Say hello to paradise. Saona Island offers crystal clear waters (perfect for snorkeling) and postcard-worthy beaches. Located off the southeastern tip of the Dominican Republic, It’s the kind of tropical escape that makes other similar locales pale in comparison. During your stay at the all inclusive Barceló Bávaro Palace, the adults-only Barceló Bávaro Beach, Occidental Caribe or Occidental Punta Cana, explore this natural Dominican Republic wonderland.
Saona Island history
During his second voyage to the New World, famed explorer Christopher Columbus visited Saona Island for the first time on September 14, 1494. He gave the spot its name in honor of Michele da Cuneo, a friend from Savona, Italy. But Saona Island was far from deserted. Columbus encountered many of the Taino people – the Dominican Republic’s indigenous people – on the island, which they called Adamanay. (Some people today think that the island should be known by that name once again, but for the moment, it’s known worldwide as Saona.)
Gradually, the Taino people relocated to the mainland, and Saona was mostly uninhabited for centuries – which is one reason why it remained a pristine destination for all those years. Today, Saona Island is a part of the National Park of the East (also known as Cotubanama National Park, a reference to the Taino Chief who fought against the Spanish).
Things to do on Saona Island
It’s an incredibly gorgeous destination – and the beaches will certainly keep you busy. But Saona Island is also packed with interesting adventures.
- The Natural Pool is one of the national park’s most famous natural attractions. It’s the largest natural swimming pool in the world, created by a massive sandbar. That means you can walk hundreds of feet out into the ocean with the water only coming up to your waist. Keep an eye out for starfish!
- Discover pre-Colombian art and Taino history at the Cave of Cotubanamá. It is named after the heroic Taino chief who fought against the Spanish colonizers in the early 1500s.
- The town of Mano Canto is a picturesque tropical fishing village. Here, you can kick back with fellow travelers over lunch and beverages, amidst charming pastel architecture.
The wildlife of Saona Island
Both under the waves and on dry land, the wildlife of Saona Island is truly remarkable. You’ll find an incredibly diverse array of species here, making it a must-visit for Dominican ecotourism explorers.
- Scuba divers and snorkelers should keep their eyes peeled for Caribbean Reef Squid. This amazing creature can be tough to spot, however. It can change color in the blink of an eye in order to camouflage itself from unwanted attention.
- Meanwhile, the Southern Stingray can be found lurking on the ocean floor. Native to the Atlantic and the Caribbean, they can grow up to five feet wide. Seeing them glide through the water is a beautiful sight …
- In the coral reefs that surround Saona Island, divers may encounter the Moray Eel. They’re not very active during the day, however. On a night dive, you’ll be able to see them cruising through the water.
- Also known as the puffer fish, Porcupine Fish are found in Saona Island’s shallower spots, making them easy for snorkelers to spot. They are so named for the spines they use to protect themselves with. Porcupine Fish can expand to twice their original size when threatened!
Birdwatchers will love Saona Island. In the island’s lush mangroves, you’ll be able to see a seemingly endless variety of winged creatures.
- Keep an eye out for the Red-Footed Booby, a close relative of the pelican. Its feet really are bright red – but that’s just the beginning of its colorful style, with an impressive blue beak.
- Look up in Saona Island’s swaying palm trees. You will probably see the Palmchat, the national bird of the Dominican Republic. Small, gray and black, they’re most easily found by their joyful singing. The Palmchat is not big, but it makes a big noise!
- The endangered White-Crowned Pigeon makes its home on Saona Island. As its name suggests, it looks a bit like a common pigeon – only it has lovely white head feathers. Look for them in Saona’s coastal mangroves!
Remember to always treat Saona Island wildlife with respect – keep your distance and NEVER touch or feed the animals.
How to get to Saona Island
The best way to experience Saona Island is through Vacaciones Barceló. The daylong excursion includes:
- Pick up at the different hotels
- Bus ride to Bayahibe (one hour)
- A 45-minute speed boat journey to the island
- Swimming at Saona’s Natural Swimming Pool
- Lunch at the Island (rice, stewed eggplant, salted potatoes, pasta in pomodoro sauce, mixed salad, grilled chicken, grilled pork chops, grilled fish (mahi mahi, carite), bread, season fruits
- A catamaran sail on beautiful turquoise waters back to the mainland
- A bus drive back to your hotel