Saba is a Caribbean island which is the smallest special municipality (officially “public body”) of the Netherlands. It consists largely of the potentially active volcano Mount Scenery, which at 887 metres (2,910 ft) is the highest point of the entire Kingdom of the Netherlands. The island lies in the northern Leeward Islands portion of the West Indies, southeast of the Virgin Islands. Together with Bonaire and Sint Eustatius it forms the BES islands.

Saba has a land area of 13 square kilometres (5.0 sq mi). The population was 1,933 as of January 2020, with a population density of 148 inhabitants per square kilometre (380/sq mi). It is the smallest territory by permanent population in the Americas. Its towns and major settlements are The Bottom (the capital), Windwardside, Zion’s Hill and St. Johns.

The earliest written mention of Saba by its present name appears in a 1595 voyage account written by John Hawkins. While the origin of the island’s name remains unknown, many theories surround meaning of the name Saba, including the following: the Arawak word for rock (siba), the French word for wooden shoe (sabot), the Spanish word for Saturday (sabado), Savah from the story of the Magi, and the Biblical Queen of Sheba.

Before its present name, the island was designated “St. Christopher” by Christopher Columbus, as recorded on Juan de la Cosa’s Mapamundi map in 1500.


Flag of Saba

The flag of Saba (vlag van Saba) was adopted on December 6, 1985 (national day of the island). 130 different designs were presented to the commission. The chosen flag was designed by an 18-year-old Saban named Edmond Daniel Johnson.

Saba accepted Dutch sovereignty after 1816 and used the Dutch flag. However, since some islanders considered Saba a “republic”, they added a special symbol – a green cabbage — to emphasize their independence, and this symbol was used probably until about the 1920s.



Saba is thought to have been inhabited by the Ciboney people as early as the 1100s BC. Later, circa 800 AD, Arawak people from South America settled on the island.

Christopher Columbus is said to have sighted the island on 13 November 1493, however, he did not land, being deterred by the island’s perilous rocky shores. In 1632, a group of shipwrecked Englishmen landed upon Saba. In the 1640s, the Dutch governor of the neighbouring island of Sint Eustatius sent several Dutch families over to colonise the island for the Dutch West India Company. In 1664, refusing to swear allegiance to the English crown, these original Dutch settlers were evicted to St. Maarten by Jamaican governors-cum-pirates Edward, Thomas, and Henry Morgan. The Netherlands eventually gained complete control of the island in 1816.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Saba’s major industries were sugar, indigo and rum produced on plantations owned by Dutchmen living on St. Eustatius, and later fishing, particularly lobster fishing. To work these plantations, slaves from Africa were imported. In the 17th century, Saba was believed to be a favourable hideout for Jamaican pirates. England also deported its “undesirable” people to live in the Caribbean colonies, and some of them also became pirates, a few taking haven on Saba. As the island’s coast is forbidding and steep, the island became a private sanctuary for the families of smugglers and pirates. A notable Saban pirate was Hiram Beakes, son of the Dutch councillor of the island.

Later, legitimate sailing and trade became important, and many of the island’s men took to the sea. During that time, Saba lace, a Spanish form of needlework introduced by a nun from Venezuela, became an important product made by the island’s women. Throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century, the primary source of revenue for the island came from the lacework produced by these women. During this period of time, with most of the island’s men gone out to sea for extended periods, the island became known as “The Island of Women”.

In 1943, Joseph ‘Lambee’ Hassell, a self-taught engineer, began building a road on Saba, drastically improving transport on the island, which prior to that had been carried out only by foot or by mule. An airport followed in 1963, and a larger pier geared for tourist boats in 1972. As a result, tourism increased, gradually becoming a major part of the Saban economy.

A status referendum was held in Saba on 5 November 2004. 86.05% of the population voted for closer links to the Netherlands. This was duly achieved in October 2010, when the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved and Saba became a special municipality of the Netherlands.


Geography & Ecology

Saba is a small island at 13 square kilometres (5.0 sq mi) in size and roughly circular in shape. It lies north-west of Sint Eustatius and south-west of Saint Barthélemy and Sint Maarten. The terrain is generally mountainous, culminating in Mount Scenery in the island’s centre. Off the north coast lies the much smaller Green Island.

Saba is the northernmost potentially active volcano in the Lesser Antilles Volcanic Arc chain of islands. At 887 metres (2,910 ft), Mount Scenery is also the highest point within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The island is composed of a single rhombus-shaped volcano measuring 4.6 kilometres (2.9 mi) east to west and 4.0 kilometres (2.5 mi) north to south The oldest dated rocks on Saba are around 400,000 years old, and the most recent eruption was shortly before the 1630s European settlement (280 years B.P.). Between 1995 and 1997, an increase in local seismic activity was associated with a 7–12 °C (13–22 °F) rise in the temperature of the hot springs on the island’s northwest and southeast coasts.

