Saba – Juliana's Hotel/Sea Saba February 2013
We went to Saba to check out the diving and hiking. We chose Juliana's because of the hotel and dive package and recommendations from our dive travel agent. Warning Saba is not for people with mobility problems, you will be walking to the restaurants in town and all the roads have steep climbs. It is also not for people that want night life or beaches.
Getting There and Back:
We flew WestJet to St. Martin and Winair to Saba. WestJet had flights Tuesdays, Thursday and Sundays so we were able to go for 10 days We were worried about missing the connecting flight to Saba so we spent the night in St. Martin and flew to Saba the next morning. Winair flies to Saba 4 times a day except on Sunday (3 times) The last flight out is at 17:30 and if you are arriving in St, Martin the same day you are flying to Saba you have to allow time to clear immigration, get your luggage, clear customs, check-in with Winair, go through security and get to your gate. Depending on how many flights just arrived this can take a while. Westjet allows 1 checked bag at 23KG and does not have a dive gear allowance (we paid $20 for an extra bag). Winair allows 1 checked bag at 23KG and does not have a dive gear allowance (we paid $25 for an extra bag). Winair has a 3KG single carry-on limit but we did not see them checking anybody. BUT the Winair plane is small (Twin Otter 19 passenger prop. plane) and any large carry-on will be sitting on your lap for the entire flight! We did not pay any airport taxes in st. Martin only when leaving Saba. Now for the plane ride!!! This is the smallest commercial runway in the world. Pilots have to have special training to land here – the runway is short and you come in right beside the cliff. The cockpit door was open both ways and you could watch the pilot and co-pilot both working the controls during landings.
Juliana's is in the town of Windwardside, which is part way up a hill and most of town is up hill from the resort. Like all the places on Saba, Juliana's is small (12 rooms, 1 apartment, 3 cottages), the pool and hot tub are right beside the Tropics Cafe (where you go for breakfast). Breakfast was included in our package, all options were good but the coconut pancakes and everything pancakes were excellent. We had the Lily Pond Cottage which was nice and private with a large screened porch and yard with an ocean view. We used the kitchen to make lunches, coffee and snacks. Everything was clean and in good repair and both the people that ran the resort and their dogs were friendly and helpful.
Saba is not a large island and is not easy to get too, which means that there are not a lot of tourists and no “tourist traps”. There are about 1600 people on the island plus 400 medical students. The island is 5 square miles; most of it straight up and down. There are no beaches and little to do unless you dive or hike. Most of the hiking trails start from Windwardside and there were a number of trails through the mountains. The hiking is a lot of ups and downs so make sure to bring water and a hiking stick. Restaurants alternate which days they are open, so plan your dining to match what is open that day.
For some of the restaurants reservations are a must - Lynn at the dive shop will help you with them and even setup a cab if you need one. Don't miss BBQ nights at Swinging Doors, slide show nights at the Brigadoon and the Rainforest Restaurant. For a special meal eat in the "tree-house" at the Queen's Gardens Restaurant. For a great view eat out on one of the terraces at Scout's Place.
The first dive of the day on Saba tends to be deep, out on the pinnacles or rocks. They also have dive sites that are not as deep on the walls closer to shore.
The deep dives we did on Sharks Shoals 110', 3rd Encounter 103' and Twilight Zone 98' were all advanced dives deep (and you could easily have gone deeper) and out in the open water. These deep dives did have clear viz. and we saw large groupers, turtles, a few sharks, bar jacks, horse-eyed jacks and some nice cleaner stations. 3rd encounter has a needle off in the blue that you have to follow the dive guide to go out and see.
While these deep dives were interesting my dive buddy & I are more into macro stuff and photography and we prefer the shallower dives because they have more fish/critters and you get a longer bottom time. The shallow dives we did at Tent Reef, Custom's House and Ladder Labyrinth, (54' to 80') were wall dives on the lee side of the island. We saw lots of turtles, barracuda, grey angels, lobsters, long snout butterfly fish, balloon fish, many cleaning stations, gold spotted morays, blennies, gobies, etc.
Because the wind died down we got to dive Grier's Gut, Core Gut and Big Rock Market (68' to 74') on the windward side of the island. These are true "ecological" reefs with white sand and patch reefs. We saw huge barrel sponges, feather dusters, burr fish, southern stingray, chubb, goat-fish, queen angels, french angels, elk-horn coral, garden eels, horse-eyed jacks, cleaning stations, etc.
We asked to do the "muck" dive (60') so one afternoon we went out to where they moor the boats and went down to see what we could find. We found a tire with 6" crab in it, thousands of garden eels, a friendly flounder, sea cucumber, rosy razor fish, a trunk fish blowing up the sand, bristle-worms on a mooring block, black blenny, a tile-fish cleaning out his hole, arrow crabs, sailfin blenny, pike blenny, large southern stingray, spotted eagle ray, etc.
We also did a dive on Diamond Rock (80') which is an advanced dive because of the current. We went down the mooring line and across the sand to the base of the rock (which goes from the sand to above the water) and then you do one circuit of the rock which takes about 45 minutes. The current is strong as you go around two of the corners of the rock and not bad the rest of the time. There was lots of life and colour on the rock. We saw large french angels, lots of queen angels (5 in one group), large school masters, a turtle gnawing on the wall, Nassau grouper, queen triggers, yellow-fin grouper, a school of horse-eyed jacks followed us back to the mooring line, lots of jacks, etc. This was a tie with the muck dive for our favorite dive on Saba.
Dive Shop– Sea Saba
The dive shop is in the town of Windwardside but the boats are down at Fort Bay Harbour. You will make your diving arrangements with Lynn at the dive shop but she will also help you make dinner reservations or give you information about the island. She will make sure you get picked up at your hotel every morning for the 10 to 15 minute ride to the harbor. Sea Saba has a building at the harbor where tanks are stored. Your dive gear will be rinsed and stored on the boat. When you arrive at the boat you check all your gear, check your Nitrox percent, set up your gear and after a briefing, away you go. Sea Saba has two large boats but does not "over-fill" them. Note; only one of the boats has a head but both have lots of shade and space.
The best question is would you go somewhere again? The answer is yes, the resort was nice, the food was good, the people were friendly and the diving was good. Saba would be a good place for divers that like a quiet place or a dive group that is willing to make their own evening entertainment.