In one word: gripping.
Before boarding WinAir's Twin Otter plane to Saba, there are murmurs in the passenger line, people asking each other, "are you ready for it?" They are, of course, referring to Saba's famous landing. Known around the world, Saba's Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport has THE shortest commercial runway in the world, falling shy of 400 meters. Due to the island's vertical shape, this strip makes for one of the trickiest landings (and take offs) in the world. Simply seeing Saba from the air makes for one of the most fascinating sites in the world, too.
Home to the "highest peak in the Kingdom of the Netherlands" at over 850 meters (the signs tell you over and over), the approach to Saba is impressive. A dense, tall dead volcano, emerging from fast-moving water, it is straight out of a movie. Literally. It was, in fact, the site of the mountain featured in the original King Kong film. Since the 1930s, people have recognized Saba's eerie-special quality. As you approach, you feel like you could be a scientist in Jurassic Park.
Then, there's the landing. The plane comes in tight, hugging the mountain side. Look directly out your window and it seems like you could reach out and graze Saba's lush, green, grassy mountains. Look out the windshield window on the other hand, and your stomach drops, "are we going to crash into the mountain side?!" The expert pilots pull the plane up, the wheels squeal to a halt. You've arrived. Just a 20 minute ride from St. Maarten, Saba is worth a visit for the air experience alone.
Once the excitement dies down, you couldn't be in a quieter, calmer place, and vastly different from any other Caribbean island.
Upon exiting the airport, one taxi (a small bus with 4 rows of seating) is waiting. The driver won't load you in and take you to where you're going right away. "We're going to wait for more passengers and then I'll drop you all off," he says. And it makes perfect sense, since the island is only 13 square kilometers, most of it undeveloped and uninhabited.
Note: If you're scared of heights, keep yours eyes closed during the drive. The roads wind along the tall mountains. At least there are guard-rails!
With less than 2,000 residents (several medical school students and Dutch ex-pats) and one beach (a black sand beach that only exists when the tides are right), the choice activities are diving and hiking. The island has plenty of trails amidst its densely rich mountains, and its generally cool temperatures lend itself well to that activity. Under the sea, Saba's waters are protected. The result? Vibrant marine life. The island is known in the diving community as having some of the best dive sites in the world, including many pinnacle dives.
After all of the hiking and diving (don't dive and fly in the same day!), the exhilarating take off at Saba's Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport awaits. It is even more highly anticipated than the landing for one simple reason: the cliff. The runway ends at a cliff's edge. When the plane finally does run out of ground? Wait for 2 things. 1) "The dip" (you will know it when you feel it!), 2) every person on the plane exclaiming loudly, "wooooooooooooo!"
Flying to and from Saba is truly a bonding experience!