We are currently updating the photos on this article.
Ponce, the second oldest city of Puerto Rico, is known as “La Perla del Sur” / The Pearl of the South, locals take much pride in that. Ponce was founded in 1692 by Ponce de Leon’s great-grandson. The city faces the Caribbean Sea gently sloping towards the hills of the central mountains.
Ponce is a central location to explore various points of interest in the central mountains and the southern coast of Puerto Rico. In Ponce, visitors will enjoy days full of activities such as visiting museums, observing architecture around the square/plaza, visit coffee plantations, taking a day trip to the uninhabited island of Caja de Muertos, snorkeling in crystal clear waters of the offshore island of Cardenas, and more. If you choose, guided historical city and cultural tours are available that depart from your San Juan hotel.
Following are the best things to do and interesting places to visit in Ponce and nearby.
Caja de Muertos Island
Caja de Muertos, located off the coast of the city of Ponce on the south coast of the island. This island is one of the most underrated places in Puerto Rico. The island is a nature reserve, this is the kind of island a developer or cruise line would pay a high dollar to acquire. The little accessibility has kept Caja de Muertos sort of a secret, that even few residents of Puerto Rico have visited.
This uninhabited island is home to Playa Pelicano which has won the Blue Flag award for many years. You can enjoy a full day of beach-combing, suntanning, and snorkeling. If you’re staying in Ponce, Playa Pelicano is truly the only beach by our standards.
Getting there: Caja de Muertos is accessible from the town of Ponce. The driving distance from San Juan to Ponce is about 45 min to 1 hr depending on traffic.
Tours to Caja de Muertos: East Island Adventures offers catamaran cruise to Caja de Muertos.
Museo de Arte de Ponce
Museo de Arte de Ponce is the most prestigious art museum in Puerto Rico, one of the most well-known across the Caribbean.
“The Ponce Museum of Art is recognized worldwide as an important center of European art in America and continues to offer its visitors a rich panorama of Western art, from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century. Two strong points within the European collection are Baroque art and Victorian painting.”
“The permanent collection consists of 4,500 paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, ceramics, three-dimensional objects, photographs, engravings, drawings, videos, and installations of sound art. The works of art span 30 centuries (from 900 BC to the present) and come from Europe, America, and Africa. In 1956 Luis A. Ferré established a foundation that bears his name and acquired his first group of European paintings for the future museum in Ponce that opened in 1959.”
Don’t miss the impressive and captivating Flaming June by Frederic Leighton.
Plaza Las Delicias
Like other towns in Puerto Rico, Plaza Las Delicias is located at the center of “centro urbano” (center town). This is the cultural center, where old friends meet, vibrant events take place, and the location of some of the most recognized landmarks in Ponce. You can’t leave Ponce without taking a stroll around the plaza, there are various cafes, museums, great architecture to admire, colorful streets in the vicinity, an ice cream shop, the colorful Parque de Bombas, and more.
Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Guadalupe
The Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe) commonly known as Catedral de Ponce (Ponce Cathedral) is located at the center of Plaza Las Delicias facing west. It is the only church situated at the center of a plaza, dividing the square into two plazas (squares).
- Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
- History dates back to 1670. Original structures were damaged by earthquakes and fires.
- From 1931 – 1937 church was reconstructed. Cathedral was designed by Francisco Porrata Doria. The facade was designed in a neoclassical style. Interior design is colonial and gothic.
- The cathedral features a large pipe organ played by famous Puerto Rican composer Juan Morel Campos.
Important Events at Catedral de Ponce
- December 12th – Annual event held since 1965 with an average attendance of 10,000 people. Procession and Mass presided by the Bishop of Diocese. Attendees congregate at the entrance of the Cathedral before dawn for a procession to sing Las Mañanitas (a song typically sang on birthdays in Mexico), accompanied by a mariachi band to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Ponce. Following a Holy Mass is held at the Cathedral at 5 am.
- Monday – Friday from 6:00 am to 12:30 pm
- Saturday – Sunday: 6am to 12pm / 3pm to 8pm
- Monday – Friday 7am, 9am, 12:05pm
- Saturdays: 9am, 4pm, 7pm
- Sundays: 7am, 8:30am, 11am, 4pm, 7pm
Office Hours: Monday – Friday: 9am / 1pm
Parque de Bombas
Parque de Bombas is the most visited attraction in Ponce and one of the most recognized in Puerto Rico. As you drive towards the plaza, the bright tones of red and black immediately capture the visitor’s attention. The firehouse is a symbol of pride and respect for the heroic work of the firemen of Ponce.
Highlights of Parque de Bombas de Ponce
- First firehouse in Puerto Rico.
- Built in 1882 as the main pavilion for that year’s Exhibition Trade Fair.
Location: Plaza Delicias
Hours: Monday to Sunday 9:00am – 5:00pm
Centro Ceremonial Indígena Tibes
The flooding of Hurricane Eloisa in 1975, uncovered a great archeological treasure in Ponce of great significance to the Antilles and the Puerto Rican people. A sugar cane farmer looking for wood was the first to discover remnants of a lost civilization dating back to Pre-Taino Cultures, uncovered by the flooding. Centro Ceremonial Indígena Tibes is the oldest Antillian Indigenous ceremonial complex. Today it is both an outdoor and indoor museum where visitors can walk through nice ball courts, three ceremonial plazas and an indoor museum where individuals can learn about the history and life of indigenous cultures. An educational movie is also available at the museum.
