If you are in the Dominican Republic (DR) and considering whether to do a trip to Isla Saona, GO! You cannot miss it if you have made it to the DR. We have seen many beaches and islands around the world and Saona’s beauty will always be in our memories.
Saona is a tropical island located on the southeast tip of the Dominican Republic and is part of the Parque Nacional del Este. The island has no hotel and the only establishment on the island is Mano Juan (pop. 300). One cannot stay overnight (unless you crash with the locals in Mano Juan) and most tourists arrive on a day trip.
The typical excursion includes a catamaran ride from Bayahibe to the island, dancing and drinking on the boat, buffet lunch, a stop at piscina natural (shallow sandbank with clear water), and a speedier motorboat trip back.
Getting There: Boats leave from Bayahibe every morning. Every hotel, restaurant, and shop in La Romana/Bayahibe advertise the trip. If you are staying in Punta Cana/Bavaro, the trip can easily be arranged through your hotel or online. Trips (including pick up from hotel) range anywhere from $50 – $80 (add $20-$25 USD for transportation if you are staying in Punta Cana/Bavaro). During the slow August month, we found prices as low as $40/person by just walking around Bayahibe waterfront in the early morning. Similar to most tourist destinations, expect some crowd unless you booked a trip with non-standard stops. Dive shops/good tour co. often take tourists to the more secluded beaches (costing a bit more, but worth it). We booked the ProExcursion’s House Tour ($89/person including transportation from Bavaro), which included catamaran to/back, a walking tour of Mano Juan, visit to the beautiful secluded beach of Canto de la Playa, snorkeling, visit the mangroves, and a stop at piscina natural. Canto de la Playa is a very beautiful beach (one of the more memorable beaches), so ask your tour co. whether they are going there and expect to pay a bit more.
What to Bring: Towels, sunscreens, bugs/mosquitoes spray (a must), sun glasses, sandals, camera.
Our Actual Saona Trip
We left Bayahibe around 9am on a medium sized catamaran with a small group of 16 people. Soft drinks and rums are all you can drink. After about 45 minutes ride, we arrived at Saona/Mano Juan. On a first impression, Saona has beautiful coastline of dense coconut forest leaning on to the white sand beach. The waters around the island are very shallow, and every time the boat slows down, there are temptations to just jump in. Mano Juan is a small village with rows of colorful houses and a small pier. Our tour guide took us on a walking tour of the village, a visit to the local school, and an invitation to one of the villager’s house for some papaya juice and to see how they live. We also visited a turtle nursery, held little turtles that just hatched, before stopping for a nice buffet lunch (fish/pasta/chicken) in Mano Juan.
After lunch, we boarded the boat again and headed to the beautiful beach of Canto de la Playa. As the boat approached Canto de la Playa, one can see a nearly deserted beach with coconut trees leaning onto the white sand, and shallow clear water stretching 200 meters into the sea. A paradise on earth and one of the most beautiful beaches we have seen. The water was very clear and the snorkeling/aquatic life plentiful. We spend the next 2 hours taking pictures, snorkeling, laying on the sand, and drinking coconut juice. There was only one other small tour group on this beach, so it was calm and quite.
After Canto de la Playa, we took a quick tour of the mangroves, danced a bit on the boat, and then a stop at piscina natural. As mentioned before, piscine natural is a shallow sandbank that extends far from the shore. Because of the recent storm, the water around piscina sandbank was not very clear, but still beautiful. We jumped into the shallow water, held star fish, and played some rum drinking games. Everybody was enjoying themselves and having a lot of fun.
On the boat ride back to Bayahibe, the crew got everyone involved in dancing (from the young to the elder). Like it or not, everyone had to dance. Of course, after some rum drinking games at piscina natural, the dancing was much easier. After a few songs and a nice work out, folks sat down and enjoyed the final ride back into Bayahibe.
After we got off the catamaran, we noticed 3-4 fishermen cleaning fishes on the beach. We approached them and negotiated with broken Spanish for 10 fishes for 250 DR pesos. That is only about $0.63 USD/fish. Our dinner for the next 3 days.
The Saona trip was well worth it and every pesos well spend. We did not experience any wild crowd, super loud music, or uncontrolled drinking that some guidebooks mentioned about the Saona trip. It was a good mix of beautiful beaches, traditional life style of Mano Juan, relaxing boat ride, dancing, and some good laugh/smile. It is a MUST VISIT.
See Video of Our Saona Trip Below