Saba – an unspoilt island paradise in the West Indies

saba-islandThe smallest island of the Netherlands Antilles, Saba is an unspoilt island paradise in the West Indies. The rocky island is the cone of an extinct volcano rising out of the sea to 850 m (2,800 ft). The peak of the volcano, Mount Scenery, is the highest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Despite being Dutch, the island’s main language is English, which has been used in the school system here since 1986.

The first European to discover Saba was Christopher Columbus in 1493, though he did not go ashore due to the steep rocky cliffs which surround the island. In 1632 a group of British sailors landed on Saba after they were shipwrecked nearby. They said the island was uninhabited, but it seems likely that Carib or Arawak Indians may have been living there at the time. The island then passed variously between French, Dutch and British hands until the Netherlands finally took possession in 1816.

During the 17th century the island was used as a hideout for local pirates. England also deported its undesirables to the area and many of them, too, became pirates taking refuge on Saba. The most famous was Hiram Breakes who coined the phrase ‘Dead men tell no tales’. Through the 17th and 18th centuries, the major industries on the island were sugar, rum and lobster fishing. Legitimate trade soon became important and the islanders exported Saba lace, made by the island’s women.

Today there are four charming villages on the island – Hell’s Gate, Windwardside, St John’s and The Bottom. The verdant forests, punctuated by the red roofs of the villages, offer a stunning contrast to the brilliant blue sea surrounding the island. The waters here are clear and the island is renowned as an excellent dive site.

Population: 1,349 (2001)

When to go: September to February

How to get there: By plane or ferry from the nearby Island of St Martin.

Highlights: Diving around Saba’s famous pinnacles – there are numerous large fish species here, and shark sightings are becoming more frequent.

Mount Scenery – the peak of this ancient volcano can be climbed via a series of over 1,000 steps. Alternatively, take a car up the narrow road which spirals to the top through the lush vegetation.

The quaint villages on the island are old-fashioned and delightful, and the local people very friendly. Take the time to look for some lovely Saba lace to take home as a souvenir.

Saba Spice – the local Saba island rum is masterfully blended with Canadian rum to achieve a smooth, distinctive, complex taste.

You should know: The Saban Government has its own hyperbaric chamber to treat those suffering from decompression sickness, so you will be well looked after if you over-do it.

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