Christopher Columbus supposedly spotted the five-square-mile island of Saba in 1493. Just a 12-minute flight south of Saint Maarten and northwest of Saint Kitts and Nevis, it is the Netherlands’ smallest municipality and one of the world’s hottest diving destinations.
Unlike most Caribbean islands, Saba lacks the white sand beaches that attract sunbathers, and its craggy coastline -- Saba’s name is thought to derive from the word for rock in Arawak Indian -- makes it inhospitable to cruise ships. The result is fewer visitors, clearer water, and wonderfully untouched diving zones.
The island’s volcanic origins have bestowed the surrounding sea with shallow patch reefs and exquisite seamounts, or towers formed by hardened lava that stretch from 300 feet below sea level to 100 feet above the surface. Thanks to a self-sustaining marine park established in 1987, visitors can swim freely alongside hawksbill turtles, dolphins, lobsters, stingrays, and hundreds of bright tropical fish.
However, Saba’s activities don’t end once you reach the water’s edge. Active volcanoes and woodland forests offer excellent hiking trails, including the self-guided ascent to Mount Scenery, the island’s highest point; and the more extreme North Coast path that passes through old town ruins and culminates in endless ocean vistas. From there, you can see the island’s silhouette, which was used as the backdrop for Skull Island in the 1933 film King Kong.
Of course, the best thing about Saba is that -- between its tiny airport and rocky coastline -- it hasn’t yet succumbed to the exploits of mass tourism. Do go -- but perhaps just don’t tell anyone about it.
Delta, American, and JetBlue offer a total of 29 weekly flights into Saint Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM). From there, Windward Islands Airways (WinAir) operates four (sometimes more) flights daily to Saba.
Alternatively, you can reach Saba from Saint Maarten by ferry, which runs daily to Saba.