One Perfect Day on Saona Island, Dominican Republic

Jessica Peterson

Saona Island, Dominican Republic

With a population of only 300 people, Saona Island is exactly what I hoped to experience in the Dominican Republic. Sleepy fishing villages line the picture-perfect coast with faded pastel shacks selling snacks and bric-a-brac while kids play dominoes on the beach.

While the girls played games, a grandmother napped nearby, keeping one eye open on our small tourist group. We had arrived by catamaran, a leisurely trip through impossibly turquoise waters.

A group of young boys and girls eagerly posed for pictures in the sand and then began braiding my hair. It doesn’t get anymore relaxing than this and it also doesn’t get anymore culturally authentic.

I’m not the type that likes cloistered tourist islands (which is why I couldn’t fall in love with the lovely Hamilton Island). What is the point of traveling if you don’t experience the local culture?

That being said, Saona Island does receive a lot of tourists and filmmakers, but I really don’t think the boy chasing his donkey down the beach was a set-up.

This is real life.

Another hungry burro lapped up pineapples with insatiability, the sweet sticky juice pouring down his face, as a woman fed him by hand.

Before we arrived on Saona, we snorkeled in the clear blue ocean in search of puffy indigenous starfish. The unspoiled beauty gives evidence that Saona is a protected nature preserve.

On the way home, we stopped at a beach bungalow for a heaping plate of Dominican paella, grilled fish, and veggies, then laid out under breezy palms until we could muster the energy to board the boat again. Adult beverages overflowed on the catamaran which inevitably led to dancing as the unrelenting sun finally dipped below the horizon.

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Saona Island is easily accessible from Punta Cana via a paid boat tour. Our tour included a trip to Hoya Azul as well (more on that soon).

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Watch my Dominican Republic travel films…

Have you been to Dominican Republic? What was your favorite experience there?

Jessica Peterson
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Jessica Peterson

Jessica Peterson is a travel filmmaker, photographer, and journalist. She released her first documentary film about indigenous culture on Guam in 2016, after having lived nearly 7 years on the Pacific island. Jessica is currently on the Great American Roadtrip in her Airstream trailer.
Jessica Peterson
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  • Jean Bean

    Pineapples on the beach. Feeding a donkey a pineapple. Quick where do I sign up to get here! I’ve not been to the Dominican Republic but it’s certainly on the list now.

  • Looks like the perfect island escape! I’m also not a huge fan of areas completely overrun with tourists, even if they’re absolutely beautiful. This seems much more my speed 🙂

  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    I’ve been to the Dominican Republic (Punta Cana) and I also took a catamaran but we didn’t go to Saona Island. The Caribbean beaches are hard to beat and looking at your photos makes me want to escape Winter asap!

  • How sweet, they began braiding your hair, I love that 🙂 I totally agree with you, what is the point of travelling if you don’t experience the culture! I love the pictures, It looks like the perfect place to soak up island style vibes, my favorite kind of vibes 🙂

  • Marissa Abao

    I have not been to the Dominican Republic but I am hoping to visit someday. You look so relaxed! The pics of the smiling kids look lovely. Everything is so laid-back and simple. I’d want to make fresh pineapple juice right now. = )

  • Promise Chika Maxwell

    I have a lot of friends from Dominican Republic here in Spain telling me so much about the country and of course Saona Island, but not having to see photos yet so, I just really wanna thank you for providing this great post filled with beautiful photos and lovely people. I’m in!!!

  • Lynne Sarao

    I’ve been to the Dominican Republic and it was not nearly as beautiful as the place you visited. I must’ve gone to the wrong place! Your photos are stunning and now I am reconsidering a trip back to discover the more beautiful side!

  • Neha Verma

    Never been here . The place looks so calm, serene and beautiful. Got to agree with you, the cute and colorful huts lining the coast immediately held my attention

  • 300 people! I love the sound of Saona Island, it must be such a charming little place 🙂 Like you, I’m not a massive fan of overly touristy spots, so this would be perfect. And your photos are gorgeous as always, I really need to add the Dominican Republic to my list of places I need to visit now!

  • I really want to visit the Dominican Republic. I like that you want to get to know the local culture instead of just sitting at a resort. The water looks so gorgeous! Nice photos.

  • Alexa

    Gorgeous place and you captured such beautiful photos. I have never been, but I agree that I would rather go somewhere with less tourists! I’d love to visit here someday.

  • Ellie Augustin

    Maybe I’m a little bias being Dominican myself but man I love my little island! Glad you had a blast.

  • The Dominican Republic is pure paradise! I’ve only been to punta Cana but would love to visit a more intimate location like this!

  • Emily Mayer

    What excursion company did you go through!? I love your pictures and was wondering what type of camera you have!