Just off the main highway, before you reach El Castillo, is the entrance to Parque Nacional La Isabela (Mon–Sat 9am–5.30pm, closed Sun; RD$150), which takes up much of the village’s shoreline and preserves the ruins of La Isabela, the second oldest European town in the New World. Centred on the private home of Columbus himself, which is perched atop a prominent ocean bluff, the park also encompasses the excavated stone foundations of the town 199 and a small museum, though to see either you’ll need to hire a local guide from the main park office (RD$150 tip). Presumably there were far more extensive ruins up until 1960, when Trujillo bulldozed the site in order to turn it into a military fort to defend against sea invasion by insurgents linked to Cuba’s Fidel Castro. You’ll still see the remnants of two large warehouses, a sentry tower, a chapel, what some assert was a clinic and Columbus’s house, which retains a good portion of its walls intact. A number of skeletons have been unearthed from the chapel’s cemetery; one – a Spaniard who died of malaria – is rather unceremoniously on display in a box near the museum. The museum itself offers an account (in Spanish) of the cultures of both Spaniards and Tainos at the time of their first encounter. Better than the solemn recitations by the guide are the hundreds of excavated artefacts, including a pottery oven, a kiln and several containers that still held mercury (used to purify gold) when they were unearthed, along with smaller items such as a tiny sixteenth-century crucifix, unglazed Moorish-style pottery shards and several Taino religious icons. Just outside the building are small plots where local anthropologists grow samples of the agriculture practised by the Taino and the colonists.


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