Texas Tropical Trail Region

Participant in the Texas Historical Commission's
Texas Heritage Trails Program

Port Isabel

Photo by Valerie D. Bates


Port Isabel, the Laguna Madre matron linking South Padre with the mainland and home to Our Lady Star of the Sea Parish, once hosted members of a less virtuous order—pirate Jean Lafitte and his cohorts. Nearby, survivors of a 1554 Spanish shipwreck met a much more violent end than their drowned shipmates—a beach confrontation with local, and unhappy, Indians. Today, Port Isabel is a far friendlier place with its raucous past safely tucked away in the Port Isabel Historical Museum, the Treasures of the Gulf Museum, and the handsome Port Isabel Lighthouse State Historic Site. This publicly accessible lighthouse is accompanied by a replica of the lighthouse keeper's cottage where a permanent exhibit of Port Isabel and its lighthouse history are on display. Other perspectives on the city's cultural history are found at the Port Isabel Cemetery, a burial ground for people of all faiths since the mid-1800s.

Port Isabel has always survived on its sea legs, serving as a port of call for ships plying the gulf waters, including the Laguna Madre and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. The shrimp industry has also played a key role in the port's economy, along with tourism and sport fishing. Yet Port Isabel's past may wash ashore again someday. Over half of the one million ducats (gold coins) believed to be onboard Spanish shipwrecked vessels were never recovered.