Saona Island

The Parque Nacional del Este is crowned by one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean: the Isla Saona. The island has an elongated shape with a length, on its principal axis, of 22 km, and a median width of five to six kilometers.

The Isla Saona has an almost flat topography with the exception of the northeastern coast, where a cliff reaches approximately 40 meters in the Punta Balaju. The depressions in the terrain of the island are occupied by salt water lakes and boggy terrain. Three lakes are located on the island, most notably the Los Flamencos lake. Its main beaches are found from Punta Capuano, in the Northeast, to Punta de Cruz, in the Southeast, except in a sector in the far south, which reaches from Playa los Abanicos to Punta Laguna.

Significant coral reefs are located in the waters along the coast of the entire island, at a depth that varies between one and 60 meters. These reefs are well-known, making them one of the most important submerged natural formations in all of the Dominican Republic

The Isla Saona has a small naval detachment and a park ranger station located in Catuano and a community established in the town of Mano Juan. No more than 400 people live there, who mainly dedicate their time to fishing and selling handicraft objects to the tourists that arrive to the enclave. There are approximately 80 houses in the town, mostly humble wooden structures. The electricity is supplied by a plant that functions only during some of the hours of the day and the water must be collected in cisterns when it rains. Some pools of fresh water, located within the borders of the town, are also used to supply water.

The first time Europeans visited the future Parque Nacional del Este was in 1494, when Christopher Columbus returned from his exploratory trip to Cuba and Jamaica to his home base in la Isabela, on the northern coast of the island. On that journey, Columbus gave the island, named Adamanay by the Tainos, as a gift to his friend and traveling companion Miguel de Cunneo, who renamed it as Bella Savonese, in memory of his native Savona, in Italy. The current name, Saona, came from a corruption of the original. During his visit, and due to the arrival of a hurricane, Columbus took refuge for seven or eight days with his ship in the Capuano canal, which separates the island from the land of Parque Nacional del Este. There he observed and recorded a lunar eclipse on September 15, 1494.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the island was used as an observation point to control the passage of enemy ships. Possibly it was also used as a base for pirate boats. In 1630, the first constant illegal occupation of the island by foreigners occurred with the later burning of the bohíos and frightening of the colonists, a situation that repeated itself in 1771. It seems that, until the middle of the 19th century, Saona was populated only sporadically, limiting its use to logging or as a post for maritime vigilance. In 1855, the island was conceded to general Pedro Santana for a period of 50 years to exploit its rich mahogany forests, but in the following year, the concession was annulled.

In the time of the dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, the island was adjudicated to his family, who exploited the coconut palms that existed there. It was this president that, in 1944, constructed the settlement of Mano Juan to house 14 families that settled there. This settlement was also used to exile the political dissidents of the dictator’s regime. During that period, the island was a hunting reserve and a plot for extensive cattle raising. Generally, the white-crowned pigeon (Columba leucocephala) was hunted there, which, in its time of migration, literally covered the forests of the island. September 16, the decree was issued that created the park in which it is located.