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Saba: A Tiny Island with A Lot to Offer

May 27, 2009 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent
 


For an island with a population of about 1,500 people, no beaches, no all-inclusive resorts, no cruise ship visits and just under 100 hotel rooms, Saba surprisingly offers a little something for everyone.

saba

A view of Saba on Windwardside from Peak Hill

The little-known island recently made news when a report praised the island for being one of the few Caribbean islands to heavily promote itself as gay-friendly.

But gay travel is just one niche for Saba. Throw in diving, snorkeling, hiking and island-hopping and you get a sense of the options Saba gives your clients.

Tourism is relatively new to Saba, with few travelers visiting before the 1970s. Being so small and so remote, those who did were well-traveled and found Saba to be truly unspoiled. The airport opened in 1963, and the pier was completed in 1972.

The island’s hospitality providers estimate that approximately 80 percent of visitors, including gay and lesbian scuba groups organized through gay tour operators such as Alyson Adventures and Undersea Expeditions, come to Saba to check out the marine life.

“We’ve always been gay-friendly, perhaps because we are Dutch and our sister island Curaçao is gay-friendly as well,” Greg Holm, Saba’s director of tourism, told Travel Agent. “Through the history of the island, we have never really made an issue of it, never really wanted the publicity, but I guess many gay travelers are finding it friendly and safe, so that’s why we get so many repeat gay travelers every year.”

wells-bay

Wells Bay, a protected snorkeling park set up by the Saban government

Though Saba has been a Dutch territory since 1816, English is by far the most widely spoken language on the island, and the settlement of the island owes more to the English and the Irish than the Dutch. Curaçao and St. Maarten, two of the Dutch federation’s islands, will establish their own semi-autonomous relationships with the Netherlands, Holm told us, but Saba, along with sister islands St. Eustatius and Bonaire, will become fully integrated into the Netherlands as overseas islands—making the introduction of gay marriage (legal in the Netherlands) on Saba likely.

Island-Hopping Central

Holm says that many of Saba’s first-time visitors are island-hoppers, using Saba as a leg on a tour of St. Maarten, Anguilla, Bonaire and Curacao.

Although the number of day-trippers to Saba has declined in the economic downturn, overnight visitor numbers are holding steady, says Holm. He told Travel Agent that the island received about 24,000 arrivals in 2008 and expects that number to be about the same for this year, despite a slight decrease from 2007 to 2008. Of the 24,000 visitors, about 60 percent are from the northeastern U.S., says Holm.

hiking

One of the easy hiking trails in a tropical rainforest near Windwardside

Along the edge of Saba’s sheer wall dives, divers can spot turtles and rays of all shapes and sizes. Since the island is so small, dive boats can reach all sites within minutes.

Three well-experienced, fully equipped dive operators take divers to sites within the Saba Marine Park every day.

Agents should call the Saba Deep Dive Center at 011-599-416-3347 and ask for Tony and Cheri Waterfield or e-mail [email protected].

Saba offers plenty of activities for non-divers as well. Hiking trails (there are more than 20 of them) are tightly maintained. The Mt. Scenery Stairway takes hikers to the highest point on the island, a climb that passes through a range of terrains before reaching a 20-acre cloud forest at the nearly 2,900-foot peak. Only one trail, the North Coast Trail, is considered extremely difficult to complete without a guide. The Tourist Office, the Saba Conservation Foundation and many local supporters have adequately marked and maintain trails for easy trekking.

Best Hotels

For the island’s best luxury property, go no further than the Queen’s Gardens Resort and for a prime environmentally friendly property, book the Ecolodge Rendez-Vous, says Holm.

Saba-Cottage-Gingerbread_RE

A typical Saban cottage in the "gingerbread" style

Queen’s Gardens Resort offers 12 one- and two-bedroom suites, each occupying a complete floor. It is positioned on the scenic Troy Hill and is nestled among tropical forests and gardens overlooking the Caribbean, making it an intimate place perfect for couples. All of Queen’s Gardens Resort’s guest suites have a view of the area, which offer vistas of the rainforest, mountains and Caribbean. Agents should call General Manager Hidde Verbeke at 011-599-416-3494.

The Ecolodge Rendez-Vous is a small family-operated eco-resort surrounded by tropical vegetation. It offers accommodations in 11 Saban-style cottages, each with a private porch, hammock and bathroom, scattered over abandoned terraced farmland that has been re-covered by rainforest. All are individually decorated in nature themes by local artist Heleen Cornet. This is the perfect setting for anyone who likes soft adventure such as hiking and diving. We recommend booking it for families.

Agents can call 011-599-416-3348 and ask for General Manager Tom van’t Hof.

Getting There

All travel to Saba connects in St. Maarten, which is about a 90-minute ferry ride from Saba. Several major airlines from North America, Europe and South America operate daily flights to St. Maarten. Special charter flights are also available from major cities during the winter season. Winair operates five or more flights each day to Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport in Saba. Inter-island flights, some of which are scheduled weekly, can also be arranged.

Ferry service from St. Maarten is available via the Dawn II and The Edge. The Dawn II runs between Saba and St. Maarten on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It departs Saba at 7 a.m. and St. Maarten at 5 p.m. The Edge operates Wednesday through Sunday. It leaves St. Maarten at 9 a.m. and departs Fort Bay harbor at 3:30 p.m., arriving back on St. Maarten at 5 p.m.  


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