- Location: Route 503, Ponce, P.R. 00730
- Tel: 787-840-2255
- Source & more historical information
Castillo Serralles, a 4 story mansion built in the early 1930’s designed with an elegant Spanish revival style. The mansion was built by Juan Serrales, son of Juan Serralles, founder of Destileria Serralles (Serralles Distillery), which was the family’s headquarters for 70 years. Today the mansion houses a museum; it is one of the most photographs buildings in Puerto Rico, a popular venue for events and weddings and one of the most visited attractions in Ponce. As you drive around town you can see Castillo Serralles sitting at the top of the hill next to La Cruceta overlooking the center city of Ponce.
While just about every Puerto Rican can recognize Don Q rum, most adults worldwide have heard of Captain Morgan Rum, which was originally crafted by Serralles Distillery later sold to another company. Serralles Distillery was also a grower of sugar, which they sold by the brand of Snow White.
Tour includes a tour of the mansion, there’s an exhibit area and a butterfly garden. The grounds are meticulously cared for, it includes fountains, shrubs, grass, flowering plants and a butterfly garden which is included on the tour. Form the mansion grounds you can enjoy sweeping views of the city of Ponce.
In addition to touring Castillo Serralles, you may also opt to visit the Cruceta El Vigia, the Japanese Garden. Castillo Serralles is a cultural center in Ponce, with many interesting events throughout the year such as galleries from local artists, intimate music concerts, dances and more. At Christmas time, the mansion is beautifully lit attracting thousands of residents and island tourists to see the lights.
Phone: 787-259-1774 / 787-259-1775
Hacienda Buena Vista
Leave the city and head up to the mountains to Hacienda Buena Vista, there you can enjoy a guided tour of what used to be one of the most important coffee plantations in Puerto Rico. Hacienda Buena Vista was built in the mid-19th century. Visitors can learn about the methods of coffee production back in the 1800s. The plantation was purchased from the Vives family in 1984 by The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico. Hacienda Buena Vista is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The guided tour includes visiting the carefully restored buildings. One of the tour highlights is the hydraulic turbine, a one-of-a-kind instrument powered by the Rio Canas (Canas River), refurbished into working condition. The grounds are beautifully covered by the lush trees of the forest, visitors will also enjoy a nature walk by an expert where the delicate balance of plants such as coffee, cocoa, fruits among others are discussed.
Note: You must book a reservation ahead of time for a tour. Book at the official site.
- Location: Carr 123 km. 17.3, Ponce, PR
- Phone: (787) 284-7020
- Hours: Wednesday -Sunday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
- Events: Throughout the year, there are various coffee and cocoa festivals held.
La Guancha attracts locals and residents around the island. During the weekends you can find the most crowds, families, and friends gather to eat, drink, dance and enjoy live entertainment. Like the plaza in the center town of Ponce, La Guancha is also a cultural center where the municipality and private organizations celebrate events.
- Ferry to Caja de Muertos leaves from La Guancha.
- Restaurants & Kiosks
- Observation Tower
- Boardwalk (Currently closed to damage from Hurricane Maria).
- Boat Ramps
Location: Avenida Malecón (south end) next to Puerto (Port) de las Americas.
Cruceta de La Vigia
La Vigía is a watchtower next to Castillo Serralles, visitors can enjoy sweeping views of the city. In 1801 when the city was under control by Spain the city was at risk of attacks, The Vigía was built to serve as a watchtower to protect the city from invaders and pirates. It was also used to guide ships approaching the port.
The Vigía could use some TLC, it would look amazing painted in white with brand new windows and updated facilities. Photography enthusiasts and those wishing to have a bird’s eye view of the city will find this attraction worth a stop.
See map below for location.
Panteón Nacional Román Baldorioty de Castro
Panteon Nacional is a National Historica Site where illustrious Puerto Ricans were laid as their final resting place. If you’re a Puerto Rican history buff you may find this attraction worth a stop.
Teatro La Perla
Teatro La Perla is a beloved cultural center in the city of Ponce, where locals and visitors alike can attend a variety of shows, musicals and events. Music and art are an integral part of the Puerto Rican culture, some of the most important events held are: Pablo Casals Festival, Luis Torres Nadal Theatre Festival and Theatre Festival of the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture.
Teatro La Perla is the second oldest theatre in use on the island. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 1918 and further damaged in 1924 by a fire. Teatro La Perla was rebuilt in 1941 with the same facade designed by architect Francisco Porrata Doria and Francisco Gardón. Teather was remodeled in 1990, it has a capacity of 1,047 seats
Nice Day Trips Near PoncePuerto Rico
The Guánica State Forest
The Guánica State Forest is a subtropical dry forest located in southwest Puerto Rico with a number of hiking trails through the forest and along the beach where you can bird watch, swim, enjoy sweeping views of the coastline and mountainside and see flora specimens unique to this forest. The area was designated as a forest reserve in 1919 and a United Nations Biosphere Reserve in 1981.
Ranger station will be happy to give you maps and suggestions to explore the forest.
Drive to Guanica State Forest is about 45 minutes from Ponce.
Gilligan's Island - Guanica
We love this place…you’ll love it too, the clearest water on the southern coast…just 45 minutes from Ponce. Unlike Caja de Muertos, the ferry runs from Tuesday to Sunday, and very affordable.
Swimming, snorkeling, relaxating, romantic…
Head to Copamarina Resort for a nice lunch or dinner after visiting the island.
La Parguera Nature Reserve
Just 50 minutes from Ponce, you can spend an entire day swimming on the clear waters surrounding the cays of La Parguera Nature Reserve. It is one of the best places to kayak on the south west coast of Puerto Rico, where you can spend hours paddling through mangrove channels. La Parguera is a very popular foodies destination with traditional Puerto Rican food at local rates, during the weekends there’s typically live music and local artisan kiosks. Lajas is home to one of the bioluminescent bays of Puerto Rico, a magical experience you can’t miss while in Puerto Rico.