Centro Ceremonial Indigena in Tibes
The Centro Ceremonial Indigena is close to Ponce and one of the most important indigenous sites in Puerto Rico. This site is believed to have been last inhabited by the Tainos who are PR's indigenous peoples. The Tibes site offers visitors a glimpse of the past through these visual representations: stone-lined courts, a small modern museum of archeological artifacts, and a replica of native homes. A nominal fee is charged per visit. There are restricted areas that are strictly monitored by archeological & administrative staffers.
Nice-to-see: Cruceta El Vigía
A key Ponce's landmarks, Cruceta El Vigía is just a cross-shaped concrete building on the hills overlooking the city, worth as a viewpoint over the city and the ocean not much for the building itself. Once there, a glass elevator will take you to the skybridge. The view is nice but non impressive (see other photo attached) so, in my view, if you have little time you can skip. Worth coming here instead if you have a hour to spare.
At about a couple of miles off the city center, you will have to drive. You can couple the visit with a visit to the Serallés Castle Museum, on the way to/from, right past the Cruceta. You can walk from one site to the other.
Nice-to-do: An Evening Stroll at Paseo La Guancia
"La Guancia", few-mile off Ponce's city center, is a boardwalk overlooking the yacht marina featuring a concert pavilion, few eateries and a public beach. I can't say during the day-hours, but at night, especially in the weekend days, it is good place for some people watching and some finger-food tasting.
The Saturday night I was there, there was no much going on other than people strolling back and forth or sitting and chatting at one of the many eateries along the boardwalk (all selling the same bad food at the same price). In that same night there was also a vintage car exhibition in the parking lot across the street that indeed did not make the place any more interesting or fun. Not a place for people with high expectations, anyway, if you are curious enough, I guess you can come here and enjoy some people watching and relax.
From the city center, it takes a 15-minute drive (~US$10 taxi fare) to get there.
Nice-to-do: The Beaches near Guánica
The friendly concierge of my hotel in Ponce recommended me the beaches near the town of Guánica for spending few hours at the beach. With exception of Playa Caña Gorda, a developed public beach with lifeguards and few basic facilities (do not expect too much), all other beaches that I saw are undeveloped and isolated.
All those beaches are at easy access through the coastal highway. The surfer guys in one of the photos attached, told me there are few more picturesque beaches outside the beaten track but it takes a 4WD vehicle to access them.
If you like quite beaches, you can come here for few hours of relax and choose the one that inspire you most. Expect windy weather.
Travel Notes from Ponce
"Nothing Going On in Ponce"
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Ponce was my second and last stop in Puerto Rico after San Juan. The "Pearl of the South", the city that with its history of immigration and isolation has developed over the centuries, and still preserves today, a peculiar cultural identity and personality. Ponce has indeed a distinctive elegance, in its architecture, buildings, museums as well as, when compared to Old San Juan, a more genuine look and atmosphere a Spanish-colonial town. Yet it still misses the street-life, the colors, the sounds, the crowd, the confusion of typical of Latin America towns and the paradox is actually more evident here than in Old San Juan as the town is quieter and not overwhelmed with tourists. In the Saturday afternoon of my visit, in one of the most picturesque colonial city centers I have visited in the whole Latin America, there was simply nothing going on.
I spent a full day in Ponce and left the day after to Guavate and San Juan. The morning I was leaving, a Sunday, I went out for a walk in the Town Square at about 8:30 am and was surprised to find nobody around. Surprised of my surprise, my hotel's concierge gave me the explanation: "Señor, a los Ponceños les gusta dormir!" (Ponceños love sleeping late!). Like waking up from a dream, I finally found myself in Latin America.
"Different and Unique"
"An irreducible bastion of Puerto Rican essence" (A. Díaz Alfaro), "Something Different and Unique" (M. Vidal Armstrong), "Ponce is Ponce" (don't know who said that). Ponce owes its distinctive cultural heritage and personality to the many immigrants who have flown into town over the 18th and 19th century. Already a wealthy port in the 18th century, many immigrants came from other Spanish colonies of the New World in early 19th century, after those achieved independence (1810-1825). Other immigrants came from Europe fostered by incentives given by the Spanish Crown in order to populate and develop the island (after 1825 the only Spanish territory remaining in the New World along with Cuba). Those immigrants, along with the slaves they imported from Africa, developed sugarcane, coffee and tobacco plantations and many of those who made fortune embellished the city with elegant buildings and imports, while the increased wealthiness and the cultural diversity contributed in establishing Ponce as the cultural center of the island. The golden age of Ponce ended at the beginning of 20th century with the decline of the plantation industry and with the US (who had taken Puerto Rico over from Spain in 1898) deciding to develop San Juan as hub for the island. Today Ponce is recovering from a century of stagnation with the economy based on manufacturing and chemical and a developing tourism industry.
"Driving Along the South Coast"
For centuries isolated from the North Coast by the Central Mountains, today the South Coast can be reached in less than a two-hour drive via the expressway connecting San Juan to Ponce. Beside Ponce, there are few other towns along the coastal highway of little interest to tourists. The best attraction in the South is the Guánica State Forest, one of the best examples of subtropical dry forest in the world. The forest owes its climate to the presence of the Central Mountains that creates a "rain shadow" in that area resulting in a dry and cool climate. In 1981 UNESCO designated the forest as a "Biosphere Reserve" a world-rarity since only an estimated 1% of dry forest remains on earth. There are also few beaches along the rocky coastline that are, with few exceptions, undeveloped and isolated.