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Saona Island: Your Complete Guide

Are you ready to escape the crowded beaches of Bavaro or Bayahibe and explore the untouched natural beauty of the Caribbean? Then a Saona Island trip is just what you need!

Saona Island — known as Isla Saona in Spanish — is a picturesque island only a short boat ride away from Punta Cana and Bayahibe that offers unparalleled wild nature and beautiful beaches. It’s a part of the Cotubanamá National Park and a sanctuary to unique species of birds and sea creatures. 

If you’ve been wanting to reconnect with your natural side, visiting Isla Saona should be a must-do for your Caribbean vacation! This is why we are sharing this Complete Guide to Saona Island with you.

Saona Island Beach

History of Saona Island

Isla Saona is a relatively small island — just 42 square kilometers long — but it has a rich history. 

The indegineous Taino people, the native populations of the Dominican Republic, occupied Saona Island before Christopher Columbus’s arrival in 1494. The native Taino population called Saona Island “Adamanay” in the native Arawak language. There is currently a push to go back to this original name for Isla Saona. 

Christopher Columbus renamed the island to commemorate his friend Michele de Cuneo, an explorer from the city of Savona in Italy. Michele de Cuneo also later became the first governor of Saona Island. 

However, approximately three decades after Columbus’s first visit and the Spanish conquest, the Taino population of the Dominican Republic — including the Saona Island — was diminished by old world diseases, such as smallpox, and brutal work conditions established by the colonizers. 

Saona Island then remained uninhabited for a long period of time. In the 1940s, Rafael Trujillo, a Dominican dictator, established the small village of Mano Juan and used Saona Island as a place of exile for political objectors. 

Now Saona Island is a welcoming and popular destination with tourists from all over the world because of its natural beauty and unique untouched island atmosphere. The famous Bounty Chocolate commercials were actually filmed on the white sand beaches of Saona Island! 

The village of Mano Juan is still there and is one of the two charming fishing villages on Isla Saona, along with a village called Catuano. Mano Juan is the bigger village on the island but still has only about 500 residents who dedicate their lives to fishing, making art, and living in tranquilidad (Spanish for tranquility!). 

→ Are you ready to explore the deserted beaches of Isla Saona? Book your Saona Island Tour now! 

Saona Island Beach Photo

Where Is Isla Saona Located?

So, now you are wondering: “Where is Saona Island?” 

Saona Island is located to the south of Punta Cana, just 12 miles off the coast. It belongs to the Cotubanama National Park and is fully protected by the Dominican government because of its abundant and wild natural life. 

You can get to Saona Island from Punta Cana or Bayahibe. 

Trip to Saona Island on a boat

How to Get to Saona Island?

It is easy to reach Saona Island by boat or yacht. Most Saona Island tours leave from Bayahibe and arrive straight to the gorgeous wild beaches shortly after. 

If you want to have a Saona Island day trip, you might be wondering what the best way to visit this beautiful Caribbean island is. The truth is, many tour and excursion providers try to fit as many people as they can on a boat or catamaran and being stuck in a crowd of people you don’t know can ruin your entire Saona Island experience. 

This is why we offer private and exclusive Saona Island tours to small groups! You will be able to enjoy the beautiful ride along the waves to Isla Saona and follow your unique itinerary without feeling rushed or completely dependent on your tour provider and a large group of people you have never met before.  

Saona Island photo from the Sea

Best Things To Do on Saona Island

Swim in the Natural Swimming Pool

On the way to Isla Saona, there’s a gorgeous “natural pool,” a large area with waist-deep shallow and crystal clear water.  The pool is formed because lots of sand naturally gets accumulated in one area, bringing ocean levels to just a couple of feet — and making it feel like a “pool”! 

You will practically be standing in the middle of the Caribbean Sea…How cool is that?! 

Isla Saona natural pool is the largest natural pool in the world and there are lots of things you can do during your time there, from relaxing in the beautiful waters to dancing merengue on a boat and enjoying some Dominican rum! 

