Saba, Known as the Unspoiled Queen

Saba (pronounced say-bah) is not a usual tourist or even yachting destination, since it’s steep rocky cliffs rise directly from the water, and make anchoring near and accessing the island very difficult.  This tiny island is a ‘special municipality’ of the Netherlands and is definitely worth exploring as either a scuba diving or hiking destination.

There’s something otherworldly about this spiky volcanic peak that sits but a hop, skip and jump from St. Martin/Sint Maarten. Dense forest drapes its peaks and valleys, making it look like Ireland while the traditional red-roofed houses with their green shutters and white gingerbread trim seem plucked from a Brothers’ Grimm fairy tale.  I am obsessed with them.

There are no beaches on Saba, except for occasionally in Wells Bay when the sand is deposited on the rocks.  From what locals tell me, it disappears as quickly as it gets there though.  The volcanic cliffs drop straight into the ocean and continue to make for some spectacular diving, that turns into a colorful kingdom of coral teeming with sharks, turtles and luminous tropical fish. There is zero crime rate, little traffic on the one road around the island, and a close-knit local community that’s genuinely happy to be here – and to see you in their “Unspoiled Queen.”

Traveling to Saba

Saba is a quick, 90 minute ferry ride over from St. Maarten, or a quick 12 minute flight on Winair, the regional airline.

Winair flies DHC Twin Otter 19-passenger aircraft to Saba. Since the Saba airport runway is so short, and the shortest international runway in the world at 400 meters, the Twin Otter is just about the only plane that can reliable land on it.


The flight over to Saba was great – taking off and cruising in the Twin Otter was a smooth. Additionally, the landing went well – the airport is on a very steep cliff, so the pilot must touch down perfectly, or risk rolling off the end, which is always a fun thought.

I sat in the very first row of seats in the plane, so I got a front row view over the pilots shoulders of the landing. They both looked fairly relaxed, and we actually stopped well short of the end of the runway. In fact, they only used 1/2 of the runway!  Very impressive.  As soon as the plane touched down, the pilot switched the props to reverse thrust to slow us down very fast.

Since Saba is a Dutch Netherlands island, you do have to go through customs at the one room airport, but you do get a new stamp in your passport!

Introduction to Saba

Driving Around the Island

We stayed at the beautiful Julianna’s Hotel on the Windwardside and also booked our diving through their partner, Sea Saba. Upon arrival, the hotel’s taxi driver, Garvice was waiting patiently for us at the airport and whisked us away to our home for the next week.

There are only a couple of taxi drivers on the island, and learned Garvice is a 7th or 8th generation Saban.  The drive was full of facts about Saba.

It was a beautiful ride to the hotel with amazing views already.  The island is only 5 square miles, and peaks at almost 3,000 ft. elevation, so the roads were built as switchbacks with a great view at every turn.

Julianna’s Hotel

Juliana’s Hotel offers a variety of accommodations suiting everyone’s needs.  For my husband and I, the ocean view room was perfect and affordable!

It was 5:30pm by the time we arrived on Sunday, so most places were closed.  We still explored a little around town and acquainted ourselves before making our way back to Julianna’s for dinner at the Tropics Cafe.

After 20 hours of travel, it was an early bed time for us, since we had a wonderful day of diving ahead of us.

A Day in Saba

The Road That Couldn’t Be Built

16 dives total in 6 days.  Well worth it.  Originally we planned on diving 10 times throughout our trip, two dives a day, and maybe a couple of extra days.  After our first day of diving, we decided there was WAY too much that needed to be seen under the water.

Our taxi picked us up each morning at 8:45 am -ish and drove us down to the Harbor, down “the road that could not be built.”

The history behind this road in itself is amazing!  In 1938, Josephus Lambert Hassell, with the assistance of his fellow Sabans and no heavy machinery (yes it was all built by hand!)  proceeded to build the impossible road. The vital access road from Fort Bay to The Bottom was completed within 5 years and inaugurated in 1943. Four years later the first motor vehicle arrived.  In 1951, the road to Windwardside and St. John’s was opened.  Seven years later the road was completed.  The road took 2 decades to complete.

Every morning on our way to the harbor we passed workers working on the road, laying down a new layer of cement.

Time to Dive

Once at the Harbor, we boarded the Sea Dragon, a 40′ vessel, a met our dive masters for the day.  Sea Saba has some amazing dive masters and captains working for them.  After 16 dives with the crew, we became friends, and had a ton of fun both in the water and during our surface intervals.  We also made some great friends with the other divers as well.  There is a max of 10 divers on the boat, and we got them on a slower week during high season.  Perfect!

