The Unspoiled Queen
Saba: The Caribbean’s Rare + Unspoiled Jewel
Saba sits majestically on the horizon like a rare green jewel floating on the shimmering blue tropical sea. It is a magical place that lures the adventurous traveler with her stunning verdant silhouette soaring 5000 feet from the ocean floor; 3000 feet sits above sea level. Although a mere five square miles, this extinct volcanic island is filled with extraordinary natural wonders perfectly in harmony with its fascinating history and culture. Twice named “Best Caribbean Island” by Travel + Leisure Magazine, Saba is that rare place in the modern world that satisfies the intrepid soul as well as those seeking gentle pleasures. The island’s Old World Caribbean charm, lyrical pace and stunning beauty provide respite for those who desire to disconnect from life’s hectic pace.
To explore Saba, you must get here. The most extraordinary approach is by air. Four times a day, WinAir pilots take off from St. Maarten for the twelve minute flight. It is simply poetic floating above the Caribbean Sea heading to Saba’s soaring peak on the horizon. Just as you can almost touch the mountain, the plane cuts a dramatic 180 degree on to Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport’s 400 meter runway, considered the world’s shortest commercial air strip. Once past customs, just hop in a local taxi and begin to explore one of the earth’s most graceful places.
As you ascend and descend the “Road”, you are surrounded by Saba’s magnificent natural and man-made wonders. Lush tropical foliage, brilliant flowers and fairy tale architecture fill the mountainsides and valleys. The entire island is exceptionally unspoiled and beautifully maintained, reflective of the locals’ deep sense of pride in their home and history.
Many of the intrepid Sabans are descent from lineages dating to the 1600s when English sailors shipwrecked on the jagged shore. Over the centuries, Saba tossed between Dutch and English ownership, with the Dutch winning out. Once a haven for marauding pirates, the island’s eclectic blend of Dutch, African, English, Scottish and Irish eventually settled into a quite harmony focused on seamanship and fishing. It was a rugged life as the only roads were stone trails leading up from the sea into the remote villages accessed only by foot and donkey. Until 1943, there was no proper road. Saban Josephus “Lambee” Hassel dismissed the Dutch and Swiss engineers who said a road could never be built. Via an engineering correspondence course and the help of fellow islanders, the “Road”, as it is affectionately known, was built in stages from 1943 to 1958.
Although their families have dwelled here for centuries, the English speaking locals are warm and welcoming to all who wish to embrace nature, architectural beauty, cleanliness and a laid-back flow of life. It is not a closed community, far from it. Whether you are an expat or visitor, conversations begin the moment you hop in a taxi, enter a shop or stop for refreshment. Everyone here is your tour guide. It’s a safe and protected place where you can blend in and enjoy the island’s gentle pace for a day or lifetime.
Exploring Saba Above and Below the Sea
Saba doesn’t have beaches; just one that appears a few months a year. It is part of the reason Saba is so pristine and unspoiled. This place doesn’t need beaches. The unsurpassed beauty both below and above the sea opens the door to endless adventures from exhilarating to romantic.
Below the sea, Saba’s explosive volcanic origins are as obvious; it is one reason the island is among the world’s top dive spots. Within Saba’s protected marine park, spectacular formations and structures, alongside lava flows and hot springs, combined with pristine coral reefs and a brilliant aquatic population creates a diver’s paradise. Saba’s highly experienced dive companies bring you up close to spectacular watery beauty.
Above the sea, the focus is natural and manmade beauty. To fully enjoy the island, you should stay for a few days at one of the charming boutique hotels, quaint Saban cottages or elegant villas often just a short stroll to civilized amenities such as the island restaurants ranging from casual to stylish. With its abundant sea life, year round growing season and proximity to St Maarten/St Martin, dining on Saba is very fresh and delicious, especially the famous Saba lobster, red snapper or locally grown produce.
To explore the island up close, hike the old stone “roads” that evolved into stunning trails meandering up and down the volcanic peaks and valleys. From easy to challenging, the trails provide the best means to fully connect with Saba’s natural beauty and experience the breathtaking views. Or simply sit on a terrace, cold beverage in hand, and let your eyes wander to the stunning views that emanate from every angle. The ever evolving scene flows endlessly to the horizon from sunrise to sunset.
Perhaps hop in a taxi and let the driver take you on a tour of the island, through the tropical forests, charming villages and picturesque architecture. The frequent subjects of artists and photographers, Saba’s enchanting vernacular combines beautiful red zinc roofs, white clapboard or stone walls, pretty green shutters and Caribbean gingerbread trim with little porches and colorful gardens edged in native stone. Some of the best examples of Saba vernacular are found in and around the charming village of Windward Side with its historic cottages and buildings. The island’s cottages were most often homes of sea captains; built to survive the elements yet compliment the island’s natural beauty. An excellent example is the H.L. Johnson Museum, housed in a cottage built in 1840. Within this lovely and beautifully restored museum are the carefully curated elements of a traditional Saban family.
Shopping is one of Saba’s most charming adventures. Stores and galleries are scattered around the island, most often in the villages of Windward Side, Bottom and Hells Gate. Although you can certainly find a wonderful souvenir t-shirt, it is the artists and creators of Saba that offer the most unique items.
Saba lace is world renowned for its unique artistry. Since the 1870s, Saban sea captain wives and their descendants have sold their intricate handmade (Spanish) lace, a skilled first acquired by Mary Gertrude Hassell Johnson who attended a convent school in Caracas, Venezuela. Several island shops sell beautiful lace items for the home and personal use. Another local product found in shops, bars and restaurants is Saba Spice, a rum based beverage loaded with tropical spice, perfect as an after dinner liqueur or poured over ice cream.
Saba is also a willing subject for painters, photographers and designers, inspired by the colors, forms and people of Saba. Art galleries, primarily in Windward Side and the Bottom, feature the work of local creators whose artistic products range from a magnificent water color painting of tropical flowers to beautifully one of a kind jewelry at the Jewel Cottage, housed in a 150 year old cottage, or the hand-blown glass jewelry of JoBean.
Perhaps the best souvenir of Saba is the deep connection visitors often develop with the island, its people and the lyrical flow of daily life. This is a very special place that beckons you to return and settle into an unsurpassed tropical paradise.