Inside Parque Nacional del Este, in Dominican Republic, there is a little paradise called Saona Island. It has been chosen as one of the eight Caribbean dream islands by the well-known magazine Caribbean Travel & Life Magazine. And with good reason. It is one of the biggest islands in the country, with 110 sq. km of palm grove and long, quiet beaches with white sand and turquoise, crystal-clear waters.
Its fame has been increasing for a few years and now it is one of the most visited places by tourists in this country, so the fact that every day organised groups come from the nearest resorts to enjoy its beaches is not surprising.
A little bit of history.
Cristopher Colombus arrived to the Saona Island on 14 September 1494, during his second trip. He called it “Bella Savonesa”, in honour of Michele da Cuneo, the first person to realise that it was a different island from “La Española”, the current Dominican Republic. For the indigenous people, who had always called it Adamanay, this name was difficult to pronounce, so it ended up being called Saona Island.
It is said that Cotubanamá, the indigenous leader of that region, tried to hide from the Spanish conqueror’s slaughter in one of the caves of the island. Unfortunately, they finally found him. Even though the indigenous essence is almost lost in this island, the place is still as unspoilt and authentic as it used to be and its inhabitants have preserved their environment in an enviable way. Let’s see what’s so especial about this island.
What can you do in Saona Island?
There is a million things to do in this island; I will leave you some options hereafter.
Walk around Mano Juan
Mano Juan is a small fishing village in Saona Island. It has just two streets with colourful wooden houses, some restaurants and many souvenirs shops for tourists.
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Visit the Turtle Recovery Centre
It is a space dedicated to protect the local turtle species, to preserve their eggs for 3 to 4 days before releasing them and to conduct a study on them.
Go trekking around Laguna los Flamencos
This lake is home to many native bird species and it is just 30 minutes away from Mano Juan. The best time to go is early in the morning, at sunrise, because it’s when there are more birds.
Swim in Canto de la Playa Beach
The best beach in Saona Island is on its southeast and, in order to arrive there, you have to walk on a dirt path through a wooded area close to Canto de la Playa lake.
It is within walking distance (one hour away) from Mano Juan (the village), but you can also rent a motorcycle taxi driver, a faster and less hot option. This is a long, white-sand beach with a wonderful palm grove, perfect for a sunbathing day, for practising snorkel or for reading a book in the shade of the palm trees.
The Caribbean Sea stands out for its great marine attractive and for having the perfect water temperature. There is a great variety of colourful fishes waiting for you under Saona Island waters; you just have to put on the snorkel goggles to enjoy its crystal-clear waters.
Enjoy the local food
You can eat wonderful local food at one of the restaurants located on the beach: fish, chicken, rice, potatoes or coconut juice from the islands palm trees. If you order it, they can also cook fresh lobster on the grill, just delicious.
How to get there
Speedboats leave from the small Bayahibe dock to Saona Island several times a day, run by tourist agencies. There is usually a departure timetable, but normally it is not followed because they wait until the boat is full before leaving.
It is a short trip, about 25 minutes long, but you need to be ready to feel the constant sea air in your face due to the boat’s speed. The ideal is to carry with you just the necessary luggage, because there is not much space in the boat and some water might go in during the trip, so you need to be careful with your belongings.
Tips for the traveller
Firstly, when you arrive to Saona Island dock you will see that there are several boats with groups of people from different tour operators. If they come in a one-day organised trip, they usually stay in the same area where the boats are, because they have food and drinks open bar (rum over all). If you want to be more peaceful and go away from the tourists groups, you just have to walk for about 50 meters to find that lonely beach with palm trees just for you.
Secondly, most people usually buy a one-day trip to visit Saona Island and combine it with some stop along the trip to go snorkelling. Even though not everybody has lots of time to be in Dominican Republic, the ideal is to spend at least one night in Saona Island to enjoy its calmness when the tourist groups leave, to discover the local atmosphere and some charming places.
Where to change money in Dominican Republic
Global Exchange has been present in this country since 2006. You can change your money at Punta Cana International Airport, at Cibao International Airport (in Santiago de los Caballeros) at 19 hotels located in the tourist zones of Bayahibe and Bávaro and at the shopping mall Palma Real. In all, they have 39 branches in 25 workplaces, and a total of 221 employees. For further information about the services they offer, check their website.
If you are going to travel to Dominican Republic and you prefer changing your Dominican peso beforehand, visit Global Exchange. With more than 220 branches at 20 countries, they are your best ally when it comes to managing foreign exchange transactions.
And if you are already there and you plan on changing money upon your arrival (or your coming back home), we will make it easier with a 15% on the margin applied to your change at any of the Dominican branches. To benefit from the discount, show this coupon at the branch and start your trip off on the right foot.