Basically, if you want all of your dreams to come true, come volunteer with ILP and take a vacation to Saona Island.You probably don’t need much to convince about the pros of the island life. I mean, is it really hard to fall in love with the magical hidden oasis called Los Tres Ojos National Park? Anyone have tough time loving fresh pineapple or grabbing a coconut smoothie on the way to the beach? We didn’t think so.
We love living in the D.R. and think you will too — see what volunteering in the Dominican Republic is like.
As if that all wasn’t enough, we’ve got one more dreamy vacation spot to add to your list: Starfish Island.
Where To See Starfish In The DR
Starfish are all over the Dominican Republic (it's what they're known for!) but you're going to have a great shot at seeing these pretty things up close in Saona Island.
Here's how you get there...
Head To Bayahibe
Saona is an island off the southeastern shore of the Dominican Republic, so you’ll need to get to a jumping off point before you can visit. The closest place to book a boat over is in Bayahibe, a charming fishing village that really encapsulates island charm.
The easiest way for tourists though is to book a tour. You can get a tour from Punta Cana.
ILP volunteers already love taking a vacation to this popular island hot-spot (there are tons of Punta Cana adventures to keep you busy). You can also book a tour from Santo Domingo, it's just closer if you're in Punta Cana.
It's a perfect day trip from either of those vacation destinations (it'll take you a few hours getting there and coming back). You can find tour companies online and book ahead there.
Take A Boat Over
Once you make it to the coast of Bayahibe, walk along the palm-tree lined street to hire a boat to take you over to Saona; it won’t be hard, you’ll see signs all around and will probably be approached by people asking where you'd like to go. If you’re going with a group (maybe your ILP group?) see if you can get a group rate, or hunt for the best price among the vendors.
If you book a "Soana Island tour" with a tour group from another city like Punta Cana, they'll take care of getting you on the boat so you don't even have to worry about this step.
Some tours will include other stops and lunch, so that’s something to consider when you're booking.
Spot The Starfish
Once you’ve got your boat, hop on and sail on over — grab your camera, because the glittering turquoise water surrounding this palm-tree studded island makes for some incredible pictures. Once your boat stops, jump on in and look down to see if you can spot the fields of massive starfish.
Be Nice To Your New Friends
Saona Island is part of a huge nature reserve, so it’s very important that you respect the wildlife you see … that means not holding the starfish! It’s best to just leave them be (the water is so clear you’ll be able to spot ‘em easily without touching them) — even a few seconds out of the water can damage their tissues, and the sunscreen on your hands is most likely toxic to these little guys … plus, how would you like to plucked outta the sand and passed around?
You might also see cutie turtles around and schools of fish— take it all in via underwater camera, and be sure to leave the island and ocean as you found it.
The majority of tour companies will encourage you to hold the starfish and other creatures because they know it makes the tourists really happy (which means they'll be more willing to tip).
Guides will likely swim down, grab one, and offer it to you to touch or hold. It's totally up to you of course, but we just wanted you to be aware of the reasons why you might want to pass up on this opportunity. You can politely decline if you'd rather admire them in their natural habitat, without touching.
Have Some Extra Time? Check Out Mano Juan
Once you’ve splashed in the sea and lounged on the sand, check out this highlight — Mano Juan is the only inhabited portion of Soana island; there are no cars, and the island only got electricity in 2014 … it’s a fishing village that gives tourists a glimpse into traditional Dominican Life.
Boat Back To Bayahibe
Once you’ve seen the starfish, gotten a good tan (remember your sunscreen so you don’t burn!) and have seen the rest of the island (Encanto de la Playa is probably the most gorgeous stretch of beach on Sanoa), boat back to Bayahibe. Easy, right?
Or ... stay overnight?
Some tour companies offer you the chance to stay the night on this incredible, quiet, most uninhabited island rather than heading back so quickly. It sounds really appealing, but a few ILP volunteers have done it and said that accomodations were ... well, less than appealing. They didn't recommend it. Might be best to just enjoy it during your day trip.
Like we mentioned, we love all the dreamy vacation spots in the DR, but if we’re being honest, the best part about volunteering in the Caribbeans isn’t the beach; it’s the group of kids you’re teaching English to and hanging out with after class. Volunteers with ILP here are a part of a humanitarian program that gives an English education to kids who wouldn’t be able to afford one. Especially in a country like the DR, this education is incredibly valuable.
Interested in International Language Programs? Really get the best of both worlds by taking rad vacations while you really make a difference in the Dominican Republic — learn more, right here: