The island of Saona, originally "the beautiful Savonese" is an island in the Antilles located on south-east of the Dominican Republic. Specifically, it is situated in the province of “La Altagracia”, within the National Natural Park of the East or Cotubanamà Park, named in honor of the chief of the indigenous population of the island and executed by the Spaniards in Santo Domingo in the 16th century.
The island was declared a protected area by the WWF in 1975 not only for its beauty but also because it is the most important national nesting site for sea turtles that inhabit Caribbean waters. It has an area of 110km², with a length of 22km and a width of 5km in its largest part. Mostly covered with vegetation, there is a large amount of mangroves.
It seems that the island has been inhabited since 2000 BC and just in 800 BC. the Taino settled there. Taino were an indigenous population from Haiti who had conquered most of the Caribbean islands in the pre-Columbian age. The Tainos called the island Adamanay and occupied it until Columbus arrived.
Christopher Columbus, in command of the three caravels Nina, San Juan and Cordera and with a total of 98 men reached the island on 14 September 1494.
During his patrol of the island of Hispaniola, in the second voyage he made to the new world, Columbus sensed the approach of a storm as confirmed by the quote by Bartolomeo de Las Casas in his "Historia de las Indias":
"... It rained abundantly and in the middle of that she came to an islet that the Indians called Adamaney, and now they call Saona, which name I believe, was placed by the Admiral himself or by his brother Adelantado. This island has a strait of a league or so (Canal deCatuano) which is between it and this island of Hispaniola and, it seems to me, if I remember correctly, because I was in those places many years ago, that this strait has a width of two alloys. He entered this strait that the storm was already raging, he alone, and moored on September 15th; the other two ships were unable to enter and for this reason many dangers passed "and he opted to cross the channel of Catuano, the narrow that separates Saona from the island of Hispaniola, in search of shelter. Only the Nina crossed the canal and managed to dock on the beach named after Columbus by the name of Santa Cruz.
Confirming their docking on the night of September 14th there is the fact that that same night there was an eclipse of the moon. Witnessed by Columbus in a letter addressed to Pope Alexander VI in 1502 that say: "I sailed as far west as when the sun set those from Cadiz in Spain they saw him at two hours to the East, so that I traveled 10 lines of the other hemisphere, and there could be no mistake because then there was an eclipse of the moon on September 14th " and by the" Libro Copiador " discovered in 1985 that say "... while I was in the port of Santa Cruz on 14 September 1494 I saw the moon disappear for fifty-two minutes of an hour after midnight ..."
While the Nina saved on Santa Cruz beach the other two caravels, having remained behind, had to find shelter in the more exposed beach of Mano Juan and only when the storm ended they can reunite themselfes with the Nina and Admiral Colombo.
It was at the time of reunion that Columbus decided to baptize the island with the name of Saona.
There are two conflicting opinions on the choice of the name that are not mutually exclusive. The first says that Columbus would have dedicated the discovery of the island to his friend Michele da Cuneo and to give him credit for the sighting, as well as appointing him governor, he decided to call it after the latter's city of origin. The other hypothesis is that the name Saona, the only toponym given by Columbus that does not correspond to the name of a saint, derives from the fact that the last Italian city where the Admiral lived was Savona. In fact, it seems that Columbus left his family there when he moved.
Only when the storm end, on the 24th September 1494, the admiral and his men can manage to leave Saona.
Today Saona is practically uninhabited, with a total of 450 inhabitants, mostly located in the village of Mano Juan. The population lives by fishing and selling souvenirs to tourists who come to the island thanks to the numerous organized excursions. The best known beaches are that of Canto de La Playa, Mano Juan and Punta Catuano. In Mano Juan, in addition to being the only village, there is also an assistance and protection center for the reproduction of sea turtles. An almost "sacred" place where turtle eggs are protected and kept until hatching.
Saona still remains a tropical paradise; fine white beach, turquoise water and immense coconut palms overlooking the sea. The vegetation is the host. There are no large hotels, only one that offers a few rooms for those who decide to enjoy a romantic sunset walk on the island.
Departing from the village of Bayahibe you can reach Saona in more or less an hour by motorboat or catamaran. Those wishing to visit the Island can do it through an organized excursion or a private trip. For our organized excursions, the tour includes departure from the village of Bayahibe, an hour and a half of navigation untill reaching the most distant beach of Canto de la Playa, a virgin beach where only the house of Dr. Gonzalvo is present. The doctor's house was the only building not to be expropriated after the declaration of Saona as a protected natural area.
After taking a break of a few hours in Canto de la Playa we will move to the village of Mano Juan where it will be possible to have lunch and admire the daily life of the inhabitants of the island. Finally, the last stop will be at the natural pools, a large sandy area with a shallow water that is located half a kilometer from the coast in front of the Palmilla beach. A peculiarity of this stretch is the presence of starfish, once present in large quantities and today decidedly diminished or almost absent due to a poorly informed mass tourism.
Saona Island attracts more visitors than all the other natural parks together and because of its being wild and paradisiacal Saona has been chosen for numerous commercials including that of the Bounty coconut and chocolate bar.
A curiosity, linked to ancient times, is the twinning of Saona to the Italian city of Savona. The people of Savona, in honor of this solidarity relationship, gave to the inhabitants of Saona an electric generator which is currently the main one in operation on the island.