La Isabela is located within the Puerto Plata province of the Dominican Republic. It is the second-oldest European settlement in the New World, founded by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage in 1493. Columbus named the area after Queen Isabella I of Castile. Columbus established La Isabela to search for gold, but when he found very little, he enslaved people to the island. The inevitable issues of hunger and disease led to a wealth of problems like mutiny, punishment and, of course, more disease and hunger. Combine that with repeated conflicts with the local Taíno, and the colony was doomed. Columbus’ failure got him called back to Spain, and the colony was ultimately abandoned in 1498.
Today, La Isabela is an archaeological and historical park.Excavations started in the late 1980s. It is presumed the ruins were more extensive, but the area was bulldozed in 1960. A military fort was built at that time to ward off potential invasions by associates of Fidel Castro. The Parque Nacional La Isabela still contains a few notable structures and artifacts worth visiting. There are walls that are believed to have been part of Columbus’ home, the church where the first mass was conducted in the New World and an observation tower. Remains were found in the chapel’s cemetery, and the skeleton of a Spaniard who died of malaria is on display.
There is a small museum on-site with some artifacts unearthed during excavations, including a pottery oven, kiln, 16th-century crucifix, containers used to purify gold, Taíno religious icons and pottery shards.
La Isabela National Park is open daily from 9am. to 5:30pm. The site was declared a national park in 1998.