Saona Island is one of the gems of the Caribbean Sea and a must-see place for anyone who is on holiday in Punta Cana. Its endless white sandy beaches with crystal clear waters will be a haven of peace far away from civilization.
While you can visit Saona Island from Playa Bávaro itself on a one-day tour, we recommend setting aside part of the day to make a stop at the Saona Island Turtle Sanctuary in Mano Juan to learn about the Sea Turtle Conservation Project. It is located in Mano Juan, the only inhabited fishing village on the island, which is home to this very important project that is a very significant part of the island and the country.
Protected Turtle Species
The situation of sea turtles in the Dominican Republic is very delicate. There are three protected species: the leatherback sea turtle, green sea turtle, and hawksbill sea turtle. The hawksbill turtle is the most representative of all of them, with more than 25 nesting females per year.
Their extinction is mainly due to theft by fishermen and poachers in the area, who plan on illegally selling the shells of the adult turtles. Another reason why hawksbill turtle hatchlings are stolen is the false belief in the country that the eggs and meat of hawksbill turtles can be used to remedy some conditions, such as erectile dysfunction.
Saona Island Turtle Sanctuary
Hawksbill turtles and indeed all marine turtles are nearing extinction in the Dominican Republic. About 10 years ago the Dominican Government, the Tourism Industry, and local fishermen decided to start protecting this amazing marine species. The objective is to ensure the largest number of Sea Turtles possible makes it through nesting back into the water.
In this sea turtle conservation project in Mano Juan, all the nests are monitored using a GPS system. This way, it’s possible to intervene in the event that a nest is located in a high-risk area, and thus prevent the eggs from being stepped on or stolen by poachers. The eggs are then transferred to the sanctuary, where they are incubated until the young are born. Afterward, the newborn turtle babies are released back into the turquoise blue ocean.
How to get to Saona Island
There are only two ways to get to Saona Island. You can either travel by boat or via private helicopter. The most popular way of getting to the island is via guided tours that include transfer from the resort in Punta Cana or La Romana.
There are two type of excursions available. Visitors can either choose a smooth and sunny aboard one fo the Catamarans or pick a fast and exciting ride on a speedboat. The boat ride from Bayahibe (the port) to Saona Island takes around:
- 90 minutes via Catamaran
- 30 minutes via Speedboat
People with a bit larger wallet may book a private yacht charter or private helicopter to get to the island.