Sint Eustatius

Very few tourists make the effort to visit this Dutch outpost, but Sint Eustatius has a rich colonial history and a prosperous past. Having made its fortune in the 18th century out of the slave trade and commerce in plantation crops, it lost it in the 19th century with the abolition of slavery and has never really recovered. The main town, Oranjestad, still has the fortifications and remains of warehouses from its heyday, parts of which are being restored as hotels and restaurants. Renovation is already well under way, tourism is picking up and this off-the-beaten-track destination is worthy of investigation, particularly by divers. There are walking trails up into the rainforest of the extinct volcano, The Quill, and diving is good in the marine park. The name 'Statia' comes from St Anastasia, as it was named by Columbus, but the Dutch later changed it to Sint Eustatius. Unofficially it is known as 'the historic gem'.

Getting there

It is possible to get to Statia in a day from many US cities, but you will
have to change planes in Sint Maarten. All flights are in small planes, although the airport has been extended to 1600 m to allow larger jets to land. There are now no ferries.

Getting around

There is no public transport on the island but cars and taxis can be hired. Driving is on the right, but some roads are so narrow you have to pass where you can. Watch out for cows, donkeys, goats and sheep roaming around freely. They are a traffic hazard. Taxi drivers are well-informed guides and can arrange excursions, although most places are within walking distance if you are energetic (less than 30 minutes' walk from the airport to town).

Oranjestad

Oranjestad is the capital, divided between Upper Town set on a cliff overlooking Lower Town on the long beach below. They are connected by an old slave road, a mixture of cobblestones and concrete for pedestrian use only as well as a modern, longer road for vehicles. The Historic Core Development Plan involves restoring and modernizing many of the old houses in the centre, but the outskirts of town are littered and scruffy. The town used to be defended by
Fort Oranje
(pronounced Orahn'ya) perched on a rocky bluff. Built in 1636 on the site of a 1629 French fortification, the preserved ruins of the fort have now been restored following a fire in 1990, and large black cannon still point out to sea. Some administrative buildings of the island's Government and the tourist office are here. Other places of historical interest include the ruins of the
Honen Dalim Synagogue
built in 1739 and the nearby cemetery. Statia once had a flourishing Jewish community and was a refuge for Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, but with the economic decline after the sacking of Oranjestad by Admiral Rodney, most of the Jewish congregation left. The
Dutch Reformed Church
, consecrated in 1755, suffered a similar fate when its congregation fled. The square tower has been restored but the walls are open to the elements. Legend has it that Admiral Rodney found most of his booty here after noticing that there were a surprising number of funerals for such a small population. A coffin, which he ordered to be opened, was found to be full of valuables and further digging revealed much more.

On Wilhelminaweg in the centre, the 18th-century Doncker/De Graaff House, once a private merchant's house and also where Admiral Rodney lived, has been restored and is now the
St Eustatius Historical Foundation Simon Doncker Museum
. There is a pre-Columbian section which includes an Amerindian skeleton and a reconstruction of 18th-century rooms at the height of Statia's prosperity. It is worth a visit for the graphic descriptions of the slave trade. Archaeological excavations at Golden Rock near the airport have uncovered a large Amerindian village with the only complete floor plan of Indian houses found in the Caribbean. All the houses are round or slightly oval, vary in size and accommodate up to 30 people. Large timbers up to 8 m high were set in deep holes for the framework of the biggest houses. The museum contains pottery buried in the ceremonial area of the village next to a grave. The curator normally explains the history of the exhibits.

In its
heyday
Lower Town
stretched for 3 km along the bay, with warehouses, taverns and slave markets attracting commercial traffic. The ruins are visible along the shore
line, where they collapsed into the sea. Parts are now being restored as hotels or restaurants.

Berkels family museum
, with a collection of household utensils, photos and antiques, is on the Lynch Plantation, on the northeast side of the island. It is housed in two wooden replica buildings. One is the size of a garden shed but it is referred to as the plantation house, and the other is a replica of the three-room house in town, recently restored.

