A visit to Saba (SAY-bah) feels like you’ve moved past the velvet rope from the general-admission area of the Caribbean and into the VIP section.

Your introduction to this tiny volcanic island – 5 sq miles (13 sq km), with 2000 residents – begins with a bang: a landing on the world’s shortest commercial runway, at a mere 400m (1312ft). Flying into Saba isn’t for the faint of heart (so don’t tell mom).

But for both aviation enthusiasts and adventure seekers, it’s the kind of experience that comes with immediate bragging rights. (For those a little less keen to take the 12-minute flight from Sint Maarten, there are ferries from that island, and from Sint Eustatius).

However you decide to get there, Saba’s hiking, underwater wildlife and culinary scene provide a gateway to the island’s traditions, culture and way of life. Best of all, you’ll be able to enjoy such pleasures without fighting for space on a trail or beach. 

That is, until the word gets out. 

A cloud hugs the mountaintop of Saba, Caribbean Netherlands
On hilly Saba, the temperatures get cooler the higher you get © Jochem Wijnands / Getty Images

When should I go to Saba?

Before COVID-19, Saba averaged between 10,000 and 15,000 visitors per year; post-COVID, the number has settled around 10,000. Though no visitor will ever encounter large swarms of tourists at one time, anyone who comes has to reserve early for accommodation (there are just 124 rooms on the entire island), car rental and other amenities before they’re all booked up.  

The busiest times for the island are during Carnival (the last Monday in July), Saba Day (the first Friday in December) and the late-year holidays, when the island really comes alive – and everything books up quickly. These events draw not just visitors, but Sabans coming home from abroad. 

The weather is lovely all year round. Things get a little warmer during June, July and August, and cool down at year’s end. The terrain here is hilly, which means temperatures are always cooler at higher elevations.   

Like all Caribbean islands, the threat of hurricanes during the season, from June to November, is a yearly concern. (The last major hurricane to hit Saba was Irma, in 2018.)

Since the world doesn’t stop during this multi-month period, don’t let the threat deter you. Simply make sure to purchase trip insurance, and keep an eye on weather forecasts as your trip approaches.  

How long should I stay in Saba?

Three to five days is an ideal timeframe for visiting Saba. This petite island encourages a slower pace – so lingering at a lookout point on a hiking trail to truly “take it all in,” or relaxing by the pool at the villa you rented, is time well spent.

That said, day trips via ferry from the neighboring islands of Sint Maarten and Sint Eustatius are a popular option. 

Start the day in Windwardside village and grab breakfast at Bizzy B Bakery. If it’s a weekday, you’ll find the area buzzing as locals stop by to grab loaves of fresh-made bread, coffees, teas or pastries before heading to work.

Grab a seat outside and enjoy people-watching while munching on croissants or paninis. The best part about visiting an island this small is you’ll likely recognize a few of these folks already, even though you’ll have just arrived.   

After your quick bite, head to the handful of local shops that sell small trinkets, souvenirs, books and even high-end jewelry (The Jewel Cottage). But if there’s one thing you must grab from one of these small shops, it’s Saba Spice.

Saban families have perfected their own twists on this tasty rum over the years, so while you’ll never learn any of the secret ingredients, you’ll get to enjoy the subtle differences between the different types. Watch for the specific family name on each label.

Windwardside houses the majority of the bars and restaurants on the island. A few standouts include Tropics Cafe, which offers fantastic seafood and Caribbean staples like oxtails; Brigadoon, a stylish spot serving up grilled duck and Japanese tuna salad; and Chez Bubba Bistro, an intimate restaurant with a delicious seasonal menu.

Road to Fort Bay Harbor from The Bottom, Saba, Caribbean Netherlands
The Road – Saba has just one – is twisty, windy marvel of engineering © Wangkun Jia / Shutterstock

Is it easy to get in and around Saba?

If you’d think the short runway is the end of your adrenaline-pumping travel experiences, you’d be wrong. 

Saba sits atop a volcano, which means plenty of hair-raising twists and turns and peaks (the highest point measures 1800ft / 550m above sea level) and valleys on “The Road” (there’s only one). You can rent a car, but hiring a taxi or driver might be best.  

The mere presence of The Road on such hilly terrain is a marvel in itself. Almost 100 years ago, Saban engineer Josephus “Lambee” Hassell took a correspondence course in road building and worked with the residents to construct the island’s one thoroughfare – entirely by hand. It took 25 years to complete.  

A trio of ferries travels to Saba. The Edge, which departs from Sintt Maarten twice a week (Tuesdays and Fridays) and costs approximately $100 for adults ($55 for kids) takes about 90 minutes. The company offers a full-day trip itinerary. Dawn II runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from Philipsburg, Sint Maarten to Fort Bay in Saba. 

The Makana Ferry Service runs between Saba, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten and St Kitts, with departures throughout the week. Ticket prices vary by which island you’re departing from and whether it’s a round trip.

Top things to do in Saba 

Its small size belies all that Saba has to offer. There are a host of activities here, many uniquely Saban. 

Lonely Planet Destination Editor Alicia Johnson holds two small pieces of metal in front of an open flame as Jobean Chambers of Jobean Glassworks looks on, Saba
The author as glassmaker, under the tutelage of Jobean © courtesy of Erik Trinidad

Glassmaking in Saba

If you’re lucky, a furry, four-legged sentinel by the name of Pirate will be waiting to greet you once you arrive at Jobean’s Glass Art Studio. The small white-paneled house located in Windwardside gives little away of the wonders you’ll find inside. 

The brightest is Jobean herself, a 30-year resident of the island who crafts and sells an array of glass jewelry and figurines depicting everything from mermaids to dragons. Jobean learned glassmaking at the world-renowned Corning Studio in Corning, New York, and opened her spot in Saba in 1992. 

