Descend Into a Volcano Crater on One of the Most Nature-Filled Caribbean Islands
Caribbean comforts, but with a more unique experience.
Blink and you might miss it. An island just 11.8-square miles big—smaller than the city of Providence, Rhode Island or Burlington, Vermont—St. Eustatius is a tiny Caribbean gem packed with adventure. Here you’ll find black sand beaches, snorkeling and scuba diving in the island’s 36 pristine dive sites, and sleepy volcanoes, all just a 30-minute flight from St. Maarten. And nearly half of the island is taken up by a national park.
Quill/Boven National Park is split into two sides on either end of St. Eustatius, with its most notable feature being the 2,000-foot dormant volcano, the Quill. The sleeping giant is hard to miss as you start your descent by plane. Believed to be around 30,000 years old, the Quill’s last eruption took place about 1,600 years ago, and it was designated as part of the Sint Eustatius National Parks Foundation by the Dutch government in 1998. The Boven side has five hills and drier vegetation, but it’s the Quill side where most travelers spend their time.
With a lush crater that you can climb into, plus eight hiking trails, wild raspberries and orchids, a white limestone cliff overlooking the sea, and potent historical stories in the stones, St. Eustatius is a worthy stop on any Caribbean island-hopping jaunt. Here’s what to do in Quill National Park.
Learn the volcano’s history
Sint Eustatius, which locals call Statia, changed European hands several times from the 14th to 17th centuries, but eventually remained a Dutch territory. The colonizers first called the ancient volcano “Kuil,” meaning pit or hole, and so the English variation became the “Quill.” At one time, a majority of the volcano was used for farmland, so the long-dormant Quill was also the site of an extensive plantation.
If you look closely between the natural overgrowth of plant life, you’ll see the remnants of hundreds of rock boulders stacked in horizontal fashion, used (along with sugarcane) to keep the land from sliding as slaves worked their way up the volcano. This makes a visit to the volcano not only a reprieve into nature, but a meaningful experience with a reminder of how the past surrounds everything.
Keep an eye out for orchids, red bark, and iguanas
The keen observer will also notice the variety of vegetation that’s taken over the slopes. The Quill’s voluminous inner crater and surrounding land mass is home to a tropical-like rainforest replete with elephant ears, mahogany, begonias, figs, plantains, and dozens more varieties of tree and plants. You may spot the round, seedless breadfruit hanging from their parent trees; sample some of the wild raspberries throughout the forest; or see the sway of small round fruit growing on sea grape trees.
The distinct characteristics of the Gum tree will also pop out at you along the trails, because its bark peels in bright, red flakes. This tree has been used by the locals for generations, as they would boil the leaves and use it to fight gum infection. Hikers can also keep an eye out for some of the native and introduced varieties of colorful orchids, of which there are over a dozen types. And there’s a chance to see swift, 2-inch-long land crabs; iguanas; snakes; several butterfly species; as well as endemic birds like the brown striped killi killi.
Know when to go to Quill National Park
The trail to the crater rim can be done year round, barring any extreme weather during hurricane season (August through October). The dry season is the time of year where you have a greater chance of a more enjoyable hike. February, March and April are usually the driest months, and then the next ideal time would be December and January. It’s best to remember that because the volcano is a rainforest, the trails can become slick even in the dry seasons, since it rains frequently at the higher elevations.
Climb over and into a crater
The Quill is known mostly for hiking, as it is not drive-able or developed with any man-made playthings. It’s just you and the outdoors here. Hikes vary from mild 1-hour cardio jaunts to more strenuous 2.5-hour crater treks to journeys around the volcano that can last all day. There’s a small parking lot at the base of the trail, near the intersection of Rosemary Lane, or you can walk much further by beginning your hike from the capital of Oranjestad, where the trail sign is marked.
One of the most popular trails is the 2.8-mile Quill Trail to the crater rim, which is a moderate hike with more advanced climbing when you approach the rocky top. Some ropes are there to help hikers ascend to the end of the trail. If you want to reach the highest point of The Quill, you can follow the rough track known as the Mazinga Trail, which offers breathtaking views of the surrounding islands and Caribbean waters. To check out the northern crater rim, you would turn left from the end of the Quill Trail, and follow the Panorama Point path.
One of the most thrilling hikes is into the crater itself via the Crater Trail, which has some stairs along the route to help navigate some of the steeper areas. The Crater Trail terminates in some lush vegetation. Another option for getting to the crater would be the Couchar Mountain Trail, which is actually a shorter route than the Crater Trail, but is consequently more steep.
For the most adventurous hikers, the Around the Mountain Trail does exactly as it says and circles the mountain. It’s a popular all-day hike with a visit to the summit, the crater, and views overlooking the White Wall limestone cliffs in front of the ocean. On the southeast side of the mountain, it joins with the Bird Trail and Botanical Garden Trail.
Where to stay near Quill National Park
Camping is not allowed anywhere on the island, so a traditional hotel stay is usually the best option for travelers to St. Eustatius. Located less than a 5-minute drive from the Quill, the 40-acre Golden Rock Resort provides sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean flanked with landscaping with endemic plant and flower species. The property offers a sizeable swimming pool; an oceanfront gym with spa treatment rooms; and standalone tubs in the rooms perfect for soaking after a long hike. The on-site restaurant, Breeze, offers locally caught Mahi Mahi, snapper, grouper, tuna, and lobster.