This 5-square-mile Island Has a 'Disappearing Beach' — and It's Called the 'Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean'

Saba also has epic diving and the world's shortest commercial runway.

<p>Kai Wulf</p>

Kai Wulf

If you've never heard of Saba, you’re not alone. Relatively few Caribbean-bound travelers know about this five-square-mile island with a population under 2,000 and neighbor to St. Barts. But once you know, you go. Here's how to plan the perfect visit to Saba, including the best time to visit, where to stay, and what to do while you're there.

Things to Know Before You Go

A municipality of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Saba doesn’t have large resorts, casinos, fast-food franchises, or duty-free shopping malls. And there are no concrete high-rises on this island that bills itself as the "Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean." Instead, charming, white, wooden cottages with forest-green shutters and red-tin roofs punctuate the island’s hills. Saba is also a Caribbean anomaly, the tip of a now-dormant underwater volcano with no beaches except for the tiny black-sand "disappearing beach" at Well's Bay, seen only from June through October. So, a stay here isn’t for your everyday sun- and sand-seeking visitor. Instead, Saba attracts adventurous travelers (about 9,000 a year in pre-pandemic years), who come mostly to hike, dive, or simply relax.

Best Time to Visit Saba (and How to Get There)

<p>Kai Wulf</p>

Kai Wulf

Saba is a good idea any time of year, but know that if you visit during the Caribbean’s high season (December through April), airfares and hotel rates will be more expensive. Arriving by air from St. Maarten is a 13-minute white-knuckle adventure, culminating at Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, where the roughly 1,300-foot-long airstrip is the shortest commercial runway in the world. If you can’t stomach the flight, the Makana Ferry operates from Bobby’s Marina on the Dutch side of St. Maarten, as does the Edge, which leaves from Simpson Bay.

Where to Stay on Saba

<p>Kai Wulf</p>

Kai Wulf

With only three resort-style hotels (Queen’s Hotel, Bar, & Kitchen, Juliana’s Hotel, and Saba Arawak Hotel), plus a handful of cottages and bed-and-breakfasts, accommodations on Saba are limited to roughly 120 rooms. This means you’ll need to book early, but also that the island never feels crowded, so you’ll always be able to enjoy its laid-back vibe. The island is an easy day trip from St. Maarten, so consider the packages (including lunch and an island tour) offered by the Edge ferry as a way to "try before you buy."

Best Things to Do on Saba

<p>Chad Nuttal</p>

Chad Nuttal

If you’re a hiker or diver, this is your spot. Saba rises sharply from the sea to the sky, crisscrossed with both easy and challenging hiking trails. The most popular is Mount Scenery, the highest point on the island (and in the entire Kingdom of the Netherlands), at 2,910 feet. Saba’s unique topography also means superb diving, with reefs, seamounts, and structures created by underwater lava flows just offshore. (Note that shore diving isn’t permitted on Saba.) The Pinnacles — thin spires that rise from the sea floor — are diving hot spots, with one — the Eye of the Needle — peaking 90 feet below the surface. Otherwise, Saba is a tranquil place to get away from it all, to relax and read a book as puffy clouds drift by silently, grazing the green peaks of its signature hills.

What to Buy on Saba

Back away from the T-shirts and shot glasses — Saba Spice, a dark rum infused with cinnamon bark, fennel seed, and cloves, is only made here and makes for an excellent before- or after-dinner drink. Lace handkerchiefs and accessories, made using a drawn thread work technique for more than a century, also make for thoughtful souvenirs.

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