Most of Statia's beaches are small, narrow strips of sand, either volcanic black or a dull, mudlike gray. Regrettably, the best beaches are not on the tranquil Caribbean side, but on the turbulent Atlantic side, where the waters are often too rough for swimming.
Beachcombers delight, however, in their search for the fabled blue-glass beads, which were manufactured in the 1600s by a Dutch West Indies Company. They were used as money for the trading of such products as tobacco, cotton, rum -- and even slaves. These beads, which are real collector's items, are often unearthed after a heavy rainfall or tropical storm.
Orange Beach, also called Smoke Alley Beach, lies on the Caribbean side of the island directly off Lower Town. This is one of the small volcanic beaches on the southwest shore, with beige or black sands and waters suitable for a leisurely swim. You virtually have the beach to yourself until late afternoon, when locals start to arrive for a dip.
Also on the leeward, or Caribbean, side is Crooks Castle Beach, south of Oranjestad. The waters, filled with giant yellow sea fans, sea whips, and pillar coral, attract snorkelers, while beachcombers are drawn to the many blue beads that have been unearthed here.
On the southeast Atlantic side of the island, Corre Corre Bay has a strip of dark golden sand. It's about half an hour down Mountain Road and is worth the trip to get here, although the waters are often too churned up for comfortable swimming. Two bends north of this beach, the light-brown-sand Lynch Bay Beach is more sheltered from the wild swells of the Atlantic. Nonetheless, the surf here is almost always rough, plus there's a dangerous undertow; this beach is better for sunbathing than swimming.
Also on the Atlantic side, Zeelandia Beach is 3km (2 miles) long and filled with very dark-beige and volcanic-black sand. One tourist promotion speaks of its "exciting Atlantic surf and invigorating trade winds" but fails to warn of the dangerous undertow. Only one small designated section is safe for swimming. The beach is suitable, however, for wading, hiking, and sunbathing. It's almost always deserted.
Hiking is the most popular outdoor activity on the island. Those with enough stamina can climb the slopes of the Quill, the highest point on Statia. Its extinct volcanic cone harbors a crater filled with a dense tropical rainforest, containing towering kapok trees and a dozen or more species of wild orchids, some quite rare. It's also home to at least 50 species of bird life, including the rare blue pigeon, known to frequent the breadfruit and cottonwood trees here. Islanders once grew cocoa, coffee, and cinnamon in the crater's soil, but today bananas are the only crop. The tourist office (tel. 599/318-2433) will supply you with a list of a dozen trails of varying degrees of difficulty and can also arrange for a guide. You'll have to negotiate the fee; it's usually $10 and up.
Scubaqua Dive Center is a full PADI diving center on Fishermen's Beach in Lower Town (tel. 599/318-2435; www.scubaqua.com), offering everything from beginning instruction to dive master certification, costing $450. Its professional staff guides divers of all experience levels to spectacular walls, untouched coral reefs, and historic shipwrecks. Scubaqua offers one- and two-tank boat dives, costing $40 to $80. Equipment is $20 a day. Night dives and snorkel trips are also available.
Statia is mostly a divers' island, but there is some decent snorkeling on the Caribbean side. You can explore the remnants of an 18th-century man-of-war and the walls of warehouses, taverns, and ships that sank below the surface of Oranje Bay more than 200 years ago. The best place to go is Crooks Castle Beach, southwest of Lower Town. Any dive shop can rent you snorkeling gear.
Catching Crabs Means Something Different Here
We're perfectly serious: If you're interested, you can join Statians in a crab hunt. The Quill's crater is the breeding ground for these large crustaceans. At night they emerge from their holes to forage, and that's when they're caught. Either with flashlights or relying on moonlight, crab hunters climb the Quill, catch crabs, and take them home to prepare the local delicacy, stuffed crab. Your hotel can usually hook you up with this activity.