Saba Marine Park

The Saba Marine Park was established in 1987. One of the few self-sustaining marine parks worldwide, it’s important to note that it was not established to help repair a damaged environment and ecosystem, unlike many national marine parks, but rather to safeguard and ensure the continued quality of an extraordinary resource.  Such progressive thinking, and it definitely shows.

Dive Sites

There are 30 dive sites on Saba.  We were able to dive quite a few of them during our stay.

One of the beautiful things about diving Saba is that the volcano creates some spectacular formations and structural diversity, including the Pinnacles, starting at 90 feet.

My favorite pinnacle was called Third Encounter.  Located at the eastern end of a horseshoe shaped seamount, we took a short swim out into the deep blue to the tip of the “Eye of the Needle” that rises majestically up from the deep to within 90 feet of the surface. I’ve never seen anything like it.  The deep water has not only vibrant colors of coral, but all types of fish,  and also deep water life such as large Caribbean Reef Sharks that often swim by.

Another dive site favorite was Man O War Shoals.  The history behind the name is just as good as the dive site itself.  We were told that pirates would often hold up in the cove and then wait for the Man O War ships to get caught on the rocks. Genius on the part of the pirates!  This site offers some of the most diverse and luxuriant marine life and fauna in the Saba Marine Park ranging from Black Coral, rays, lobster and turtles to hoards Sergeant Majors and other brilliant fish.

Dive Sites we visited:

  1. Tent Deep
  2. Big Rock Market
  3. Shark Shoals – Pinnacle
  4. Man O War
  5. Hot Springs
  6. Third Encounter – Pinnacle
  7. Babylon
  8. Tent Wall
  9. Hot Springs
  10. Porites Points
  11. Outer Limits – Pinnacle
  12. Tent Reef
  13. Babylon
  14. Third Encounter – Pinnacle
  15. Man O War
  16. Tent Reef Shallows

Sea Saba is an amazing crew and is truly full service.  Each day they would rinse our gear and even let us leave it on the boat for the next day of diving.  Since there is no crime rate on the island, it’s safe to leave all dive gear on the boat.  The next morning our gear was nicely set up for our next day of diving.  So nice!!!

Even diving 3 dives each day, we were still back to the hotel around 3pm.  This left plenty of time for us to explore everything the island had to offer.

Other Things to Do on Saba

Hiking

There are several hikes on the island.  One hike we started on we thought was going to take us to a viewpoint of the Saba Whale, but turns out we didn’t take the right trail and ended up following the road.  The road is so scenic, and actually ended up being an amazing hike.

Mt. Scenery

Mt. Scenery is the highest point in the Dutch Kingdom (877m or 2877ft) and is Saba’s dominant feature, however we learned from our new friends on the island that it’s only clear at the top about 80 days a year.  Every time we looked up to the top of Mt. Scenery, it was enshrouded in clouds.  There is actually a name for this, the Elfin Forest (cloud-forest) dominates the upper 50m (150ft).

Maskerhorne Hill

Lucky for us, there is a slightly shorter peak just in front of Mt. Scenery named Maskerhorne Hill.  We hiked through the dry evergreen forest and after a quick 20 minutes almost straight up we came into a clearing.  The views from Maskerhorne Hill are exceptional.  It was pretty windy, but we saw the entire Windwardside town and all the way over to St. Eustatius and St. Kitts.

The Food Around Saba!

Now, to one of my favorite subjects…FOOD!!!  There are a variety of restaurants on island for every palate.  Each restaurant has it’s own charm and delicious menu.  The one complication, not every restaurant is open every day.  Make a reservation and you’re good to go.  Diving with Sea Saba, they told us the restaurants that were open that day and even made the reservations for us.  As I said before, full service.

The only other complication is that not everyone takes credit cards.  Not to worry though, the restaurants often told us just pay tomorrow.  We went back and got cash since I wouldn’t feel right about it, but they are truly good, caring people on Saba.

These are the restaurants we ate at on the Windwardside:

  1. Tropics Cafe at Julianna’s – Breakfast each morning by the owners is amazing.
  2. Brigadoon – Lionfish is my favorite fish, but they did it justice.  We ate here twice.
  3. Long Haul Grill – Your pizza on the island for those post dive cravings.
  4. Scouts Place – Good
  5. Swinging Doors – Some of the best BBQ I have had.  (Tuesday’s and Friday’s, cash only)
  6. Chez Bubba Bistro

See you soon Saba!

