Ponce - Abbey Travel, Ireland

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Welcome to Ponce


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 gurgle in radiant sunshine.

The preservation of its neo-classical architectural heritage and several interesting attractions makes Ponce a worthy port of call for Caribbean cruisers and holidaymakers. The city has a busy port: the nearby Playa de Ponce Port is Puerto Rico's principal trade port. Tobacco, coffee, rum and sugar cane from all over the Caribbean are loaded aboard vessels here, and floods of sightseers are disgorged 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 white sandy Playa de Ponce, where the clear waters are ideal for snorkelling. 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 snackeries 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 determinedly laid-back and fairly quiet in the evenings, making it a great Caribbean holiday destination for visitors of all ages.

Information & Facts

Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico.

The United States Dollar (USD) is the unit of currency, which is divided into 100 cents. It is often referred to as the 'peso' in Puerto Rico. ATMs and bureaux de change are freely available and all major credit cards and travellers cheques are generally accepted. Banking hours are 9am to 3.30pm.

Local time is GMT -4.

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, where there are pristine beaches and a marked snorkelling trail. Visitors can also explore the 19th-century Caja de Muerto Lighthouse, that has been restored and now houses a museum. Coffin Island is a great excursion for visitors to Ponce, and ranks as one of Puerto Rico's best tourist attractions for diving enthusiasts.

Although located in Mayaguez on the east coast of Puerto Rico - and so rather off the beaten tourist track in Puerto Rico - the Dr Juan A Rivero Zoo is a world-class establishment, and well worth a visit for animal lovers and for those who are passionate about wildlife conservancy. The island's only large-scale zoo, since its establishment in 1954 the Dr Juan A Rivero Zoo has been growing a collection of rare and exotic animals that now includes 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 conservancy, and several native species - including the Andean condor and the Puerto Rican crested toad - have benefited greatly from this approach. Featuring several recreated 'habitat systems' (including the tropical Spider Monkey Island), as well as numerous recreation areas, the Dr Juan A Rivero Zoo is a wonderful place to take the kids for the day. Budget at least two or three hours to take it all in.

Perched above the city of Ponce on El Vigia Hill is the restored residence of the Serralles rum-producing family. The multi-level Spanish-revival hacienda, designed by Pedro de Castro, is a beautiful example of the island's post-World War I architecture. The house 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, and makes for a wonderful day-trip destination from Ponce.

This museum is dedicated to documenting the rich tapestry of the island's music history and pays tribute to Puerto Rican musicians. It explains the significance of the romantic danzamusic style, and the African-inspired popular forms of bombaand plenza. The museum 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 Serralles family, renowned rum producers.

A unique attraction on the central Plaza de las Delicias is the unusual Ponce fire station, a landmark wooden building painted in black and red stripes. The firehouse was built in 1882 and was tested to its limits just a year later when the city experienced a massive fire. Firemen from the Parque de Bombas station heroically battled the blaze. The station remained headquarters for the fire fighters until 1990, when it was turned into a museum open to the public.

The 'Museo de Arte de Ponce' contains the largest art collection in the Caribbean, housed in a building designed by Edward Durrell Stone, who designed the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The impressive building is comprised of seven interconnected hexagons topped with glass cupolas. Inside 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. Puerto Rican art also features strongly.

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, San Germán 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 Arrellano y Rossell Museum. San Germán also hosts several religious and cultural festivals throughout the year.

This ancient Indian site, still being excavated, is one of the most important archaeological sites in the West Indies. Apart from an ancient cemetery, it also features the remains of seven courts used by the Igneri (pre-Taino) people for a football-like game, two dance grounds, and standing stones believed to have been used as an ancient astronomical observatory. A popular Puerto Rico tourist attraction, just two miles (3km) north of Ponce, the site has been equipped with a reconstructed Taino village, a museum, exhibition hall, café and souvenir shop. Visitors are taken on conducted tours.

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