The locals refer to this 11.8 square-mile island in the Netherlands Antilles chain as Statia. Though small, the island reveals a surprisingly rich past to travellers. During the 1700s, Statia’s capital, Oranjestad, was a trading hub for slaves, sugar, cotton and commodities from Europe and the Far East. At its peak, the island’s population reached 18,000, and Oranjestad was perhaps the richest port in all the region. However, in 1776 the government brought the wrath of England upon the tiny nation after recognising the newly independent United States by firing an 11-gun salute to a passing warship. The decline began, and today the sleepy island has under 3,000 inhabitants.
More than 100 sunken trading ships off the shores of Statia make this a diving mecca; submerged anchors, cannons and pottery shards create a silent testimony to the island’s story. However there are things to do above the water too: visitors can take a half-day hike to the 2,000 foot Quill, a classically shaped volcano with a forest-filled crater. Orchids, fruit trees and ferns thrive in this unique environment.
In Oranjestad, there are quaint and noteworthy buildings to visit: Fort Oranje, which was built by the French in 1629, will appeal to history buffs; the Dutch Reformed Church, has a tall tower that offers a bird’s-eye view of town, and the St. Eustatius Historical Foundation Museum is filled with relics from both the pre-Columbian period, and the colonial period. These items are especially interesting since Statia changed hands between the French, Dutch and English a whopping 22 times.
You’ll find, among countless other items, colonial furniture, nautical instruments and blue glass trading beads made by the Dutch West Indian Company.
Accommodations are in the form of small inns and guesthouses. Dining is also a low-key affair, with seafood, Creole and Dutch dishes available at several informal restaurants.