Beaches and activities

Oranje Beach
stretches for 1.5 km along the coast away from Lower Town. The length and width of the beach varies according to the season and the weather, but being on the Leeward side it is safe for swimming and other watersports. On the Windward side are two fine beaches, but there is a strong undertow and they are not considered safe for swimming.
Zeelandia Beach
is 3 km of off-white sand with heavy surf and interesting beachcombing, particularly after a storm. It is safe to wade and splash about in the surf but not to swim. There is a short dirt road down to the beach; do not drive too close to the beach or you will get stuck in the sand. Avoid the rocks at the end of the beach as they are very dangerous.
Lynch Beach
, also on the Atlantic side, is small and safer for children in parts, but ask local advice.

Diving

Statia's waters offer a wonderful combination of coral reefs, marine life and historic shipwrecks. Diving is excellent, with plenty of corals, sea fans, hydroids and big fish such as groupers and barracudas, as well as rays, turtles and the occasional dolphin. There are even daily sightings of flying gurnards, not commonly found in the Caribbean, but unlike some other Caribbean diving destinations, you will not bump into any other divers underwater.
St Eustatius Marine Park
was established in 1996 and became operational in 1998.
STENAPA
has identified four protected areas: the southern part from Crooks Castle to White Wall is a restricted fishing zone;
the wreck
sites in Oranje Bay, STENAPA Reef (a modern wreck site) and the northern marine park are open for fishing and diving. The turtle conservation programme was started in 2002, with nightly patrols of beaches during the nesting season (Apr-Oct) so that all turtles can be measured and tagged. A new National Park Vi
sitor Centre opened in 2006 at Lower Town, close to the harbour. It has offices for staff, meeting room, internet facilities for visitors, souvenirs for sale, information centre, picnic tables, toilets, showers and a maintenance facility for the marine park boat.

Hiking

There are seven linked trails around the
Quill National Park
, www.statiapark.org
. Guided hikes can be arranged by the park. A clearly marked trail from Rosemary Lane has been built to the rainforest crater at the top of The Quill, which is remarkable for its contrast with the dry scrub of the rest of the island. The Quill Trail leads to the crater rim. The walk up to the lip of the
crater
is easy if you are moderately fit. You will see butterflies, all sizes of lizard, hundreds of land crabs and, if you go quietly, the red-bellied racer snake. The plant life includes mahogany and bread fruit trees, arums, bromeliads, lianas and orchids. Although it is still quite a hike (about 45-50 minutes), the new path is in much better shape than the old one. At the top you have three options: in one direction is the trail to Panorama Point (30 minutes), from where you can see Saba, Sint Maarten and St-Barths. The other direction leads to the
highest point on the island, called
Mazinga Peak
(one hour), which affords a magnificent view of Statia, St Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. The first 10 minutes of the walk to t
he Mazinga is easy, then there is a turn to the left marked where it becomes a scramble because of hurricane damage. The last 20 m up to the summit is only for the very experienced and you should go in the company of a park ranger. From the rim, hikers can take the third option down the Crater Trail (1½ hours) scrambling down a poor path to the centre of the crater. The vegetation in the crater is dense, forming the breeding ground for land crabs, which Statians catch at night. There are massive silk cotton trees and other rainforest vegetation luxuriating in the fertile volcanic soil. A local guide is recommended as once you are in the crater it is difficult to get your bearings.

An alternative route is to walk the Round the Mountain Trail (five hours), which has spurs to the
Miriam C Schmidt Botanical Garden
, with a further bird observation trail (20 minutes). The southern route to the botanical gardens is in better condition than the northern path, which is overgrown in parts as it is less used. It starts with a road, and then a track, which leads round the lower slopes of The Quill to the
White Wall
, a massive slab of limestone which was once pushed out of the sea by volcanic forces and is now clearly visible from miles away across the sea. You can also see it from
Fort de Windt
, built in 1753, the ruins of which are open to the public, at the end of the road south from Lower Town. St Kitts can also be seen clearly from here. About 14 forts or batteries were built around the island by the end of the 18th century, but the ruins of few of them are accessible or even visible nowadays. STENAPA has also made a new trail to the
Boven
, the highest peak on the north side of the island. This is a strenuous, steep, four-hour hike (round trip) but well worth it for the view.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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