A Great Little Island to Escape from the World
Saba (see Wikipedia) is located in the Caribbean about 28 miles south of San Maarten. It is part of the Netherlands and, I believe has the highest peak (Mount Scenery) in the entire Dutch lands. I’m not going to try and sell anyone on the Island itself, rather, I will give you my perspective of the five things I look for when on a diving vacation; locals, accommodations, food, dive service, and the dives themselves. Weather is another factor but because weather varies throughout the year, I leave that to you to determine. I will point out specific characteristics on the weather under accommodations if necessary. Let’s begin:
The Local Inhabitants 10/10
Saba’s locals are a mix of Caribbeans and other countries. I think the original inhabitants were Scottish or there abouts. Very hard working. Today the mentality is the same – hard workers. All seem friendly and a good mix. My perception was that there is very little crime on this tiny island because the population is small and the degrees of separation are limited – everyone knows each other to some degree. The main language is English.
Saba is unique in one respect. Most Caribbean islands have a specific climate and an environment that compliments the climate, e.g., Curacao is desert-like environment. Saba, depending on elevation, has everything. Low, sea-level, is desert-like. As one goes higher the environment becomes more temperate/tropical. Finally, at it’s higher elevations a rain forest environment appears.
The Hotel we stayed at was called Juliana’s. It is definitely not a 5-star going to get married and house all my guests at hotel. However, it is an excellent scuba-trip hotel. The owner, Win, has connected with Sea Saba, the dive shop and boat charter, and the taxi service to provide a full fare one-stop dive resort. Moreover, everyone knows each other and all work well together.
Juliana’s is quaint, typical of Saba, and walking distance to the “downtown” of Windwardside. The rooms have tile floors typical of a dive resort and televisions that pick up a variety of channels (if that is your idea of a vacation). Not all rooms have air conditioning but that is not a problem. The typical weather provides a cool, if somewhat moist, breeze. Most room views are spectacular. There is a pool by Tropic’s Cafe for cooling off and relaxing. At night the population of small frogs that inhabit Saba make their presence heard with a magnificent chorus of croaking. Believe me, they sound is beautiful. On that subject, I do not remember any problems with bugs such as mosquitoes.
Part of Juliana’s is the Tropic’s Cafe. Win, the owner of Juliana’s, also runs Tropic’s Cafe and does a fantastic job of being the cook for breakfast. There are cooks for lunch and dinner and the
proximity of it makes it a great feature. A beautiful 10-minute walk to the heart of Windwardside brings you to several more restaurants such as Eden Saba (above the Sea Saba shop) and Brigadoon. There is also the Eco-Lodge located half way up Mount Scenery that is a must and Bistro del Mare at the Shearwater Resort located on the east side. Jeff and Donna from JND Scuba, who organized the trip, scheduled us to eat at a different restaurant each night for dinner. There was never a bad dinner and I would rate most of them 5-star.
Dive Service 10/10
The dive shop that we used was Sea Saba (above). There is another dive shop in Windwardside although I don’t remember the name. Sea Saba has a shop in Windwardside that is mainly the selling of services and some equipment, mostly tourist stuff like hats, shirts, and towels. It also has an equipment shop at the harbor where their boats load divers. There are no accommodations by the shore on this island so addressing the issue of travel from hotel to harbor is a must. Sea Saba can organize everything with a call including accommodations, travel and the dives. I think they even helped with dinner reservations for the week. Like I said, it is a small community and everyone knows (and helps) each other.
The dive masters and and crew are great. They take your gear upon your arrival and when you get to the boat in the morning it is already on your tank. if you are using nitrox (recommended since dives average deeper than 60 feet) they will also analyze your tanks while you watch. This means travel to and from the dive boats are comfortable.
Actual Dives 8/10
The dives at Saba depend heavily on the prevailing wind. The winds while we were there came from the east so we dove the leeward side. Saba is a volcanic peak and has no organic reefs (reefs created from natural reef growth). Instead, rocks and boulders that have rolled into the sea from the steep cliffs have become the lodging place for coral to attach and grow. What may seem like large coral reefs are actually coral covered boulders which makes for a unique dive experience.
The surface of the seas seemed to be more rolling and bouncy than other Caribbean destinations but descending just a few feet under the waves frees you of the surface to a surprisingly calm dive. That was the norm for most dives. Only one dive I remember had a strong underwater current. Notable dives include Diamond Rock and The Needle. Do not avoid diving Diamond Rock! The surface look treacherous but 70 feet down is a sandy bottom and you can swim all around the foot of Diamond Rock. Just remember when and where to turn back to the boat.
A visit to Saba is a great experience. The diving is great (8/10 – my grading on the diving is more realistic than the other categories) and there are plenty of on shore activities. The food is absolutely to die for. it is a scenic escape with a great population of very friendly people.