And don’t forget to set some time aside to search for the gorgeous starfishes that are abound there! 😉

Explore Wild Island Beaches

After your visit to the natural pool, you’ll be on your way to Saona island to enjoy its wild beaches! 

Caribbean Life & Travel magazine has selected Isla Saona’s unspoiled beaches as the best beaches of the Caribbean. And it’s not surprising! With its white sand, turquoise waters, and an abundance of palm trees, it truly looks like a slice of Paradise! 

You can relax on the beach with a cocktail or a soft drink or join in a volleyball game. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, go scuba diving or snorkeling in the crystal clear Caribbean Sea to see lots of beautiful fish and interesting sea creatures! 

Eat Delicious Seafood 

What can be better than a big plate of fresh seafood after a day full of adventure? The Dominican Republic is famous for its incredible seafood, and Saona Island lives up to the expectations! 

Enjoy a nice plate of lobster with local rice and a Presidente (the BEST local beer!) and share your adventures with friends and family. And then go for another relaxing swim! 

Discover Local Fishing Villages

Saona Island only has two small villages and a total population of just around 500 residents, but the charming villages of Mano Juan and Catuano are well worth your visit. 

At Mano Juan, you will find a few gift shops with typical souvenirs to take back home with you, stands with local art, and a small restaurant that serves fresh island food. Most families in Mano Juan make their living by fishing, so you can expect freshly caught local fish accompanied with yummy and healthy sides, such as plantains, rice, and cassava. 

Few tourists actually visit Mano Juan when they come to Saona Island, so incorporating a visit to this fishing village into your Isla Saona itinerary will give you a chance to experience this tranquil tropical island off the beaten track! 

→ Want to create a unique itinerary for your Saona Island excursion? Our private boat tours let you have the experience of your dreams! 

Local Fishing Villages in Saona Island

Interesting Facts

  • Mano Juan has beautifully colored homes. Do you want to take some beautiful pictures during your Saona Island trip? Or maybe you just want to do some cool sightseeing? Whatever it is, Mano Juan has brightly colored homes that show a Caribbean carefree way of living. They make for a gorgeous photo background, too!
  • You can get a massage on Saona Island beach. If you are long overdue for a relaxing SPA day or vacation, a day trip to Saona Island might be just what you need! You can get a message on a gorgeous white sand beach under the swaying palm trees with a pina colada by your side and feel yourself again.
  • Saona Island has a turtle conservation project. Isla Saona is an important turtle breeding ground and you can visit a turtle conservation project on your Saona Island trip. It is led by Negro, a local community organization, that gets turtle eggs from high-risk areas to a safe environment where they can hatch and then be returned to their natural habitat.
  • You can snorkel near Saona Island. Most Saona Island tours with big boats and crowds won’t make a snorkeling stop, but Saona can offer an amazing snorkeling experience since it is a part of a large national park, Cotubanamá, and a sanctuary to a large number of different species. Click here to learn more about private tours to Saona Island that are tailored to your preferences!
  • Bounty Chocolate commercials were filmed on Saona Island. Do you remember the gorgeous Bounty Chocolate commercials that showed off a deserted island with a gorgeous white sand beach and turquoise waters? That was Saona Island!
  • You can scuba dive at Saona Island. Another underrated activity at Saona Island is scuba diving. There is an extensive and diverse coral reef system around Saona Island and you can even find mysterious shipwrecks! If you are looking for a Saona Island tour from Punta Cana, click here.
    Saona Island runs on solar panels. Isla Saona is not connected to the Dominican Republic’s electricity grid and runs entirely on solar panels!
     