As our trip came to a close, we spent some time by the pool, talking with our new friends at Julianna’s about when we will be able to come back.  There were so many great memories and friendships formed during our week in Saba.

Check out my video of the weeks adventures here:

Follow me on Pinterest:

   

You Might Also Like

44 Comments

  • Reply Samantha Sparrow February 25, 2017 at 8:23 am

    Ooooh what a wonderful trip from St. Martin/Sint Maarten Saba would make. I can see how it might not be attractive to tourists, but actually this makes it more special. I would like to hike around and explore this island, and the food sounds super amazing. What a wonderful place.

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com February 25, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      It truly was an amazing island! Totally worth a trip over. 🙂

  • Reply danik February 25, 2017 at 11:28 am

    Wow! I never even heard of Saba but this looks totally amazing! Love reading the post and the photos are too died for 🙂

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com February 25, 2017 at 9:32 pm

      Thank you!!! It was such an amazing place. I can’t wait to go back. Diving was the best I have seen to date.

  • Reply Kavey at Kavey Eats February 25, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    I had never even heard of Saba before. Love learning about somewhere new to me. The diving looks amazing, I need to pass this on to my sister as she’s a keen diver. And the whole island looks just beautiful. Great food just tops it off!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com February 25, 2017 at 9:30 pm

      Yes, please do! The island is amazing, the locals are extremely friendly and the diving was the best diving I have seen. I have 160 dives now and have traveled to a lot of different places. Spectacular!

  • Reply Indrani February 25, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    Islands are always exciting I have noticed. Plenty of scope to do several kinds of activities. The under water activity thrilled me the most. Great captures of the world there.

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com February 25, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      Thank you! I’d agree, islands have so much to offer and each one is just a little different.

  • Reply Mel and Marcus February 26, 2017 at 7:32 pm

    It’s always good to find out about somewhere you never really new about. It looks an amazing place. Short runway, would be a scary landing if you came in a bit fast!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com February 27, 2017 at 2:43 am

      Agree on all counts! It truly was amazing. I’ve landed on some pretty scary Alaskan runways too. It definitely keeps your senses heightened. Haha!

  • Reply Christina February 27, 2017 at 7:19 am

    Saba looks like an off-the-beaten-track adventure destination. Actually, it looks like a paradise My friend is a keen diver and I’m sure he would love to spend some time here.

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 1, 2017 at 4:58 am

      It took me all of 20 minutes of research into Saba before I decided I was going to go. It’s not often you run across islands like this. I am now on the hunt for more, that’s for sure. Blown away by how amazing of an experience it was.

  • Reply Ryazan Tristram February 27, 2017 at 10:47 pm

    OMG! This island is definitely worth a visit. Thanks for sharing this post, seems like you definitely had a great time. Great travel tips about the places to visit and things to do on the island. I hope to visit more of the Caribbean islands soon. xx

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 1, 2017 at 4:44 am

      It is! Such and amazing island. Each Caribbean island has something to offer, but I try to stay away from ones that are too overrun by tourists. Maybe I like the quaintness of the quieter islands. Can’t wait to explore more.

  • Reply Kerri February 28, 2017 at 9:08 am

    Wow, looks amazing. Another place I’ve never heard of but would like to visit. Loved the shots of the underwater life and the video. Looks like a wonderful place to spend a few days.

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 1, 2017 at 4:36 am

      It truly was an amazing place to spend a week. So many dive sites and so little time! 🙂

  • Reply Vicky and Buddy March 1, 2017 at 2:12 am

    Omg, Saba looks beautiful! Those hikes look pretty awesome with some amazing views. And it sounds like the locals are really awesome too. To tell you to come back the next day to pay is pretty much unheard of, so that tells you a lot about the kind of people living on the island.

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 1, 2017 at 4:29 am

      Seriously never met so many great people while traveling! Made a ton of great friends. I can’t wait to go back.

  • Reply Ashley March 1, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    Wow! Saba looks amazing! I had never heard of it before reading your post, but now I’m adding it to my scuba diving bucket list!

    -Ashley

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 5, 2017 at 8:18 pm

      Great to hear! It’s definitely a bucket list diving sort of place. We only did half of the sites too, due to the time of year. I would love to explore the others and see the diversity.

