Saba isn’t your typical Caribbean destination. The island contains no beaches. Nor is it home to casinos, yacht clubs or high-rise resorts. Covering an area of only thirteen square kilometers and home to only one road (aptly named “The Road”), Saba is little more than an out-of-place fleck on the Caribbean map.
Despite the 10,000 travelers who find their way to the little island every year, Saba lies largely under the tourist radar. Those who break away from the crowds and visit the Caribbean’s Unspoiled Queen, however, will find an island that is charming, safe, stunning and wholly authentic.
To the eclectic mix of locals and expats that call Saba home, the island is a little utopia. A garden of Eden. And a quiet refuge from the monotonous hum-drum of modern life.
I visited Saba with Aqua Mania Adventures as a day trip from the island of St Maarten. Aqua Mania Adventures offers a ferry service between the two islands three times a week. The return trip takes about three hours and affords day-trippers the opportunity to explore Saba on their own for the better part of five hours.
Much like St Lucia, Saba is characterized by its lush green scenery and its volcanic landscape, rather than by its stretches of powdery sand. Dense rainforest drapes the island’s peaks, while traditional gingerbread-style houses sit cradled in its valleys. The forest that crowns the mountain’s summit resembles the cloud forest in Monteverde and is home to a remarkable array of plants and flowers.
All around, an extensive network of hiking trails offer breathtaking views of St Kitts, St Eustatius and the surrounding sea.
A special municipality of the The Netherlands, tiny Saba is as mountainous as its motherland is flat. Its highest peak, Mount Scenery, rises nearly 3,000ft from ocean level. Mt Scenery is the tallest point in the Netherlands and one of the most iconic volcanoes of the Caribbean.
I spent my day in Saba hiking to the top of Mt Scenery from the village of Windwardside. The hike to the top of the mountain passes through lush green jungle and climbs 1,064 steps to the top of the dormant volcano. It is a tough hike, with few switchbacks or stretches of level ground. I could feel the burn in my legs as I conquered the precipitous climb.
Despite the fact that climbing Mount Scenery is one of the most popular things to do on Saba, I had the entire trail to myself. The only sounds along the way were the thud of my heavy footsteps, the rustling of the leaves and chirping of the birds.
I relished the sense of solitude along the trail and stopped frequently to catch my breath and to take in the views of Windwardside and its sapphire backdrop.
The top of Mt Scenery is often encircled by clouds that obstruct the surrounding views. Unfortunately, the day I visited was no exception. So, after hiking to the top of Mt Scenery and waiting unsuccessfully for the clouds to subside, I made my way back down the mountain, toward Windwardside.
For the next hour or so, I meandered around the village’s perfectly manicured streets, ate lunch at a hole-in-the-wall cafe and admired the town’s uniform red-roofed houses.
It seemed like no time at all before I had to head back to St Maarten.
If I’d had the time, I would have loved to spend a few extra days discovering the beauty of Saba. I would have loved to hike along the island’s extensive network of walking trails. I’d have loved to venture below the water’s surface, to witness the UNESCO-recognized kingdom of colorful coral and fish. And I’d have loved to wait for a clear day in order to soak in the views of neighboring St Kitts and St Eustasius from the summit of Mt Scenery.
But despite the little time I had, I’m glad I was able to get a taste of the Caribbean’s Unspoiled Queen and to soak in the island’s unique and authentic vibe. For visiting Saba–even if just for one day–is certainly worthwhile.
Saba is a remote escape that, while well-equipped for tourists, has little in common with its Caribbean neighbors. Thus, if you are looking for the Caribbean staples–fancy resorts, buzzing nightclubs and pristine beaches–you may want to head to nearby St Maarten or Anguilla instead.
Yet, if you are a lover of the outdoors, of lush and tropical scenery, of incredible views and of places that ooze with originality and authenticity, then Saba is sure to deliver.
Disclosure: I received complementary transportation to and from Gozo in exchange for this post. However, all opinions and observations are my own.