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. The atmosphere is charmingly laid-back, a stark contrast to the bustling economic and nightlife districts of San Juan. Even as the island's second largest city, tourists may be shocked or refreshed to find that Ponce's downtown is a single quaint city square with no steady nightlife. The beauty and variety of Art Deco buildings in central Ponce is impressive and architecture buffs will not be disappointed.
- 1 Mercedita International Airport (PSE IATA) (a quick cab ride from downtown). Offers daily flights to the mainland US. JetBlue has direct flights to New York JFK and Orlando airports.
Ponce is reachable via the main island expressway. It's about 64 mi (103 km) from San Juan. The drive takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The road (highway #52) is modern and convenient and restaurants and shops are readily available throughout the trip.
Ponce has a large público terminal (787-842-1222) at the intersection of Calle Union and Calle Vives, a few blocks north of Plaza las Delicias. Públicos to San Juan (2 hr, $20) depart from pier 5A, mostly early in the morning. Call Chóferes Unidos de Ponce at +1 787-764-0540 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.
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.
- Casa de la Masacre de Ponce, 2 blocks south of Plaza Las Delicias on Calle Marina (the boardwalk is temporarily closed as of Jan 2020, due to significant earthquake damage.)
- The Museum of Puerto Rican Music, SE corner of Calle Isabel and Calle Salud, ☏ . W-Su 9AM - noon, 1-5:30PM. It opens W-Su but only by arrangement; call them first. Free.
- Museo de Arte de Ponce (+1 787-840-1510) is quite impressive. A modern building that is arguably one of the finest museums in Latin America. Covers European art -- most notably "Flaming June", the pride of the museum -- as well as some Puerto Rican art. The museum hosts many visiting exhibits, as well. Daily 10AM - 6PM. Closed on Tuesdays. Adults $6, children $3, students $3.
- La Cruceta El Vigía. A scenic overlook of the city from a hill north of the city. Open Th-Su.
- Castillo Serralles. Open Tu-Su. Adults $6. Seniors and students $3. Children under 5 - free.
- Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes - Indigenous Park about the Taínos (the native inhabitants at the time of Columbus' arrival on the island in 1493). Open Tu-Su. Adults $3
- La Guancha Paseo Tablado. A boardwalk 2 miles south of downtown, near the harbor. (The boardwalk is temporarily closed as of Jan 2020, due to significant earthquake damage.)
- 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 pier, weekends. $4. +1 787-842-8546
- Caribbean Images Tours, La Guancha, ☏ . 9AM-6PM. 1/2-day guided snorkeling excursions to Caja De Muertos. All snorkel equipment is provided. For the novice and non swimmer, we offer instruction and an actual 'hand holding’ experience, if necessary, as safety and education are our top priorities which in turn makes an enjoyable day for everyone. $55.
- Hacienda Buena Vista Plantation, is a historic coffee plantation turned into a museum about growing and processing coffee. It's north of the city of Ponce, along Carretera 123 in the Corral Viejo neighborhood.
- Hacienda Pomarrosa Plantation. Tours on request, $15/person. Hacienda Pomarrossa is a privately run active specialty coffee plantation in the mountains north of Ponce at the intersection of highway 143 and 511 (note that highway 511 from Ponce is blocked off by a gate roughly 2/3 of the way to Pomarrosa; take highway 143). Owners conduct the tours themselves and speak English, Spanish and German.
- Isla Caribe Tours, Utopía Café, Calle Isabel # 6953 at Plaza Muñoz Rivera, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. 8AM-6PM daily. Daily cultural experience tours with walking tours of downtown Ponce and themed tours ("experiences") in Ponce and neighboring municipalities, including coffee, sugar cane, salsa music, and arts and fire experiences. Tours outside the Historic Zone include transportation. Owners conduct the tours themselves and speak English and Spanish. Registered with the Puerto Rico Tourism Department and certified by the Ponce Municipal Government Office of Tourism. $20-60.
- El Tuque Beach
- Caribbean Water Sports, La Guancha, Ponce, ☏ . 9AM-6PM. A jet ski ride to near by deserted cays and islands. You can snorkel on the beautiful reefs of these cays or tour around them at your own pace. Fast or slow! $80 per hour.
- Centro Comercial Plaza del Caribe
- Centro del Sur Shopping Center
- King's Cream, Calle Marina 9322 (opp Parque de Bombas), ☏ . 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.
- 1 La Casa Del Chef, Centro del Sur Shopping Mall (From downtown Ponce, take Calle Cristina eastbound, go across Puente de los Leones, and onto Bulevar Miguel Pou, bear right onto Calle Marginal, and after the second traffic light, turn right into the Centro del Sur Mall, heading right and onto the parking lot on the south side of the mall.), ☏ . Noon-11PM. The restaurant is on the campus of the Centro del Sur Shopping Mall. It is not inside the mall. It is in a separate structure on the mall's south parking lot. Their "habicuelas negras" (black beans) are delicious!
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.
- Bélgica, 122 Villa Street, ☏ . Small budget inn on Plaza Degetau. Rooms with AC and small balconies start at $60.
- Hotel Las Colinas Carr. 505 Km. 2.2 La Yuca, +1 787-843-5668. Rooms with AC, TV, garage. $33/12 hours or $65 per night.
- Hotel Meliá, ☏ . Plaza Degetau y Calle Cristina. 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
- Caribe Hotel (former Howard Johnson's Ponce)
- Hotel Ramada Ponce, ☏ . Corner of Union and Reina Streets on the main square across from Cathedral. Pool and restaurant.
- 1 Aloft Ponce Hotel (Ponce Marriott Aloft), PR-2, KM 228.9; at NE corner of PR-2 (Ponce Bypass) and PR-12 (Avenida Santiago de los Caballeros) (From Mercedita International Airport, make a left at the Airport exit's traffic light onto PR-5506, in 1/2 mile bear right onto PR-1 west towards Ponce. Travel 1 mile and make a left at the 3rd traffic light onto PR-2 West (sign says "2-Oeste/Peñuelas/Mayaguez"). The hotel will be about 3/4 mile on the right hand side. If you go under the PR-12 overpass, you went too far!), email@example.com. As of Feb 2020, it's under Construction. Due to open in 2020. A Hard Rock Cafe is to be opened inside the hotel.
- Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort, 1150 Caribe Avenue, ☏ . Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. This one's on the beachfront, but a 5-minute drive from town. The hotel has a 27-hole golf course, Vegas-style casino, 2 swimming pools, tennis courts, ample garden areas, and recreational facilities for family vacations.
Guests at the Hilton Ponce usually enjoy day trips to Caja de Muertos (Coffin) Island for a snorkel or Scuba Diving adventure, visit "La Guancha" nearby boardwalk for a friendly interaction with Ponce's people, and explore the museums and spanish revival architectural jewels in downtown.
- Arecibo - about 2 hours of winding mountain roads.
- Guánica - has several popular beaches on the south coast
- San Germán - Inland colonial town.