Isla Saona is a tiny island located off the South-Eastern end of the Dominican Republic; and not just any old island my friends, oh no! The island’s actual name used to be Adamanay, however you know what those crazy Europeans of yesteryear were like when they went around the world claiming to discover new places; they felt an overwhelming and mildly arrogant urge to give each place a special new name of their own. I say ‘claiming’ because obv in the vast majority of cases these new lands were already very much inhabited by a local bunch of people who had always been quite aware of the place they live in. In this case the indigenous folk were called Taíno, and when Christopher Columbus arrived in the late 1400s he told them and the rest of the world that actually the name of this island was Saona, in homage to his good pal Michele da Cuneo who was from Savona in Italy. Not only is it a full on stunning place, with serene white sand beaches and palm trees swaying in the breeze, nowadays it’s a government-protected Nature Reserve due to its crazy abundance of beaut nature- both on land and in the shallow blue waters that surround it. This is definitely the closest place to paradise that I have ever stepped foot on, and understandably this is a massive draw for the tourists that arrive in boats every day from the mainland.
The bumpiest boat ride in the history of my life
The taxi journey from La Romana to Bayahibe took about half an hour with 15 of us squeezed onto each other’s laps (it was more of a van if I’m honest, but still, not quite a 15 seater that’s for sure), taking us past cacti, palms and vines in abundance plus a whole load of goats and chickens wandering alongside the road, and being overtaken en route by mopeds laden down with passengers or produce while the taxi driver blared out all sorts of merengue classics as we blazed along. Even though the sky was dark and cloudy, the air was humid and for some reason the rain didn’t seem to bother any of us in the slightest smidgen. My pal Marc had been full on savvy and pre-liaised with the boat driver who was waiting to collect us, so in we waded to the water upon arrival and clambered in to the small boat to start the second part of the journey to Isla Saona.
I was loving life you guys!
But. If there is one piece of advice I could ever give to you about going on boat rides to islands, it is for gods sake do not sit at the front. It’s just not worth the pain and the aggravation you guys! As we began to pick up speed, despite the apparent calmness of the water surrounding us, the front end of the boat began to bounce up and down like there was no tomorrow which was simultaneously hilarious and absolutely petrifying. My hat actually fell apart during the whole process of the journey, it was that crazy. And GOOD LORD MY BACK WAS IN PAIN AFTER THAT BOAT RIDE! Whenever it seemed like we were nearing the end of our journey, we’d pick up speed again going further and further still for around 50 minutes in total, till finally we really did slow down just at the edge of the most glorious beach I’ve ever laid eyes on.
The deserted beach
Right pals, I’m gonna be honest here, ‘deserted’ is a bit of a creative word for what the beach actually was, but it was as close to deserted as you can get these days. We’d travelled right around to the far side of the island very early in the morning, which is a lot earlier than most people are willing to be up and about gallivanting on slightly strenuous boat trips, so there were only a couple of boats which had arrived prior to us stepping foot on this glorious piece of land.
Waking along the white sand with only the sound of the sea was so full on peaceful- and something I felt double grateful for after living on a ship where noise is happening all around you no matter what time of day or night. The odd donkey wandered through from the palm trees every now and then, and a local man had already set up his barrow of coconuts in the shade a short walk away, armed with a machete to chop them open with for drinking. I’m not sure whether this lad was one of the 400 people who live in the island’s only town- apparently their main source of income is from fishing and farming, not selling coconuts for $3 a go- but he did rather proudly show us his half-thumb which he’d chopped off accidentally in a coconut-related accident. What a living legend.
I’m normally a massive scaredy-cat when it comes to swimming in the sea, but the water around here is so shallow and clear that even I was more than happy to have a good old swim around. One of my trip buddies, aided by a snorkel, discovered a conch shell during her scanning of the area- TRUE TREASURE, MY FRIENDS!!! I am so impressed by the fact that these things exist. This place truly is an actual paradise, and I was sad to leave after a couple of hours, by which point a few more boats had arrived and deposited their passengers onto the white sand as well. (On a side note, I was also a bit sad to leave because it meant another boat-ride being battered around like crazy and getting even more of a bruised bum)
The resort beach
We headed back around the coast of Isla Saona, bouncing again like crazy on the flat water, but this time with switched seating positions to ease our aches and pains a bit and also in all honesty probably to give the rest of the group some relief from our screaming every time we hit the water with any kind of force. It was for the best all around, I think. Our da bomb boat driver took us to a far busier beach which is part of an all-inclusive resort on the island, with far less of a wild feel about it but still full on lovely, and with the added bonus of a bathroom. Yesssss!! I like to think of myself as a relatively low-maintenance individual but when it comes to an au naturel wee I am really not a fan ya know.
Saying hi to the starfish
Our amazing boat driver came to pick us up after an hour or so and we sped onwards, eventually stopping at a point where land was within swimming distance but still fairly distant. I was mildly confused at this point, it has to be said, especially when the driver announced it was time to jump out into the water. Like I said pals, I’m a scaredy-cat.
Turns out I had absolutely nothing to be afraid of as when I plummeted from the ladder I discovered that at some points it’s just over knee deep, and at it’s deepest barely came up to my shoulders. So not really anything to worry about at all. What a palaver.
The sea in that area is home to a ginormous number of massive starfish who just hang out on the sand in these shallows having a ball all day long. There is a large area which is completely restricted to prevent too many tourists from coming along and picking up these guys all day long, and by the time we arrived we were the only boat there, although apparently earlier in the day it can be chockablock with boatloads of people come to ogle and inspect these beaut creatures which is a real shame I think.
At first I was a bit worried that picking them up would do them some kind of harm but our boat-man assured us that we although we definitely shouldn’t take them out of the water, as long as we handled them gently it was okay. Also I seemed to remember that in the back of my mind from my visits to the aquarium when I was a small lass so I trusted their judgement on the matter and picked up a very spiky starfish-pal for a bit, which turned out to be a right laugh.
Tips for visiting Isla Saona
- We were lucky enough tohave someone in the group with a contact of a taxi driver and boat driver who had already negotiated a price- which worked out amazingly for us, both in terms of price and the experience of the day. Obviously there’s nothing wrong with paying for a tour as it’s definitely easier if you don’t have prior contacts, but if you can organise it yourself I’d definitely say it’s worth it.
- You cannot take ANYTHING AT ALL from the island: our conch shell had to go back into the sea, and even the tiny pieces of coral you find on the beach have to stay there. If you get caught bringing anything back they’ll get swiftly confiscated, pals!
- Be a good person! Obviously you shouldn’t litter anywhere you go, EVER, but bear in mind that at the most deserted beaches you visit there will definitely not be anywhere to throw your litter so you’ve just got to bite the bullet and take it with you, okay!? This includes the plastic straws they whack into the top of coconuts to drink with. It’s just the right thing to do really isn’t it?