Saona island was originally called Adamanay by the Taino, the indigenous people of the Dominican Republic. It was renamed Saona by the first european to discover the island, Christopher Columbus. On his second voyage to the Americas in 1494, Columbus named the island Saona after the town of Savona in Italy which was the hometown of the man Columbus left in charge as first governor of the Dominican Republic, Michele de Cuneo.
The Spanish used Saona as a supply stop to buy casaba bread made by the native Taino, to gather firewood and as a place to rest. Columbus gained permission to use the island from the Taino chief, Cotubanama. In the northwest corner of the island is a cave named after this Taino chief. The cave was the final hiding place of the chief and his family before his demise at the hands of the Spanish.
In 1944 the Dominican dictator Trujillo recruited 12 families to populate the then deserted island. He felt it made the Dominican Republic’s claim on the island stronger. Puerto Rico had seized Mona island located between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic and Trujillo wanted to stop further island seizures.
Today Saona is home to 300 descendents of those 12 original families and is the most popular tourist destination in the Dominican Republic.