Ponce, often referred to as La Perla del Sur (The Pearl of the South), is a colonial city in the South and the second most important and largest city of Puerto Rico. It is named after Juan Ponce de León y Loayza, the great-grandson of Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León. From San Juan, we headed first to the South of Puerto Rico in order to visit Ponce where we stayed for 3 days. In this post, I will tell you about things to do in Ponce and I will also give you some useful tips at the end of the post. Enjoy!
What to see and do in and around Ponce
Stroll the streets of Ponce
The first day, we had a walk through Ponce in the afternoon. It is a nice city with pretty and colorful houses but I’d say that in one day you can do it all. The main sights in Ponce include Plaza Las Delicias with its Lions Fountain, the Cathedral Nuestra Seňora de Guadeloupe, or historic firehouse building called Parque de Bombas that serves as a museum today. We also wanted to visit the Museum of Puerto Rican music, but unfortunately, it was closed.
Enjoy sunsets and cocktails at Paseo Tablado La Guancha
Two locals originally from Ponce that we met in San Juan talked to us about La Guancha so we added this to our ‘MUST DO’s here. Paseo Tablado La Guancha is a lovely boardwalk overlooking the Caribbean sea. It is a great place to mingle with locals and have a drink or something to eat in one of the many kiosks. At the marina, you can rent pedal boats and kayaks to explore the bay. We only came twice here in the evening just to have a walk and drink after the day spent elsewhere and caught magnificent sunsets here.
There is also a beach close to Guancha, where you can see some lonely mangroves in the sea.
Visit a coffee plantation
The other day, we planned to visit some coffee plantations. As you may know, in the second half of the 19th century, the coffee exported from Puerto Rico to the US and Europe was considered as the world’s finest. Unfortunately, the golden times for Puerto Rican coffee did not last longer than one century as it ended up with some natural and politico-economical disasters in the beginning of the 20th century.
We booked a visit of Hacienda Buena Vista, which is one of the best examples of a Puerto Rican coffee plantation. After about 20 minutes’ drive from Ponce, we arrived at a coffee plantation established in the first half of the 19th century by certain Don Salvador de Vives. Nowadays, the plantation house built in Spanish colonial style and surrounded by humid subtropical forest is owned by Puerto Rico Conservation Trust who runs it as a museum. Ángel, our guide took us first to visit the Manor House, then we walked through the forest to see the waterfall. He then also showed us the coffee depulping and husking mill as well as the corn mill. The most important sight here is nevertheless the new corn mill powered with a hydraulic turbine – it is the only known example of Barker turbine built by the West Point Foundry in Cold Spring, New York. It was amazing to see how a water flow can run the mill and produce still nowadays corn flour of excellent quality.
Drive through the Panoramic Road
After that, we got in the car and hit the Ruta Panorámica, a 270km long network of secondary roads leading through the Cordillera Central mountain range. The road took us through some small villages and some amazing views.
Hike the Guánica Dry Forest
The last day in the South of Puerto Rico we headed to Bosque estatal de Guánica. This dry forest is the contrary to the rain forest in the North-East part of PR. Here nature is much more dry with cactuses, bushes and dead trees. But despite the low amount of rain it receives, it is still home to some animal species. During our hike, we heard birds singing and saw many lizards running through the path from one side to another.
After spending 2 hours in the dry forest, walking through its highest parts under strong noon sun, beach time was clearly our next stop. We drove to Tamarindo beach to enjoy watching pelicans jumping into the water from the heights. There were no crowds on the beach and so it was a perfect relax.
Where to eat
El Negocio de Panchi
The locals recommended to us this restaurant that is 10 minutes’ drive from the city center. The parking was full and the guy at the entrance told us there was a private event that night. But we told him that we came whole way from Belgium to eat there. The guy hesitated but called the chef who at the end made our seating at the terrace and spent 10 minutes or more talking with us about Europe and places he visited. We ordered and he came again to talk with us. When they brought the food, it looked great. I had salmon in sweet and sour sauce with mashed yucca and Seb had another fish with mashed potatoes. The warm welcome and the food we ate here will be one of the moments we will remember as one of the highlights of our trip to PR.
At the Plaza Las Delicias, you can get some awesome street food. We ran into a truck selling some tortillas filled with vegetables, (meat), cheese, chips and sauce of choice. We had had them prepared and then ate them in the park in the main square.
Sabor y Rumba
For our last dinner in Ponce, we headed to Sabor y Rumba, located few steps from Plaza de Armas. The restaurant is located in a patio and what we had was very good. Just look at the pictures! Seb had a hamburger with plantain chips and myself, I went for croquettes made of cod fish and vegetables. After dinner, we wanted to go dancing but the city was rather empty, so we just had a last walk in this pleasant town.
How to get there
In order to get from San Juan to Ponce and travel around, you need a car as there is no public transport and with Uber or taxi, you’d pay way too much. And the car rental in the US for non-US residents is quite expensive all together with the insurance and taxes (we saw the final price on the spot despite booked online and were a bit surprised).
Where we stayed
In Ponce, we stayed in Belgica hotel right next to the main square called Plaza Las Delicias. The hotel is beautifully decorated, although we did not like the first room situated into the street which was too noisy. Breakfast is basic which I would survive but what I did not like about it is that they only had plastic cups and plates.
So this was our trip to the South of Puerto Rico, visiting Ponce and its surroundings. Have you ever been to Puerto Rico? Which trips did you take out of San Juan? Have you been to Ponce? Tell me in the below comments!