From the sky, even the most well-trained pilot gets a jolt of adrenaline: a landing strip the length of a jetliner flanked on three sides by 60-foot rock faces that dropped into the ocean and steep, green hills on the far side that swept up into a 3,000-foot mountain. Landing would require the pilot to soar directly for the cliffs before swerving left to reach the tarmac.
The novelty of the volcanic island of Saba’s first aircraft landing in 1959 was met with crowds gathered for pomp and celebration, but what would soon expand into the Juancho Yrausquin Airport did little to change the quaint Caribbean life of Saba, which had just welcomed its first motor vehicle to the island’s winding roads in 1947. Saba remained relatively unscathed by tourism even after the airport began officially servicing 12-minute flights to and from the nearby islands of St. Maarten and St. Eustatius. The sea, after all, has historically been the main locus of transportation for the islanders, whose ancestors were pirates and ship builders, sea captains and purveyors of shellfish to neighboring provinces.
For a span of nearly three hundred years before the harrowingly short Juancho E. Yrausquin landing strip was built, Saban sailors and the occasional outsider faced the task of climbing 800 stone steps from the ocean to reach flat land. Today, whether visitors arrive at Saba’s rocky cliffs by sea or by sky, it’s decidedly a place not to be stumbled upon, but sought out.