There is an 8.6 hectares (21 acres) cloud forest located at and above 825 metres (2,707 ft)[20] on top of the mountain referred to as the “Elfin Forest Reserve” because of its high altitude mist and mossy appearance. The most dominant tree in the cloud forest is the Mountain Mahogany (Freziera undulate), although hurricanes over the years have destroyed a large number of the mature trees. Despite the name, the mountain mahogany is not related to other mahogany species; although one species of true mahogany tree is found on the island at lower levels, the small-leaved mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni). In the underbrush of the mahogany trees, the Sierran palm (Prestoea montana) and tree ferns dominate, with a large variety of epiphytes and Orchids growing on the trunks and branches of all the trees. Wild raspberries and plantain trees can also be found growing on most of the mountain. All seven of the Lesser Antilles Endemic Bird Area restricted-range birds occur in the Elfin Forest Reserve.

Below the cloud forest is a sub-montane forest, and the variety and average number of species are considerably less. Redwood and Mountain fuchsia tree trees grow wild in this zone, as well as cactus species such as the prickly pear, and Seagrape trees. On the lowest southern and eastern slopes of Saba are grassy meadows and scattered shrubs. Saba National Land Park  is a 35 hectares (86 acres) national park located on the north coast of Saba. Formerly owned by the Sulphur Mining Company, the park was established in January 1998 and the property was officially turned over to the Saba Conservation Foundation in 1999. It stretches from the coastline all the way up to the cloud forest, and encompasses all vegetation zones present on Saba.

The coastline of Saba is mostly rubble and rocky cliffs that are 100 metres (330 ft) or taller with no permanent beaches. The steep terrain and sheer bluffs dropping almost straight down to the ocean’s edge prevents the formation of mangrove swamps or much vegetation. There are eight bays tucked into the cliffs around the island; Cove Bay, Spring Bay, Core Gut Bay, Fort Bay (location of the island’s only port), Tent Bay, Ladder Bay, Wells Bay and Cave of Rum Bay. The shoreline of the island is of particular value to sea birds, and has been designated an Important Bird Area (IBA AN006 – “Saba Coastline”) by BirdLife International. Saba is home to about sixty species of birds, many of which are sea birds that use the holes and crevices of the steep cliffs and two small islands for breeding and feed in the waters around the island. Saba’s shoreline is home to the Caribbean’s largest breeding colony of Red-billed tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus). The Audubon’s Shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri) is another common bird, and is the national bird of Saba as well as being featured on their coat of arms.

Being an island, Saba is home to a number of endemic species including the Saban black iguana (Iguana melanoderma), Saba racer (Alsophis rufiventris), the Saban anole (Anolis sabanus), and the Lesser Antillean funnel-eared bat (Natalus stramineus stramineus).

About 4.3 kilometres (2.7 mi) southwest of the island is the northeastern edge of the Saba Bank, the largest submarine atoll in the Atlantic Ocean with an especially rich biodiversity. Saba Bank is the top of a sea mount and it is a prime fishing ground, particularly for lobster.



Relationship with the Netherlands

Saba became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands after the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles on 10 October 2010 and is not part of a Dutch province. The island’s constitutional status, as well as those of Sint Eustatius and Bonaire, is set out in the Law on the Public Entities BES (Dutch: Wet op de Openbare Lichamen BES).

Sabans vote for members of the Dutch House of Representatives, the members of which are elected on a party-list proportional method. During the 2017 Dutch general election, a majority of Sabans voted for Democrats 66. Of the island’s 2,000 residents, 900 were eligible to vote, and of those, 42.8% (or 385 people) voted.

Sabans with Dutch nationality are allowed to vote in elections for the Electoral College to elect the members of the Dutch Senate. The 2019 elections on Saba, held concurrently with the 2019 Island Council Elections resulted in four of the five Saban seats in the Electoral College going to the Windward Islands People’s Movement and one seat going to the Saba Labour Party.


The island governor is the head of the government of Saba. The Dutch monarch appoints the governor for a term of six years, and he or she falls under the supervision of the minister of the interior and kingdom relations. The island governor chairs meetings of both the Island Council and the Executive Council.

They are also responsible for representing the island’s government both in and out of court, maintaining public order, implementing policy and legislation, coordinating with other governments, and receiving and handling complaints about the island’s government.

The incumbent island governor is Jonathan G. A. Johnson.


Saba’s legislative body is the Island Council, of which there are five members. Councillors are elected by the citizens of the island every four years. The Island Council holds the power to:

  • Appoint and remove commissioners of the Executive Council.
  • Pass ordinances to be enforced by the Executive Council.
  • Ask questions of the Executive Council.
  • Begin an investigation into the governor or the Executive Council.
  • Approve the budget.


The Executive Council, appointed by the Island Council, acts as the executive branch of government. The council has the following responsibilities:

  • Day-to-day administration of the island, except for duties reserved for the Island Council or the governor.
  • Executing policies and legislation passed by the Island Council.
  • Establishing rules regarding the administration of the island, except the Registry.
  • Appointing, promoting, suspending, or dismissing public officials, except those working for and including the registrar.
  • Preparing defence of the island.
  • Maintaining contact with Dutch ministries in the Hague.
  • Executing policies and legislation from the national government.

