During his second voyage to the Americas, Columbus landed on an enchanting exotic island. He named it Savona, in honor of Michele da Cuneo, a Savoyard sailor who saw it as an outstanding feature of the greater Hispaniola. Today called Saona, this island is one of the beloved tropical edens of the Dominican Republic.
Uvero Alto's early departure begins to prove painful.
Once we overcome the discomfort of a few hours of sleep and embrace Melvin Durán's contagious energy, the rewards follow.
We had survived Bayahibe Bay before. We had already witnessed the crowd that the dozens of guides struggled to keep in a group and in a line.
They were called “families”, distinguished by their surnames, or other improvised baptisms.
With the sun rising on the horizon, several of the visitors took shelter in the shade provided by the vegetation on the northwest threshold of the Cotubanamá National Park.
There, the endless mosquitoes from the adjacent mangroves ambushed them, grateful for the smooth skins and accessible blood of outsiders.
As did the sellers of cigars, sunglasses, hats and the like, these days, with Haiti in absolute chaos, almost all of them emigrants from the western side of Hispaniola.
The captains responsible for the fleet of moored boats and catamarans, process a complex division of passengers by boats.
Gradually, boats and catamarans set sail, most of them with Disney names or just children: “Pinocchio”, “Pluto”, “Mini” and so on. Even with the pinecone, they saved the Gringos waiting for the promised paradise.
A Privileged Incursion into the popular Saona Island
As we left Uvero Alto at dawn, part of a restricted group, we spared ourselves this and other trials. The boat that was waiting for us leaves the cove, with no sign of groups, queues or confusion.
Even in the middle of the rainy season and the hurricanes in the Caribbean, it was dawning a sunny day, bright to match.
Reclining in the front seats, we let the wind massage our faces.
We see the Bayahibe listed lighthouse behind and the almost shallow and forested coastline of the west of the Cotubanamá PN unfold.
The Natural and Tropical Lagoon off Playa Palmilla
In a few minutes, we reach La Palmilla, an area of shallow water, contained by a coral reef off the coast.
There, the Caribbean Sea turns an even more resplendent translucent turquoise.
Palmilla's natural pool below, we pass by stretches of seaside occupied by the reality show "Survivor”. Melvin, alert us to your structures.
Without expecting it, we realize that evidence and the respective filming are taking place.
We passed them in a quick nautical panorama.
Then, we skirted the speckled coral along the tip Palmillas, an extreme southwest of the Cotubanamá PN comparable to the boot of the Italian peninsula.
Not by chance.
The Pioneer Visit of Christopher Columbus and Friend Michele da Cuneo
One of the first Europeans to see this area and identify the strait to the south, in 1494, was Michele Da Cuneo, during the second expedition of Christopher Columbus to the Americas.
It was Da Cuneo, an Italian sailor friend of Columbus, who assured him and the crew that it was a island.
As a reward, Columbus gave it to him.
Fast-forward to the dawn of the XNUMXth century.
From the newly founded village of Santo Domingo, a captain named Juan de Esquivel and his men had already dominated much of southern and central Hispaniola.
They were only resisted in Adamanay (original name of Saona) a bag of natives led by Cotubanamá, a proud and charismatic cacique who had long impressed and annoyed the conquerors.
Finally, in 1504, the Spanish captured Cotubanamá and dominated the island's Tainos.
The governor of Hispaniola, Nicolas de Ovando, arch-rival who hated Columbus, dictated the hanging of the cacique.
By eliminating it, it paved the way for the colonization of the Saona we were about to anchor.
The Morning Disembarkation in the Solitary Village of Manu Juan
We crossed the Catuano Strait.
Almost in the middle of the south coast, we can see a house with a pier.
We disembark onto a coral sand bathed by gentle waves.
We went up, first to the shade of coconut trees, where we devoured a providential breakfast.
Then, we moved next to a sign identifying the PN Cotubanamá. And Manu Juán, the only true town, humble “capital” of Saona Island.
Melvin Durán enlightens us about the village and its people of fishing origins.
We follow him inside the house.
To the headquarters of SAONI, an operation to protect and study the turtles of Saona, led by El Negro, a resident determined to ensure the survival and proliferation of the species that spawn in the surrounding sands.
From there, we passed the island's Spartan police station.
Inside, we photograph a photogenic and surprised agent De Oleo, one hand on his cell phone, the other in his holster, under a triptych that exults the founders of the Dominican homeland.
