Saba-The Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean

I had read about Saba, the small island neighbor of St. Maarten owned by the Dutch,  years earlier.  It’s a mysterious place, rising up from the azure waters of the Caribbean, often shrouded in clouds.  I could see it in the shadows when we landed for our holiday in St. Maarten. Knowing that it had been a film location for King Kong only added to the allure of wanting to see it for myself.

 

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How can you pass up an opportunity to travel to the Unspoiled Queen when you are just a short ride away? This off the beaten path destination is no secret to divers and hikers.  A 5 square mile eco wonderland is packed with hiking trails and diving sites rumored to be some of the best in the Caribbean.  The unusual drop off at the island’s edge creates a deep and diverse eco-system.  My family might have been less than enthusiastic about spending 24 hours off the grid in an eco lodge, but I was up for the adventure.
Saba-Mural-Caribbean

We were met by our driver and tour guide for the day, the knowledgeable and super friendly George Wilson. I immediately understood why it was suggested we didn’t rent a car. The streets are narrow and extremely steep (like regularly burn out a clutch steep}. It’s hard to imagine that the original roads were carved out of the mountain using only pics and shovels beginning in the 1920’s and taking 20 years. The only way to get to Saba was by boat up until 1963. That year, the smallest airport in the world opened, carved into the side of the mountain. It appears out of nowhere and landing is a heart pumping experience. With only 400 meters of runway available, the description ‘it’s like landing on an aircraft carrier’ was very appropriate. I was happy to have a local, experienced pilot to navigate  landing on a strip not much longer than my driveway. The short 12 minute Winair flight was a memorable experience; I’m not sure if the fan is in the seat pocket was for the heat, or to keep you from fainting!

Saba-airport-caribbean

saba island caribbean
I was immediately charmed by the small villages. White houses accented by red roofs dot the hillsides. The well kept buildings have lacy trim accessorizing many of the structures and are reminiscent of the lace patterns seen on the traditional craft I was to enjoy later in the afternoon when we strolled the streets on foot. The views on our tour were nothing short of spectacular, and due to it’s rugged coastline, Saba does not have the typical Caribbean sand beaches, but several sandy bays.
Queens Garden Resort Saba

queens garden resort saba caribbean

Built into the side of the mountain is the Queen’s Garden Resort. A beautiful setting for our lunch of local fish, fresh vegetables and a paneer curry that had me transported to India. The view was spectacular, and finishing the meal atop a tree platform complete with recycled wine bottle chandelier was a perfect end to the meal.

saba church mural Heleen

Stopping off at the Sacred Heart church in Bottom, we had the pleasure of seeing the artwork of island resident Heleen Cornet.  The mural she has painted makes the alter glow and incorporates rain forest scenes with religious icons. Her well known watercolors and paintings capture the dramatic underwater and mountaintop views  displaying all the island has to offer.
Eco Lodge Saba
A short drive later we checked into the Eco-Lodge we would call home for the next 24 hours. I’ve stayed in many a hotel that follows sustainable practices, but this proved to be the most off the grid location I had ever visited with my family. Tucked into the side of the mountain and reached by foot after a short walk, it is set in a lovely garden in the rainforest. The new managers, Maria and Michele have been there 3 months and have big plans for transforming this location into a spot where you can rest assured your carbon footprint is having minimal impact.

eco lodge saba rendez vous caribbean

The main lodge was at the brink of a jungle takeover when Maria and Michel arrived on the scene and now oozes warmth and decor befitting a spot with an environmental focus. 7 of the 13 cottages have been revamped with a coat of  paint and the kind of cotton sheets that have a freshness only coming from a sunny clothesline drying. Going forward, plans for the cottages include taking two completely off the grid, and upgrading two for a bit more luxury. Being in the jungle, one of the biggest concerns from my kids was the BUGS.  They were honestly barely an issue. Composting toilets and solar showers are additional sustainable practices of the location, and the beautiful flowers native to this area are found throughout the paths leading to the cottages.

saba Flowers Caribbean-nature

And now a mountain was calling our name.  Mt. Scenery is Saba’s most dominant part of the landscape and the highest point in the Dutch Kingdom {2877 ft.} 1064 steps will lead you to the top and most of it is straight up! Along the way, the Elfin Forest is filled with lemon trees and beautiful flowers.  Dense jungle covers the upper slopes, and dangling vines everywhere let you know that this is serious rainforest.  Birds serenade  along the way, and the occasional rooster might give you a start.  It’s a steep climb, but you a  rewarded with amazing views if you reach the top on a clear day.

