Pop quiz: which Caribbean island was once the busiest seaport in the world but is unfamiliar to most people today?
Yup: Sint Eustatius (or Statia, as locals say) was the darling of the Caribbean in the 18th century when it became a tax-free haven under the Dutch and the busiest trading port for cargo bouncing between Europe and the American colonies. By the 1790s, over 3500 ships landed in what was nicknamed 'Golden Rock' every year and the island population exceeded 30,000 people. The party ended in 1796 when the French took over Statia and instituted heavy taxes, thereby driving the merchants away.
Today, the island has a cult following among scuba divers and hikers and those who enjoy sun-kissed days of blissful nothingness. Statia's sole town – and capital – Oranjestad is a sleepy and unprepossessing collection of cottages and vestiges of a bygone era. It is divided into Upper Town and Lower Town down by the waterfront. The rest of the island is made up of rugged, rural terrain.Formerly part of the now-dissolved Netherlands Antilles, Statia became a 'special municipality' of the Netherlands in 2010 and adopted the US dollar as its currency in 2011.