At the heart of Ponce Centro is the Plaza de las Delicias, with trees, benches, and the famous lion fountain. Several interesting buildings are on this square or the adjacent streets, making the area perfect for a leisurely morning or afternoon stroll.
Teatro La Perla
Check for Spanish-language theater productions and concerts at the Teatro La Perla, a neoclassical masterpiece in the center of Ponce.
Choose from the waterfront terrace or one of the enclosed dining rooms at this longtime favorite east of Ponce in Las Cucharas. No matter where you sit, you'll have a view of the ocean. The main attraction is the freshly caught seafood, ranging from lobster and crab to salmon and red snapper. For total indulgence, try the fresh oysters or shrimp wrapped in bacon—both specialties of the house. There's also a wide range of chicken and beef dishes. The plantain cups stuffed with chicken or seafood make an excellent starter. From the expansive wine cellar you can select more than 25 different wines by the glass. Listen to live music on Friday and Sunday night.
The only Greek restaurant in Puerto Rico, this open-air establishment has successfully captured the cuisine and atmosphere of its namesake island. Statues of goddesses line the pathway leading to a dual-level dining area, decorated with 1960s-era movie posters from Greece. Nearly ever dish is bathed in olive oil and vinegar, including the salads and sandwiches. You'll also find plenty of Caribbean food and Spanish tapas like conch fritters and stuffed lobster hamburgers. On Friday and Saturday, the bar is open late for drinks and dancing. Request a table on the lower deck, where water gently laps near your table.
In the heart of downtown, this trendy bistro has an eclectic menu to match the décor. Grab a seat in a red velvet booth and start with the sampler of mahi-mahi nuggets, bruschetta, fried plantains, and egg rolls. The menu ranges from tuna steak to filet mignon to three-cheese risotto. Be sure to ask about the daily specials, which are always worth trying. This is a great place to admire work by local artists and sip on a Lola Martini (grapefruit, cranberry, champagne, lime and rum).
Families favor this laid-back restaurant, whose dining room sits at the edge of the sea. The kitchen serves generous and affordable plates of fish, crab, and other fresh seafood with tostones (fried plantains), french fries, and garlic bread. Try the shrimp in garlic sauce, salmon fillet with capers, or the delectable mofongo stuffed with seafood. Finish your meal with one of the fantastic flans. The piña coladas—with or without rum—are exceptional.
Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort
Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort has a rather cramped casino that's open 24 hours a day.
Holiday Inn Ponce
Holiday Inn Ponce has a small casino with 333 slot machines and 10 tables. The casino is open 24/7.
On the main square, Kenepa's Cafe has live music and strong drinks. Locals crowd around the bar every night of the week.
Plaza del Caribe Mall
Plaza del Caribe Mall, just outside town, is one of the island's largest malls and has such stores as Sears, Puma, Foot Locker, and American Eagle Outfitters.
Mi Coquí has shelves filled with carnival masks, colorful hammocks, freshly ground coffee, and bottles and bottles of rum.
Ponce Mall, with more than 30 stores, is an older shopping center, with many local clothing and discount stores. It also has a large IKEA, TJ Maxx, and Designer Shoe Warehouse.
Utopia sells carnival masks, carved figurines, and other crafts.
Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes
This archeological site, discovered after flooding from a tropical storm in 1975, is the most important on the island. The ancient ceremonial center dates from AD 300 to 700 and includes nine playing fields used for a ritual ball game that some think was similar to soccer. The fields are bordered by smooth stones, some of which are engraved with petroglyphs that researchers say might have ceremonial or astronomical significance. The most eye-catching part of the site is the Plaza de Estrella, or Plaza of the Star, where the stones are arranged in a pattern that resembles a rising sun. Experts say it might have been used to chart the seasons. A village with several thatched huts has been reconstructed in an original setting. Be sure to visit the small museum before taking a walking tour of the site.
Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe
This pale blue cathedral has always been one of the city's jewels, but it regained much of its luster after a complete renovation in 2007. Dedicated to the Virgin of Guadalupe, it is built on the site of a 1670 chapel destroyed by earthquakes. Part of the current structure, where Mass is still held, dates from 1835. After another earthquake in 1918, new steeples and a roof were put on and neoclassical embellishments were added to the facade. Inside, you'll see stained-glass windows and two alabaster altars.
Museo de la Música Puertorriqueña
At this museum you'll learn how Puerto Rican music has been influenced by African, Spanish, and Native American cultures. On display are dozens of instruments, such as the tres (a small string instrument resembling a banjo), as well as memorabilia of local composers and musicians. The small museum takes up several rooms in a neoclassical former residence, which alone is worth the trip.
Teatro La Perla
This theater was restored in 1941 after an earthquake and fire damaged the original 1864 structure. The striking interior contains seats for 1,047 and has excellent acoustics. It's generally open for a quick peek on weekdays.
Cruceta El Vigía
At the top of Cerro Vigía—a hill where the Spanish once watched for ships, including those of marauding pirates—is this colossal concrete cross built in 1801. You can climb the stairs or take a glass elevator to the top of the 100-foot cross for a panoramic view across the city. Purchase tickets at nearby Castillo Serrallés.
La Guancha Promenade
Encircling the cove of a working harbor, the seaside boardwalk features a small lookout tower and kiosks where vendors sell local food and drink. The adjacent park has a large children's area filled with playground equipment and, on weekends, live music. The nearby public beach has restrooms, changing areas, a medical post, and plenty of free parking. On Sunday night, this place gets packed with locals strolling the boardwalk.
