Nearly half a billion dollars have been spent preserving the colonial core of Ponce – and anyone that’s visited will concur it was money well spent. The stunningly preserved old town positively oozes character and charm, with its grand mansions, pastel-painted townhouses and cobbled streets making it a joy to wander around at your leisure.
But there’s more to Ponce than historical resonance and colonial charisma – this is also a city with a present as well as a past. Head to Paseo Tablado La Guancha, a boardwalk in the city’s La Guancha district, and you’ll discover restaurants and bars thronged with locals and visitors alike. This juxtaposition of old and new is part of what makes Ponce special. We’ve picked out 7 of its most unique attractions.
1. Parque de Bombas
One of Ponce’s most unique attractions – and almost certainly its most recognisable – this historic firehouse building now serves as a museum celebrating the noble vocation of firefighting. Overlooking the Plaza Las Delicias town square, the brightly coloured red and black candy striped building houses a huge variety of exhibits of firefighting equipment and memorabilia dating back to its original incarnation as a working fire station, including pictures of the heroic men who fought in the legendary fire of 1883 that threatened to engulf the city.
LOCATION Plaza las Delicias HOURS Mon-Fri 8am-4.30pm; Closed Sat-Sun
2. Hacienda Buena Vista
Puerto Rico is known for many things, but is perhaps most famous of all for its coffee, which has a world class reputation thanks to the country’s rich soil and cool mountain regions. Nestled in the lush mountains above Ponce, this beautifully restored, 19th century coffee mill and plantation provides a glimpse of living and working conditions in times past. There are regular guided tours that take in the main house, slave quarters, farm buildings, and processing areas.
LOCATION Km 16.8, PR-123 HOURS Fri-Sat 9am-2pm Closed Sun-Thurs
3. Walking Tour with Isla Caribe
Taking to the streets on foot is perhaps the most simple but effective way of getting to know a city, letting you experience its sights, sound and smells in a way that isn’t possible aboard a bus or coach. Run by local company Isla Caribe, this 2 to 3-hour walking tour of Ponce begins at the charming Utopia Café – ideal for picking up souvenirs and gifts – before taking you on an immersive journey through the city’s history, culture and people. During the walk your expert guide will regale you with tales of the city past and present. The tour involves easy walking terrain with no hills.
4. Castillo Serrallés
Perched on a hill overlooking Ponce’s downtown district, this magnificent mansion dates back to the 1930s when it was the summer home of a wealthy sugar cane and rum-making family. Today it is open for public viewing and almost all of the fittings and furnishings displayed are original to its original owners. Tour guides will take you around the home while telling you fascinating stories about the family that once lived her, as well as explaining the art of sugar production and rum distillation.
LOCATION 120 East Superior Street HOURS Mon-Thurs 3pm-12am; Fri 1pm-1am; Sat 11am-1am; Sun 11am-10pm
5. King’s Cream
Ice cream parlours may be ten a penny across the world, but some manage to stand out above the crowd. Ponce’s most famous purveyor of the iconic frozen treat is King’s Cream, situated in the heart of the town square opposite the historic Parque de Bombas. A veritable institution in Ponce, the store is perpetually busy with locals and visitors alike flocking here to enjoy its huge array of local flavours.
LOCATION 61 Calle Vives HOURS Mon-Sun 9am-10pm
6. El Vigía
It may not be able to compare with its more famous Brazilian counterpart in Rio de Janeiro, but this 100 foot reinforced concrete statue of Christ is nonetheless one of Ponce’s most unique and eye-catching landmarks. Not only does it provide a superb vantage spot from which to enjoy views over the city and wider region, but it’s also a useful point of orientation for those below. There’s also a pretty Japanese garden located on the same site.
LOCATION Barrio Portugues Urbano
7. Museo de Arte de Ponce
Home to more than 800 art objects, this fabulous museum is one of Ponce’s most cherished cultural institutions. There are pieces hailing from all over the world on display, but mostly from Latin America, Puerto Rico and Europe, with everything from 3,000 year old pottery pieces to modern art and sculptures. All of the exhibits are artfully arranged, spread across numerous display spaces with individual themes, each designed to inspire thought and conversation. Head outside to the garden areas and you’ll find even more eye-catching sculptures and art pieces.
LOCATION 2325 Boulevard Luis A. Ferré Aguayo HOURS Weds-Sat & Mon 10am-5pm; Sun 12pm-5pm; Closed Tues