The town of Ponce is Puerto Rico’s second city, and is located on the island’s southern coast. Ponce is considerably smaller than San Juan, with a population of about 166,000. From San Juan, Highway PR-52 will take you to Ponce in about one and a half to two hours. There are enough things to do in Ponce that it could easily fill up a day. Some of the highlights are below.
Ponce Museum of Art
The Museo de Arte de Ponce is the island’s (and the Caribbean’s) largest and most prestigious art museum, housing a large permanent collection of largely European art. However, it also hosts several different exhibits throughout the year, showcasing such artists as the Cuban-born Emilio Sanchez, as well as artists from Puerto Rico and around the world. Their flagship piece seems to be Flaming June, by the English painter Fredric Leighton. The museum grounds also have a couple of well-kept gardens, a gift shop and a research library.
The Ponce Museum of Art is open every day except for Tuesdays, and admission for adults is $6. Seniors, students and kids pay $3. Some parking is available next to the museum, but it is limited. The museum is located at 2325 Avenida Las Americas (PR-133). Their phone number is 787-840-1510, and their website is at http://www.museoarteponce.org/.
The Serralles family is better known as being behind Don Q rum, and this stately early 20th-century mansion used to be the home of the Serralles patriarch. It is now a museum, showcasing the family’s history, as well as their involvement with rum. The mansion was built up on a hill, and the views of the city from up there are excellent. That being said, while this structure is an important part of Ponce history, I wouldn’t classify it as a must-do attraction. Other than a film about rum, the admittedly impressive-looking interiors and gardens, there isn’t much to do here. It’s a worthwhile stop if you’re having a slow day, or really want to see the view from here or the Cruceta del Vigia, which is next door.
Castillo Serralles is open from Thursday to Sunday, from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM, with the last tour starting at 5:15PM. Admission for adults ranges from $7.00, if all you want to see is the gardens, to $12.30 if you want to see everything (the castle gardens plus the museum, Cruceta del Vigia and Japanese Gardens). There are a couple of other ‘packages’ in between; prices for kids are lower. You can visit their webpage here: http://www.castilloserralles.org/ The Serralles complex is located at 17 El Vigia, Ponce. You will have to drive uphill through a dicey-looking neighborhood of narrow streets to get to it
Cruceta Del Vigia
The Cruceta del Vigia is a large, concrete and glass cross standing about 100 feet high. You can go up to the top in an elevator, and it offers some amazing views of the city of Ponce and the Caribbean Sea beyond it. While it is part of the Serralles Castle complex, I list it separately, as I consider it an attraction of its own, as you may want to do this with or without a visit to the Castle itself. Admission for the Cruceta is $5.50 and includes access to the Japanese Gardens. Hours are the same as the Castle, and information can be found at the same webpage.
Hacienda Buena Vista
This is a recreation of a 19th century Puerto Rican coffee plantation. The original hacienda was built in 1833, during the period when coffee was a huge part of the Puerto Rican economy. The attention to detail is noticeable, and they have even rebuilt the water-powered mechanisms that were used to transport and mill the coffee back in the day (one of the hydraulic turbines on site was even named a Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers). The restored buildings, machines, mills and exhibits make it all well worth it, although keep in mind that coffee is no longer actually grown here.
Two-hour tours are available only on Saturdays and Sundays, and run several times a day. Group tours can be arranged for Wednesdays and Thursdays. Reservations are required for all tours, so call 787-722-5882 or 787-722-5834before going. Tours are available both in English and Spanish, so make sure to specify which you prefer when you call. Admission is $10 each. To get there, take Avenida de las Americas west until you hit Route 500. Take that to Route 123, on which you will make a left. You should run into the Hacienda close to kilometer 16.8. The actual address is PR 123, Ponce PR 00728. A Spanish-language webpage is available here: https://reservaciones.fideicomiso.org/eventDetails.jsf
Parque De Bombas
This historic firehouse was built in 1882 as Puerto Rico’s very first fire station, and now serves as a museum showcasing the city’s firefighting history. The museum houses an antique fire engine, along with many firefighting artifacts and pictures of Ponce’s firefighters of decades ago. Parque de Bombas is one of Ponce’s most distinctive looking buildings, and it’s hard to miss. Admission is free, which is good, since you will probably cover it pretty quickly. A bus tour of historic Ponce leaves from here and only costs a couple of bucks, so you may want to take advantage of that. Parque de Bombas is located at Plaza Las Delicias, flanked by Reina Isabel, Villa, Marina and Concordia Streets.
Tibes Ceremonial Park
This ancient Taino indian ceremonial and sports complex was uncovered by flood waters in the mid-1970s, and has been partially rebuilt to more closely resemble what it would’ve looked like before the European “discovery” of Puerto Rico in the 15thcentury. When visiting, you will first be directed to a museum, where artifacts (such as old Taino pottery, utensils and bones) are displayed, and where the obligatory educational film is shown. Your guide will then take you to the outside exhibits: recreated sports fields (or “bateys”) in which the Tainos played their game of “pelota”, burial sites, rock carvings, recreated ceremonial fields and even gardens in which the plants and trees the Tainos originally used are grown. Straw Taino huts have also been recreated.
Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for kids under 12 and $1.50 for seniors, although kids under 5 and seniors over 75 get in free. Tibes is open every day except Monday, 8AM to 4PM. Call ahead if it’s a Monday holiday, because they might be open. To get there from San Juan, take PR-1 going south, then exit onto Expreso Jose De Diego/PR-22 West. You will then take PR-52 south, then west, all the way to Ponce. Exit onto PR-10 and head west, then exit onto PR-503 and make a left. You’ll see the park about half a mile further down. You can call them at (787)840-5685 or (787)840-2255, and you can learn more about the park athttp://ponce.inter.edu/tibes/tibes.html, although the site does not provide visitor information such as times, admission, etc. If you have any interest in archeology or pre-columbian cultures, this place is a must see. The guides are excellent as well and English language tours are available.
Ponce, Puerto Rico
Atlantic (UTC -4)
Spanish (main), English