Museo de Arte de Ponce
Designed by Edward Durrell Stone, who also designed the original Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., Ponce's Art Museum is easily identified by the hexagonal galleries on the second story. The museum has one of the best art collections in Latin America, which is why residents of San Juan frequently make the trip down to Ponce. The 4,500-piece collection includes works by famous Puerto Rican artists such as Francisco Oller, represented by a lovely landscape called Hacienda Aurora. There are plenty of European works on display as well, including paintings by Peter Paul Rubens and Thomas Gainsborough. The highlight of the European collection is the pre-Raphaelite paintings, particularly the mesmerizing Flaming June, by Frederick Leighton, which has become the museum's unofficial symbol. You can take a break in the museum's three sculpture gardens, or relax in Restaurant Al Sur. Watch for special exhibits, such as a recent one examining the work of video artists.
Faro De Maunabo
Route 3 going eastward intersects with Route 901, the eastern portion of the cross-island Ruta Panorámica. Along the way you'll pass animals grazing in fields and cliffs that drop straight down to the ocean. If you turn off on Route 760 and take it to the end, you'll be rewarded by a dramatic view of the Faro de Maunabo (Maunabo Lighthouse, not open to the public) at Punta Tuna.
Museo de la Historia de Ponce
Housed in two adjoining neoclassical mansions, this museum includes 10 rooms with exhibits covering the city's residents, from Taíno Indians to Spanish settlers to the mix of the present. Hour-long guided tours in English and Spanish give an overview of the city's history. The descriptions are mostly in Spanish, but displays of clothing from different eras are interesting to see.
This lovely Spanish-style villa—such a massive house that people in the town below referred to it as a castle—was built in the 1930s for Ponce's wealthiest family, the makers of Don Q rum. Guided tours give you a glimpse into the lifestyle of a sugar baron. The dining room is a highlight, with its original hand-carved furnishings. A permanent exhibit explains the area's sugarcane and rum industries. The extensive garden, with sculptured bushes and a shimmering reflection pool, is considered the best-kept on the island. The large cross looming over the house is an observatory you can visit; from the top, you can see all the way to the Caribbean Sea.
Hacienda Buena Vista
Built by Salvador de Vives in 1838, Buena Vista was one of the area's largest coffee plantations. It's a technological marvel—water from the nearby Río Canas was funneled into narrow brick channels that could be diverted to perform any number of tasks, including turning the waterwheel. (Seeing the two-story wheel slowly begin to turn is fascinating, especially for kids.) Nearby is the two-story manor house, filled with furniture that gives a sense of what it was like to live on a coffee plantation nearly 150 years ago. Make sure to take a look in the kitchen, dominated by a massive hearth. In 1987 the plantation was restored by the Puerto Rican Conservation Trust, which leads four tours a day (at least one in English). The tours are by reservation only, so make sure to call several days ahead. After seeing the plantation, you can buy coffee beans and other souvenirs at the gift shop. Allow yourself an hour to travel the winding road from Ponce.
Banker and industrialist Carlos Armstrong and his wife, Eulalia Pou, lived in this neoclassical house designed and built for them in 1901 by Manuel V. Domenech. The building recently underwent a top-to-bottom renovation, and now you can admire the ornate facade, which is chock-full of columns, statues, and intricate moldings. Original furnishings belonging to the family are on display.
Parque de Bombas
After El Morro in Old San Juan, this distinctive red-and-black-striped building may be the second-most-photographed structure in Puerto Rico. Built in 1882 as a pavilion for an agricultural and industrial fair, it was converted the following year into a firehouse. Today it's a museum tracing the history—and glorious feats—of Ponce's fire brigade. Kids love the antique fire truck on the lower level. Short tours in English and Spanish are given on the half hour, and you can sign up for free trolley tours of the historic downtown here. Helpful tourism officials staff a small information desk inside the door.
Isla Caja de Muertos
Named "Coffin Island" due to its shape, Isla Caja de Muertos is five miles off the coast and has the best beaches in the Ponce area. Stretching for two miles, it's one of the best snorkeling spots in southern Puerto Rico, second only to La Parguera. Due to the hawksbill turtles that nest between May and December, the island is protected by the Reserva Natural Caja de Muertos but you can still swim, snorkel, and dive here. A 30-minute hike across the island will take you to a small lighthouse that dates back to 1887. Scheduled boats leave La Guancha Friday through Sunday at 8:30 am and daily in high season. You'll need to pack in what you need (drinks and food) and pack out your garbage. Amenities: toilets. Best for: snorkeling; swimming; walking.
Ponce's public beach isn't anything to write home about, but the shallow water makes it nice for children. You'll find bathrooms, a playground, and a few kiosks selling fried food. There's some shade under thatched umbrellas, but bring sunscreen.
Amenities: food and drink; parking; toilets. Best for: swimming.
Caja de Muertos
With a name that comes from its coffinlike shape, Caja de Muertos is a few miles off the coast and has the best beaches in the Ponce area. It is the second-best spot in southern Puerto Rico for snorkeling, after La Parguera. Due to the hawksbill turtles that nest between May and December, the island is protected by the Reserva Natural Caja de Muertos, but you can still swim, snorkel, and dive. A 30-minute hike across the island will take you to a small lighthouse that dates back to 1887. There are bathrooms and picnic tables for day use but not much else. Ask one of the many boatmen at La Guancha to take you out for about $30 round-trip. Scheduled boats costing $25 round-trip leave La Guancha Friday through Sunday at 8:30 am, returning around 3:30 pm. During summer, the boat trips depart daily.