The quick-witted, eccentric American offers half-day ($95) and full-day ($150) classes during which visitors make colorful glass beads. Class sizes are between two to four people; the best way to book an appointment is via email

A cony fish in the waters off Saba, Eastern Caribbean
Colorful marine life abounds in the waters around Saba © DJ Mattaar / Shutterstock

Snorkeling and diving in Saba

A kaleidoscope of colorful fish is on full display in Saba’s warm waters. The island is a fantastic snorkeling and diving destination; minimal crowds means ample space to explore with near-perfect visibility.

Whether you submerge a few hundred feet below or skim the surface, the bright blue water teems with turtles, stingrays, eels and healthy coral. 

There are approximately 30 dive sites, mostly found in the waters near The Bottom (the southern part of the island). The two major operators on Saba are Sea Saba and Explorer Venture Fleet

Lonely Planet Destination Editor Alicia Johnson faces the camera on the lookout point at Mas Cohones Hill on the Caribbean Island of Saba. In the background, there are the red rooftops of the Saban homes, a large hill and the expansive blue ocean.
Enjoying the view of Windwardside from the top of Mas' Cahones Hill © courtesy of Kaitlyn Rosati

Hiking in Saba

Saba’s hilly terrain makes for excellent yet challenging hiking. There are 20 trails threaded throughout the island.

Among the most popular is Mas' Cahones Hill. Since the trail can get steep, you’ll find ropes and railings on the steepest sections. The glute burn is worth it once you get to the top, and enjoy truly stunning views of Windwardside. 

Hikers looking for a challenge can veer off Mas Cahones and head up Mt Scenery, the island's dormant volcano (Don't worry the last eruption was in 1640). The lush trail rewards those willing to work with beautiful views from the highest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands Kingdom (Saba is a special municipality of the Dutch realm) at 877m (2877ft).    

Nightlife in Saba

No matter the size, a Caribbean Island is a Caribbean island – which means there’s always a place to enjoy music, dancing and a few adult beverages once the sun sets. 

The weekends are always prime times to join in the merriment; Thursday nights are popular, too. Most of the restaurants in Windwardside, like Long Haul Grill, take on a different vibe with thumping music and just enough space for a little wine (the dance, not the drink) in the evenings. 

In The Bottom, the spot to go is Island Flavor, which serves everything from herb-crusted steak to fresh seafood and pasta dishes. Another popular spot is Ocean Club, located in Fort Bay harbor and known for its drinks and “flavors of the Caribbean” menu.     

A plane takes off at the Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport on the Caribbean island of Saba. It is the shortest commercial runway in the world.
Saba's airport is home to the world's shortest commercial runway, making for a thrilling arrival on the island © Kai Wulf / Courtesy of Saba Tourism

My favorite thing to do in Saba

I’m cool. (Well, at least I try to be). But I’m definitely not one of those overly excited people who love making a scene. Especially when I’m traveling. 

Yet when I got on that twin-engine propeller plane with 20 seats (though only 16 to 17 passengers are allowed at once), I must admit – I became that person. Mushing my face against the window. Taking loads of photos. And (gasp!) even clapping and cheering when the plane landed. I even chatted and took pictures with the pilots once we landed. 

There’s so much that makes this island truly unique – but landing on a 400m runway will linger in my memories forever. 

How much money do I need for Saba?

Saba uses the US dollar. Most places (aside from street vendors) accept major credit cards. If you run out of cash, there are ATMs in Westwardside and The Bottom. 

In comparison to better-known Caribbean destinations, Saba is pricey. Yet when compared to the neighboring islands of St-Barthélemy and Sint Eustatius, there are opportunities to save a little coin. 

  • Hotel room: $129–235 
  • Cottage/villa (two to three bedrooms): $450–950 per night (three-night minimum)   
  • Hiring a taxi: $150–200 (prices vary based on length of stay)
  • Coffee: $3
  • Sandwich: $7.50 
  • Dinner for two (three courses): $120 
  • Beer/pint at the bar:  $3–5
Rows of solar panels along the green mountains of the island of Saba
Solar installations on Saba power the island during the day © Alicia Johnson / Lonely Planet

Things you should know in Saba

Be mindful of water usage

Saba’s entire water supply is dependent on rainfall: every house or business is outfitted with large containers that catch rainwater. When staying at a villa or cottage, keep water use to a minimum – since once the water is gone, it’s gone for good. 

Sustainability efforts  

Between 8am and 5pm, the entire island operates on solar energy. The larger of the two sites is right next to the airport in the village of Zion’s Hill (aka Hell’s Gate). There are plans for a third solar-panel site to make the entire island operate on solar power 24/7.   

Fight for that airplane seat 

Let me be clear: no one is advocating violence. But hands-down, the best seat on the plane to Saba is in the front. Since it’s first come, first serve, that means you have to be at the front of the line at all times.

Line up early at the gate, don’t go to the back of the shuttle taking you to the aircraft and always keep a brisk pace when walking toward the plane. This isn’t a time for tying your shoes or helping someone with their bags. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You can apologize later.  

Grocery days

Every Wednesday is grocery day in Saba, when fresh fruit from Miami via Sint Maarten arrives on the island. If you’re in town during this moment, you may find longer-than-usual lines at grocery stores. 

Tight quarters 

There are only 124 rooms on the island, including cottages, villas and hotels (plans are underway for a sixth hotel). By comparison, St-Barthélemy (11 miles long and 2.5 miles wide) has approximately 2500 rooms. You’ll be among an elite group of visitors during your time on Saba.  

Alicia Johnson traveled to Saba with support from the Saba Tourist Bureau. Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.

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