The smallest of the Dutch Caribbean islands, Saba (pronounced "sayba") is a rocky volcanic island with a single road, lush mountain forests, and excellent scuba diving and snorkeling, making this tiny spot in the Caribbean a major mecca for eco-tourism vacations and earning it the moniker "The Unspoiled Queen."
Saba Basic Travel Information
Size: 5 square miles/13 square kilometers
Capital: The Bottom
Language: English, Dutch
Religions: Primarily Catholic, other Christian
Currency: U.S. dollar.
Area Code: 599
Tipping: 10-15% service charge added to hotel bill; otherwise tip similarly
Weather: Average summer temp 80F. Cooler on winter evenings and at higher elevations.
Airport: Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport: Check Flights
Saba Activities and Attractions
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. Divers can choose from three outfitters: Dive Saba, Saba Divers, and the Saba Deep Dive Center. Birding also is a major attraction on Saba, home to the rare red-billed tropicbird.
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.
On the other hand, the Saba National Marine Park, which circles the entire island, has been called one of the best places in the world to dive.
Saba Hotels and Resorts
You won't find any international hotel chains or large-scale resorts on Saba, but there are a number of excellent small hotels; some -- like the Queen's Garden and Willard's of Saba -- earn the "luxury" appellation. There also are boutique hotels like The Gate House, dive resorts like Scout's Place, and eco-lodges like El Momo and Eco-Lodge Rendez-Vous. You also can rent the unique Haiku House villa on Troy Hill, a Japanese-inspired private mountain hideway.
Saba Restaurants and Cuisine
Saba is a small island with less than 20 restaurants, but you can still get a great meal at places like Brigadoon -- known for its Creole and Caribbean dishes -- and the Gate House Cafe, serving fine French cuisine alongside an extensive wine list. Many restaurants are found in Windwardside, including Brigadoon, the Tropics Cafe (where you can get a burger and a free outdoor movie on Friday nights), and the Swinging Doors (for U.S.-style barbecue and cook-your-own steaks).
Pick up some spiced Saba liquor for a unique souvenir.
Saba History and Culture
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 in 1816. Despite its Dutch origins, English is the primary language on Saba. The Harry L. Johnson Museum in Windwardside offers the best perspective on island history, including the pre-Colombian residents who left a variety of artifacts now found in the museum collection.
Saba Events and Festivals
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, brings in international onservation 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 Dec. 1-3.
Saba isn't Cancun, but there are a least a few nightlife options, even on weeknights. Windwardside pub/restaurants like Saba's Treasure are open to 10 pm or later serving casual fare and drinks; 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. The Tropics Cafe at Juliana's Hotel is another nightlife option, with live entertainment weekly and free movie night on Fridays.