Unlike its flat as a pancake near neighbor, Anguilla, and its hilly but not mountainous neighbor Saint Martin, Saba rises high up out of the sea, reaching . A volcanic peak, with lava tunnels running below the ocean, Saba island offers fascinating diving due to the sea life that now inhabits the lava tunnels. For those of us who prefer to stay above the water, hiking in Saba is the thing to do.
Before setting out on any trail, stopping in at the Trail Shop in Windwardside is an absolute must. They will tell you which trails are washed out by landslides, what the conditions are like, and the direction in which you ought to hike. Most importantly, they will give you whistles for safety as you put your name down in the register. Use the whistles if you get lost or fall off the trail since yelling doesn’t carry well and can tire you out extremely quickly. The trail register is so that you can be found, should you run into any trouble. The Trail Shop has a map of all the trails on the island available for $5. For several of the trails, it isn’t necessary. That said, if you’d like the Trail Shop staff to tell you where about landmarks in Hell’s Gate and coffee shops for after your descent, then spring for the map and support the shop.
Mount Scenery is the peak, and the go-to for the bucket list if you are hiking in Saba. Mount Scenery is 2,910 feet (887 meters) above sea level and the trail will take you all of the way to the top. The estimate of 90 minutes one way, including photo time and some time dedicated to waiting for the clouds to clear, is quite accurate for moderately fit folks. Our time was 75 minutes up, 25 minutes at the top and 35 minutes down.
The trail is entirely paved with concrete and stone, with large steps leading you up and up through a tropical canopy. The trail itself strongly resembles the Grouse Grind, in Vancouver, BC, but set in a more tropical environment. Walking sticks are available, no charge, from the Trail Shop and are definitely recommended. The Mount Scenery trail can get quite steep in section and the concrete and stone is covered in fallen wet leaves and moisture, making it very slick. It is possible to do without walking sticks, but they are advisable, especially after a rain. Ensure you take plenty of water, consider picking up some granola bars in Windwardside, and allow yourself sufficient time to complete the hike. There are several spurs off of this trail, allowing you to look across the ocean in multiple directions and to return on a bit of a loop instead of on the same path. Check in with the Trail Shop for details.
The Ladder, like virtually everything on Saba island, is lots of ups and downs. This time you are going down before you go up, however. The Ladder is a set of stone steps which descend from The Bottomdown to the sea-shore. It takes approximately one hour round trip to hike the Ladder. The steps start out large and progress down to small, staircase sized steps by the bottom, with vantage points most of the way. The trail is in a shaded area for approximately half and then completely out in the elements for the remainder. This route used to be how all goods and people made their way onto the island, step by step. Ships moored further out and sent tenders in, which were offloaded on the shore and carried up by people.
The Sandy Cruz trail is the locals’ favorite, at least according to those we talked to! This 2.5 hour, one way trail will take you from Hell’s Gate to the Bottom (or vice-versa, however that is not the recommended direction). Relatively flat by Saban standards, it crosses through four different vegetation zones. You should be able to spy more than the ubiquitous chickens and goats, since there are all sorts of birds and lizards along the trail as well. This trail is also home to lots of mud and slick patches, so be sure to take walking sticks with you. Carry water, some snacks, and cab fare for getting back home or to the trail head. That is, if you don’t catch a lift the Saban way – hitchhiking!
Have you ever hiked in Saba? What are you favorite hiking stories? Please share with us in the comments below.