Addressing an audience of travel agents and travel media in New York City recently, Saba's Commissioner of Tourism Will Johnson began his remarks with information that was surprising to people not familiar with his island. "We're not big on beaches," he said. "In fact, we don't have any beaches."
A Caribbean island without
beaches? Yes, it's true. Lest he lose his audience, Johnson followed with what
his island does have. The island's marketing slogan says it all:
"Rainforest. Reef. Relax."
About the Island
Only five square miles, the Dutch island
of Saba in the Lesser
Antilles does not have room for hordes of tourists, and that's one
of its appeals.
A small island has a small airport. Opened in 1963, JuanchoE.YrausquinAirport has a runway that
is only 1,000 feet long, according to Johnson. Fewer than 25,000 tourists come
to Saba each year, all connecting through St. Martin.
The journey from St. Martin takes one hour and
20 minutes by boat.
About 40 percent of Saba's
visitors are on day excursions, says Glenn Holm, the island's director of
tourism. Most divers stay about a week, he says. American visitors to the
island for 2005 totaled 9,045 with 8,437 visiting last year. The main reason
for the decline, Holm says, was a number of cruise calls (small cruise ships
such as Sea Dream Yacht Club) had to cancel some calls due to bad weather.
"We anticipate the number of American visitors growing
this year, because of additional airlift into St. Maarten, increased
promotional efforts and the return of Sea Dream Yacht Club," Holm says.
A volcanic island (the volcano is dormant), Saba has dramatic topography that attracts rock climbers
and hikers; trails sometimes end at hotels. But diving is its main attraction.
Sighted by Christopher Columbus in 1493, the island was
ruled by the Spanish for 150 years, before struggles among the British, French
and Dutch left the Dutch with its possession in 1816.
Beth Jansen, owner of Dive Saba Travel, based in Seattle, sends about 20
people a month to the island. About 90 percent of her clients visit for diving
excursions, while the remaining 10 percent are attracted to Saba
to pursue ecotourism activities.
"There are some 30-to-40-foot dives, and fishing there
wasn't allowed for years, so there is an abundance of life underwater and the
corals remain in great shape," says Jansen, who lived in Saba
for seven years.
Dive Saba Travel offers agents 10 percent commission.
Operators and consolidators however can receive 20 percent commission if they
book directly through Jansen's partner company SeaSabaDiveCenter,
which packages diving tours with accommodations.
Because of the island's unique geology, within half a mile
from shore, divers can explore to depths of more than 1,000 feet. Diving
enthusiasts get especially excited about its pinnacles—the summits of
underwater mountains that begin at around 85 feet and extend to an abyss.
If you have clients who would relish the excitement of
swimming with sharks, they don't have to travel to Australia. Shark sightings around Saba are becoming increasingly prevalent. Annual
scientific surveys indicate that fish density, variety and size are increasing
here, thanks in part to the care the island has taken in creating and
maintaining dive areas.
Along the edge of Saba's
sheer wall dives, divers can spot turtles and rays. The island's underwater
attractions also include shallower walls and reefs. The SabaMarinePark is situated around
the entire island and includes the waters and seabed from the highwater mark
down to a depth of 200 feet, as well as offshore seamounts.
Where to Stay
Jansen recommends both The Cottage Club and Juliana's
because both properties are in prime locations for diving.
The Cottage Club can be reached at 011-599-416-2486.
Juliana's phone number is 011-599-416-2269. But Travel Agent
recommends calling Lynn Costenaro, owner of Sea Saba dive center at
011-599-416-2246. She organizes packages for most tourists to the Island and can provide agents, operators and
consolidators with specific information on best rooms and best deals in the
Juliana's is located in Windwardside, a few minutes walk
from Saba's best dive shops and hiking trails.
Juliana's has 12 rooms: six have ocean views, hammocks and private balconies;
three look out over the gardens and have kitchenettes and air-conditioning.
Getting There and Getting Around
All travel to Saba connects
in St. Maarten. Windward Islands Airways (Winair; 800-634-4907 or
011-599-5-454237) makes five or more flights each day to Saba's JuanchoE.YrausquinAirport.
Via ferry, the 22-seat air-conditioned Dawn II (599-416-3671,
firstname.lastname@example.org) travels between FortBay,
Saba and Dock Maarten in Philipsburg, St. Maarten three times a week: Tuesdays,
Thursdays, and Saturdays from Saba at 6:30
a.m. and from Dock Maarten at 5 p.m. A roundtrip ticket is $60. The
62-passenger The Edge (599-544-2640, email@example.com)
takes the 1 hour and 20 minute trip to Saba from Simpson Bay/Pelican Marina on
St. Maarten Wednesday through Sunday, departing St. Maarten at 9 a.m. and
returns from Saba, departing FortBay harbor at 3:30 p.m.,
arriving back on St. Maarten at 5 p.m. The rate is $65 roundtrip.
The island has only 10 miles of concrete roads. There is
taxi service, or clients can rent a car for about $50 a day from Caja's Car
Rental (599-416-2388, firstname.lastname@example.org). The agent contact is Kennedy
—Additional reporting by Joe Pike
Facts at a Glance
• Language: Dutch is
the official language but everyone speaks English
• Population: 1,500
• Holidays: Good Friday, Easter, Easter
Monday, Queen's Birthday (April 30), Labor Day, Ascension Day, Antillian Day
(October 21), Christmas, Boxing Day (December 26), Saba Day (1st week of
• Taxes and Tipping: There's a
government room tax of 5 percent.
• Weather: Daytime temperatures average