This European Airport Is Considered The Littlest In The World

Sometimes, the best destinations are the toughest to reach. Or, in this case, the most hair-raising. The world's shortest commercial runway belongs to the Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport (SAB) on the island of Saba, a small but proud Caribbean country and municipality of the Netherlands between Sint Marteen and Saint Kitts.

First built in 1959 with little more than a wheelbarrow, the modest runway is a 1,300-foot strip of concrete flanked on either side by two exciting (terrifying?) features: cliffs that drop straight into the ocean and a rugged hillside. For some context, a standard commercial runway measures between 8,000 and 13,000 feet long — six to ten times more generous than this one. Obviously, you won't see any 747s landing here; it's only small planes. Pilots must undergo rigorous training to land on Saba, from then on known as Top Guns, in a nod to the aviation-based action flick starring Tom Cruise. It's a nickname that's well deserved.

How to book the flight

To access this Caribbean gem by air, you'll board a small Twin Otter or BN2 Islander plane at Princess Juliana International Airport (SXM) in nearby St. Maarten, says the Saba Tourist Bureau. Apart from private charters, Winair — short for Windward Islands Airways International — is the only public airline that offers flights from the nearby islands. At the time of writing, passengers can book one of five flights a day from Saint Maarten to Saba for about $130. You can also sail to Saba, but where's the adventure in that? It's not every day you can book a plane ticket to a record-breaking airport.

After takeoff, you'll soar over the ocean towards a dramatic, mountainous silhouette, the dormant volcano of Mount Scenery on which the nation of Saba sits. After a brief descent, you're in for an adrenaline-fueled landing towards the airport, which recently celebrated its 60th birthday as a bonafide terminal. From start to finish, the entire trip will take you about 15 minutes, making it a natural day trip from St. Maarten.

Things to do in Saba

Once on land, you'll understand why Saba (pronounced say-bah) is affectionately known by locals as the Unspoiled Queen. Off the tourist beat and untapped by the cruise industry, the island holds a population of just 2,000 people. There are four small towns, each with their own charm, connected by a main street aptly known as "the road." Saba is a prized destination for its plentiful forest trails on land and diverse ecosystem underwater, beloved by hikers and divers alike. Everyone else will enjoy the array of shops, restaurants, and museums available in the town of Windwardside, like the Harry L. Johnson Museum.

After you've explored the heights and depths of Saba to your heart's content, there's just one last thrill that awaits: the takeoff. Climb aboard a 16-seater and speed down the runway towards an endless blue abyss. Suddenly, the plane will tilt upwards to 180 degrees into the sky, right at the last moment when the runway trails off. While you might be white-knuckling this one, for the pilots, it's just another Tuesday.