La Isabela: 1st European Settlement in the New World

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.

The Beautiful Larimar Stones of the Dominican Republic

The larimar stone, otherwise known as “Dominican Turquoise”, is a pectolite, which is a stone cultivated from volcanic activity. Initially formed in the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, larimar was referred to as “blue gem” by Dominican natives who widely believed that larimar came directly from the ocean. A Dominican Friar first encountered this beautiful, blue stone in the early 20th century however the stone was not mined during this time. It wasn’t until the 1970s that larimar was ‘rediscovered’ by a Peace Corps volunteer, who combined the name of his daughter, Larissa with the Spanish word for sea (mar) to form the name larimar.

Larimar can be purchased in many Caribbean islands, but the best and most famous craftsmen of the stone are located in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. There are several mines that mine this precious stone and it is considered a local specialty. The color spectrum of larimar stones consist of a range of blues but the stone is most known for its beautiful turquoise color, which mirrors the color of the Caribbean Sea. Aside from its obvious beauty, larimar is thought to have many healing properties. Its main healing power is said to help the throat and assist people in communicating more efficiently.

The largest collection of larimar stones is located upstream of the Bahoruco River near the southern tip of the Dominican Republic. Mining is only allowed during dry seasons, as many of the mines have a depth level in excess of 250 ft. and flood easily during the rainy season.

Larimar has become a strong part of the Dominican Republic backdrop and is featured in Puerto Plata’s Amber Museum.  The museum is situated in an old, two-story, Victorian residence and experts believe this particular museum is home to the most important amber and larimar collections in the world. Local artists express their creativity through the crafting of these precious stones, designing jewelry, such as necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings, all of which are usually set in sterling silver but can be found in gold as well. Prices can range considerably, as the value of the larimar stone is determined by its shape, color and purity.

If you are planning on traveling to Puerto Plata, you must not miss exploring the beautiful larimar this gorgeous and unique country has to offer. While in Puerto Plata make the trip to one of the many specialty shops that sell larimar stones. You will be happy you did!

Beautiful Victorian Architecture in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Unlike many other Caribbean cities, Puerto Plata is distinguished by an impressive collection of Victorian-era homes and buildings, most of which are well-preserved and located in Puerto Plata’s Old City. Architecture enthusiasts will love admiring the many Victorian buildings in Puerto Plata that are in wonderful condition and painted in vibrant colors.

The term “Victorian architecture” refers to homes built between 1830 and 1910 during the reign of Queen Victoria of England. Victorian homes usually resemble dollhouses and feature elaborate “gingerbread” trim, lace filigree, and pastel colors.

A well recognized structure and a symbol of Puerto Plata, La Glorieta was first constructed in 1872 and is located in the center of Parque Central. Surrounded by City Hall and other government office buildings, what currently stands on site is a beautiful, reconstructed green and white gazebo where visitors can spend time relaxing and viewing the city.

Also located near Parque Central is Catedral San Felipe Apóstol. Although not a Victorian-era structure, this cathedral is also a key attraction for visitors while in Parque Central. Catedral San Felipe Apóstol is a two-steepled church and is pictured to the left of La Glorieta in the below photograph.

Another well-known Victorian structure in Puerto Plata is home to the popular Amber Museum. Built in 1919, Villa Bentz, as this Victorian mansion is called, is just two blocks away from Parque Central. Villa Bentz was purchased and restored in the early 1970s and subsequently opened to the public as the Amber Museum. This large, two-storied home features multiple balconies throughout with ornate features and mini-columns as depicted in these photographs.
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When in Puerto Plata, be sure to stroll through the center of Puerto Plata to see some of the marvelous 19th century gingerbread Victorian homes pictured here that were home to middle class residents of the time.

A Day Trip to Santiago, Dominican Republic

Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic is packed full of exciting adventures, fun activities, rich history, delicious restaurants and beautiful beaches

However, if you are yearning for a day trip, Santiago, Dominican Republic is a choice that will not dissapoint.


Travel Tips for Buying Souvenirs in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

SouvenirsBuying souvenirs, both big and small, can be one of the most exciting experiences of your visit to Puerto Plata. The most important travel tip for buying souvenirs is to barter, barter, barter!! You can barter and negotiate costs when buying almost anything in Puerto Plata. Most of the time bartering is expected. Do not worry about insulting the locals, they know tourists will try and negotiate to get a better “deal”.

