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Saba is an island in the Caribbean and the capital is The Bottom. At the 10th of October 2010, the island of Saba acquired the status of extraordinary municipality of the Netherlands, just like Bonaire and Sint Eustatius. The Netherlands Antilles were dissolved as a separate state and that state as such no longer exists.
Christopher Columbus is said to have sighted Saba on November 13, 1493, but he did not land, being deterred by the island's perilously rocky shores. In 1632 a group of shipwrecked Englishmen landed upon Saba; they stated they found the island uninhabited when they were rescued. However, there has been some evidence found indicating that Carib or Arawak Indians may have been on the island.
In 1635 a stray Frenchman claimed Saba for Louis XIII of France and around the year 1640, the Dutch Governor of the neighboring island of St. Eustatius sent people over to colonize the island for the Dutch West India Company. In 1664, these settlers were evicted to St. Maarten by Thomas Morgan, The Netherlands have been in continuous possession of Saba since 1816 after numerous flag changes (British-Dutch-French) during the previous centuries. Since 2010 the island has a special status as a municipality within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
The environment of Saba is mainly composed of woodland forest with ferns and damp soil, and many mango trees. There used to be forests of Mountain Mahogany trees until a hurricane in the 1960s destroyed many of the trees, which are Freziera undulata in the family Theaceae. However, despite the common name, these trees are not related to other Mahogany species. One species of true mahogany tree is found on the island, planted at lower levels, and that is the small-leaved mahogany, Swietenia mahagoni, Meliaceae. The native mahogany trees are considered to be at risk of going extinct on Saba. Visitors refer to Saba's forests as "the Elfin Forest" because of its high altitude mist, and mossy appearance. Since then there has been a woodland reserve created and aptly named "Elfin Forest Reserve". Saba's lush plant and animal wildlife is diverse and is cared for by the Saba Conservation Foundation.
Visit the Saba Park website for more information on the Saba Park and the Saba Marine Park.
For an island of just 13 square kilometres, Saba has a lot of hiking opportunities. One of the best hikes is the one up Mount Scenery. You can do this hike all the way from Windwardside or even The Bottom, but the shortest one is to start at the end of the mountain road going up from Windwardside and ending near the Ecolodge Rendez Vous (see accommodation below). From here it is a steep 75 minutes up, though most people start in Windwardside, which just adds about 15 minutes. It is very steep, going from about 400 metres up until the top at 877 metres above sea level, the highest point in the Netherlands since the 10th of October 2010, when the island became a special municipality of the Netherlands. The views towards other islands are fantastic.
Another great hike is the 2.5 hour hike around the mountain, from Hell's Gate to the Bottom, which is called the Sandy Cruz Trail. It's not tough, but you have to watch your steps most of the times as there are many rocks and stones. You are walking though thick forests with ferns, palms, flowers, butterflies and birds all surrounding you.
Saba is one of the top destinations in the world to go Scuba diving due to its sheer underwater cliffs, pinnacles, and the multitude of diving locations surrounding the island that each offer an unique experience. The people in the local dive shops are very friendly and great at teaching inexperienced people how to dive. They can take someone without their Open Water Certification and offer them a quick course and certification to get them in the water, or they can take them all the way into getting their Open Water Certification so they can dive without an instructor present. So even if you've never gone diving before, you can get certified in Saba.
To protect the sea around the island, the "Saba Marine Park" has been established. There are 26 designated dive spots.
King's Day on the 27th of April means cultural events, sports activities, picnics and music. Don't forget to wear something Orange to blend in.
Easter is celebrated in March, and due to the high number of people that flock here during this time, reservations are recommended. Tourists should head to the local church on Saba, where celebrations are held for several days.
The most visited and liveliest festival on the island is Carnival. This event is also referred to as the Summer Festival and lures the largest crowds of any event every year. Book hotels in advance as accommodations tend to be overflowing when Carnival comes to the island. Parades, costumes, music, and the rhythms of steel drums dominate the processions through the streets of Saba. The event is held across the last week in July.
