Oranjestad, St. Eustatius

Photo: Walter Hellebrand (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via nl.wikipedia
Photo: Walter Hellebrand (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via nl.wikipedia
“What’s over there?” You probably ask yourself this question every time you travel. Maybe many times a trip. You try to figure out what beach is below you on the airplane. You wonder what little town you’re zooming by on the train. Or you spot a castle-like building as you drive through a mountain pass. Sometimes you snap a quick photo, but most of the time, you’re left to wonder as you pass by quickly. Today, you’re finally returning to one of those mysterious destinations.

You first saw St. Eustatius from St. Martin. Or maybe St. Kitts. The Caribbean island’s lush, green mountains first captured your attention. Your curiosity increased after the sun set, and the island became a dark speck on the horizon without any bright lights. And the island’s history only intrigued you more. Statia was once called the Golden Rock for its immense wealth; its busy, duty-free port remained neutral among its neighboring islands that were claimed by European superpowers. Neutrality was the island’s downfall, though. The Fourth Anglo-Dutch War and the island’s eventual takeover by the British were the result of Statia selling ammunition to—and later acknowledging the independence of—Britain’s rebelling Thirteen Colonies. The Dutch regained control in 1784, but Statia never regained its importance in the Caribbean.

Which means Statia is now a very quiet, very peaceful place to visit. It’s a quick 16-minute flight from St. Martin. You land in the low-lying center of the island. Little Mountain and Signal Hill are to the northwest. The Quill, a dormant volcano, sits in the southeast. And Oranjestad, the capital and only town, is on the Caribbean coast.

Photo: Statia Lodge
Photo: Statia Lodge

You’re staying at Statia Lodge, located just outside of Oranjestad. You’ll be welcomed with a cold beer and panoramic views of Nevis and the Quill. Don’t expect a flashy resort. This is real Caribbean living with an open-air pool house, an honor bar, and wandering roosters. Your bungalow has teak furniture, French doors, and a terrace with more amazing views of the Caribbean Sea. Grab your scooter—it’s included in the room rate—and start exploring.

Check out Oranjestad first. The little capital is divided into Upper Town and Lower Town, and it’s filled with cobblestone streets and historic sites. Start at Fort Oranje, a 17th-century fort overlooking the water. Visit the Donker House, an 18th-century house-turned-museum, to get a sense of the island’s sugar refining, shipping, and commerce history. See the remains of Honen Dalim, the second-oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Grab a quick lunch of salt-cod fritters at the Blue Bead. And spend the rest of the afternoon on the black sand at Orange Beach.

It may be quiet, but there is plenty to keep you occupied over the next few days. Hike through the trails on the Quill. You’ll pass wild orchids and kapok trees. Keep an eye out for rare blue pigeons. And don’t miss the White Wall, a limestone formation on the south side of the volcano. Relax on Corre Corre Bay, one of the island’s few golden-sand beaches. Have a picnic lunch at the Miriam C. Schmidt Botanical Garden. Get a feel for 18th-century island life at the Lynch Plantation Museum. Snorkel among giant yellow sea fans and find blue glass beads—an old type of currency—in the sand at Crooks Castle Beach. See the rusty cannons at cliff-side Fort de Windt. And scuba dive with southern stingrays and sea turtles at the Double Wreck or with coral walls and barracudas at Barracuda Reef or with eagle rays and blacktip sharks at the Crack in the Wall.

While you end the day with baked snapper in shrimp sauce and a perfect sunset on the deck of the Ocean View Terrace, be thankful that most people never seek out the extra places that pique their interest. Statia would be a much different place if the St. Martin or the St. Kitts crowd descended upon Oranjestad. And you love this interesting, little island just the way it is.

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