Saba, the Netherlands’ smallest municipality at five square miles, lies just off St. Maarten and can be accessed from there via a twelve-minute plane ride. You’ll find no white sandy beaches in Saba, as the island consists largely of the potentially active volcano and lush rainforest. Even better, you’ll find no chains or mega resorts; small hotels, quirky bars, and charming restaurants dot the winding roads. On this island, most of the people don’t own cars; they simply stick out a thumb when traveling to work or school to hitch a ride — the tight-knit community with fewer than 2,000 people is just that safe. Here’s how to plan your own visit to the “Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean.”
Where to Stay
Only a handful of hotels exist on the island, all under fifteen rooms. The Queen’s Gardens Resort & Spa is the finest choice, though. Owned by a delightful husband-and-wife duo, the property is perched 1,200 feet above sea level in Troy Hill. There are twelve private-floor suites and one three-bedroom villa, most of which boast a private Jacuzzi overlooking the Caribbean Sea and rainforest below. When you’re not out exploring, relax by the island’s largest pool, sip well-made cocktails at the bar, or take in a treatment at the newly built Frangipani Spa (seriously, a massage in an open-air loft is about as good as it gets). Dinner at the Queen’s Gardens Restaurant is a favorite among guests and locals in the area. The menu changes daily, but signature dishes like a spiny tailed lobster are caught fresh from the waters below. Couples love the “bird’s nest,” a treehouse built into the property’s 100-year-old mango tree. Rates start at $225 per night.
Alternatively, there’s Juliana’s Hotel, home to the Tropics Cafe that’s beloved by guests and locals. We love the Orchid Cottage, complete with a full kitchen, living area, outdoor shower, and private veranda.
What to Do
Diving is the main reason most tourists visit this off-the-beaten path destination. The island wisely created the Saba Marine Park in 1987 to protect the waters to a depth of two-hundred feet. The park circles the entire island, and it’s here that you’ll spot more than 150 species of fish (and a hawksbill turtle if you’re lucky). The warm, clear waters make it ideal for year-round diving.
Saba is also noteworthy for hikers, with about twenty hiking trails, from moderate to extreme. The ambitious often climb to the summit of Mt. Scenery, the highest point in the Dutch Kingdom at 2,877 feet. Don’t be surprised to find chickens or a friendly herd of goats along the paths; you’ll be rewarded with incredible views, too.
Other than diving and hiking, you can partake in Sunday steak night with the locals at Swinging Doors, an upscale dinner at Chez Bubba Bistro, and ice cream at Saba Snack. Then read, relax, and repeat.
Saba can be easily reached by plane from St. Maarten. Windward Islands Airways (WINAIR) operates the twelve-minute flight five times a day, and there’s a high-speed ferry boat providing transportation to Saba between Wednesday and Sunday, departing from Pelican Marina in St. Maarten’s Simpson Bay.