Hiking in Saba on Our Dive Trip
A few years ago, I heard about an island called Saba in the Caribbean that had good SCUBA diving. I mentioned it to my dive buddies Rootie and Julie, and soon we ended up on a girls’ trip diving in Saba. I didn’t know, however, that there are a lot of opportunities for hiking in Saba. How perfect, we turned our dive vacation into a hiking trip too!
While we spent the mornings diving, we spent many of our afternoons as well as our last day on the island exploring. As such we got to hike many trails in Saba.
Maskerhorne and Mas Cajones Trails
For our first hike while Julie was completing a third dive, Rootie and I wanted an easy trail that we could finish in an hour or so on this warm afternoon. Our dive shop, which also acted as a concierge, suggested to start at the Maskerhorne Trailhead, take the trail up to left called Mas Cojones, return to the main trail and if we didn’t want to come down the way we came up, we could continue further and the trail would run into a road the we could follow to the edge of Windwardside Village.
They pointed us in the direction of the trailhead which was just down the road past the Saba Conservation Foundation Trail Shop. Overall, the directions seemed a little vague, but the island is only 5 square miles, so off we went.
We turned right out of the dive shop, walked across the street to the trail shop that provided walking sticks, and snapped a photo of the map. Just a few more paces down the hill, we located the trailhead on the right.
The trail was basically a staircase that climbed up the mountain. Moss covered stones lined either side of the steps which passed beneath a jungle of vegetation. Trees, ferns and flowers shaded us from the afternoon sun.
On our slow climb up, we happened upon a crazy mama chicken with several chicks. She clucked, hopped around and threatened to attack. Now I understand the concept of the “Angry Birds” game. I really thought I was going to get pecked by a chicken. Fortunately, she rounded up her new born chicks and moved a little deeper into the forest.
Eventually we reached the trail juncture called “Mas Cojones” which means more balls. Rootie was tired and the named scared her off a bit, so she waited for me to check out the dirt path. It only took about five minutes or so to get to the lookout which might have been the best view on any trail we hiked in Saba.
The trail, which was damaged by the hurricane last year, was still being improved by a Canadian volunteer group, but is was still easily passable and the stunning view of the Windwardside Village was quite rewarding. Little did I know at the time, this would be the best part of the hike!
I dodged a wild goat on the way down and met back up with Rootie. Before we continued along the dirt path that leveled out on the ridge, we explored an abandoned home. Mostly overgrown with moss and vegetation, the shelter with an old mattress, tea pot, and chair still seemed like it might get used occasionally.
Crispeen Track Adventure
The dirt path led us past orange trees and another private home with an ox. Soon we reached another trail junction. Signs pointed to the right to climb Mt. Scenery and straight ahead to follow the Crispeen Track. We had yet to come across a road.
We continued on a while longer, passed an abandoned eco-camp, and came to some stairs to descend. Recalling that the dive shop described the trail as flat at the top, and that we could come down via the road, we questioned our whereabouts.
After walking down the stairs and spotting the sea, we confirmed we were not headed in the correct direction. We climbed back up the stairs and retraced our steps to the Mt. Scenery trail junction sign as this was the only place where we spotted a road up the hill.
Finally the Road
We turned up the hill to the road that the trail never “ran into” and began our descent. The road provided a nice view of town as well but extended very far to the edge of Windwardside. We thought we would be ending up at near the end of the businesses. Instead we were at the edge of the “county” if there are counties in Saba. We then had to follow the main road back up to town.
Now, with little shade and having been on a two-hour adventure rather than a one-hour adventure, Rootie was all about hitch-hiking. She stuck out her thumb to a few passing cars including a police vehicle! By the fifth car a woman pulled over. She had clutter all over the backseat, but we squished in.
Soon, we found out she was the former owner of the Brigadoon where we were eating this evening. She suggested, “Order the moose.” I could not for the life of me figure out how a restaurant on such a tiny island could serve something as exotic as moose. Later I figured out she was talking about dessert…chocolate mousse.
Anyway, she drove us about two minutes to town and we created a traffic jam as we tried to get out of her car. I was not adept at pulling the fishing string in order to get the door handle to unlock, so we finally climbed over all the clutter to the other side. Haha…who knew hiking in Saba would be so adventurous!
Parish Hill Trail
We faired much better for the rest of our hiking in Saba. Rootie and I were leaving Saba prior to Julie, so our land day after five days of diving came a day sooner than hers. Since we spent all of our days around the Windwardside Village or on the dive boat, we wanted to explore the Bottom. As such, we hitched a ride on the dive taxi and got dropped at the lower section of Parish Hill Trail (Loop) aka Paris Hill. The spelling here differs between the written information and the signs.
The lower trailhead begins next to someone’s house and climbs up through the thin forest and brush past a rocky point to an open view of the sea. We shared the trail with many wild goats who were terrified of humans. I imagine their fear stems from getting caught as they’d likely be dinner.
The trail reaches a shaded ridge and a side loop may be taken around the rocks. We took a few side detours on each part of this loop to be sure we were going the correct way, but basically stuck to the trail most travelled. Soon we descended through tropical vegetation on a slick path.
