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.
[slogan]This is real life.[/slogan]
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.
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).