The day includes some of the things I dislike most in the world. Loud music, and specifically people dancing to it when I can’t get away, is not something I love. Likewise, overly intoxicated people, who tend to be the ones dancing. Even sand is something not destined to make Jonathan a happy guy, especially when it is stuck to me. And yet, lounging in a hammock in the shade between two coconut palms, swaying in the afternoon sun, gazing up at the green of the fronds majestically framing the bright blue of the sky, a cup of rum and whatever the local cola is, and I find myself happy in spite of the rest.
While the blue waters of the Caribbean that are visible from my oceanfront apartment in Santo Domingo (seriously, this place is a gem) are stunning, the beaches in the capital of the Dominican Republic are small and polluted. So a day of escape both from the crowds of the city (Santo Domingo has about 1.5 million inhabitants, with nearly 3 million in the metro area) and the sad state of the beaches is necessary. So today I find myself on Saona Island.
Saona Island is a decent sized (42 square mile) island off the southeastern corner of the Dominican Republic, and part of that region’s Cotubanama National Park, which protects about 300 square miles of beaches, mangroves, subtropical forests, and the immediate waters around them. While I don’t see any, the area is known for dolphins and manatees, as well as the endemic rhino iguana.
My hammock time is well-earned, as getting here from the capital requires an early pick-up, a two hour drive to the town of Bayahibe, and then a nearly two hour sail either by party boat or party catamaran; the only difference is whether or not your vessel has a sail. About a dozen such boats convoy out over the course of the morning, with smaller craft shuttling passengers to and from the beaches on either side. Rum shots and rum and cola drinks are free and plentiful, and the volume of the music seems to increase with each round being poured generously by the staff.
After a quick stop at what the locals call a “natural swimming pool,” an area of Caribbean Sea just three or four feet deep that is located next to a starfish preserve (we see some as we sail on after the half hour dip in surprisingly chilly water on this overcast morning in January), we arrive at Saona Island. The beach is set up with chairs for sitting, chairs for lounging, plenty of open sand for playing in, water the color of blue topaz, and – of course – numerous hammocks slung between the abundant palms just inland of the rest. There are also bars for more free drinks (pina coladas are also available for purchase), buffet setups for lunch, picnic tables for eating, and the ever-present folks selling souvenirs and table massages.
Lunch is decent for a buffet on the beach (chicken, fish, rice, beans, and fruit/vegetables that we are told to avoid as Americans due to the water used to wash them being unsafe to consume) but nothing to write home about. But that’s not why we are all here. We come for the sand – soft, fluffy, and incredibly clean – and the water with a color that will pleasantly haunt my dreams for a long time. I wade in a bit, walk along the sand, pout at the sand now being stuck to my feet, then decide that a nap in a hammock will cure me of thinking about it, if not the sand itself. It works.
A couple hours later, we are back aboard the party catamaran, passengers louder and drunker than ever, but I find a spot near the bow to just enjoy the varying shades of blue passing by. Even more hours later, I’m back in Santo Domingo, my van passing the palpable Caribbean nightlife standing in stark contrast to the peace of my hammock.
Despite having a few things that do not make me in any way happy, I had a lovely – long – day visiting Saona Island from Santo Domingo. If you are looking for a pleasant escape, a chance to get out on the water, and a day to spend lying in a hammock on a beautiful beach, you could do worse than this.
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