The ocean and its marine environment are important for the local Saban community. To help teach visitors and locals alike about the significance of ocean conservation, the Sea and Learn Festival is held in October. Every year, scientists, naturalists, and professors from around the world flock to Saba to make presentations, hold exhibitions, and host shows about life in the surrounding waters. It is a great time for any tourists to visit Saba.
In December, Saba Days is held to showcase the beauty of this fantastic island. The festival is held in honor of the island and incorporates interesting cultural activities, including dancing, sports, and weekend-long barbecues. The fun and games are held across the island, in all of the villages. Nevertheless, The Bottom and Windwardside are usually the busiest spots on Saba during this event.
Saba is a predominantly Roman Catholic island, so it is only natural that Christmas is celebrated here each year. The Sabans believe Christmas to be a big deal and performances are regularly held on the island leading up to the big day (December 25).
Tourists will be surprised by the beauty of Saba on New Year’s Eve. There are plenty of spots for the crowds, so tourists have a lot of options for a New Year’s Eve party on Saba. Of course, due to the many tourists who visit at this time, it is important to book hotels well in advance.
The island of Saba has a hot and humid tropical climate with average daytime temperatures between 28 °C and 30 °C and average nights around 23 °C. Most rain falls between June and October with a chance of hurricanes from August onwards. Therefore, the drier (and slightly cooler) December to April period is the best time to visit weatherwise.
Sint Maarten - Saba vv
The MV Dawn II has sailings 3 times a week according to schedule between Philipsburg on Sint Maarten and Fort Bay on Saba, both leeward islands of the Netherlands Antilles. Crossings are on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, leaving Saba in the morning and returning from Sint Maarten in the late afternoon, taking about 2 hours each way. Sometimes there are cancelations, so check the latest schedule over here.
Another option is taking the Edge Ferry, departing Pelican Marina in St. Maarten at 9am on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, returning from Saba later that day. It takes about 90 minutes to cover the sea between the islands.
Josephus Lambert Hassell was the engineer who, in 1938, designed and supervised the building of the road from Fort Bay to The Bottom. Over the next 23 years, 14 km of road was painstakingly laid by hand and wheelbarrow by locals. It is said the men of Hell's Gate put in the most effort on the project because their village was the farthest away from Fort Bay. However, the creation of the airport later on Flat Point meant that the main point of arrival on Saba was now diametrically opposite: in the northeastern tip, rather than in the southwest.
The people on Saba are very friendly, so hitchhiking from town to town isn't rare. Taxi drivers have even been known to pick up hitchers, not charging them for the ride if that's the direction they're going anyway.
There is a car rental place in The Bottom called Caja's Car Rental; however, you might want to pay attention to how the locals drive on the road before you decide you want to rent a car. Depending on the car, rental rates are $40-50 per day or $220-288 per week. There's just one gas station on Saba, located in Fort Bay and open 9-14 on weekdays and 9-12 on Saturday. The traffic is on the right and speed limits are 20 km/h in the villages and 40 km/h outside them.
Taxis can be called to travel from one town to another, and considering the treacherous nature of The Road (narrow, steep and often ringed with high stone walls), it is probably not wise to try to walk it. The taxi rates from town to town are strictly regulated, so, your likelihood of being hustled is slim. 2 people with 3 bags, airport to Windwardside: $15. Windwardside to The Bottom, 2 people: $10.
If you stay in Windwardside, you can walk to anywhere in Windwardside, and likewise for any of the other villages. But if you stay in one village and want to get to the next, it's probably best to just call a taxi or get a ride in some way. Some of the grocery stores will offer delivery service to where you stay, but be sure to ask if they offer this service before you start buying. Walking along The Road to the Bottom is not particularly pleasant, since traffic is fast and the road is narrow. A pleasant alternative, if somewhat steep, is the walking trail which leaves the Road at the Saba trail shop and meets up with it again directly uphill from the Medical School.
