Holidays & Travel

How to holiday like a celebrity in the Dominican Republic’s secret unspoilt island Saona

Lauren Taylor travels to the Caribbean country to stay at the same resort as couples from hit Netflix show Love Is Blind.

Love Is Blind fans might recognise this luxury hotel
A drone shot of Saona showing a turquoise sea and white sand Love Is Blind fans might recognise this luxury hotel

A barman lobs the top off a pineapple, scoops out the fruit’s flesh and blends with juice from a fresh coconut, ice and a generous slosh of Dominican dark rum.

“This will be the freshest pina colada you’ve ever had,” enthuses my guide Martin, as it’s poured back into the pineapple rind as the vessel and presented with a straw from the shack on the sand.

The fruit has been picked this morning from the trees on the small, remote island of Saona, just off the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic – a spot so idyllic it featured in both the Pirates Of The Caribbean and Blue Lagoon films. The area is no stranger to the big and small screen; my hotel – not far from here – was the setting for the romantic getaways in latest series of Netflix’s Love Is Blind.

I walk barefoot along the white powdery sand of Playa Isla Saona – cocktail pineapple in hand – shallow turquoise water lapping the shore, and can confirm it is indeed the best pina colada I’ve ever had – although the setting might have something to do with it.

This 110sq km paradise island, near the Dominican Republic – a country sandwiched between Cuba and Puerto Rico, and sharing a border with Haiti – is part of the protected Cotubanamá National Park. It’s a relief to see the natural beach lined thick with palm trees rather than luxury hotels.

Mano Juan is the only part of the island that’s inhabited by a local community and a few small boutique hotels. Until 1944, there was nothing here and the beach is building-free for as far as the eye can see. Much of the rest of the island is made up of three lagoons and mangrove forest, featuring 539 different plants, 112 species of birds, manatees and it’s the DR’s most important turtle-nesting site.

The country is famous for a species of starfish commonly known as red cushion sea stars, which can grow to a whooping 50cm, and a great place to spot them is Palmilla, a ‘natural swimming pool’, a short boat ride from Saona.

Writer Lauren Taylor on a catamaran to Saona
Writer Lauren Taylor on a catamaran to Saona

Our catamaran stops here so we can step off into the surprisingly shallow chest-height water, despite being a long way offshore, and I’m careful to avoid several starfish on the seabed (although harmless to humans, visitors shouldn’t disturb them). Thankfully the sea is so clear they’re impossible to miss.

It can all be done as a day trip (complete with rum flowing, music pumping and merengue dancing on board) best taken from Bayahibe village, an hour and a quarter bus ride from Punta Cana on the far east of the main island.

At 18-33 degrees Celsius year round (average of 27) the DR is an ‘any time’ destination for beach lovers (although you’ll likely get a quick, tropical shower in May). There’s more tourism infrastructure than some of its Caribbean neighbours – so you’ll have your pick of top and mid-range hotels along the shoreline of Punta Cana. And at some 500km to the border, it feels far away from the gang violence currently causing unrest in Haiti. Martin is keen to stress, the DR and Haiti are “two very different countries with two very different cultures”.

Playa Isla Saona
Playa Isla Saona

Although best known to European holiday makers for its tropical beaches and luxe hotels, the DR has thriving industries in cigar making and sugarcane production. Some of the clearest and oldest amber in the world is also found along its northern coastline. Prehistoric insects have been found fossilised inside, apparently inspiring scenes in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.

A convenient 30-minute drive from Punta Cana airport is Grand Palladium Palace Hotel (one of three hotels by the same group with slightly differing names, sharing the same site and facilities) and TRS Turquesa – their adult-only offering. Flights are direct from London Heathrow, so the journey itself feels as easy as a nine-hour flight can be.

Fans of Love Is Blind might recognise the hotel’s facilities from series six of the show. After getting engaged, the five couples were whisked off for a stay and memorable characters, including Clay and AD and Jimmy and Chelsea, gathered for drinks on the famous Bávaro beach, on which the hotel sits (a stone’s throw from my room).

Uninterrupted for nearly 48km, it’s one of the longest beaches in the Caribbean (and the hotel takes up approximately 1km of it). Dusk is the ideal time to take a stroll, the sky turning lilac as the sun dips behind tall coconut trees and fishermen replace the day’s sun worshippers. Although there is some sargassum, a type of brown algae, to avoid.

A view of the beach is best enjoyed from a table outside Helios restaurant (part of TRS), where violinists play, and chefs serve up whole dorado or cook steak over an open grill, alongside a buffet of the best food I try across the complex. The huge jamon leg sliced every morning (it is a Spanish hotel brand after all) at the breakfast spread is a welcome addition too.

Choice is the attraction here: there are 14 restaurants – both a la carte and buffet style – as part of the ‘unlimited food experience’ (four are exclusive to TRS guests) and the drinks are always flowing with 25 bars – one of which is open 24 hours.

“We’re committed to keeping you entertained and drunk,” says Melquis, one of the staff, with a laugh.

When choosing a Caribbean trip, holidaymakers are spoilt for choice, and I ask him what stands out here. “Jamaica, Aruba and Turks and Caicos all have the natural beauty too but the service and kindness of strangers, that’s quite unique, that’s a Dominican thing,” he says.

Luscious green manicured gardens weave around low rise blocks of rooms and six swimming pools – many complete with sunken loungers, swinging hammocks and in-water bars. The sports facilities – including tennis, pickle ball and mini golf – are popular and there’s a really well equipped childcare club (from 1 to 12 years old), a service that’s included in the all-inclusive price.

One Love Is Blind couple, Jonny and Amy, were filmed enjoying the Zentropia Palladium Spa (USD $35/£27.50 or included with a treatment) and it’s a real gem. I wind away an afternoon here – after a wonderful massage – hopping between the cold and hot pools, the sauna and eucalyptus steam room and lounging on a day bed overlooking the pool. Through a walkway of greenery is a secluded section where three bowls offer different types clay to cover yourself in. I choose Australian pink clay, said to hydrate and balance stressed out skin and let it work its magic for 10 minutes.

Later, I join in a bachata class – a type of Dominican music and dance that originated in the 1960s, rising to popularity in bars and brothels before it became accepted in the mainstream. The enthusiastic staff make it fun and it’s difficult to get wrong – and as long as you can get over the fact that its pool side and in full view of other guests. It’s a good example of no one taking themselves too seriously here.

How to plan your trip

Double rooms at the Grand Palladium Palace Resort & Spa start from $126 (£99) per night. Double tooms at TRS Turquesa start from $189 (£149) per night, all inclusive. Visit