  • Reply Jamie March 1, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    Thank you for the well-written and detailed article. I appreciate the photos as well. It helps me ‘see’ the place and determine if I want to visit….and yes I do!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 5, 2017 at 8:20 pm

      Thank you!!! I’m a lot like you in that sense. I like to truly be able to see what the experience is going to be like. Saba is totally worth adding to the travel list. 🙂 Happy travels!

  • Reply Aireona- Nightborn Travel March 1, 2017 at 6:02 pm

    I REALLY want to go to Saba, and I have for a long time. I love your post, and it makes me want to go even more. I hope I can in the future!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 5, 2017 at 8:22 pm

      I hope so too! It was magical! I can’t wait to go back and visit. Definitely check out Juliana’s and Sea Saba for diving. Top notch service.

  • Reply Kyla March 1, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    Ooh, this looks amazing!! My hubby and I have been talking about doing a dive trip without kids at some point in the near future, this might be the place to go!! And I’d never even heard of it before. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 5, 2017 at 8:23 pm

      Thank you! I hadn’t either. Basically did 20 mins of research and I was sold! 🙂 It was absolutely perfect and a great escape for the week.

  • Reply Inês March 1, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    Wow I had never heard of this island! The landing sounds insane but it’s so cool that you got to see the pilot’s view at the front of the plane! Sounds like you had a great time 🙂

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 5, 2017 at 8:21 pm

      Haha! It was definitely cool that we lucked out and sat in the front of the plane. I had no idea it would be an open cockpit when we boarded. Such an awesome perspective. Great way to start off an amazing trip.

  • Reply Vrithi March 1, 2017 at 7:33 pm

    Wow!! Saba looks and sounds amazing! Thanks for introducing me to saba. Putting it on my bucket list! Very helpful tips. Thanks

    Regards
    Vrithi Pushkar
    http://www.epicuriouspassport.com

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 5, 2017 at 8:16 pm

      You should! Happy to hear. Who knew a tiny 5 square mile island could be so amazing! Happy travels.

  • Reply Anna Hammerschmidt March 1, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    Saba looks like a paradise! I would love to check out the diving spots there. There are so many great ones. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 5, 2017 at 8:15 pm

      It’s definitely worth it! I’ve been spoiled on my last two trips, Bonaire and now Saba. Hopefully I can find a new place to dive that is just as amazing.

  • Reply Bilyana | OwlOverTheWorld March 2, 2017 at 7:39 am

    For the first time I’m hearing about this place. Thanks for sharing it, it looks very nice 🙂

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 5, 2017 at 8:14 pm

      Thank you! It was absolutely amazing from the island to the people and the diving! 🙂

  • Reply Carola March 2, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    Thank you for this post! I had never even heard about Saba before. Of course, now I want to go 🙂
    I love that the highest point in the Netherlands is so far away from Europe…

    Happy continued travels!
    C

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 5, 2017 at 8:13 pm

      Thank you! I found it strange that the highest point is so far away from Europe as well. It’s a beautiful island and I can’t wait to go back.

  • Reply Suzanne March 10, 2017 at 2:37 am

    Saba! One of my favourite Caribbean islands! I was there last year though way too short! I definitely have to explore more below the surface there! Great tips!

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com March 20, 2017 at 3:40 am

      That’s awesome! Where did you stay on the island? The island has so much to offer in only 5 square miles. So beautiful!

  • Reply Stephanie April 21, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    I don’t really scuba. Would it be good for snorkelers as well or do you need to dive to appreciate the beauty?

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com April 24, 2017 at 2:41 am

      It is! There were a couple of snorkelers that would come on board in the afternoon. The visibility is so good in the area, and while there aren’t as many sites that can be snorkeled, it’s still worth it!

  • Reply emilija rozman May 29, 2017 at 2:25 am

    For many generations, islanders have recognized and appreciated their homeland’s unique beauty and have made every effort to preserve Saba’s natural treasures, from the top of Mount Scenery to the healthy reefs surrounding the island.

    • Reply westbyswtravels@gmail.com June 18, 2017 at 1:32 am

      Definitely! One of the main reasons why the island is as beautiful as it is today.

  • Reply wibnbo September 4, 2017 at 8:37 pm

    The majority of the islands in the Lesser Antilles form the border between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic.

  • Reply pikachu.net September 7, 2017 at 3:17 am

    Come discover the turquoise waters and stunning beaches of this Caribbean island.

  • Leave a Reply

    Top