La Isabela is the original European settlement founded in 1493 by Christopher Columbus on his second trip to the Americas. Only the Viking settlement in Newfoundland, Canada predates La Isabela. The site is 25 miles west of Porto Plata on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. Cathy and I were spending some time at a local resort with long time friends from Arnprior, Ontario. We were amazed that this historical treasure was only a few miles away and even more amazed that there were no tours offered.
What we did was arrange a private tour through our resort’s tour office. For a very affordable fee, the four of us were joined by a driver and a guide. When we arrived at La Isabela, we were alone – there was no other visitors. The site is well preserved on a beautiful point with fresh breezes off the sea, beautiful views and a fresh water river near by. One can only imagine what these first Europeans must have felt being far from home, excited about their prospects and facing the reality that they were on their own. A walk through the graveyard tells the subsequent story of premature deaths from disease and conflicts, and of intermingling with the indigenous population. The museum has some interesting interpretive murals.
During our drive to and from La Isabela, we visited a pier to see some of the itinerant sailors who wander the Caribbean, we ate fresh grilled fish at a local outdoor restaurant, and we stopped by the house of our guide’s grandfather to drop off the extra food for him and his friends. This was definitely a different and very friendly side of the Dominican, and a good change of pace from all-inclusive resort days. Highly recommended.