Set among some of the country's most rugged countryside and bordered by magnificent beaches, La Isabela breathes history as the site of the first permanent colonial settlement in the Americas. The bay protects a placid expanse of ocean, while a pristine white beach looks much as it must have done in 1493 when Christopher Columbus decided to establish a town on this spot, named in honor of the Spanish Queen. The excavated ruins of La Isabela give a powerful impression of that decisive moment, but it is the situation as much as the archaeological display that makes this place special. An adventurous trek through remote terrain is rewarded by an unforgettable insight into how the course of history was changed.
- Parque Nacional Historico La Isabela:
A protected national park gradually excavated since the 1950s, the site of the original settlement sits on a promontory; an expanse of red sand dotted with acacia trees and crisscrossed by paths that lead visitors around the architectural remains. Columbus House
- The Settlement:
Small walls of roughly hewn limestone trace the foundations of La Isabela's structures, including what are thought to be warehouses, a chapel, a rudimentary hospital, and a watchtower.
- Columbus's House:
On a slight bluff overlooking the site is the shell of the residence belonging to Columbus. Covered with a thatched awning, the ruin shows that he lived in a modest dwelling made of packed earth and stone.
The New World's first Christian cemetery occupies a scenic waterside position, decorated by the later addition of white crosses. Both Spaniards and Tainos were buried here, and in one grave a Christian skeleton was exhumed.
The park's museum contains a compact but well-maintained display of Taino artifacts, including pottery and arrowheads. The exhibits' captions are Spanish-only, but these are visually interesting and include a model of Columbus's ship, the Santa Maria.
- Playa Isabela:
The beach, where the slow-moving Bajabonico River meets the sea, is an unspoilt stretch of sand, where tiny fishing boats bob offshore. Amenities are few, so come prepared.
- Templo de las Americas:
This colonial-style church is a blend of whitewashed stone and brick, built in 1990, in time to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Columbus's arrival. Pope John Paul II said Mass here in 1992.
- Laguna Estero Hondo:
You can explore one of the region's best-preserved mangrove forests with a boat trip through this wild lagoon. Gnarled mangrove thickets are home to many birds, and you may be fortunate enough to catch sight of a rare manatee (see Manatee).
- Punta Rucia Beach:
This is a long expanse of soft-white sand and limpid water, where small restaurants and shops provide cold drinks and freshly caught fish.
- Cayo Paraiso:
A tiny speck of sun-bleached circular sand-bank surrounded by coral reef and aquamarine sea, the cay can be visited on an organized tour by speedboat from Punta Rucia or the village of Castillo.