La Isabela, located in the province of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic is considered the first European settlement in the New World. La Isabela was conveniently named by the queen of Spain, Queen Isabella I of Castile. This settlement was established by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1494 and was subsequently reclaimed by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela in 1498.
La Isabela was established in 1494 and served as the ideal location to colonize the island of Hispaniola. Due to it’s natural beauty and the Bajabonico River, a fresh water river, colonists used this location for refining gold and metals (smelting) to ensure all the needs of the settlers were being met.
The colony initially failed, as Christopher Columbus and many of the settlers concentrated on searching for precious metals, instead of focusing on living off the land and the natural resources that thrived around them. Luckily, early colonists were able to construct structures including the First Church of the New World, an Admiral’s House for Christopher Columbus to reside in, as well as a warehouse. During this time of transition and building the native Taíno tried to assist the colonists, however since it was a challenge locating gold and silver, the Spaniards enslaved the Taíno and used their forced labor as an alternative form of revenue production. The majority of Taíno were left on the island to work, but some were transported back to Spain and enslaved there as well, all at the direction of the leaders of the colony.
In 1495 a disasterous hurricane struck La Isabela, resulting in extreme devastation, destruction of the buildings that had been so meticulously built and sinking all of the ships. Three years later, Christopher Columbus was called back to Spain to answer for his poor management of the colony, which in turn lead to the colony being abandoned by all its inhabitants.
Today La Isabela has been claimed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and is home to the beautiful and picturesque La Isabela National Park which is open to visitors year round. At the Park, you will be able to visit a few of the remains from Christopher Columbus’ time spent on the island. You are able to still see the ruins of a wall which is believed to be a part of what is left of Christopher Columbus’ house. Also, while in La Isabela you will have the pleasure of viewing the original church and some other historic structures of this unique early colony that were not completely destroyed by the 1495 hurricane nor time. La Isabela National Park additionally offers a historical museum, where you are able to view several of the artifacts that were excavated by early colonists and Taíno Natives.
The next time you visit beautiful Puerto Plata, take in the sun, enjoy nature, have fun with excursions, but make sure to allow for time to experience a little history and visit La Isabela, the first European settlement in the New World.