The loose dirt was tricky for Rootie. Just after I advised her to not rely on the flimsy tree branches, she shouts, “No, no, no” and takes a slow-motion slide on her rear. I almost fell from laughing so hard. Don’t worry, I was laughing with her. Eventually, without any bleeding wounds, we exited by the hospital where we stopped for a short rest before exploring the Bottom.
From the Bottom, we followed the road toward Wells Bay so we could at least see the trailhead to the Ladder. The Ladder are the historic steps by which cargo was hauled up from Ladder Bay to the Bottom. The old customs house as well as foundations of old buildings can be seen along the way. We only had a few more hours to check out this part of the island so we skipped the stair climbing, but I think it would have been cool to see the customs house up closer. We only saw it from the dive boat.
Flat Point Loop at the Tide Pools
Continuing with hiking in Saba, we hired an island tour with one of the taxi drivers, Garvis. There are only about a dozen taxis on the island, though our hotel, Juliana’s, and our dive shop, Sea Saba, stuck with Garvis and Peddy.
Anyway, Garvis took us through the Bottom and to Well’s Bay as he provided us the history of the island before we finally reversed directions and headed toward the tide pools located beneath the airport. With Garvis in the lead, we followed most of Flat Point Loop marked with yellow paint, though sometimes I think we took a few detours.
Fortunately, we were all wearing closed toe shoes. I thought we might be wading near the tide pools, but we basically scrambled over lava rock. This area was simply beautiful. Reddish lava rock contrasted with the aqua tide pools and deep blue sea as the lush Mt. Scenery enveloped in clouds towered in the distance. We easily spent an hour snapping photos and checking out the nooks and crannies. Video (5 seconds): Saba’s Coastline
Sulphur Mine Trail
After visiting the tide pools, Garvis took us to the nearby Sulphur Mine Trail. Since the trail was rather close to the tidal pools, I was the most insistent about going as I knew this was our only opportunity to see the sulphur mine and oven.
Most of the hiking in Saba starts going uphill. The hike to the sulphur mine was an exception. We followed the stairs down to a grassy hillside that provided a nice view of the sea, towering cliffs and even the end of Saba’s runway, the shortest in the world.
After inspecting the oven, we followed a path to the entrance of the mine. I was shocked that we could enter if we wanted! We certainly weren’t prepared for exploration, but it was fun to at least stick our heads in a few feet. I found out later that guided tours are available through the trail shop. If I only knew. I think mines are fascinating.
The McNish Sulphur Mining Company employed 100 Sabans with the opening of the mine in 1887. The venture, however, only lasted a year due to difficult conditions. The terrain in Saba was so steep that the miners had to transport the sulphur on a cableway 325ft above sea level to Green Island. In addition, rough seas and coral reefs that surrounded Green Island made it difficult to load the sulphur onto ships. The Saba Sulphur Company reopened the mine in 1905 but met a similar short-lived effort.
Mt. Scenery Trail
While Ruth flew home, Julie and I still had one more opportunity for hiking in Saba. We picked the famous Mt. Scenery Trail which features 1,015 steps to the highest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands!
The trail has two access points. We began at the Maskerhorne Trailhead across from the trail shop. I had already hiked this section once on the way to Mas Cajones. Anyway, we hiked beneath the canopy of vegetation, past the abandoned house, and waved at the ox that was connected to a chain before we followed the signs up the hill to the road that Rootie and I took down the mountain the other day.
The trail continued up past the road and through some private property before it connected with another staircase. A handful of wildflowers lined the rather commericalized trail which was complete with handrails, shelters, and benches.
We continued up to the cloud forest where dense tropical vegetation covered the peak. At the top was a trail junction pointing to a scenic view in two directions. We went to the right toward the tower first which was probably the best choice.
The path followed the edge of a rock on the left and the dense foliage on concealed what otherwise would have a been a ledge on the right. The trail suddenly dead ends into a “scenic view”. The low clouds and thick vegetation, however, affect what is visible. We were fortunate to enjoy a short window of clear skies before we backtracked to the other scenic viewpoint.
Getting to the second viewpoint was slightly more daunting. It required scrambling over a big rock. A giant rope hung down from a pylon for assistance, though in my opinion this made the climb look scarier than it really was. Regardless, we scrambled up to two small areas with “viewpoints”. I put viewpoints in quotes because it required hikers to walk out on a patch of peat moss and glance over some big plants.
Afraid of ledges, I stayed about a foot away from the edge for a hindered view. Just after snapping a few photos, a large cloud blew in and enveloped the whole area.
We took the 20-foot jaunt to the other small area, but the cloud blanketed us in seconds. Having been on the island all week, we knew the mountain had its own micro-climate, and it might be an hour before the cloud vanish.
We waited for a while as the wind gusted, but the view masked by clouds never changed. At least we got a glimpse, because the next ten people who came up were not so lucky! We retraced our steps, careful avoid the mud and to keep our footing on the moist stones. It was a nice hike and as we descended, we were afforded lovely views of the sea as lizards basked in sun trailside.
Overall, there is some really nice hiking in Saba. While the distances are generally short the added verticle challenge made for nice 1-2 hour hikes. We really enjoyed Saba’s eco-tourism! ETB