When it comes to tiny islands in the Caribbean, Statia (formally Sint Eustatius) is amongst the Caribbean’s smallest at just 8 square miles. It’s an island that’s mostly reserved for the outdoorsy lot; those interested in diving and hiking with a sprinkling of snorkeling thrown in. Unlike many of its neighbors, Statia’s economy isn’t rooted in tourism in the same way that many islands are. Instead, it’s an oil hub and it has been for centuries. In its heyday, Statia was once the world’s busiest seaport, and at night you’ll still see oil tankers sitting on the sea as the night falls. Beaches are rather nonexistent on this island but for a few stretches of black sand dotting the island. So, is Statia worth a visit? How much time should you spend there? Let me start by sharing our take on two days in Statia:
Day 1 〰️ Hike the Quill + Explore Oranjestad
Our two days in Statia actually involved two full nights: we arrived on Friday evening and left Sunday afternoon. Our first order of business was exploring Oranjestad, Statia’s capital (more on that below). There are a few places to stay in Statia but the go-to is The Old Gin House, located on the water along the main thoroughfare. For us, it was the perfect location to explore. We took two cabs: one to The Old Gin House from the airport and one from the Old Gin House back to the airport. Beyond that we explored on foot, and that included our hike and our time exploring town. Statia in general is a more rustic island not geared towards luxury seekers so it’s worth bearing that in mind when you arrive.
To start your morning, head out to hike The Quill.
The Quill is Statia’s dormant volcano and the hike to the top is a must for any visitor to the island. At about 2000 feet, it rises dramatically out of the earth and is one of Statia’s iconic elements. Allocate a few hours for the roundtrip journey, and a bit longer if you’re planning on hiking down into the volcano as well. Keep in mind you’ll need to buy trail tags in advance ($10 each), which can be purchased from the hotel directly or from the tourist board office in town.
From The Old Gin House, you’ll walk down the road until you reach a sign for St. Eustatius National Parks. The road that leads to the hike is near there. It’s about a 30 – 45 minute walk until you reach the trailhead but if you’re looking for a bit of exercise and exploration it’s a reasonable add-on (your alternative is taking a cab to the trailhead instead). If, like us, you’re wondering why on earth the volcano is called ‘The Quill’, the signage along the trail will give you some insight (there’s also signage on plant life along the way). The Quill earned its name from the Dutch word ‘kwil’, meaning ‘pit’, and you’ll have the opportunity to hike down into the rainforest-laden interior once you reach the top if you choose. There are a handful of hikes you can embark on so gauge your own fitness level and desire and go from there.
I’d recommend starting the hike early as the sun can be fierce as the day progresses, making the hike a bit punishing in the mid-day heat. An earlier start will allow you to enjoy the journey more. Take water, wear sunscreen or a hat if you’re concerned about a sunburn, and don’t forget to sport your trail tags on the climb. Allocate about 4 hours for the basic roundtrip hike, including the walk to the trailhead.
Now it’s time to explore town. Whether you explore town on the first day or second day (totally up to you) a walk around town is a must during your two days in Statia. Town is uphill from your home base if you’re staying at the Old Gin House so be prepared for a bit of a walk uphill. From the top of the hill, you’ll have some gorgeous views of the sea below, especially at sunset.
As you’d imagine on an island as small as Statia, its capital of Oranjestad is tiny. The tourism office is in town if you’d like to grab a trail tag (if you go pre-hike) or some informational packets on the island. Truth be told, Statia is a bit sparse on ‘to-dos’ but there are a few photogenic opportunities. First, stop at Fort Oranje for history and views.
Let’s talk history for a sec because Statia’s significance requires a major rewind to finally understand how this small island would hold any significance in the region. While many islands still have their connections to their European counterparts, historically this was particularly impactful from a trade perspective. Spanish islands could trade with Spain, French islands with France, British islands with the United Kingdom, etc. Statia was the one of first neutral ports, and they allowed all parties to trade, making it the busiest port in the world for a moment in history. It’s said that the United States came to be, in part, because of the fact that Statia provided arms to revolutionaries. You’ll see signage throughout the fort that refers to the island’s connection with the US, include its salute in 1776 recognizing the United States as its own country.
After a walk through the fort, a wander around town will have you bump into a gorgeous old church, the Dutch Reformed Church, built in 1775. While it now remains in ruins, it’s a beautiful site with lovely sea views and it’s worth a stroll. Apparently you can climb the tower as well but I didn’t get that memo.
For a grand finale and an extra dose of history, you can visit the St. Eustatius Historical Foundation Museum in town which covers the history of Statia from original settlers through Dutch and British colonization. We went on two occasions and it was closed both times, but those who’ve been do speak highly of a visit.
For that in between time, head down to the water front and grab a drink at Mazinga’s where you can watch the sun set over the sea before getting ready for dinner.
