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Lying a few miles inland, in the centre of Puerto Rico's south coast, the attractive city of Ponce is rich in Spanish colonial heritage and architecture, with a well-preserved 17th-century historic heart. Pretty colonial homes and majestic churches surround the lovely city plazas where fountains dance in radiant sunshine.
The preservation of its neoclassical architectural heritage along with several interesting attractions make Ponce a worthy port of call for Caribbean cruisers and holidaymakers. The nearby barrio of Playa de Ponce is home to Puerto Rico's principal and busiest trade port. Tobacco, coffee, rum and sugar cane from all over the Caribbean are loaded aboard vessels here, and floods of sightseers disembark regularly from an increasing number of cruise liners that have added Ponce to their itineraries.
The city, dubbed the 'Pearl of the South', also offers some interesting excursions, and a short drive out of town will take you to the lovely silver beach of Playa de Ponce, whose clear waters make for ideal snorkelling excursions.
The city's built-up beachfront promenade area, a few miles south of the centre, is called La Guancha. The boardwalks, bars, souvenir shops, restaurants and eateries surround hundreds of yachts and small boats moored in a saltwater estuary, and the area becomes very crowded with locals and visitors at weekends and holiday periods. Despite this, Ponce is laid back and fairly quiet in the evenings, making it a great Caribbean holiday destination for visitors of all ages.
A historic town with a colourful past, San Germán was the second city founded in Puerto Rico by the Spanish. Its mountainous location made it an ideal escape for artists, poets and revolutionaries, and present-day San Germán still carries that lively spirit. It has a number of pretty buildings dating back to the 16th century, including the Porta Coéli (Gate of Heaven) Church and the San Germán de Auxerre Church. Because of these, the town is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There are also a few interesting museums, including the Lola Rodríguez de Tió Museum and the Ramírez de Arellano y Rosell Museum. San Germán also hosts several religious and cultural festivals throughout the year.
The Museo de Arte de Ponce contains one of the largest art collections in the Caribbean. It's housed in a building designed by renowned architect Edward Durrell Stone, who designed the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The impressive building comprises seven interconnected hexagons topped with glass cupolas. Inside its walls are more than 1,000 paintings and 400 sculptures covering classical, ancient and contemporary works. Among the prizes of the collection are works by Velasquez, Rubens and Rodin, as well as a celebrated assemblage of Pre-Raphaelite works and Puerto Rican pieces.
On weekends, a ferry carries visitors from the pier at La Guancha on the Ponce waterfront to Coffin Island, a tiny uninhabited island five miles south of the city. The island, also known as Dead Man's Chest, is part of the Reserva Natural Caja de Muertos natural reserve, thanks in part to its native turtle traffic. There are five pristine beaches, including Playa Ensenada, Playa Larga, Playa Blanca, Playa Chica and the blue flag-designated Playa Pelícano. Beaches on the east side of the island are roped off during turtle-nesting season. What's more, there are a number of spectacular hiking trails throughout the interior of the island and visitors can also explore the 19th-century lighthouse at Caja de Muerto.
The Museo de la Música Puertorriqueña is dedicated to documenting the rich tapestry of the island's music history and pays tribute to Puerto Rican musicians. The museum explains the significance of the romantic danza music style, and the African-inspired popular forms of bomba and plena. It also features displays of Indian, Spanish and African musical instruments, and memorabilia of local composers and performers, all housed in the attractive former residence of the renowned rum-producing Serralles family. Displays are in both English and Spanish.
Perched above the city of Ponce on El Vigia Hill is the restored residence of the Serralles rum-producing family. Designed by Pedro de Castro and built in 1930, the multilevel Spanish-revival hacienda is a beautiful example of the island's post-World War I architecture. The mansion surrounds an elegant courtyard featuring fountains, and is renowned for its splendidly carved dining-room ceiling. The mansion is set in magnificent terraced formal gardens with breathtaking views, making for a wonderful day-trip destination from Ponce.
Also called the Dr Juan A. Rivera Zoo, the Mayaguez Zoo is found off the beaten tourist track in Mayaguez on the east coast of Puerto Rico. It's a world-class establishment and well worth a visit for animal lovers and those passionate about wildlife conservation. Its growing collection of rare and exotic animals include lions, tigers, jaguars, hippos, giraffes and rhinos, as well as many species of tropical birds and large and varied collections of butterflies, amphibians and snakes. Central to the zoo's growth has been a focus on conservation and several native species, including the Andean condor and the Puerto Rican crested toad.
Laidback Ponce is small and easy to explore on foot. Most of its attractions are gathered around the main square of the Plaza las Delicias, which makes for ease of access for visitors who want to see the majority of Ponce's major attractions. These include the Parque de Bombas, Casa Alcaldia, Museum of Puerto Rican Music and the Catedral de la Guadalupe.
Although Ponce isn't located directly on the coast, it's near enough that travellers looking for fun on the beach can head to El Tuque, take guided snorkelling tours and have fun on jet skis, all of which are very popular among tourists. Relaxing in Ponce is certainly not a hard task, with the pace easy and the activities family-friendly.
Ponce is also ideally situated for trips to the beaches at Guanica, or the inland town of San German, so a day out exploring is always an option for the adventurous and curious among travellers. A beautiful old town with incredible architecture and culture, Ponce will not disappoint.
No direct flights from Heathrow to this Destination
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