Haven’t heard of Statia? Neither have most.
fficially known as Sint Eustatius, this quiet island has remained the shimmering secret of savvy divers who’ve been exploring its bounty of unspoiled dive sites for years. Other than that, it’s largely been known only to the Dutch for the past couple of centuries. One of the Dutch Caribbean’s six islands, Statia sits with Saba and Sint Maarten among the Leeward Islands of the West Indies, while the better-known ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) round out the family further south, just off the Venezuelan coast.
There are no major international flights to Statia yet, and, until very recently, there hasn’t been a true full-service hotel on the island either, leaving it to only the most determined travelers to enjoy. With the soft opening of Golden Rock Dive and Nature Resort in late 2021 and the full expansion of the resort’s extensive offerings completed this year, expect arrivals to Statia to creep ever upward as the island ramps up for the tourism it is long overdue. Here’s what you’ll find if you beat the inevitable crowd and head to Statia now.
How to Get to Sint Eustatius
To reach this 8-square-mile paradise of pristine nature, your best bet is to fly into Sint Maarten and follow that with a gorgeous 25-minute flight to Statia on a local airline. These scenic flights are operated daily, but you can also stay overnight on Sint Maarten to relax and freshen up. The Morgan Resort borders the airport and is walking distance from the island’s most photographed beach.
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Once on Statia, settle into Golden Rock, where you can choose from luxury villas, standalone lodges complete with outdoor kitchens and private gardens, or ocean-view hotel rooms with uncharacteristically thoughtful conveniences—closets deep enough to hold oversize luggage, air conditioners placed away from beds, outlets everywhere, and modern spa bathrooms. The 40-acre property is rife with lush gardens and sophisticated landscaping irrigated by helophyte-filtered wastewater. This is one of the resort’s many low-impact, nature-forward initiatives designed to encourage responsible tourism that will protect Statia’s natural gifts and maintain its distinct Caribbean culture.
What to Do On the Island
Sint Eustatius is dominated by the Quill volcano, which formed the island when it collided with another landmass sometime in the past 20,000 years, and this is where you’ll find Statia’s most enchanting hikes. Not only can you scale the Quill’s verdant exterior, but you can also descend to the bottom of its central crater and explore the vibrant forest within. The hikes up and down aren’t necessarily difficult, but there’s virtually no signage, and you shouldn’t expect clear paths or much in the way of safety features, so it’s best to hire a local guide. Golden Rock can help with recommendations, as there aren’t many tour companies on the island yet, but you can also just ask around on this island of only 3,200 residents, where everyone still knows everyone.
If you’re visiting in June or July, you’ll also be treated to the colorful explosion of 17 species of orchid blooming across the volcano, and, no matter what time of year you tackle the Quill, don’t be alarmed by the constant rustling you’ll hear on the ground around you—it’s just the hermit crabs rolling downhill to escape your terrifying footsteps.
Save some time to explore the capital, Oranjestad, by foot (it won’t take long). This small area is home to some of the best-preserved Colonial-era buildings in the entire Western hemisphere, including Upper Town’s Fort Oranje (circa 1729). Behind the fort is a small historical museum that you may want to hit before striking out on your meander, and feel free to ask about the occasionally-available walking tours while here. Otherwise, head back out and wander the alleys, where you’ll encounter the remains of the 1755 Dutch Reform Church (including the bell tower) and the walls of the 1739 Honen Dalim Synagogue, the second oldest known example in this part of the world.
Down the hill in Lower Town, walk the coastline, where the stone remains of 600 warehouses recall the once-bustling days when the port saw up to 300 ships daily under its policy of economic neutrality. It’s this neutrality that allowed the colonies to purchase arms and ammunition here during the American Revolution, leading some historians to say there would be no United States without Statia. The island would ultimately become the first to acknowledge the sovereignty of the newly minted nation, too, with an official canon salute welcoming a ship in November 16, 1776, now known as Statia Day and widely celebrated across the island annually.
Let the Glass Beads of Statia Find You
Here, along the main drag of Lower Town, you’ll find Scubacqua Dive Center, your go-to for exploring the 6,800-acre marine park off Statia’s shores. You can certainly spend the morning snorkeling among sea turtles and sharks if that’s your speed, but divers are treated to a whopping 36 impressive sites from shipwrecks and cliffs to lava flows and the drop off, and the island’s reefs are among the healthiest you’ll find.
Scubacqua will help curate your ideal underwater journey based on ability and interest, but be sure to keep an eye peeled for one of the island’s elusive blue beads on the sea floor. These beads have a dark history, originally used as tokens and rewards given to enslaved persons not just here but across the Caribbean and occasionally in Europe. An entire economy grew around these glass beads, and because Statia was the epicenter of the slave trade in the Americas, so too did an impressive cache of blue beads flow through the island.
Legend holds that the formerly enslaved residents of Statia cast their beads into the sea when slavery was abolished here in 1863, but most likely, there happen to be more beads around Statia than other islands simply because of the sheer volume that passed through here and were abandoned in coastal warehouses after emancipation. Today, the history of the beads is deeply revered, and the baubles are once again treasured, but now you must find them or—as the islanders insist—be found by them. The beads were made in a variety of sizes and shades of blue (and even some other colors on occasion), but the common thread that runs between all of them, according to absolutely anyone you meet here, is that you’re destined to return to Statia once one finds you.