Saona Island is as rare and precious as a perfect pearl still hiding in a mollusk shell waiting to be discovered. In fact, in the popular press it is often called the, “Pearl of the Caribbean.” It is one of those places on this planet that is so special, so exquisite, that has ended up on the bucket list of many a world traveler.
For sure, Saona Island, also known as Isla Saona, leaves a lasting impression on all who visit it. For many, Saona Island imparts a landscape that is so divine it looks like it was touched by the hand of God. Less than two hours from Punta Cana, the most popular vacation destination in the Dominican Republic, it is visited by tens of thousands of tourists every month of the year. This is one reason it is important to chose an tour that will focus on eco-tourism and avoid the crowds.
Recognizing the importance of Saona Island’s vast natural resources, the Dominican Republic government decided in 1975 to preserve it along with a section of the southeast peninsula of the Dominican mainland as protected nature park. The park is called Parque Nacional del Este and it is also known as the East National Park. No development is allowed in the park, although a village of about 400 people who live off the land have been grandfathered in. There are strict rules that must be followed when accessing the park designed to protect the park and preserve it for future generations. To emphasize the importance of Saona Island to the Dominican Republic, approximately 95% of all those who visit the park, visit Saona Island. It is also the most popular tourist attraction in the entire country.
Saona Island forms the southern tip of the La Altagracia Province which is the same province that Punta Cana is in. It is about 6.6 square miles in size and makes up about one-quarter of the total land mass of the Parque Nacional del Este. It is approximately 13.7 miles wide from east to west and about 4-5 miles from north to south at its widest point. It is separated from the Dominican Republic mainland by a narrow channel called the Catuano Channel that is only 1-2 miles wide. This channel is an ecologically important area since it is densely populated with mangroves and serves as a nursery for tropical fish, sea turtles, and many invertebrate species.
The best way to visit Saona Island is to take an eco-tour with a licensed tour operator who truly cares about the wildlife and the people who live there. Your experience will be so much more rewarding than what you would have with the catamaran “booze cruises” that are offered by so many.