Words by Lisa Collins-Haynes
Upon first approach, danger seems imminent but the skilled pilots of the WinAir Twin-Otter have it under control. Jagged rocks, crashing waves and a runway that measures barely 400 meters (roughly 1,312 feet) are what separate you from the Dutch West Indies island of Saba. The Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport has the world’s shortest commercial runway; and in comparison New York’s JFK Airport has one of the longest runways which measures 14,572 feet. But who’s counting?
The unspoiled queen is what they call her; and for good reason. Saba is among few Dutch Caribbean islands that haven’t been inundated with tourism and the carbon footprint that is left behind. Saba’s Tourism Board reports about 25,000 tourists each year. The Saba Conservation Foundation is in charge of protecting the nature and culture of the pristine island and the Saba National Marine Park oversees the waters surrounding it.
It’s hard to get to and very little people visit, so you may be wondering what’s the selling point? A stairway to heaven, over thirty different dive locations, botanical trails for trekking and an amazing assortment of flora and fauna are a few top reasons. Saba offers adventurous eco-tourism that hasn’t been seen by many. It’s more than just diving, hiking and climbing—it’s an overall experience that won’t soon be forgotten.
The island only has one road, appropriately named, “The Road”. It narrowly spirals, treacherously twisting and hairpin turning around the hilltops and deep into the valleys from the Westwardside, “The Bottom” and even through Hell’s Gate. It’s also home to a potentially active volcano known as Mount Scenery. Climbers and hikers can trek to the summit using the 1,064 stepping-stones to reach the top and be amongst the clouds; hence the Stairway to Heaven. On the way up through the nature and botanical trails, hikers are in for a real treat as the paths are lined with ginormous leaves from banana plants, lush and tropical orchids and glimpses of wildlife from the Saba lizards, iguanas and tree frogs.
What goes up must come down and in Saba scuba divers can take this literally. Over thirty dive sites around the entire island riddled with coral reefs, pinnacles and peaks. Well known premier sites include Man O’ War Shoals, Diamond Rock, Third Encounter and Eye of the Needle. Visibility is outstanding, even on bad weather days. Divers can also see abundant marine life such as sea turtles, sting rays of all sizes and schools of colorful fish.
Saba is great place for a day trip to meet the friendly Saban people, experience the Dutch Caribbean cuisine and pick up some handmade crafts and souvenirs. Most popular are the tee shirts and magnets that read, “I survived the Saba landing,” making reference to the short runway. Not too worry, if the sound of landing on this tiny strip doesn’t excite you, there’s a weekly ferry service available from neighboring St. Maarten. Saba is a remarkable destination and worth a visit to get the passport stamp.