Puerto Plata was founded in the first decade of the 1500s as a port city to replace the abandoned La Isabela to the west.
La Isabela, the first city founded in the New World, is located next to the Atlantic Ocean and some 70 kilometers from Puerto Plata. Currently a municipality of the Puerto Plata province.
La Isabela was founded by Christopher Columbus in January of 1494—it was the first European town in the New World. Unfortunately, it was a poorly chosen site, except for its magnificent bay, for it had brackish drinking water and few food resources once the ships’ stores rotted and ran out. Approximately two-thirds of the 1,200 Spaniards who accompanied Columbus on that second voyage died of fevers and dysentery within a few months of their arrival, hence its abandonment five years later. Today, the remains of the town are preserved as one of the nation’s most important historical sites.
The first religious ceremony celebrated here was on January 6, 1494 by father Bernardo Boyl, and twelve other priests.
The first town hall in America was installed there on April 24, 1494 and was constituted by Diego Columbus, the Admiral's brother, who presided it, father Bernardo Boyl, Pedro Hernández Coronel, Alonso Sánchez de Calbajar and Juan de Lujón.
The name of La Isabela was given in honor of Queen Isabela the Catholic, who was favored by Columbus since she had given him everything necessary for his voyages. The current population of La Isabela is located approximately two kilometers away from the original city.
The name Puerto Plata comes from the shimmering silver color of the Atlantic Ocean here (plata is Spanish for “silver”). The quaint Victorian-looking city has a well maintained colonial-era fort, San Felipe, and the Caribbean’s only cablecars—the ride to the peak of Isabel de las Torres is breathtaking! (There is a scientific reserve atop Isabel de las Torres peak.).
The city is host to one of the best attended Merengue Festivals on the island, has a popular amber museum (amber is mined in this province), and there is a rare petrified forest.
All along the coast are beautiful Atlantic beaches and deluxe hotel complexes, one of the most popular being Sosua, which has one of the most beautiful bays on the island, with coral reefs and multi-colored layers of crystal-clear water.
Sosua has a European feel to it, perhaps because so many northern Europeans have settled here over the years, including Jews fleeing Hitler’s persecution, who Trujillo invited as immigrants to what was, then, a remote area; they started the island’s dairy farming and dairy industries.
To the east of Sosua is Cabarete, a beach that is world famous for its body surfing. Interestingly, most of the hotel, restaurant, store owners, and residents of Cabarete are German-speaking foreigners who have fallen in love with the area. To the west of Puerto Plata is La Isabela, today a national park.