In general citizens of Western Hemisphere, European and "westernized" Asian and Oceanian countries may enter the island with just a passport and stay for 90 days. Other visitors need a visa which has to be applied for at a Dutch embassy, costs €35, and is also valid for the other islands of the Caribbean Netherlands.
See also Money Matters
The Antillean Guilder (Naf) is the official currency for Saba. It is also known as the Florin or Gulden and is subdivided into 100 cents. Note denominations are 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 250 NaF. Coin denominations are 5, 2.5, 1, 0.5, 0.25, 0.1, 0.05, and 0.01 cents.
The Guilder is fixed to the US dollar at an exchange rate of 1.79:1.
In November 2008, it was decided to introduce the US dollar on Saba, just like for Sint Eustatius and Bonaire. This transition is scheduled for January, 2011. From that time, The US Dollar, or "greenback", will be the national currency of Saba. One dollar consists of 100 cents. Frequently used coins are the penny (1¢), nickel (5¢), dime (10¢) and quarter (25¢). 50¢ and $1 coins also exist, but are rarely used. Frequently used banknotes are the $1, $5, $10 and $20 notes. $2, $50 and $100 notes can also be found, but are rarely used.
Every October sees a month-long event put on by Sea & Learn: a non-profit foundation sponsoring events geared toward educating attendees about the flora and fauna of Saba and the surrounding waters. Nightly talks are given at local eating establishments by scientists from around the globe who also perform participative field experiments and/or nature surveys.
There is also a medical school on the island, attended primarily by American and Canadian students.
There are two official languages in Saba: Dutch and English, which is the predominant language.
There are grocery stores in both The Bottom and Windwardside in which travelers can pick up various snacks and food for meals if they want. Meals at restaurants run between $15 and $35 on average, so the grocery stores offer an alternative to that price.
There are a lot of Guava trees (and even an orchard or two) around the island. Locals have been known to share with visitors if asked nicely.
Groceries (including meat that isn't seafood) only comes in on Wednesday, and this leads to a few phenomenon on the island. For instance, Wednesday is the best day of the week to get red meat (from a grocery store or a restaurant) and oftentimes the locals have parties at their homes where they grill out (meeting them and being friendly ahead of time can land you an invite). Additionally, with the exception of Wednesday, seafood will be the freshest food on the island.
There are a few bars on the island including, Guido's (in Windwardside), Lollipop's (just outside The Bottom towards Windwardside), and Swinging doors (in Windwardside). Again all of these places have the locals coming in at the end of the day, and its great way to absorb the local culture. Also the medical students on the island occasionally take time off from studying, so you may also meet them at the bars.
The beers in Saba are mostly Belgian and Caribbean/Mexican brews. Heineken, El Presidente, Carib, and Mackeson are the ones most common throughout.
On Saba the tap water is collected rain water. Most of the time it is safe to drink, ask the locals if it has to be boiled. There are canisters with spring water for sale in the supermarkets.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Saba. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Saba) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Saba. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
Saba is one of the safest destinations in the world. Crime is almost unheard of and everyone leaves their doors open. You can walk around at anytime anywhere though watch out if you are walking on the one and only road on the island. The islanders can drive this road blindly and sometimes don't take notice of tourists who are less familiar with the road.
Saba offers a wide array of trails on which to hike, but know how good a hiker you are before choosing a trail. Some trails can be treacherous, and some hikes very difficult. If you don't go prepared to hike, stick to the easier paths. Beware of slippery moss, mud, and the occasional steep section. A walking stick is a tremendous help in making safe descents down the steep paths, particularly the trails leading to the coast.
See also International Telephone Calls
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Ask Michael-on Saba a question about Saba
I recently moved to Saba, so I'm familiar with many of the questions travelers new to Saba may have.
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