Discovering El Muelle de las Carabelas (Wharf of the Caravels)
After visiting the Monastery of La Rábida where the adventures of Christopher Columbus all began, we continued to the nearby Muelle de las Carabelas (‘Wharf of the Caravels’) to climb aboard life-size replicas of Columbus’ three boats. For it was just up the road, in the small seaport of Palos de la Frontera in southern Spain, where Columbus set out on his first voyage to the New World in 1492. As part of the 500-year celebrations in 1992 replica caravels of Santa Maria, La Niña and La Pinta were built to sail the route of Columbus’ famous voyage. The three boats are now permanently docked here.
On-board the Caravels
The boats are open for visitors to explore and each one house life-like models of Columbus’ crew members. What surprised me the most was how small and claustrophobic all three boats were. I felt seasick just standing on the stationary upper deck imagining what it must have been like being tossed about on the open seas under flapping sails and stormy skies.
Despite controversy surrounding Christopher Columbus’ leadership (in short, he was an excellent navigator but a lousy coloniser) there can be no doubt that he was an exceptionally brave man. You certainly wouldn’t find me sailing into the unknown on that rickety boat for The Three G’s (God, Gold, Glory).
The children, on the other hand, would have signed up tomorrow if given half the chance. They loved climbing up and down the decks, yelling Ahoy! to passing tourists and picking the noses of the wax models (apologies). The props certainly spark the imagination, which in the case of my 8 year old, led to an insatiable thirst for Columbus adventure stories. If like me, your Columbus stories disappoint (i.e. he set sail from Spain and discovered America. The End) then I highly recommend the children’s book Christopher Columbus and the Age of Exploration for Kids by Ronald A Reis, which, along with a comprehensive account of Columbus’ life, includes 21 fun activities for kids such as making a compass, simulating a hurricane and baking an Old World – New World Pizza!
The Santa Maria, the main boat in the fleet, sits between the other two ships. On this caravel we could peek into Columbus’ tiny cabin to see a waxwork of the Admiral sitting at his desk working navigational instruments.
A Medieval Port
Back on dry land a medieval port is recreated which is fun for kids to explore. Market stalls full of curios line a cobbled street. Wooden kegs and barrels are stacked high on the dock and a tavern is at hand to serve weary sailors (and families too! It’s a functioning café).
The Columbus Museum
There is also a good indoor museum with lots of exhibits relating to Columbus’ Discovery of America including replicas of maps, navigational instruments, treaties, costumes and model boats. As with the Monastery of La Rábida, all the display text is in Spanish. Upstairs houses a projection room, which runs a 30-minute film about the story of Christopher Columbus (the film is shown alternatively in English and Castilian). Unfortunately we visited during siesta hours when this room is closed. See opening times via the website link below.
Columbus’ New World
On the far side of the quay, on a narrow sand spit sits the Isla del Encuentro (Island of the Encounter) – a reconstruction of the island (or islands) Christopher Columbus encountered in the New World, including naked figures of the Arawak Indians going about their daily activities such as fishing and cooking. Various objects are also on display such as iguanas, parrots, carved deities and weaving looms, the latter two serving as informative reminders of what we saw on our recent Journey to Machu Picchu.
Getting there: Muelle de las Carabelas is located on the outskirts of Huelva, an industrial port with a history of ship building in western Andalucia, Spain. The small seaport, Palos de la Frontera, where Columbus set sail from is 4km up the road. Muelle de las Carabelas is also in the same complex as El Monasterio de La Rábida. See map below.
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