I’m an enthusiastic snorkeler and frequently surf the internet for the best snorkeling spots in the world. My goal is to snorkel them all before I’m too old to climb back up into the boat. It was that passion that led me to the Dominican Republic. My husband and I booked a last-minute trip on a whim one evening, and a few short weeks later found ourselves in La Romana, which is on the southwestern coast of the island. From all my research I found that Saona Island was highly recommended for snorkeling.
Saona Island Tour
Saona Island was the first tour we took on our Dominican Republic vacation and we went with a company called Seavis Tours. I booked the tour because it included snorkeling, but it also included a fair amount of sightseeing, history and culture.
Rocks of Penon
Our first stop was to view the Rocks of Penon, once home to the aboriginal Tainos. From the boat we could see the caves they lived in and I found it to be an interesting little bit of Dominican Republic history. That is, of course, if you’re sitting close enough to the front of the boat to hear your guide. We were crammed in like sardines and people were talking and having their own conversations. Our guide didn’t use any sort of microphone, so it was incredibly difficult to hear what was being said. If you choose this tour company, be sure to sit up front.
Our next stop was the “piscina natural” or “natural swimming pool.” It was a sandbar where the water was only two to four feet deep. The amazing thing about the piscina natural, though, was its abundance of Bahama starfish. They were huge – 9” to 10” across – and all over the place. We were allowed to pick them up as long as we kept them underwater, and got an up close and personal look at them.
SNORKELING SAONA ISLAND AT Catuano Beach
After spending ample time with the starfish we headed on to Saona Island, specifically Catuano Beach, where we snorkeled and had lunch. Many of the articles I had read mentioned that Catuano Beach was a really good place to snorkel. There’s no coral reef there, but there is an old pier that was destroyed in a hurricane. The pilings are all still in place and there were supposedly lots of fish that gathered around them, very close to shore.
Well, we did see lots of fish, but nothing spectacular or even particularly interesting to an experienced snorkeler. The visibility wasn’t good at all, and there was trash everywhere. Candy wrappers, soda cans, plastic bags … it was like an underwater garbage dump.
Lunch was a small makeshift buffet. I was starving by the time we ate so it all tasted pretty good. There was nothing remarkable about it, but it served its purpose and was well appreciated.
After lunch we continued on to Mano Juan, a small fishing village on Saona Island with just 300 inhabitants. We had a choice of snorkeling off the beach or taking a walking tour of the village. Since the snorkeling had been so disappointing at Catuano Beach, we opted for the village tour. There are no cars on the island and the only electricity comes from their own small solar field. It seemed contradictory to see such innovation in such a remote island village, but it was very cool.
As we walked around the village we quickly noticed that all the yards were fenced with barbed wire. When we asked about it, we learned that it was to keep out all the wild horses, donkeys and pigs that roam the island. We did catch a glimpse of a couple donkeys, but didn’t see any of the horses or pigs.
SNORKELING SAONA ISLAND AT Canto de la Playa
After the village tour we boarded the boat once again and rode to an uninhabited beach called Canto de la Playa. The beach was protected by a small reef and the water by the coral gardens was only about five feet deep. Because of the reef, the snorkeling here was better than at Catuano Beach, but if you’ve snorkeled places like Belize and Bonaire, you’ll likely still be disappointed.
As a general day trip from La Romana, this Saona Island excursion was fairly good. There was a nice variety of activities and lunch was decent. The down sides were that every seat in the boat was occupied, and with everyone carrying a big beach bag with them, we were very cramped and uncomfortable. Snorkeling Saona Island was also very disappointing. If you’re a first-time or casual snorkeler, you’ll probably enjoy it just fine. But if you’re a seasoned snorkeler whose expectations are high, you will be very disappointed.