Puerto Rico is a great destination for a getaway as it is easy to get to and there’s no passport required for entry if you’re a US Citizen or Legal Resident. Not to be biased, but it’s one of my favorite vacation spots. The island is mostly known for San Juan but there’s so much more to see “tierra adentro” (deep in the island). This latest trip, we started our adventure with 24 hours in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Affectionately dubbed as “perla del sur” (pearl of the south), this town is a gem indeed, especially for those who love art and architecture.
Getting there: although there are direct flights from JetBlue to Ponce from New York City, getting there by car can be quite an adventure as well. Cut through the mountains of Puerto Rico and get off on exit XYZ to Guavate, an area known for their split roasted pork and traditional Puerto Rican Cuisine. On weekends the lechoneras (restaurants specializing in roasted pig) are bustling with locals on a road trip with live music and tons of food. Don’t like crowds? The weekday is a great option; not all lechoneras are open, but there are still plenty to satisfy your appetite. Your scenic drive to Ponce (with a roasted pork in between) will take you 2.5 hours.
Stay: We spent the night at Hotel Belgica (aptly named after the Belgians who helped build the building), a beautiful colonial structure. With its wood shutters, balconies, and intricately designed tiles it transports you to old world colonial charm without the throngs of tourists. There are several of other hotels in the town square. More of a beach person? Ponce also has resorts on the coast a well.
Do: Love art? The museum of art of Ponce (Museo de Arte De Ponce) is renowned for its European art in its permanent collection in Latin America. It also features works from Puerto Rican artists as well. Love architecture? Lose yourself in the colonial structures around the Plaza de las Delicias of Ponce (Ponce City Center) and take in the colorful buildings, charming balconies, and sit on a bench and do what the locals love to do: people watch. Not to miss: the Parque de Bombas de Ponce (the old firehouse of Ponce). It was built for the 1882 Exhibition and it was used as an active firehouse for more than 100 years. It is distinguishable by its broad red and black.
Be active: Feeling guilty about your pork lunch at Guavate? Head to La Guancha where there is a trail adjacent to the boardwalk where you can go for a run, ride your bike, or join an outdoor Zumba class. You can also have dinner and drinks and witness an epic sunset. It is one of my favorite spots in Puerto Rico. Tip: there is plenty of parking available at La Guancha area, especially during a weeknight as it is not as crowded.
Eat: There are plenty of kiosks at La Guancha where you can indulge in traditional Puerto Rican snacks: octopus salads, fried empanadas filled with meat or seafood, or mofongo (mashed fried plantains). For dinner, we went to La Casa del Chef where we had dorado stuffed with shrimp and lobster in a guava sauce and grilled halibut with a caper sauce. We ended our 24 hours in Ponce adventure with a late breakfast at Café Melao with a delicious Puerto Rican coffee and a grilled Mallorca breakfast sandwich (Mallorca is a sweet bread served for breakfast).
The verdict: As small as Puerto Rico is (110 miles long, 30 miles wide) it is diverse when it comes to what to see and do, especially when you venture away from San Juan. Less than four hours by plane from Washington, DC it’s a great place for a tropical getaway. One of the highlights is that you can experience a unique and rich culture without having to deal with customs or currency exchange. Did you pick up a beautiful art piece or want to stock of on edible goodies such as coffee and candy? You can mail them via US Postal Service as Puerto Rico is part of the United States. For more trip ideas, head to See Puerto Rico or ask for tips on the comment box. How would you spend 24 hours in Ponce, Puerto Rico?