Discover Sint Eustatius. Hidden Gem of the Caribbean

by Brandon Schultz

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday April 21, 2022

Sint Eustatius
Sint Eustatius  

If you're not from the Caribbean, no one blames you for having no idea where Sint Eustatius is. None of your friends have been there and most people haven't even heard of it. That's completely fine: It doesn't receive flights from any major airlines and, before now, there hasn't even been a true hotel on the island to host anyone. A small haven in the Leeward Islands currently known primarily by serious divers, Statia, as locals call it, is set to experience a boom in tourism as the 40-acre Golden Rock Dive and Nature Resort completes its expansive waterfront development, bringing hotel rooms, villas, and standalone lodges with a host of amenities and programs among its dazzlingly lush gardens. As the island gears up to welcome international guests at levels not seen in a few centuries (more on that below), here's how to be among the first to enjoy this natural paradise.

The Quill (in distance)
The Quill (in distance)  (Source: Instagram)

Unspoiled Nature

The Quill volcano may not have formed Sint Eustatius when it surfaced more than 20,000 years ago, but it did later collide with additional land to form the Statia we know today, and it's the predominant feature of the island. Hiking up and around the rim of The Quill takes moderate physical ability, but it's not difficult. Don't expect well-developed paths or tons of clear signage, but do expect plenty of mature greenery and, if you're visiting in June or July, bountiful blooms from the 17 species of orchids blooming all over the trek. Oh, and those rustling noises you'll regularly hear are nothing to be alarmed by—they're just hermit crabs constantly rolling downhill to get out of your way.

Don't spend all your energy on a quick ascent, though. The name "Quill" comes from the Dutch word for pit and it describes the crater within the volcano, which is now home to a rich forest worth exploring. The climb down is even less developed, but it's worth the effort. A local guide is an invaluable resource here, and the best way to find one, currently, is to ask around. There are only 3,200 people currently living on Statia, so this is a clear case of everyone knowing everyone, and it's not hard to get in contact with the right person for the job.

This is an island, one that happens to maintain a protected, 6,800-acre marine park that's home to a healthy coral reef. Increasingly rare worldwide, the reef is a magnet for in-the-know divers, and there are plenty of shipwrecks to explore around the island, too. If you don't have your diving certification, there's plenty of action for snorkelers, as well, with everything from sea turtles to sharks easily found off the coast. Diving shops like Scubaqua can get you where you want to go, based on ability and interest, among the 36 official dive sites surrounding Statia.

U.S. Connection

On your visit, you'll likely hear at least one person tell you that the United States wouldn't exist without Sint Eustatius, and that's not entirely untrue. During the struggle between the colonial rebels and Britain, Statia was home to what some claim was the world's second busiest port while remaining economically neutral. This allowed the Colonies to purchase weapons and ammunition during the American Revolution. Later, Statia would become the first port to recognize the United States as a sovereign nation with a cannonball salute, which is reenacted each November 16th on Statia Day at the now much quieter harbor that once saw 200-300 ships awaiting business with its 600 warehouses on any given day.

The Boardwalk Cafe
The Boardwalk Cafe  

Historic Capital

Statia Day celebrations are concentrated in the 8-square-mile island's capital, Oranjestad, where some of the Western hemisphere's best-preserved Colonial-era buildings remain. The most prominent of these is the 1729 Fort Oranje in Upper Town, where you'll also encounter the remains of the 1755 Dutch Reform Church (including belltower) and the walls of the 1739 Honen Dalim Synagogue, the second oldest known synagogue in this part of the world. All of these are within a quick walk of each other, as is the small Saint Eustatius Historical Foundation Museum, which contains artifacts and exhibits detailing the island's history from the 6th century onward. Just below, in Lower Town, you'll find the waterfront ruins of Oranjestad's once bustling warehouses along with key local businesses like Boardwalk Cafe, where many gather nightly to recap the day with a drink and a bite as the sun sets over the sea.

Golden Rock Dive and Nature Resort
Golden Rock Dive and Nature Resort  

The First True Hotel

Golden Rock Dive and Nature Resort's opening in late 2021 marked the first true hotel on the island, by international standards. Currently, the sprawling property offers 32 ocean-view hotel rooms with thoughtful creature comforts like luxury beds, ample closet and storage space, and high-end spa bathrooms, but continued development will bring additional options like upscale villas and 11 standalone lodges with kitchens and outdoor gardens by August, 2022. Golden Rock is already the island's second largest employer, and is set to introduce a new brand of tourism to Statia with a focus on maintaining the island's distinct Caribbean culture and protecting its land and natural resources. Look for nature-forward touches like the resort's greenhouse, outdoor programming, and natural helophyte filters throughout the property converting wastewater to irrigation water for the grounds' explosion of plants and flowers (currently, an additional 7,000 plants are introduced to the already lush property monthly as it winds down its final stages of full development). Here you'll find everything you expect from a vacation property but have never been able to find as a guest on Saint Eustatius before, including a fitness center, sport facilities, swimming pools, and international-quality cuisine with true Caribbean influence. Look out for the addition of a massive, artificial infinity lake with beach-like entry and appearance to hit the hotel's coastal cliff this summer, along with an additional restaurant and expanded facilities and programming.

Getting There

Currently, there are no major flights from the United States directly to Statia. The easiest connections can be found on nearby Sint Maarten, though you may encounter lengthy layovers during your connection until increased demand brings additional flights to Sint Eustatius. If you're not thrilled about chilling at the airport for half a day, consider spending a night or two on Sint Maarten to skip this step and add another side of Caribbean fun to your trip. While Statia isn't the most beach-friendly island in the Caribbean, Sint Maarten has plenty, and the Dutch side of the island (where the airport is) has the bonus of a decidedly more Caribbean vibe than its French counterpart on the northern coast. Consider spending a night on either end of your getaway at The Morgan Resort, just a few minutes (literally) from the airport, and within walking distance of the famed Maho Beach, where jets fly famously low over the sand just feet from the base of the runway. With a Sint Maarten/Sint Eustatius combo, you'll snag both the beaches and natural adventure that keep the Caribbean at the top of so many tropical bucket lists.

Brandon Schultz is the author of 6 travel and lifestyle books, and his work regularly appears in Forbes, Fodor's, Global Traveler, and Thrillist, with contributions to dozens of others including OUT, Out Traveler, and The Advocate. He lives in New York City.