Bounty adverts and pirates: A day in paradise at Isla Saona

During my recent trip to the Dominican republic, where (guilty as charged) I plumped for an all inclusive lazy holiday, I thought it only right to take myself out of the social experiment of the resort and see a little of the local scenery.

And so I headed for a day on Isla Saona (Saona Island), off the south east coast. It’s a recognised National Park and so protected from development and still very wild. Sounds perfect right? A full day catamaran trip including deserted beaches and lots and lots of what the locals call ‘Vitamin R’ (that’s Rum to you and me!) sounded just what the doctor ordered!

All aboard!

It was a sunny, clear Sunday morning when we boarded our catamaran for the 2 hour journey out from Dreams La Romana to Isla Saona. Dominican Merengue music was playing softly from disguised speakers, and people settled happily under the already scorching rays for a day to remember. Our location at the front of the vessel was probably the best seat in the house, allowing us to strech out and relax, or dangle our feet over the front and watch the world go by.

On our gorgeous catamaran to Isla Saona

On our gorgeous catamaran to Isla Saona

Pretty soon, the promised ‘Vitamin R’ was being handed out, and the Merengue blasted yet louder. Forgetting that it was well before midday on a Sunday, the party really got started, with some serious booty shaking (pictures omitted to save your poor eyes from having this image burned into your retina for all eternity).

Then it all got a bit ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’…

Pirates of the Caribbean

Don’t ask. Blame the rum.

After 2 hours of drinking A LOT of rum, and trying to remain vertical whilst the catamaran dipped and dived into a crystal clear sea, we arrived at our first stop where (thankfully) there was some solid food awaiting to calm our sloshy bellies. We dined in relative luxury within rattan love-nests, which we shared with a lovely elderly couple from Santiago, Chile. The quite astronomical alcohol levels in my blood gave me some unbeknown levels of confidence to practise my rusty A-Level spanish. Any excuse, honestly… I’m so bloody embarrassing!

Our fabulous lunch stop

Our fabulous lunch stop

After snoozing off what was fast becoming a real problem-hangover (hangovers in the daytime are the absolute worst), we climbed into our awaiting speedboat ready to take on our next stop: This incredibly sexy desert island, complete with fresh pineapples to sup from.

Saona beach 2Now, would you believe me if I told you that not everything was not quite as it seems on this beach?

Golden sands? Check. Clear waters? You got it. Palm trees swaying gently in the breeze? Well of course! But do you know what? This beach absolutely positively just plain reeks of shit!

I mean, the stench was god-awful. It had that eye-watering quality which you only get with raw sewage, and on our approach I could not believe the complete incongruence between visual and olfactory senses. My eyes were telling me this was one of the most dazzling natural beaches I had seen in my 28 year existence. My nose was telling me I was in a drop toilet in Bolivia’s desert, and the flies were having a jolly lovely time on that poo down there.

I was reliably informed that this island of such vast contrast was used as the setting of the Bounty advert back in 1995 where a bloke is sheltering under a palm tree and ‘receives a gift’ from above in the form of a coconut. Watching this knowing what I know now about the pungent smell in the area, I’m surprised he’s not gagging on his chocolatey treat. What a professional.

Our next stop was to the only inhabited town on Isla Saona, Mano Juan. The town’s main purpose is to protect the local wildlife and environment, especially the dozens of different species of sea turtle who come to its beaches year after year to lay their eggs. The townspeople ensure that no humans have contact with these beaches and then if needed, they aid the little newborn turtles to the sea. We visited a small turtle museum, which was a tiny dark shack (terrible for photos), and them ambled around this brightly hued town.

Notable highlights in Mano Juan are the small yellow coloured church, the beach houses and the sign advertising ‘horses for rent’. I’ve never before considered renting a horse as one may do a bike, but it seemed like an exciting proposition.

Also, if you can find this little chihuahua, he is a bit of a legend and happily poses for photos!

Mano Juan

Mano Juan – The only inhabited place on the whole island

In the long shadows of the afternoon, we made our way back to our boat to make the long return journey. A stop en-route at a ‘natural swimming pool’ full of starfish sounded positively mythical, and I couldn’t wait to see what this fascinating place had in store.

The natural swimming pool has been created by a large, flat sandbank half a mile or so off the shore of the beach. I must admit, it was pretty cool. So we climbed in and started the hunt for the starfish we were so gamely promised.

Nothing. Nada. Zip.

We walked the bull breadth of that blasted swimming pool and could see no sign of life whatsoever on its bed. All of a sudden, one of the crew shouted and ‘pointed out’ a starfish nearby (read: took it out of an onboard tank). We were on to him, so when it came to having photos (in a responsible manner of course), I hastily freed that poor little starfish. Go forth! Be free!

Unfortunately, there aren’t that many places to hide on that sea bed and so who knows if it was scooped back up and placed back in its prison? Who knows if I just made that up? I don’t know, but it all smelled a bit ‘fishy’ to me!

The 'local' starfish

The ‘local’ starfish and the floating bar!

And so the sun set on our (almost) perfect desert island experience. Plenty of rum drunk, plenty of sun rays caught, and one imprisoned starfish freed. I count that as a successful day!


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Hayley is the author behind A Life of More, a travel and lifestyle blog with the goal of helping you to live a happier and more fulfilled life, whether you're currently travelling or happily settled.

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Comments 5

  1. Christine B

    This might sounds weird, but were there restrooms at each stop? I assume no restrooms on board the catamaran? I’m just asking because I’ll be traveling with my parents who are both 65, and honestly, even me at the young age of 31 has a hard time holding it. Thank you for the info!

  2. Post
    Hayley Griffiths

    I’m really sorry Christine, but I really can’t remember! I know there definitely is a bathroom on board but I can’t remember about the stops. Hope you enjoy your trip! 🙂

  3. Jarelle

    Love your blog! I am heading to Punta Cana next week and would love to go on this tour! My only concern is the smelled you mentioned…were you able to get over it at any point?? Did they explain why the island smells of crap?? Haha I did read your other post about Hoyo Azul–how did you get there without being on a guided tour?


  4. Post
    Hayley Griffiths

    Hey Jarelle

    The smell is pretty bad and I’m not exactly sure what causes it TBH, but you get used to it quickly and you don’t stay too long anyway. Also I guess it depends which direction the wind is blowing! 🙂 Ask your accommodation to hire you a cab and call the park ahead of time to get authorisation to visit Hoyo Azul, and they should be able to help you. Have a great time!! xx

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