Discover why “Ponce is Ponce,” a center of culture and hub city of the south of Puerto Rico. Ponce's rich history, traditions, natural assets and people make it one of the most unique gems of Puerto Rico. Here are some tips to explore and fall in love with this culture-rich Caribbean port city.
1. Experience Pre-Colonial Ponce
Ponce is home to numerous archaeological sites and home to the oldest human bones found in Puerto Rico, dating more than 5,000 years. Ancient bones have been found at the Maruca site, while unique petroglyphs were found at the Jácana site. The Tibes Indian Ceremonial Center is the only one open to the public, and the most important archaeological site in the Antilles. It is home to the largest known indigenous burial paying tribute to the pre-Columbian Igneri and Taíno who originally inhabited the Caribbean archipelago more than 1,000 years before Columbus arrival.
2. Hit the beach
Ponce beachside social and food offering is varied. Restaurants by the Caribbean Sea in El Tuque such as Santorini, offer great seafood with sunset views. The most famous beachside spot is La Guancha, a place to try local food and drinks, and hear diverse Latin music. It is also the perfect place to sample local cuisine at the kiosks such as bacalaitos (fried codfish) and empanadillas (meat or cheese turnovers). If possible, plan ahead and explore Isla Caja de Muertos, a stunning island with some of the best diving sights, fishing and white-sand pristine beaches, as well as a hiking trail and lighthouse from 1887. Boats depart from La Guancha but must be booked in advance.
3. Try Ponce's Coffee
Take a car to the north of Ponce and experience its cool mountains, rivers, lakes, and coffee plantations. The coffee of Ponce and nearby towns such as Adjuntas and Jayuya once served the Vatican. For the history and experience of coffee haciendas visit Hacienda Buena Vista, a restored hydro-powered coffee plantation featuring the only existing model of the Barker hydraulic turbine. For a historical coffee brand still serving high quality coffee visit La Torrefaccción Café Mayor, it’s been around for over 150 years and still roasts its coffee in downtown Ponce. For a cup of coffee of a new gourmet brand check out Café Lucero in La Playa de Ponce. And finally, for a complete coffee experience visit Hacienda La Mocha in the rural and mountainous barrio of San Patricio, Ponce, opening Spring 2018!
4. Learn about Ponce’s Rum Roots
Ponce’s history is connected to the sugarcane industry, and the Serrallés family, the makers of Don Q Rum, play an important role. Besides trying their Don Q Rum, which is still produce at its original site in Mercedita, Ponce, a visit to their former residency is a must. El Castillo de Serrallés, a beautiful mansion constructed in 1926, is now a museum offering a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Serrallés family, the history of the sugar cane and rum industry in Puerto Rico. Located on top of a hill near downtown, the gardens and city views are some of the best you will find in Ponce.
5. Explore Ponce’s Architecture and Museums in the Historic Center
Ponce’s architecture is an eclectic mix of influences. Take a stroll around La Plaza Las Delicias, the main plaza surrounded by statues, monuments, and colonial edifices. Dozens of museums can be found just minutes from each other. Start at Casa Armstrong-Poventud, the headquarters of Puerto Rico’s Institute of Culture (ICP) in Ponce. From there, guides can take you to La Casa de la Masacre de Ponce, a place that tells the events of 1937 police killing of 19 peaceful protesters and chronicles of Puerto Rico’s pro-independence activism. While exploring the museums make sure to also visit Ponce’s History Museum located inside a beautiful colonial pink house. Finally, no visit to Ponce is complete without a visit to one of the most impressive and largest art museum of the Caribbean, El Museo de Arte de Ponce.
6. See Ponce’s Most Iconic Symbol
Parque de Bombas, a museum honoring Ponce’s firefighters, was the first fire station in Puerto Rico. Constructed in1882 for La Gran Feria Exposición, a world fair that marked Ponce’s entrepreneurial spirit and made it the commercial capital of Puerto Rico. Soon after the Fair it was turned into a fire station in 1883 and base to the heroic firefighters that saved the city from a catastrophic fire in 1899 known as El Polvorín. Today the Parque de Bombas is one of the most important landmarks on the island, a place filled with history and symbol of Ponce’s proud entrepreneurial, revolutionary and heroism spirit. It is also the most photograph fireman house in the world, and most photographed structure in Puerto Rico after El Morro in Old San Juan.
7. Enter Ponce’s Unique Temples
Ponce’s Cathedral, La Catedral Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe dates back to when Ponce was founded in 1692. It is one of the few churches in located inside the main plaza, and one of the largest in Puerto Rico. The Virgin of the Guadalupe, the patron saint of Ponce and Mexico is honored there. It has been damaged several times by fires and earthquakes, and was rebuilt entirely in the 1920s. Besides visiting the cathedral, we recommend visiting other temples such as La Iglesia Episcopal Santísima Trinidad on calle Abolición. Established in 1873, it was the first protestant church in a Spanish colonial territory. It is also the first building in Puerto Rico to be prefabricated and sent in pieces from Liverpool as a gift from the Queen Victoria of England to Ponce.
8. Be Part of Ponce’s Festivals & Music
Ponce’s Carnival is the oldest ongoing party in Puerto Rico, this February celebrating 160 years with parades, music, coronations and vejigates, the traditional carnival monsters that roam the streets to the song of plena, a genre of music and dance native to Ponce. The vejigante mask is among the most impressive in the world, traditionally made by artisans from La Playa de Ponce neighborhood. Besides trying to visit Ponce for one its traditional parties, a visit to Ponce must include an experience of the local music, dances and artists. Try out a bomba and plena dance class at the Centro Cultural Carmen Solá de Pereira, or check out the Paseo de La Salsa, a stage naming all the famous salsa singers from Ponce. Or just sit back and enjoy the city that was home to prominent world-known salsa musicians such as Hector Lavoe and Cheo Feliciano.
9. Party Like A Local
Ponce’s nightlife offers something for everyone. From the local theater weekend special showings at Procedium, to dramatic sunsets and views from the highest restaurant and bar at Vistas, to secret bars bustling till morning hours like El Almacén or Asturias. Try if you dare the skateboard inside Anonymous bar, followed by a drink and live jazz at Red Door. Make sure to try different sangria flavors found at places like Campioni, or local crafts beers available at places such as 19 Barrios or Birriola. Also no nightlife is complete without having the local famous Don Q Rum, available at any bar, mix it with juice or coke.
10. Eat Locally
Ponce is hot, literally, making it a must to stop at King’s Cream homemade ice cream in service for over 50 years. For breakfast try the cheap fried food at El Trigal, or for a more traditional eggs and toast check out the café inside Utopía, a local souvenir shop across Plaza Las Delicias. For lunch Ponce’s downtown restaurants have a wide offer of delicious and filling lunch specials, at places like Sabor y Rumba, for just $5 you can have a plate full of rice, beans, salad and local meat. For healthy souls check out L.A. Food Menu serving organic vegetarian food and fermented products. Finally for a trip back in time, check out the food stalls and traditional shops at La Plaza Juan Ponce de León, better known as La Plaza de los Perros.
For walking tours and other experiences check out our experiences page and follow us on social media for daily facts and updates on events taking place in Ponce and other places in the south of Puerto Rico: facebook, instagram and twitter.