The council appoints the island secretary, currently Tim Muller.

The council consists of the island governor and two commissioners appointed by the Island Council, currently both members of the WIPM. Each member of the Executive Council is assigned portfolios to oversee.



Since 2011, the U.S. dollar has been the official currency, replacing the Netherlands Antillean guilder. Agriculture on Saba is primarily livestock and vegetables, especially potatoes. Saba lace, also known as “Spanish work”, is actually drawn thread work and is still produced on the island.


The tourism industry now contributes more to the island’s economy than any other sector. There are about 25,000 visitors each year. Saba has a number of inns, hotels, rental cottages and restaurants. Saba is known as the “Unspoiled Queen” of the Caribbean. Saba is especially known for its ecotourism, having exceptional scuba diving, climbing and hiking.

The Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport offers flights to and from the nearby islands of St. Maarten and Sint Eustatius. There is also a ferry service from St. Maarten; the ferry boats “Dawn II ~ The Saba Ferry” and “The Edge” both travel to Saba three times a week. In addition, there are anchorages for private boats.

About 150 species of fish have been found in Saba’s waters. A main draw for divers are the pinnacle dive sites, where magma pushed through the sea floor to create underwater towers of volcanic rock that start at about 300 feet (91 m) down and rise to about 85 feet (26 m) beneath the surface. The waters around Saba were designated as the Saba National Marine Park in 1987, and are subject to government regulation to preserve the coral reefs and other marine life. The Saba Conservation Foundation has operated a hyperbaric chamber in case of diving emergencies, since 1991.


There is one main road, known as “The Road”. Its construction was masterminded by Josephus Lambert Hassell who, contrary to the opinion of Dutch and Swiss engineers, believed that a road could be built. He took a correspondence course in civil engineering and started building the road with a crew of locals in 1938.

After five years of work the first section of the road from Fort Bay to The Bottom was completed. It was not until 1947 that the first motor vehicle arrived. In 1951, the road to Windwardside and St. Johns was opened and in 1958, the road was completed. Driving “The Road” is considered to be a daunting task, and the curves in Windwardside are extremely difficult to negotiate. Driving is on the right hand side. The speed limit in towns is 20 kilometres per hour (12 mph), and outside of towns, is 40 kilometres per hour (25 mph).

In 1963, Saba residents built the Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport. This 400-metre (1,300 ft) landing strip is reputed to be the shortest commercial runway in the world, and is restricted. Only trained pilots flying small STOL airliners, such as the Twin Otter and the Britten-Norman Islander may land there, as well as helicopters.

In 1972, a pier was completed in Fort Bay to access the island. Travel is also provided by ferry services to and from Sint Maarten with the DAWN II and The Edge ferries.

Of note are 800 steps carved from stone that reach from Ladder Bay to the settlement known as The Bottom. Until the late 20th century, everything that was brought to the island in boats and ships was carried up by hand using these steps. The steps are now often used by tourists who wish to experience an intense climb.


Like many Caribbean islands, Saba is dependent on fossil fuels imports, which leaves it vulnerable to global oil price fluctuations that directly impact the cost of electricity. Electricity supply depends on a diesel power plant to supply 60% of the island’s demand.

According to a report by the Low Emission Development Strategies Global Partnership (LEDS GP), the Government of Saba made the decision to transform the island to 100% sustainable energy to eventually eliminate dependence on fossil fuel-generated electricity. This new energy policy is defined by the ‘Social development plan 2014–2020’ and ‘Saba’s energy sector strategy’. Intermediate targets are 20% renewable electricity by 2017, which was reached in 2018; and 40% by 2020, which is expected to be reached by March 2019.



The lifestyle on Saba is generally slow with little nightlife, even with the emergence of an ecotourism industry in the last few decades. Sabans are proud of their history of environmental conservation, calling Saba “The Unspoiled Queen.

Saban women continue to make two traditional island products, Saba Lace and Saba Spice. Saba Lace is hand-stitched lace, which the island’s women began making in the late 19th century and built into a thriving mail-order business with the United States. Saba Spice is a rum drink, brewed with a combination of spices.

As in other Caribbean locations, Sabans throw an annual Carnival. Saba’s Carnival takes place the last week in July and includes parades, steel bands, competitions, and food.

Another event held in the capital The Bottom is ‘Saba Day’. This is the national day of the island in which all offices, schools and stores are closed. The island celebrates its diversity and culture through various activities and parades. The Bottom holds host to a concert at the sports field where local and other Caribbean artists come to perform.

There is one radio station on Saba, “Saba Radio” broadcasts on 93.9 FM and 1410 AM.

There is one online newspaper in Saba, Saba News, which publishes local news as well as pieces from the rest of the Dutch Caribbean.



The primary school is Sacred Heart Primary School in St. John’s. There is one secondary and vocational school in Saba the Saba Comprehensive School in St. John’s.

Saba University School of Medicine is a for-profit medical school located in the Saba capital The Bottom.



The most popular sports on Saba are football, futsal, softball,basketball and volleyball.

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