The Commercial “Avenue” of Manu Juan, on an Immaculate Seaside
Back at the seaside, we come across the emblematic commercial avenue of Manu Juan, formed by two rows of huts, with roofs made of coconut palms.
We find them full of handicrafts, clothes and knick-knacks that the resident shopkeepers, almost always happy and smiling, try to foist on outsiders.
Once more on the beach, a fisherman who had just landed showed us two live lobsters.
Nearby, the beautiful and yellow AVAISA stand, Isla Saona Sellers Association exposes the pines (pineapples) essential to their renowned Pinã Coladas.
We feel enticed. Despite everything we'd been through since waking up, it was just after ten in the morning.
We resist sweet temptation.
We said goodbye to Manu Juan. As is supposed in this type of excursion, several times are dedicated to bathing leisure.
Melvin makes us reverse course.
Playa del Toro and Laguna Flamingos, back to the starting point
We skirted a bulge in the coast.
We disembark at a certain Playa del Toro where we resume our exploration mode.
We crossed a hedge of coconut trees and bushes.
On the other side, we come across an immense lagoon, with earthy, mustard-colored waters, hit by a wind that the hedge seemed to bar from the beach.
It was one of several lagoons in the interior of Saona, that of the Flamingos.
This is how it became known due to the many flocks of these wading birds that usually feed there, in the image of the much wider Oviedo Lagoon, located between Barahona and the pristine beach of Bahia de Las Águilas.
By that time, no sign of them. Just a strange stench that invaded the sand and the sea.
We questioned Melvin about what caused him.
“That's why they called Playa Del Toro.” enlighten us. “The sun and salt decompose some algae that develop on the surface. Gradually, fermentation generates this aroma. Today, it's nothing. There are days when we cannot bring anyone here.”
We cool off in the shallow blue sea. Shortly after, we changed our landing again.
Stop at a Bathing Recanto à Pinha of Instagrammers and the like
To a beach further north, equipped with infrastructure and equipment, a blessed place for a long-awaited lunch.
When we disembark, there are a few on the beach, we, Dominican and Haitian masseurs, photographers and vendors.
Melvin alerts us to a curiosity: “Notice that coconut tree almost lying down. You will see the queue that, shortly, will be generated there.”
One by one, more boats and catamarans arrive. filled with instagramers e influencers who knew the cherry tree. And that they ran to her as soon as they set foot on the sand.
Just as Melvin had warned, he soon formed and stretched out to such a line.
Much bigger and more disputed than the buffet which we soon use.
After the meal, we venture to an extension to the south of the beach, with its own structures.
Damaged by one of the many hurricanes that devastate the Antilles every year and which tropical nature had taken over.
Thirsty for blood, the mosquitoes expel them in three stages.
That's why it intrigues us twice as it passes us, on its way to the arena of cock fights of Manu Juan, an olive-green-eyed mulatto native who grabbed a rooster against a Chicago Bulls tank top.
We greet you. Let's make conversation.
Explain to us that it is your best fighting cock. That, with him, he got used to winning bets and easy money, that he almost didn't need to train him.
By then, Melvin was already looking for us. Rushed by its distant appeal, we returned to the meeting and re-boarding point.
An Afternoon Return to La Palmilla Marine Lagoon
We set sail towards Palmilla and the unavoidable attraction of any incursion to Saona, its natural pool.
Unlike other tourist boats, we have it almost to ourselves, a vast expanse of translucent cyan, warmed by the tropical sun, dotted with starfish that the guides forbid bathers to touch.
Surrendered to that Caribbean delight, we are reminded of the plan that the United States had for Saona, during the 2nd World War, to build a military base there.
This plan was fought with all his might by the contemporary Dominican president and dictator, Rafael Trujillo, who did everything he could to inhabit and civilize the island, and thus prevent an invasion that, at one point, and even during the past decade, came to seem imminent.
Nowadays, the island is home to more than three hundred families, almost all of them concentrated in Manu Juan.
It has little to do with Savona in Liguria.
Even though it is crowded, whoever has the privilege of discovering it, wouldn't trade it for anything in this world.
HOW TO GO:
Book your package for the Dominican Republic and its excursions – including Saona Island – marketed by operator Jolidey and available at travel agencies.
Already in Rep. Dominican Republic, you can also book your Saona Island tour or other tours through the agency Visit Dominican Republic