Saba-Hike-Mt-Scenery-Caribbean

Saba-Mt-Scenery-Hike-Caribbean
Thursday nights the Eco-Lodge hosts a vegetarian dinner served family style by candlelight. The food features local seasonal produce, much of which comes from a central garden that services the island. It’s usually a sold out evening, and the group camaraderie is enjoyed by all who attend.

Saba-farm-caribbean

Saba Eco Lodge dinner food

Dinner for us was also by candlelight, and featured a delicous array of vegetables, some in curry, some in salad form. Family members tasted pasta Bolognese with accents of pumpkin and chicken teriyaki with vegetables from the nearby farm. Most of the seafood and vegetables we had were local, however the island restaurants do have almost all of their meat imported (another reason to go Meatless)
Saba restaurant Caribbean Scottys
The morning brought another beautiful day perfect for wandering down the mountain and exploring the town.  After a short hike for breakfast down to Scout’s,{make sure to snag a seat on the back porch for million dollar views} we explored the town of Windwardside.  I finally found the lace I had been searching for at the cute Little Green Shop belonging to Marie Petit. This historical craft has been a long tradition on the island.  Brought to Saba in the 1870’s by Mary Haskell Johnson, who was taught by nuns in a Venezuelan convent, the industrious women began a successful mail order business with their craft. Today their skill can still be found in the beautiful needlework throughout the island.

Saba lace craft caribbean

Before we knew it, it was time to make our leave.  While we arrived by air, the return trip was by hydrofoil.  I’ve taken many a ferry ride to destinations around the world, and was looking forward to the relaxing trip back to St. Martin.  The view of the mountains, sea birds, refreshing spray from the salt water waves… Let’s just say that relaxing was not quite the word I’d use to describe it! The wind had picked up, and although the captain certainly knew how to navigate the surf, it was a wet and WILD ride.  The hair raising air landing on island was nothing compared to this experience.

Saba Edge ferry Caribbean transportation

It must be said that no one arrives on Saba by accident.  Like other hard to get to destinations, there is a an undiscovered, off the beaten path quality to your visit. Residents are aware of the beauty of their special place, and have taken many steps towards conservation.  Few places on earth afford the opportunity to hike a rainforest before breakfast and dive an unspoiled reef later that afternoon. Pure and pristine and delightfully eco-friendly, we all agreed, Saba justly deserves her Unspoiled Queen recognition!

The 411:

Go: WinAir and the Edge are the two methods of transportation to arrive on island.

Do:  Hire a taxi to see the island. Climb the 1064 steps of Mt. Scenery. Support the local arts and crafts scene.  Scuba dive in a spectacular setting.

Stay:  The Rainforest Eco Lodge , a cozy, laid back to nature experience.

Eat:  Scout’s, great breakfast with view’s to match. The Queen’s Garden, and upscale spot to again take in the views and indulge the senses. Rendez-Vous Eco Lodge-Candlelight dinner {other meals as well} with seasonal, local ingredients.

Green With Renvy partnered with Saba Tourism for this visit.

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  1. I’ve never heard of this island before. It looks like I’ve really missed the boat. Ha! You’ve given us a great picture of what it’s like to visit. Thanks!

    • Joyce, it really was a very unusual place. Such a different feel from the other islands I have travelled to. The geography really makes it unique!

  2. Wonderful trip, I would have enjoyed the flight and the hydrofoil. What a stunning island – it looks just the right adventure for a short weekend.

    • Noel, I’m not so sure anyone would have enjoyed that hydrofoil ride-it was quite harrowing! I suppose in calm seas-ok-yes. The island of Saba is so beautiful and unspoiled, it is a gem!

  3. Well Alison, it sounds and looks absolutely amazing. I am currently reading a book about sacred places, which are abundant in nature, so it’s wonderful to read your feature about Saba. I imagine you felt touched by its unspoilt atmosphere.

  4. What a great adventure to an island that I had honestly never heard of before! Pardon my ignorance on that one.

    I really think that recycled chandelier is cool, it’s the small things that really capture my attention I guess. This island though looks full of interesting gems worth exploring and I would love to get over here for myself one day.

  5. What a wonderful experience! I was hooked as soon as you mentioned King Kong. The island (in the second photo) seems to have a mythical air to it. I can imagine it disappearing altogether only to reappear 100 years later, much like Brigadoon!

    It sounds a unqiue and beautiful place and I’d really love to visit it myself one day.