The smallest of the Dutch Caribbean islands, Saba (pronounced "sayba") is a rocky volcanic island with a single road (known as "The Road"), lush mountain forests, and excellent scuba diving and snorkeling. The five-square-mile island in the northern Caribbean was formed atop a dormant volcano that has not erupted in 5,000 years and offers tremendous hiking trails for the adventurous traveler. In fact, this tiny spot in the Caribbean is a major mecca for eco-tourism vacations, earning it the moniker "The Unspoiled Queen." Saba is more of a wildlife and nature destination than a traditional beach vacation—the island boasts only one beach, and it's not overrun with all-inclusive resorts. From what to do to where to eat and drink, read on for your ultimate guide to your next vacation in Saba.
Planning Your Trip
- Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Saba is in late March and April, after the tourists have left the island after the peak winter season and before the wet season begins in May. The weather in Saba remains fairly consistent year-round, with an average temperature of 80 degrees F (27 degrees C)—though it is cooler on winter evenings and at a higher elevation.
- Language: English; Dutch is spoken by 32 percent of the population
- Currency: U.S. dollar, which replaced the Netherlands Antillean guilder in 2011.
- Getting Around: There is no public transportation on Saba, though taxis are plentiful (particularly in the capital, The Bottom). The island is small—just 5 square miles—also consists of three other villages: Windwardside (the most popular for tourists), St. John's, and Zion's Hill (also known as Hell's Gate).
- Travel Tip: There is only one road on the island (known as "The Road"), and it is famously challenging to navigate. So, while rental cars are available, taxis are recommended (and fairly easy to coordinate via hotels and restaurants). Though there is no central taxi dispatch number on the island, fixed prices prevent overcharging.
Things to Do
Hiking and diving are the main activities on Saba, from scaling the heights of Mount Scenery, a dormant volcano that's the highest point in the Netherlands—to exploring offshore reefs, walls, and unique pinnacles. The Saba Conservation Foundation maintains many hiking trails and publishes climbing guides perfect for navigating the vertiginous island. And don't forget to look up: Birding also is a major attraction on Saba, home to the rare red-billed tropicbird. There's no shortage of activities for the adventurous, nature-loving traveler to experience in Saba—from birding to diving to snorkeling.
- There's only one real beach on Saba, at Well's Bay, which also is the island's only harbor. Needless to say, this rocky and volcanic strip of sand—which often comes and goes with the tides—is not the reason you come to Saba, although there is good snorkeling offshore.
- Climb Mount Scenery, the (potentially-still-active) volcano at the center of Saba, offers spectacular views of St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Kitts, and St. Eustatius.
- Drive "The Road," the island's main road, is a winding, picturesque journey up and down the mountainous island. If you're renting a car, be sure to take it slow on the turns—the drive isn't for the faint of heart, but a little vehicular exploration will reward intrepid adventurers with miraculous views.
- The Saba National Marine Park, which circles the entire island, has been called one of the world's best places to dive.
Explore things to do with our guide to the top attractions and activities in Saba.
What to Eat and Drink
When you land, head to the Saba Flight Deck bar, a popular spot for celebrating your arrival on the island. Saba is a small island with fewer than 20 restaurants, but you can still get a great meal at places like Brigadoon in Windwardside—known for its Creole and Caribbean dishes—and Island Flavor, which is known for its West Indian cuisine (located in The Bottom). Many restaurants are found in Windwardside, including the Tropics Cafe (where you can get a burger and a free outdoor movie on Friday nights) and The Swinging Doors (which serves U.S.-style barbecue and cook-your-own steaks). Pick up some spiced Saba liquor for a unique souvenir.
Saba isn't Cancun, but there are a least a few nightlife options, even on weeknights. The Deep End Restaurant and Bar is popular with tourists and locals alike. The Swinging Doors has no official closing time and typically keeps serving beer and BBQ until the last customer leaves. Scout's Place has a more local atmosphere and offers gorgeous views of the mountainous island and the Caribbean Sea. The Tropics Cafe at Juliana's Hotel is another nightlife option, with live entertainment weekly and free movie nights on Fridays.
Learn more about the best Caribbean street food.
Where to Stay
You won't find any international hotel chains or large-scale resorts on Saba, but there are several excellent small hotels; some—like the Queen's Garden—earn the "luxury" appellation. There also are boutique hotels like Juliana's Hotel and Selera Dunia Boutique Hotel, dive resorts like Scout's Place, and eco-lodges like El Momo. Renting a luxury villa is another popular option—similar to St. John, the island of Saba has several luxurious choices. You can rent the unique Haiku House villa on Troy Hill, a Japanese-inspired private mountain hideaway, and the Villa Fairview via Saba Villas. Other options include the Lollipops Inn bed & breakfast and The Cottage Club. Travelers can also check out Airbnb to book rentals all over the island.
Located between St. Maarten and St. Eustatius, it's impossible to reach Saba via a direct flight outside the West Indies. Travelers have two options: Either a 12-minute flight from St. Maarten or a 90-minute boat ride via high-speed ferry The Edge, which operates three days a week, on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. However, the schedule is subject to change, so travelers are advised to book flights to the Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport in Saba. The airport was named after the Aruban Minister Juancho Irausquin (the airport's typo in the last name was made years back and now is here to stay) and was established in September of 1963. It is the world's shortest commercial airport runway—even shorter than St. Barth's—with a length of about a quarter-mile (or 400 meters). The plane embarks on a 180-degree turn at the end of the runway for lift-off, so prepare to calm your nerves with a pre-flight drink at the Saba Flight Deck bar. (This is also a great spot for welcome cocktails once you've arrived, as well).
- Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport: The sole airport in Saba, Juancho E. Yrausqiun Airport (SAB), only services one airline, Winair, which provides daily flights from St. Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM). The flight from St. Maarten is only 12-minutes long, and taxis arrive at the airport to meet arriving passengers—a taxi from the airport to Windwardside costs about $12.50.
Saba Culture & History
Sabans are a hardy people with a love of conservation, a legacy of settling a rough island with few resources. The island was ruled by the English, Spanish, and French before the Dutch took over 1816. Despite its Dutch origins, English is the primary language of Saba. The Harry L. Johnson Museum in Windwardside offers the best perspective on island history, including the pre-Colombian residents who left various artifacts now found in the museum collection.
Saba's annual Carnival, held each year during the third week of July, is the highlight of the island's social calendar. The Sea & Learn on Saba event, hosted each fall by a local nonprofit, features international conservation and nature experts for talks and field trips. Other popular local events and holidays include Coronation Day and the Queen's Birthday, honoring Queen Beatrix on April 30, and Saba Day, a weekend-long festival held from Dec. 1-3.
- There are only two ATMs on the island (at the Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago in Windwardside and Windward Island Bank in the Bottom), and neither are located at the airport. Since Saba takes USD, travelers are encouraged to withdraw cash in advance of their trip to avoid detours to the ATM upon arrival and minimize withdrawal fees.
- Always review your receipt for included gratuity, as service fees are included in restaurant bills and usually in hotel bills (at a rate of 10 to 15 percent). Tipping your taxi driver and guide is at the visitors' discretion, but we suggest matching the same 10 to 15 percent gratuity rate included in other hospitality services.
- Like most Caribbean islands, the high season in Saba runs from mid-December to mid-April, in conjunction with the coldest months in America and Europe. Cost-conscious travelers should consider booking a trip in the off-season to minimize travel costs (particularly for accommodations).
Learn more about the cheapest ways to have fun by exploring our article on Caribbean budget travel tips and destinations.