  • You can buy local art at Saona Island. Some of Mano Juan residents make colorful paintings and art objects that they sell at typical shops and stands. These cheerful objects that soaked up the quintessential Dominican lifestyle are guaranteed to brighten up your home!
  • You can spot unique animal species on Saona Island. Since it is a part of the national park, Isla Saona and its waters are home to endangered and rare animal species — such as rhinoceros iguana, the gentle manatee, and dolphins — that you may not see elsewhere!
  • Some of your favorite movies were filmed here. You may have seen Saona Island in the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Blue Lagoon, since some scenes from these movies were shot on Isla Saona! 

Best Beaches of Saona Island

Best Beaches of Saona Island

Saona Island has numerous beaches to choose from. It offers seemingly endless miles of white sand beaches, but some of the most popular Saona Island beaches are Canto de la Playa, Playa Bonita, and Playa del Gato. 

Palmilla Sandbank is the beach where the natural swimming pool is located. This is where you can relax in shallow waters and search for starfish. However, be careful not to touch the starfish you find because your sunscreen is toxic for them. 

Isla Saona also has multiple caves that you can explore, but Saona Island beaches are more popular. 

→ Looking for a private Saona Island tour? We got you covered! 

Food in Saona Island

Best Saona Island Tours

Saona Island is a beautiful Carribean destination to visit, but HOW you visit it matters a lot. The conventional way to visit Saona Island is to go on an excursion on a big boat with a crowd of people you do not know and a mediocre buffet lunch. You will be limited in time and your itinerary will be determined by your tour guide. 

This is why we are committed to providing Dominican Republic visitors with an alternative and more exclusive way to experience Saona Island. Our private half-day or full-day boat tours allow you to escape the crowds for a memorable Saona Island tour to experience this slice of Caribbean paradise on your own terms. Click here to learn more! 

Saona Island Tours

What Is Better: Isla Saona vs. Isla Catalina

Isla Catalina is another beautiful Caribbean island, just a short boat ride away from Isla Saona. Both islands are worth the visit and have their advantages, but your experiences will be a bit different. 

Isla Catalina offers a more intimate experience because it is a quieter island and tourists don’t visit it as often as Saona Island. It also offers a better snorkeling experience. 

Saona Island’s beaches are more scenic and overall it is a more popular experience — and for a reason! 

Beautiful Saona Island Beach

What Is the Weather Like at Saona Island? 

Saona Island is located just off the coast of Punta Cana and Bayahibe and you can expect the quintessential Caribbean weather: warm, sunny, and simply beautiful! 

If you ever get hot during your Saona Island trip, simply go for a swim in the crystal clear waters or drink a cold Presidente!

Weather in Saona Island

Tourism During Covid

Saona Island tourism remains largely unaffected by the pandemic. Dominican Republic does not have strict mandates or lockdown restrictions and you can travel freely. 

Traveling to Isla Saona in your own private boat is the safest way to explore this beautiful Caribbean island. Instead of being stuck on a large boat with a crowd of other tourists from different countries, you will be traveling on your own private boat to and from the island. 

Moreover, Saona Island’s more secluded beaches that you can reach on a private tour make social distancing much more enjoyable! 

Tourism During Covid in Saona Island

Where to Stay in Saona Island

Visiting Saona Island is usually a day trip and you will be back in your hotel by the early evening, so there is no need to search for accommodations on Saona Island. However, the finishing village of Mano Juan does have a small hotel where you can rent a cheap room for the night. 

There is also a growing number of ecolodges and eco-tourism camping sites, but we still recommend going back to your hotel and coming back for another visit if you feel like you still have things you want to do and see! 

Snorkeling Experience in Saona Island

Saona Island, Dominican Republic: Final Thoughts

Saona Island is a beautiful destination to visit during your Punta Cana or Bayahibe vacation. Going on a private boat tour to Saona Island allows you to combine the deserted island atmosphere with the comfort of your own exclusive method of transportation and control over your itinerary. From exploring the natural swimming pools to spotting rare animals, we got you covered! 

Ready to discover Saona Island? Book your private Saona Island excursion now! 

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