The city of Ponce in Puerto Rico is one of the most breathtaking destinations in the Caribbean. Also known as “La Perla del Sur” or “The Pearl of the South”, the city is full of lovely neoclassical buildings, decorative colonial homes, and beautiful fountains. The city was founded in 1692 and was Spain’s southern region capital until 1898.
As Puerto Rico’s second largest city, it has long been an important trading and distribution center for the Caribbean. Its port, one of the busiest in the Caribbean, has shipped agricultural products, textiles, electrical devices, and rum products around the world. Most visitors from the U.S. mainland travel to the island via flights that land daily at Mercedita International Airport.
The city is sometimes called the “Museum City” for the large number of historical museums and cultural sites within its borders. The Museum of Puerto Rican Music and a School of Fine Arts are located there. It also holds the Ponce Museum of Art, an American Alliance of Museums’ accredited institution that holds the Caribbean’s most extensive art collection. Another prominent museum is dedicated to the historical development of the city and the people who made the city what it is today.
The beautiful Plaza de las Delicias downtown is seen as the heart of the metropolitan area with its many charming restaurants and shops selling locally made products. The historic Catedral de la Guadalupe stands in the center of the plaza, which also holds the Parque de Bombas museum, a century-old wooden firehouse that was previously the headquarters of the Ponce Fire Corps. Casa Alcaldía (city hall), the oldest colonial building in the city, and the Central Mercedita sugar factory are also located around the plaza.
The most stylish shopping mall in the city is Plaza del Caribe. The mall has six theaters, more than 100 shops, and an extensive restaurant area with a wide variety of local and international offerings. The city is also home to the historic La Perla theatre, which hosts regular performances, shows, and music concerts.
An excursion to the summit of El Vigia Hill gives visitors an amazing view of the city and nearby Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island). Serralles Castle, a beautiful example of Spanish Revival-style architecture built in the 1930s, is located nearby. This former home of the owners of the Don Q rum distillery is now a museum showcasing the history of the sugar and rum industries. Behind the castle is the Jardín Japonés, a stunning nature area containing ponds, trees, and bonsai.
Another fun place to visit is the boardwalk, La Guancha Paseo Tablado, which is a popular entertainment destination lined with restaurants and kiosks, Here, visitors can also find an old lighthouse built in 1887, several pristine beaches for soaking up some sun, and a pier with a regularly scheduled weekend ferry to an enchanting islet. Popular activities there include swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding.
Hacienda Buena Vista is another destination that offers a distinctive insight into Puerto Rican history. This restored coffee plantation hidden between the mountains features a main house, slave quarters, and farm buildings along with exhibits showcasing the practices of the era. In October, group tours are offered where visitors can try their hand at picking coffee beans and roasting them. The famous Salto Vives waterfall is also located nearby.
There are several unique natural areas located a short distance from the city. Visitors can travel about 40 minutes to the Guanica State Forest to see endangered birds or go to the La Parguera Nature Reserve to see monkeys and colorful coral reefs. There is also the El Charco Azul swimming hole and Cayo Aurora, playfully called Gilligan’s Island, for swimming or snorkeling.
No matter what type of vacation you are looking for, “The Pearl of the South” has something interesting to offer. Its amazing architecture, interesting museums, delicious restaurants, and distinctive natural spaces makes it one of the best destinations in the Caribbean for travelers.