In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, visiting the Canary Islands, the Bahamas, Cuba, and other places on his journey across the Atlantic. But what would that trip look like today? In honor of Columbus Day 2011, here's a look at what his journey would look like in the 21st century.
This virtual tour comes with a little more comfort and luxury than did the actual trip taken in Columbus' 15th century wooden sailboats.
Columbus' travels may have taken months and didn't afford him and his crew any modern luxuries, but following in his path today can be much less arduous.
Trade the Columbus-era duty in the crow's nest scanning for land (as he didn't reach any land until Oct.12) for Jet Ski rentals in the Bahamas. Go snorkeling off the coast of the Dominican Republic, instead of encountering violent resistance. And, rather than returning home with crates of tobacco and turkeys, come home with a tan and a feeling of complete relaxation. Most important, swap the greed and glory for respect and curiosity.
To his dying day, Columbus believed he had reached the Far East. He may have never reached the East Indies, but he did discover fascinating places throughout the Caribbean on his first voyage, and so can you this Columbus Day.
Departure From Palos de la Frontera
Christopher Columbus departed from Palos de la Frontera in Spain on Aug. 3, 1492. The three famous ships -- the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria -- left from the port, yet only two would return. Palos played an important role in the colonization of America. Many citizens later settled in America and, like Columbus, brought with them their Christian faith.
By the 18th century, Palos de la Frontera all but disappeared as many had left for America or the nearby city Seville. Yet, Palos has had a revival that it still enjoys today, known for its famous fesin de Palos otherwise known as strawberries!
Columbus and his three ships stopped in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Morocco, to restock and make repairs before continuing on to the West Indies. At the time Columbus stopped there, the islands were owned by the Crown of Castile, a kingdom now part of Spain.
The Canary Islands, still part of Spain, are now a popular tourist destination with over 2 million residents and an additional 12 million visitors each year. The majority of the tourists are Europeans looking for white-sand beaches and boat trips. Vacationers can explore the diverse geography from the Maspaloma sand dunes on the southern tip of Gran Canaria (one of the Canary Islands) to the lush forests of the Garajonay National Park, on La Gomera. Like Columbus, you may end up staying weeks with all the islands have to offer.
After more than a month at sea, Rodrigo de Triana, a sailor aboard the Pinta, spotted land. Of course Columbus said he saw land hours before, claiming a lifelong prize. When Columbus arrived in the Bahamas, there was more than a little bit of confusion, which included the natives being called Indians.
He named the island San Salvador, although natives called the island Guanahani. The island of the Bahamas that Columbus found first remains a mystery. Experts believe it could be Samana Cay, Grand Turk Island, Plana Cays, or San Salvador Island (renamed from Watling in 1925).
The people of the island were friendly to Columbus and his crew, and he remarked many had black and red painted on their bodies. Yet, Columbus in his greed was focused on gold and how to make a profit.
It appears to me, that the people are ingenious, and would be good servants and I am of opinion that they would very readily become Christians, as they appear to have no religion, Columbus wrote in his journal on Oct. 12, 1492.
Today on San Salvador tourists can visit the spot where many believe Columbus landed at Long Bay. Then, they can island-hop like Columbus (who went to five different islands in the current Bahamas). The Bahamas are a huge tourist destination for cruise ships and solo visitors looking for pristine beaches, turquoise water, and great snorkeling.
Columbus and his crew reached the northeastern corner of Cuba on Oct. 28. He was more than a little off, as he sent two explorers to explore what he thought was China. Although they failed to find the emperor of China, they did find tobacco, which is a habit the crew immediately picked up (along with the rest of the world). He named the island Juana, as traditionally, Columbus felt it was his right to rename islands with reference to his Spanish connections.
The effects of Columbus' voyage can still be seen today in Cuba: The population consists primarily of those with Spanish and African origins. The Spanish later colonized the island, killing the vast majority of natives by enslaving them and spreading foreign diseases.
On Dec. 5, Columbus reached the island of Hispaniola, which he originally named La Espanola (changed to Hispaniola in Latin texts that were written about the discovery). The locals called it Haiti, which today is the name of the country that occupies the western half of the island. Columbus had to leave his largest ship, the Santa Maria, on the island when it ran aground. To many of the sailors' consternation, he left 39 men behind at La Navidad, a village near present-day Caracol Bay, Haiti.
Haiti was rocked by a devastating earthquake on Jan. 12 of last year that killed over 300,000 and left more than a million homeless. The earthquake aggravated an already desperate situation in Haiti, with the majority of citizens living on less than $1.25 a day. The U.S. State Department has continually issued travel warnings about Haiti due to high crime rates and cholera outbreaks.
Dominican Republic: Hispanolia
Columbus encountered his only violent resistance on the Samana Peninsula of the present-day Dominican Republic (on the eastern half of the island of Hispaniola). Columbus was quite shocked by this attack after the friendly interaction he had with many other groups willing to trade anything for whatever Columbus had. Columbus named the inlet he visited Bay of Arrows in recognition of the weapons that were shot at the ships.
Today, travelers can visit the Bay of Arrows, now known as Bay of Rincon. Even though Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island, they are more than a world apart. The Dominican Republic is the Caribbean's largest tourist destination, a prosperous country full of resorts with tourists looking for sun, sand, and year-round golfing. It is often considered a family-friendly, affordable destination for those looking for lush forests, sunny beaches, and catamaran rides to nearby Saona Island.
On March 4, 1493, the two remaining ships were forced to port in Lisbon before returning to Spain. Columbus was finally able to make it back to Palos on March 15. From the 15th to 17th century, many explorers from Portugal followed in Columbus' footsteps. During this Age of Discovery, Portugal became a major hub between trade routes.
Today, Lisbon is a bustling city of 3 million and remains a major hub of economic activity, just as it did in Columbus' day. Travelers can venture between the old and new in Lisbon, through Gothic chapels and historic monasteries in a completely modern city.