Ponce is the second largest city in Puerto Rico. The city was founded by Ponce de Leon's grandson Juan Ponce de León y Loayza in 1692, but not much seems to have happened since then, and it's far less touristy in character than San Juan. Ponce's draw is its rich history and unique architecture. The atmosphere is charmingly laid-back, a stark contrast to the bustling economic and nightlife districts of San Juan.
Mercedita International Airport, a quick cab ride from downtown, offers up to 4 daily flights to the USA. Spirit,and Jet Blue offer low fares and service to the airport. For intra-island service, Cape Air has many daily flights to the capital in San Juan.
Ponce is reachable via the main island expressway. It's located about 64 miles from San Juan. The drive takes about one hour. The road is modern and convenient and restaurants and shops are readily available throughout the trip.
Ponce has a large público terminal at the intersection of Calle Union and Calle Vives, a few blocks north of Plaza las Delicias. Públicos to San Juan (1-2 hrs, $15) depart from pier 5A, mostly early in the morning. Call Chóferes Unidos de Ponce at 787-764-0540 to make a reservation; they can also pick you up for a small extra fee.
The downtown area is compact and very attractive to explore on foot. Cabs are cheap and plentiful, should you need one, although many museums and restaurants are within a very short distance of the central plaza. The historic center has quality sidewalks. Public transportation in Ponce is pretty much non-existent, although there's a touristy "train" that does a loop of the downtown. Parking can be quite a challenge at times.
Parque de Bombas
Most of Ponce's sights are tightly packed around the main square of Plaza las Delicias.
Parque de Bombas, east side. The former fire station, painted with highly distinctive red and black stripes, and the symbol of the city. The building now houses the tourist office and a free exhibition of the history of fire fighters in Ponce, and is the departure point for the sightseeing train around the city.
Casa Alcaldía (City Hall), south side.
Catedral de la Guadalupe, west side. Directly behind Parque de Bombas,
La Guancha Paseo Tablado. A boardwalk south of downtown, near the harbor.
Casa de la Masacre de Ponce
The Museum of Puerto Rican Music 70 Christina St., 787-844-9722. Open Wednesday-Sunday 9 am - noon, 1-5:30 pm. Free
Ponce Museum of Art (787) 848-0511. Is quite impressive. A modern building, that is arguably one of the top museums in Latin America. Covers European art -- most notably "Flaming June", symbol of Ponce -- as well as some Puerto Rican art. The museum hosts many visiting exhibits, as well. Daily 10am - 5pm. Adults $4, children $2.
La cruceta El Vigia.
Caja de Muertos (Coffin Island) is an uninhabited island just off the coast where you can visit an abandoned lighthouse, empty stretches of beach and a marked underwater snorkel trail. Ferries leave from the the pier, weekends. $4.
El Tuque Beach
Centro Comercial Plaza del Caribe
Centro del Sur Shopping Center
Fox Delicias Mall
King's Cream, Calle Marina 9322 (opp Parque de Bombas), tel. 787-843-8520. A Ponce institution dishing out hand-made ice cream in a dozen flavors for two generations. Generously sized portions start from $1.10.
Classic Delights Calle Marina, Ssq Comercio Ste 3. If you've had your fill of heavy meat & fish dishes, head over to Classic Delights for some fresh baked breads, veggie wraps, pizzas and lasagna. They offer a full breakfast menu, fresh juices, and salads, soups and sandwiches too.
Central Ponce has a number of bars around the main square. Note that many are closed Monday nights and Holidays.
Most hotels are clustered around Plaza Degetau, easy walking distance to the downtown sites and museums but far from the water and beach. Most have private parking.
Fox Delicias Hotel 6963 Isabel St. (787) 290-5050. Eye catching art deco building set back from Plaza Degetau. Rooms start at $65 for an off-season single.
Belgica 122 Villa Street. (787) 844-3255 Small budget inn on Plaza Degetau. Rooms with AC and small balconies start at $60.
Hotel Meliá, Plaza Degetau y Calle Cristina, tel. 787-842-0260, . Located right off the central plaza, this family-run hotel has both colonial charm and modern facilities. Great little pool, free wi-fi in room, free PCs in business center. Rooms from $90.
Holiday Inn Ponce and Tropical Casino
Howard Johnson Ponce
Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort, 1150 Caribe Avenue, 1-787-259-7676, , This one's on the beach, but a 5-minute drive from town.
Arecibo - about 2 hours of winding mountain roads.
Guánica - perhaps the best beaches on the south coast
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