Scuba Diving Saba
Saba is known as the “Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean”. Small bars and restaurants will infuse your nightlife after you’ve hiked a mountain rainforest trail or dived a world-acclaimed dive site.
Located in the Caribbean, Saba is the smallest island of the Netherlands Antilles. Like many islands, Saba is a volcano, Mount Scenery (888 m). The dormant volcano is the highest point of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Saba is only 13 square kilometers (5 square miles) large, and has around 1,400 inhabitants. English is the principal language spoken on the island, despite the island’s Dutch affiliation.
Saba proudly declares itself “The Unspoiled Queen” referring to her unspoiled nature and inhabitants. The best way to describe this unique island with only 1400 people is to list our “have nots”. Saba has no crime, no high rises, no traffic or traffic lights, no pesty insects, no crowds, no fast food restaurants, no casinos, no cruise ships. Oh, and we almost forgot, no beaches.
The island of Saba rises majestically from her clear azure waters, stretching her summit to caress the clouds… She is like no other Caribbean destination. Untouched by the quickening pace of the modern world, an island caught within a moment…. and the moment within which she’s captured.
SCUBA DIVING SABA
Saba Marine Park: The island’s dive tourism, which started in the early 1980s, introduced SCUBA enthusiasts to the wealth of Saba’s underwater world. The Marine Park was established in 1987 with permanent moorings, regulations of use and maintenance and a strong conservation attitude. Saba’s Marine Park has received several honors and remains the only park of its kind in the world to be completely self-sufficient in its operation. The park is situated around the entire island and includes the waters and seabed from the highwater mark down to a depth of 200 feet, as well as offshore seamounts. A zoning system is applied to get the best possible compromise between different uses of the marine environment.
Saba is a dormant volcano that rises steeply from the ocean. Depths of a 1000 feet and over are found within half a mile from shore. The nearshore environments present some very interesting and extremely varied diving experiences, while the offshore dives will leave you absolutely speechless. The challenge is worth it: awaiting divers are sponges of all colors, hard corals, a variety of fish, turtles and occasionally a ray or shark.
There are several shallow dive sites around the shoreline, but this isn’t the real attraction. There are no diveable wrecks. Ships have sunk there, but within a short distance of land the waters plummet to beyond diving range. Most diving are boat dives. Few dive sites are more than a 15 minute boat ride. Offshore dive maximum depths range from 25 to 120 feet.
Most amazing is Third Encounter, also known as Eye of the Needle. Third Encounter is an underwater mountain with a coral plateau at 100 feet featuring plunging, seemingly endless walls… an absolutely stunning dive.
HIGHLIGHT DIVE AREAS
Third Encounter and Eye Of The Needle – A mile off Saba’s west coast is a site so wildly surreal it’s practically mystical. Called Third Encounter, it’s a cluster of pinnacles rising from the seafloor to a depth of 90 feet. The mooring is on a plateau that serves as the base of Third Encounter, a worthwhile dive in its own right for the schooling jacks and black-tips that make the rounds here. But the real excitement lies a short distance off, at Eye of the Needle. To reach it, you need to swim away from the mooring, into the blue beyond, temporarily losing any frame of reference. Then, out of the infinite blue, a slender pinnacle emerges, a spindle cloaked with corals and crowned with a huge barrel sponge. At its top — the breathtaking eye of the needle itself — the pinnacle tapers to just a few feet in diameter, with reef sharks and grouper often making lazy circles around it.
The Pinnacles (5 dive sites) – Not far offshore, Saba ’s famous pinnacles and seamounts, Third Encounter, Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Mt. Michel and Shark Shoals rise dramatically from the depths to within 85 feet of the surface. These depths have protected them from any natural storm damage and, of course, anchors. The mere size and abundance of large sea fans and sponges put the pinnacles at world class status even without the added bonus of reef creatures and fish. The structures themselves are not to be missed with the most unique being The Eye of the Needle, just off in the deep blue from Third Encounter. It’s common to encounter schools of tropical fish, jacks, groupers or even members of Saba’s robust shark population. Caribbean Reef, Nurse and Black Tip sharks are the most common to see cruising our waters but there are a few sightings each year of Hammerheads, Bull and a rare Tiger shark. Lucky divers may get to swim with a humpback whale, manta ray or whale shark, things we don’t advertise or guarantee but are seen. Although these dive sites are virtually bottomless, they can be safely enjoyed with 100 to 120 foot dive profiles (30-40m), well within the limits of recreational diving.
