Underwater Alps, and Room in the Clouds at Day’s End
With just 1,200 inhabitants, diminutive Saba is neither chic nor fancy. But those with a thing for mountains – above or below the water – consider it a regular heaven on earth. Trekkers take to 3,000-foot Mount Scenery – the forest-clad tip of an extinct volcano, whose walls plunge into the blue-green sea – and if it looks like the backdrop of King Kong, that’s because it was. The classic movie was partially filmed here. Rare and uncommon creatures appear below the water as well, and in quantity, but divers are just as surprised by what they don’t see than what they do; with little tourism, Saba and its offshore waters remain uncrowded and uncorrupted.
Saba Marine Park encircles the small island, the result of a farsighted government that chose to safeguard a pristine ecosystem rather than be forced to repair a damaged one later on. Coral-encrusted rocks, boulders, reefs, and a marked snorkeling trail draw less-experienced divers, but it’s the spectacular pinnacles and offshore seamounts that make Saba a world-class diving destination. Challenging sites have atmospheric names that say it all: Shark Shoal, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, and Third Encounter.
Since gumdrop-shaped Saba’s 5 square miles are mostly vertical, it makes sense to spend the night in the clouds, at Willard’s of Saba. At 2,000 feet, the views from the hotel’s pool are heart-stopping, taking in the immense sea, Saba’s five neighboring islands, and sometimes the clouds themselves. Like everything else on the island – from one of the world’s shortest commercial airstrips to The Road (there’s only one, with switchbacks up one side of the island and down the other) – the hotel is an extraordinary feat of engineering if only because of the difficulty of bringing construction materials to the site. Getting there can be hair-raising. Nevertheless, Willard’s is the perfect aerie in which to catch up with your reading or your thoughts, and its level of taste and sophistication is a happy surprise. Your appetite will be more than satisfied at the deft hands of chef Corazon de Johnson S., whose Asian background is evident in the exquisite meals she turns out for her happily captive guests.