To end your day, try dinner at The Old Gin House, one of the island’s most highly rated restaurants. You’ll be rather captive on Statia with just a handful of reasonable offerings. Down the road, you’ll also find The Boardwalk which offers music on Friday night with a nice menu, or Blue Bead, which specializes in pizzas.
Day 2 〰️ Snorkel or SCUBA + Sun
Day two is about sun and sea. Statia doesn’t really have much sand, so you’ll want to keep that in mind when planning a trip. It’s not a destination for beach lovers! For certified divers, Statia is a gem and is world-renowned for its diving (much like its sister, Saba). Scott and I are both certified but haven’t been diving in a long time so opted instead to go for a leisurely snorkel off Oranjestad Bay. In town there’s a dive operation called Scubaqua that you’ll inevitably walk by multiple times per day. It’s a great outfitter that can set up you up with either snorkeling or diving. Naturally, diving is a more time-consuming activity and avid divers may want to allocate an extra day to Statia to add a couple of extra dives in their stay. Tiny Statia has 7 distinct ecosystems and 36 official dive sites (you can read more about them here) so be prepared to stay busy! For those wanting to learn to dive, Scubaqua also offers PADI certification courses.
For snorkelers like us, rentals are available so don’t worry about traveling with gear. You can rent fins, a mask and snorkel for around $20 per person and head out to take a dip. Right off the beach there’s enough to see to keep you occupied for an hour or so.
For lunch, head to one of the restaurants along the strip: Blue Bead, Harbourclub, or The Old Gin House, all of which are within walking distance of the dive shop.
For the afternoon, grab some Caribbean sun at Mazinga on the Bay, a gift shop/grocery store/bar/lounge. For me, this was the perfect little Statian gem. You’ll buy drinks inside (everything from iced coffees to bottles of rosé) at retail prices and then head outside to the deck where you can laze on loungers or sit with a book. Since beaches aren’t great and are pretty limited, loungers overlooking the sea are a better bet, and this place nails it. You can easily spend the afternoon hanging here comfortably.
You’ll have one grand finale dinner ahead of you and again, you’re not spoiled for choice which might be a good thing when it comes to decision-making. As far as food goes, The Old Gin House was the standout in our experience (we didn’t get to eat at the Boardwalk). Most of the dining on island is fairly basic and you’re going to be hard-pressed to find gourmet dining available so know that and embrace that going in. This island is casual in every sense of the word, so if you’re looking for an off-the-grid getaway to decompress it may fit the bill.
My Overall Take on Statia
My honest take on Statia is this: I’m very happy that I visited but I’m not in a hurry to return. If we’re talking super small, off-the-beaten-path islands, I found Saba more interesting. I should preface all of that by saying that I’m not an avid diver. I can see how divers would love Statia and revel in the outdoorsy bit of the island, but as a visitor who’s not focused on underwater adventures the island has very limited options for things to do. I jokingly said that I spent two days there, which could have been one too many for us. The landscape is lovely and the island has a super cool history, but beyond that it’s a hard sell for me as a destination in and of itself.
Besides that, I found the expats on the island to be great and welcoming but to be honest, I didn’t feel that from the local population. People were either disinterested or downright rude in some cases which made it a bit less enjoyable (there’s much to be said about a friendly local population who makes you feel welcomed). Our stay at The Old Gin House was lovely — it’s definitely a miniature oasis in Statia with a gorgeous outdoor dining and bar area that gives you the closest thing to a glam dose that you’ll find on the island.
HOW TO GET THERE: Statia can easily be added to a broader Caribbean itinerary if you’re looking for a couple of days to explore the petite island. While Statia is technically closer to St. Kitts and Nevis than it is to St. Maarten, most visitors fly into St. Maarten (SXM) and hit Statia from there. You can also fly TransAnguilla Airways direct from Anguilla if you’re crafting an itinerary with a few stops. Unfortunately no ferries run from neighboring islands so a flight is necessary.
OUTLETS: For American travelers, don’t worry about bringing a converter as the island uses US plugs.
GETTING AROUND: I mentioned this above, but there’s not a whole lot to see and do in Statia and the majority of your activities will center around Oranjestad. You’ll take a cab from the airport to your destination and vice versa ($20 from airport to Old Gin House, about a 5 minute drive or less). You can get around primarily on foot or if need be take a taxi (though they’re pricey). Statia is mountainous and roads lend themselves better to 4x4s than standard sedans. There are a handful of car rental outlets in Statia though, should you choose to rent.
MONEY: Statia uses the US Dollar and credit cards are accepted at most major establishments. Bring cash for things like your trail tag, drinks, and smaller outlets where cash is preferred.
For anyone who’s been, what’s your take on Statia? What would you add to a two-day itinerary?