Man O’ War Shoals, Diamond Rock and Green Island are also classified as pinnacles but have sandy bottoms at between 70 and 80 feet. Although pelagics are not as common at these shallower pinnacles, more bottom time let’s you absorb and explore the many nooks and crannies that are home to every imaginable species. The currents, that sometimes prevent diving these sites, yield plankton rich waters for the inhabitants that line the cylinder style walls of these two pinnacles. Schools of blue tangs, big eyes and juvenile barracuda frequent these areas. The dark volcanic sand around these sites is home to many interesting critters including flying gurnards, batfish, industrious sand tile fish and jawfish. If you were limited to only one dive on Saba, either of these sites will be the best representation of the healthy reefs and abundance of marine life that the waters of the Saba Marine Park offer. In addition, each of these sites offers the opportunity for increased bottom time when conducted as a multi-level profile with long slow spirals upward around these minor seamounts.
From Torrens Point to Diamond Rock (3 dive sites) – The large spires at Wells Bay and Torrens Point form a protected cove, an ideal location for snorkeling or shallow diving. Underwater caves and tunnels are interesting structures to explore and you can encounter many aquatic life forms. Schools of Blue tangs, Goatfish, and Parrot fish are characteristic in this area.
Man ‘O War Shoals and Diamond Rock – are submerged and semi-submerged extensions of Torrens Point headland. They do not exceed depths of 25m (80ft), allowing for more bottom time to explore the rich waters and enjoy the magnificent fish life that abounds. Schools of Black-durgons and Barracudas swarm around the mooring lines while Black-tip sharks merge into the blue. Sting rays hover over the grey sandy bottom. Walls and rocks are covered with colorful sponges, smaller corals and Sea fans. Be cautious while diving around Diamond Rock because of strong currents. While this site may present challenging diving conditions, it also attracts abundant fish life.
The Ladder Bay Area (5 dive sites) – The original steps that Sabans used to access the island is known as The Ladder. Prior to the building of the Fort Bay harbour, goods were brought by boat to the rocky shore of the leeward coast. Sabans carried the cargo by foot up the nearly vertical stairway to the village. Diving in this area unveils Saba’s volcanic origins. A natural labyrinth of groove formations and protrusions developed as a result of lava flow. If you bury your hand in the sand where it is yellow/brown color, the temperature differences of the sea floor become quite evident. Large boulders and grey sand dominate the area and the most common species of coral are Star coral, Brain coral and Gorgonian. Curious Barracudas may approach divers very closely.
Tent Reef Area (4 dive sites) – West of the Fort Bay harbor is another unusual geological structure known as Tent Reef. It is an extended rock ledge that starts at only 4 m (13ft) deep but becomes progressively deeper as you head northwest. The ledge is deeply undercut at some points, providing shelter to large snappers. It turns into a sheer wall that gradually becomes fragmented and appears as a series of steep coral outcroppings separated by deep sand channels. Tubular sponges, Elephant ear sponge and Black coral dominate the steep wall. Tent Reef is also a favorite site for night dives with frequent octopus, sleeping turtles and Spiny lobster sightings.
East side diving (8 dive sites) – Diving on this side of the island depends on suitable weather. However, visibility tends to be exceptional when the weather is calm. Most of Saba’s diving offers views of coral encrusted boulders of volcanic origin, but only Greer Gut and Giles Quarter are true coral reefs (i.e. made out of limestone). Diverse species of reef fish and other marine life along with the white sand covering the sea floor provide a very different diving experience compared to Saba’s other sites. Exposure to the Atlantic side yields the development of hard coral structures more often than soft coral. Close to shore, well-developed Elkhorn coral formations occur although the risk exists of periodic destruction by wave action and storms. The coral branches are fragile, but they tend to recover quickly due to high growth rates.
