Words and Photos by Jesse Serwer
St. Eustatius, commonly called Statia, is a small island with a big history, and a wide-open future.
LargeUp recently spent a week in this windswept, eight-square-mile Dutch protectorate between St. Maarten, Saba and St. Kitts. We hiked to the top of the Quill, the 2,000-foot dormant volcano at the island’s center; walked through the sea-battered ruins of what was once the Caribbean’s most prosperous port; and watched the sun set from the fort that, in 1776, fired the first salute in recognition of the newly-formed United States.
At Statia’s annual sustainable tourism conference, we learned how the island, one of the Caribbean’s lesser-traveled locales, is working to tap into its natural resources and rich history to establish itself as a wellness destination. Mostly, though, we savored the serenity afforded by this sparsely populated but scenery-rich island, met people from all over the world who’ve landed here, and limed with the generational Statians who remain the backbone of “The Golden Rock.”
With more historical monuments per square mile than any other Caribbean island, visiting Statia is a bit like stepping into an open-air museum. Consider this photo series a guided tour.
More than one car at a time is a traffic jam on the main road in Oranjestad’s Lower Town. (Oranjestad, Statia’s capital and only town, consists of two areas, Lower Town and Upper Town, separated by a steep hill). It’s hard to believe that the scene of such solitude was once the busiest port in the Caribbean, although the brick ruins of an 18th century Dutch warehouse, seen to the left of the road here, offer a faded glimpse of Statia’s halcyon days.
These stairs to nowhere are about all that is left of one of the many ruined warehouses that lined the shore of Oranjestad’s Lower Town during its 18th-century heyday. The port brought great riches to the island until Statia’s chummy relations with the newly-created United States of America, which is said to have purchased ammunition here during the American Revolution, led British admiral George Rodney to ransack the place in retaliation. Things were never quite the same after that…
Despite being a Dutch island, St. Eustatius has a classic West Indian feel. Everyone speaks English and soca music is the sound of the streets.
A hike to The Quill, the dormant volcano at the heart of St. Eustatius, is a must when visiting the island. Just about an hour’s walk from town, it’s invigorating way to start the morning. Here, a lizard hangs in limbo, greeting hikers on their way to the summit.
On an island as small as St. Eustatius, there is only one Town – and that’s Town with a capital T.
Looking out at Oranjestad and Oranje Bay from a viewpoint near the top of The Quill. The boats in the distance are tankers waiting to dock at the U.S.-owned oil terminal and transshipment facility which accounts for much of the island’s GDP and employment.
Park ranger Rupnor “Jobo” Redan holds court at the top of The Quill. Hear some of Jobo’s stories about growing up in Statia and hiking The Quill in our IGTV.
The green sea turtle and killy killy bird, two of the island’s five “ambassador” species, are reflected in the uniform of St. Eustatius National Parks (STENAPA)
A view of The Quill’s eastern slopes from offshore. The extinct volcano lords over the entire island like a compass, making it quite a feat to get lost.
The brightly-painted gates of this home are made from one of Statia’s most abundant resources: Conch shells.
F.D. Roosevelt Airport takes its name from the 32nd U.S. president, who traveled to Statia in 1939 to present a plaque in honor of “The First Salute,” now hanging in Fort Oranje. All flights originate from St. Maarten, on WinAir, the only commercial airline currently serving the island. This limited access is a major roadblock to the development of Statia’s tourism industry.
It was only a few generations ago that donkeys played an important role in Statian life, providing a necessary mode of transportation. Outmoded by technology and without their purpose, the island’s transient donkey population became something of a nuisance to homeowners in recent years, until this Donkey Sanctuary was established near the airport.
This donkey was either angling for food, or trying to show us the way to The Quill.
St. Eustatius is something of a Caribbean United Nations, with residents hailing from all over the region as well as South America, Europe, the U.S. and Asia. On the fourth Thursday of every month, Statia’s Mike van Putten Youth Centre hosts Taste of the Cultures, a showcase of cuisines cooked in homes across the island. All meals are five bucks. Can’t beat that.
This month’s Taste of the Cultures featured food from Aruba, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Maarten, Colombia, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Suriname, Portugal, China and St. Eustatius itself. This young man was having a great time making shaved ice at the St. Kitts and Nevis stall.
A view out to sea from Fort Oranje doesn’t look much different than it did 242 years ago when its canons let out the first official salute to the newly-independent United States of America.
Ocean View Terrace, across from Fort Oranje in Oranjestad’s Upper Town, is a popular spot for lunch and for Friday-night karaoke.
No matter where you are on Statia, you can’t escape the shadow of The Quill!
The view from Orange Bay Hotel in Lower Town. The eight-room hotel opened earlier this year a stone’s throw from Statia’s three dive shops. Divers represent the majority of Statia’s tourists, with 12 shipwrecks, a ruined sea wall, three species of turtles and the island’s famed blue beads among the underwater attractions. Next door to Orange Bay, the Harbourview restaurant is the place to grab breakfast or lunch before or after a dive.
The elegant Old Gin House, in Lower Town, dates back to 1760, which makes it not only Statia’s oldest guest house but one of the oldest anywhere in the Caribbean.
A peaceful moment on the porch of The Old Gin House’s Ocean View Suite.
Holdovers from the 19th century, these canons stand guard at Battery de Windt, near the “White Wall” at Statia’s southern tip, which was abandoned by the Dutch in 1815. In the distance are St. Kitts and (at right) Nevis.
A dapper Charlie Lopes — park ranger, tour guide and general font of Statian knowledge — stops for a picture on his way home from lunch at Para Mira in Upper Town.
A palm tree and canon hang together in the yard outside the Simon Doncker House in Oranjestad, present-day site of the St. Eustatius Historical Foundation Museum.
The St. Eustatius Catholic Church was built in 1910, steps from Fort Oranje
The Bay Brow BBQ Hut, near F.D. Roosevelt Airport, is a popular stop for breakfast and lunch. Ask for Bertie, and try the BBQ Chicken!
A storm cloud forms near the rocky shores of Statia’s Atlantic coast
Whale Tails, located on the grounds of luxury villa complex Knippenga Estate, is Statia’s newest restaurant.
A classic Statian sunset, over Oranje Bay.
Special thanks to Johnson JohnRose, Orange Bay Hotel and the St. Eustatius Tourism Development Foundation