at last count and a small number of restaurants, some of which are excellent. One of Saba’s interesting features is that it is a dormant volcano, and rises more or less like a single hill out of the ocean. The capital, aptly named The Bottom, lies in the crater of the volcano. There is one road, aptly named The Road, which goes around the island and can be a challenge to drive because of its steepness and curves. The average temperature is 80F year-round, In the evenings one might need a light sweater. The population is mixed. There are many Dutch. Scottish, Irish and African descendants. The predominant language is English, in spite of the official language being Dutch, and from the 1st of January 2011 the official currency is the US dollar.

Arriving in Saba

A word must be said here about arriving on the island. Whether you are taking the plane or the boat to Saba, it never fails to be spectacular. Saba has the shortest international landing strip in the world at 400 m. Special airplanes are used that can brake reversing the propeller motor as soon as they land. It is a stunning, very sudden drop out of the air followed by massive braking. Not for the queasy flier. Taking off is likewise interesting: you are sure the plane is going to end up in the sea before it can possibly take off. However, this has never happened in the history of the island.

If you are taking the catamaran (The Edge or Dawn II ), it is already spectacular arriving in the tiny harbor and seeing that big mountain towering over everything. But if you have bad weather the 20-minute trip can turn into a 2.5 hour bad dream where most passengers are seasick. Flying, scary though it might be, is definitely better then.

Getting around on Saba

It is possible to go around the island hiking as it is so tiny, but the roads are either very steep up or very steep down, so you have to be an experienced hiker. The island is humid and warm. It actually boasts a fantastic jungle in the center of the island near the top of Mount Scenery, the 877-meter-high volcano that is basically the island. It is possible to hire a taxi to drive you around for the day at a very reasonable rate. You can also rent a car at the airport. Biking is a possibility, but again the steepness of the island requires that you are an experienced biker. There is not much traffic, but especially at night it can be dangerous because of the curves and steepness.

Scuba diving on Saba

Saba is reputed to be one of the most impressive dive destinations worldwide. Especially renowned is the Saba Bank, an undersea atoll that is uniquely rich in biodiversity. It can only be reached by boat – actually, most of Saba’s diving sites are only reachable by boat. There are basically no beaches on Saba (sometimes, once every couple of years, a volcanic pebble beach appears on the leeward side for a few days). There are three dive operators on the island: Saba Divers, Sea Saba, and Saba Deep. There are 27 moored diving sites around the island, all supremely rich and varied in marine life. The island has diving year-round, and temperatures do not vary that much. There is much evidence of the volcanic origin of the island: lava tunnels, hot springs, black lava rocks. Most impressive is that around the island marine life is so rich and varied.

In 1987 the Saba Marine Park was established. About 20% of all tourists come to Saba for diving in the Marine Park. The Marine Park is situated around the entire island and goes down to 200 ft from shore. But since Saba is basically a volcano rising out of the seabed, depths of over a 1000 ft can be found barely half a mile from shore and diving is absolutely spectacular on many sites just a few minutes away by boat.

Saba is very much environmentally aware, and most Sabans are aware of the uniqueness of their island and proud of it. However, you will find precious few local Sabans in the scuba diving business, in contrast to other Caribbean islands. Saba is currently a bit divided: everybody wants the island to advance, but exactly how that should be done, balancing nature, environment, technology, tourism and population issues is a bit unclear.

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