The emerald island suddenly appeared; its jagged volcano rising up from the Caribbean Sea and piercing through the puffy white clouds above. We are on the ferry and can’t wait to explore the island that looks like it is straight out of Jurassic Park. The secluded island is Saba (pronounced say-bah) and is the smallest special municipality of The Netherlands. The practically untouched island is just 5 square miles and has a population of less than 1500, who refer to their island as The Unspoiled Queen. Saba has virtually escaped development and flies low under the tourist radar. It’s so off-the-beaten-path that less than 25,000 tourists visit Saba each year.
Most of the other passengers on the ferry are headed to Saba to dive; it’s listed as one of the top 10 dive spots in the world, but sadly we don’t know how to dive (yet). But there is more to do on Saba then dive. The second most popular reason people head to Saba is to hike, particularly the popular trail up to 2,855 foot Mount Scenery, the highest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. A sigh at the trail head points hikers to the 1064 steps that make up Saba’s Stairway to Heaven and leads to the summit, which is often shrouded in cloud mist. The lush cloud forest has many beautiful and distinctive tropical flora and fauna. Giant iguanas rustle the leaves and we strain our eyes to spot them clinging to trees.
The hike to Mt. Scenery takes about 3 hours total and a day trip on the ferry gave us around 5 hours to explore the island. Taxi drivers are waiting to show visitors their beloved island. There is only one road, the “road that could not be built”; it begins at Fort Bay Harbor and moseys along through the tiny villages to Saba’s infamous Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport. It’s infamous because the airport has the shortest commercial runway in the world, at just 396 meters, making it extremely tricky for aircraft to land. Under or overshoot the runway and the plane could end up in the sea or skewered on the jagged mountain.
There are some wonderful little shops to visit along the main road in the village of Windwardside. Peggy’s Boutique drew us in because Tim’s mom’s name was Peggy. We found beautiful hand-stitched lace only made on Saba and Saba Spice, a special rum drink brewed with a combination of spices.
The JoBean Designs Art Glass Studio on Booby Hill is also well worth a visit and if you’re lucky, you might catch the artist at work firing glass. She offers glass workshops in her shop if you book in advance. JoBean’s pieces are even owned by the Netherlands Queen Beatrix! I especially liked her glass mermaids, though she mostly specializes in glass beaded jewelry.
We ended our day in Saba with a late lunch at the dive shop, hotel, and bar Scout’s Place in Windwardside. Even as afternoon storm clouds rolled in, we enjoyed the stunning view from the terrace as we dug in to barbecue ribs while goats baa-ed from the terraced hillside below.
Know Before You Go
- Saba can be reached by ferry from St. Maarten. The Edge travels to Saba one time daily Wednesday – Sunday departing at 9am. It takes approximately 1 hour 20 minutes to reach Saba. The ferry returns from Saba to St. Maarten at 3:30pm. A day trip is $80 per person plus a port fee of $12. Book online.
- Saba can also be reached by a 12 minute flight on Winair, though the ferry is usually considerably cheaper.
- Bring good hiking shoes, plenty of water, and sunscreen if you plan to hike Mount Scenery.
- There is limited shore access on Saba; snorkeling can be arranged through the island’s dive shops.
- A taxi tour of the island is $50 for up to 4 people. Drivers are waiting at Fort Bay when the ferry docks, so no need to book in advance.