Christopher Columbus was the first European to visit Venezuela. He came in 1498 during his third voyage to the New World and landed on the Peninsula de Paria. Following the coast, he explored the Rio Orinoco Delta and concluded that he had found much more than another Caribbean island.
More explorers came a year later, and it was Alonso de Ojeda who gave the country its name. Arriving at Lake Maracaibo, he admired the stilted houses that the Indians had to build above the lake and called the place Venezuela - "Little Venice." A year after that the Spanish established their first settlement, Nueva Cadiz, which was later destroyed by a tsunami. Early colonization in Venezuela was much less rampant than it was in other parts of South America, and the colony was ruled with a loose hand from Bogota. It was much less important to the Spanish than the mineral-producing colonies of Western South America, but Venezuela would later surprise the world when massive oil reserves would be discovered.