Saona Island (or Isla Saona), is situated 12 miles from the southern coast of the Dominican Republic. It’s picturesque turquoise beaches attract thousands of visitors each day in search of post card perfect Caribbean views. With an average of 3,000 visitors per day, it is the most popular tourist destination in the Dominican Republic. For visitors looking to spend a day in the powdery white sand beaches and see a bit more of the Dominican Republic, here is an ultimate guide to exploring Saona Island.
Saona Island was originally inhabited by the Taino Indians prior to the Spanish Conquista. The original name of the Island was “Adamanay” a name given by the Taino. On his second voyage to Hispaniola, Columbus landed in Saona. At the time the island was considered separate from Hispaniola, and was named “Saona” by Christopher Columbus in honor of his friend Michele da Cuneo from Savonna, Italy. Within 3 decades since the Spanish conquest, the Taino population of the Dominican Republic had drastically diminished. Old world diseases such as small pox and inhumane work conditions led to the extinction of the Taino populations throughout the Caribbean. Saona, once again became an uninhabited island until the 1940’s when President Trujillo sent the development of a small village to be named Mano Juan. During the Trujillo dictatorship many political objectors were exiled to Saona. Today Saona Island is a part of the National Park of the East, later changed to Cotubanama National Park, in memory of the Taino Chief who rebelled against the Spanish invasion.
Located 12 miles from the Southern coast of the Dominican Republic, most trips to Saona Island require a commute to the fishing village of Bayahibe. From here dozens of operators depart every morning via sailing catamaran, speed boats or yachts. Visitors staying in the popular tourist destination of Punta Cana can expect a 2 to 3 hours commute depending on the resort location.
Things to Do
Palmilla Natural Sandbank
The waist deep sandbank near Palmilla beach is the afternoon hangout spot for many of the speed boats returning from Saona. With impressive views of Cotubanama National park, from the natural pool, guests can enjoy an elegant display of contrasting shades of blue. A natural habitat for starfish, which are often seen on the sand floor. Although visitors might be tempted to remove the starfish from the water for a natural picture opportunity, it is recommended that these unique creates are left alone since removing them can result in tissue damage and toxicity from sunscreen.
Beaches and more beaches
It is with no surprise that the most popular thing to do in Saona Island is sunbathing and swimming in the beach. With endless miles of palm studded beaches, Saona reflects a relaxing Caribbean vibe that attracts visitors to it’s impressive natural beauty.
What better way to get into the blissful mood in paradise other than by a relaxing beach massage? For the visitors that are looking to enhance their level of bliss, a beach side massage with the sounds of the waves and the scent of tropical coconuts is a delightful experience to have at Saona.
Town of Mano Canto
The small fishing village of Mano Canto with it’s pastel color wooden houses is the perfect trip to experience a true Dominican fishing community. With a population of less than 500 people, this small village depends on tourism and fishing for their livelihood. For visitors interested learning a more about Dominican culture, a trip to Mano Canto is a must in your Saona Island Excursion itinerary. Before booking any tour, consult with the representative that the excursion indeed does pass by Mano Canto, as very few tours visit the small fishing village.
Turtle Conservation Project
Saona Island is the most important turtle breeding grounds in the Dominican Republic. If you do get to visit the town of Mano Canto during turtle season, it is highly recommended to visit the turtle conservation project. Led by Negro, a local in the community with the purpose of cultivating the marine turtle populations. Negro collects the eggs from high risks nest to store them in a safe environment until the baby turtle hatch. After hatching the turtles are returned to the sea.
Shore snorkeling can be experienced on certain beaches at Saona Island. Don´t expect to stop by the best snorkeling locations on a general Saona Sailing Excursion, as these tours cater to 4 to 5 tour operators that bring in their own groups. Guests that are interested in exploring some of the coral reefs in the National Park of the East (Saona is part of the park) are recommended to look for a smaller excursion group. Most smaller tours are geared towards divers and snorkelers.
Although not considered as one of the top activities in Saona Island, since few tour operators promote trips to explore the marine ecosystems around Saona. However, the coral reefs system around Saona and the southeastern coast are among the most vivid and diverse in the Dominican Republic. From underwater museums to shipwrecks, the unique marine ecosystems near Saona Island offer superb diving.
Saona Island offers something for every traveler from stunning natural scenery, diverse marine ecosystems and picturesque beaches. Although it is popular tourism destination, with hundreds of daily visitors flocking the beaches, it is a part of the Dominican Republic that is sure not to be missed. With the right expectation and trip itinerary that meets your specific objectives, Saona Island might just be the perfect day trip to experience a unique side of the Dominican Republic.