Shallow easy dives and snorkel sites – Well’s Bay and Torrens Point are the most protected waters of Saba during normal weather conditions. Great for snorkeling or shallow dives, large boulders, caves and swim throughs present interesting underwater structures. A series of patch reefs leading away from the shoreline host many juvenile species and a variety of eels. Saba’s nursery, as it’s known, also has a prolific population of Flamingo Tongue Cowry shells as well as other interesting invertebrates, fish and hard corals. Morays eels, sharptail eels, goldspotted eels and the less common spotted snake eel that conceals the majority of its long body in the sand are all to be found here. From squid to a humpback whale, this underestimated dive site is always worth a third tank.
And finally…Sea Saba Muck Dive–just another Sea Saba Difference. With the emphasis on “the entire ocean, not just pretty reefs, is worth preserving and observing, let us take you somewhere different. If you are in to seeing odd sand dwellers and enjoy taking the chance of seeing something unique, grab your camera and let’s go…
DIVE SEASON: Year around but the best is May to October.
VISIBILITY: 70 to 100 feet, with occasional 150 occurrences.
WATER TEMPERATURE: 77-85F (26-29C).
WEATHER: Summer temps push into the high 80sF (31C) while winter temps fall into the high 60sF (20C).
SABA MARINE PARK: Formally established in 1987, the Marine Park manages and strictly enforces Saba’s dive sites to ensure that all 28 permanently moored sites remain pristine.
HYPERBARIC CHAMBER: Saba has an emergency hyperbaric chamber facility at Fort Bay, Saba.
CLIMATE: Trade winds and tropical monsoons. Summer temperatures average highs of 88F with lows of 77F. Winter temperatures average highs of 84F and lows of 73F. October is the wettest and February is the driest.
TIME ZONE: -0400 GMT. The time in Anguilla is 1 hour earlier than U S Eastern Time Zone.
LANGUAGE: Dutch is the official language but English is the principal language spoken on the island
LOCAL CUSTOMS: Casual sportswear is appropriate dress anytime on Saba. Bathing suits are not appropriate within the villages. A light wrap may be needed in the evenings in the wintertime. Being shirtless in any of Saba’s villages is actually against the law
ELECTRICITY: Voltage 110-120 (The same as the U S and Canada), using the same plugs
CURRENCY & CREDIT CARDS: US dollar is the official currency. Traveler’s Checks and credit cards are widely accepted.
GRATUITIES: The government room tax of 5% is automatically added to your bill. A service charge of 10% or 15% will be added to your bill. For taxis and guides, tip at your own discretion.
TELEPHONE & INTERNET SERVICE: Hotels have direct dialing worldwide, or visit the local telephone company SATEL which is situated in The Bottom. Saba has island wide WIFI coverage, cards are for sale at SATEL and at other outlets.
VISA & PASSPORT REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport (with at least six months before expiration) and return and onward tickets are required for all visitors to Saba.
CUSTOMS: Visitors may bring the standard duty free items such as 200 cigarettes, 1.14L of alcohol, etc
DEPARTURE TAX: An Airport and Harbor departure tax fee of $10.00 is payable when departing Saba. There are no ATM’s at the airport and harbor.
HOW TO GET HERE: All travel to Saba connects in St. Maarten. Several major airlines from North America, Europe and South America carry daily flights into St. Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM). Special charter flights are also available from major cities during the winter season. There are currently two airlines and two ferry services that operate schedules to Saba’s shores from her international hub.
NON – DIVING ACTIVITIES: Hiking on Saba is a rewarding experience, nature above the waterline is as unique and varied as that which lies below… Let’s take a walk down the slopes of Mt. Scenery and see what you can expect to find! The island’s vegetation varies with distinctive zones which are related to altitude and precipitation. The top of Mt. Scenery is more often than not enshrouded by clouds resulting in a cloud-forest environment. At slightly lower elevations rain-forest vegetation is present. Humidity decreases as one descends and the vegetation reflects the drier climate. Plants and trees found close to shore have adapted to the salty environment.
Hike Mt. Scenery – The highest peak in Saba, topped with lush cloud forest. Start your journey in Windwardside, where a trail sign informs you that you’ve got 1,064 steps to reach the peak (estimated hiking time: 90 minutes). For more info on hiking on Saba, visit Saba Tourism.
Carnival & Saba Summer Festival: Saba Summer Festival is usually the last week in July, depending on the weekend it can run into the 1st days of August. The festival features great music, great food, colourful parades and the friendliest of atmospheres!
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