Travel Tip #1

S1Price bartering can be used in purchasing not only souvenirs but excursions, tours and taxis too. Expect the pricing for souvenirs such as paintings, caricature pictures, drawings, jewelry, pottery, glassware, woodwork and amber to be significantly inflated when first inquiring about the price. Name the souvenir and we can almost always guarantee that the price can be negotiated. Remain warm, friendly yet firm when negotiating. If you feel comfortable with the price that you agree upon, buy your item. If you don’t agree on the price you want, walk away. If the vendor truly wants to sell the item or service to you, the seller will chase you down. If not, continue to look around. Find your item with another vendor; chances are you will be successful, and again, barter the price. If you have the time and the patience, you will most likely pay what you want to pay and not what the seller wants to charge you.

Travel Tip #2

S2Before you purchase anything, if you have the time, check the competition first. Mentally log the cost and then wander on down the beach. The beaches may have signs posted that they are private and not to allow local residents, but because the beaches are owned by the government, no one can stop local vendors from selling on the beaches. So take the time to shop around, diversify your search and settle on a price only when you are ready and comfortable. Again, most vendors will almost always provide better pricing on souvenirs and beach activities. Local vendors do not have any overhead when selling their souvenirs, so they are able to procure a large profit even after giving their best deals to tourists.

Travel Tip #3

S3Amber is a very popular souvenir that visitors purchase when in Puerto Plata. Dominican amber is of very high quality, not to mention one of the earth’s most beautiful stones. Amber is a semi-precious stone and is a beautiful result of tree sap that has hardened for millions of years. Fossils of insect and plant life are encased in many amber stones. If you are in search of amber for the perfect take home souvenir, then you must head to the Amber Museum. While at the museum, you will have the opportunity to learn all you will ever want to know about Amber, followed by the option to purchase this beautiful stone safely, ensuring its authenticity. A general rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for when purchasing amber. If the price is too low, it most likely is not authentic.

Travel Tip #4

CigarIf you are traveling to Puerto Plata, you know by now that it is home to some of the best rum, coffee and cigars in the world. Chances are you will want to take at least one of these items home with you as a souvenir. Visiting the world famous Brugal Rum Factory is a must, but if you want to grab an extra bottle or two on the quick, make your way to the local grocery or even better, La Sirena, which offers some of the best shopping under one roof in Puerto Plata; a department store if you will. You are guaranteed authenticity when purchasing both local Dominican rum and coffee, whereas you may be taking a chance when buying off the streets or at local bars. If a good cigar is up your alley and you want to take a few home to share with your friends, then we suggest heading to the center of Puerto Plata. You will have the wonderful opportunity of not only purchasing local cigars, but watching them being rolled in front of you. Purchasing cigars fresh from the local factory is a perk you will not find when you return home. The Dominican Republic is the largest producer of cigars in the world and is known for being home to the best cigars. A true cigar aficionado cannot miss out on this unique souvenir opportunity!

If you follow these travel tips when buying souvenirs, you are guaranteed to come home with many great items from Puerto Plata. These beautiful souvenirs are sure to remind you of the wonderful memories made while in the beautiful city of Puerto Plata.

Museums and Galleries to Visit While in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Museum of Taino ArtIf you’re in the mood for education and learning, here are four great museums in Puerto Plata and its surrounding areas that you would thoroughly enjoy visiting.

Located in Samaná, the Museum of Taíno Art preserves, exhibits, and showcases art and artifacts of Native Taínos. This amazing museum displays items and remains of excavated tombs dating back to the pre-Columbian period. Visitors to the museum are given a direct view into the lives of Taíno Natives, the foods they ate, their beliefs, and language.

Casa Museo GregorioGeneral Gregorio Luperón (1839-1897) was a national hero whose leadership and vision thrust the Dominican Republic into achieving its independence from Spain in 1865. Casa Museo Gregorio Luperón opened in June 2012 to not only pay tribute to General Luperón, but to also depict his early life and showcase objects and artifacts of the time. Situated in downtown Puerto Plata in the Central Park area, the museum is housed in a Victorian era building that is a replica of the house in which General Luperón died.

Jewish MuseumIn 1940, Sosúa became the refuge for 700-800 German Jews fleeing Nazi Germany. The Jewish Historical Museum of Sosúa tells the story of these Jewish settlers who were able to integrate into Dominican society and establish businesses of their own. Featuring photographs, letters, and other memorabilia documenting their lives in Sosúa, the museum is a great place to go and experience a piece of history. Be sure to contact the museum to schedule a showing, as the museum does not operate on a set schedule.

Amber MuseumThe Amber Museum, a very popular museum in Puerto Plata city, opened in 1982 to exhibit thousands of beautiful and rare pieces of amber. A tour of the museum describes how amber was formed millions of years ago and features pieces containing trapped fossils such as insects as well as feathers and leaves. In addition, there is a wonderful gift shop where some of these pieces can be purchased for your personal collection along with other souvenirs.

Should you choose to visit one or all four museums while in Puerto Plata, you will not be disappointed. Puerto Plata is so very rich with culture and the museums accurately spotlight its fascinating history.