PONCE, Puerto Rico --
There is a saying in Puerto Ricos second-largest city: Ponce es
Ponce. Simply put, it translates as Ponce is Ponce, an expression
of residents pride in their citys uniqueness.
Now, with a new golf
course, the possibility of more flights and expansion at a major
resort, Ponce is eyeing a greater image with the traveling
Ponce is a virgin in
terms of tourism, said Gunther Mainka, general manager of the
Hilton Ponce & Casino, which opened the regions first golf
course and will add 100 new rooms.
The Fox Delicias, a
lovely old movie theater, will be reborn as the 29-room Hotel Fox
Delicias this summer, with double rates
from $75 per night.
The 60-room Hotel
Ponce Plaza will open 160 new rooms by May 2006, according to
Vangie Rivera, Ponces director of culture and tourism.
The [new hotel] rooms
are opening because of demand, said Marisaida Morales, a
spokeswoman for the city government. Tourism keeps growing; we have
never had a decrease in visitors. We currently receive 14,000
Ponce hopes for
additional airlift into Mercedita airport. Although Cape Air has
service between Ponce, San Juan and the U.S. Virgin Islands,
officials are in talks with Continental Airlines for nonstop U.S.
A $4.9 million
airport renovation program now under way includes runway
Ponce, known as La
Perla del Sur (the Pearl of the South) and the Ciudad Senorial (the
Noble City), was founded in 1692 and named after Juan Ponce de
Leon, Puerto Ricos first governor.
However, Ponce is not
a smaller version of San Juan. For years, it was a two-day trip
between the two cities, reduced today to a 90-minute
Ponce developed its
own culture and traditions. It served as the capital of Puerto
Ricos southern region until Spain ceded the island to the U.S. in
With a population of
nearly 200,00, it is noticeably smaller than San Juan but equally
historic. Its streets are lined with colonial, Creole and art deco
The citys heart is Plaza de las
Delicias, a tree-shaded square boasting two landmarks: the
Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadelupe and the Parque de Bombas, a
black-and red-striped 1882 wooden firehouse that now serves as a
small museum with antique firefighting equipment.
ply the streets from Thursdays through Sundays. Trolleys offer free
transportation around the historic city center.
Among Ponces museums
is the Museo de Arte de Ponce, designed by Edward Durell Stone and
containing more than 3,000 pieces from the 14th to the 20th
centuries, ranging from Italian Baroque to contemporary Latin
Other museums include
the Museo de la Arquitectura Poncena (Ponce Museum of
Architecture), Museo de la Historia de Ponce (Ponce Museum of
History) and Museo de la Musica Puertorriquena (Museum of Puerto
For an overview of
the seafront city, its best to head for the hills -- El Vigia, to
be exact. Here, atop a hill where guards once stood watch for
attacking ships, visitors can ascend (by elevator) La Cruz del
Vigia, a 100-foot, cross-shaped tower offering panoramic
Nearby is the
Seralles Castle, a Spanish revival mansion built in the 1930s by
the Seralles family, who dominated the local rum and sugar trade
and founded brands including Don Q rum. Today, it is open for
Another landmark is,
perhaps, the hippest hotel agents will never book: the El Ponce
InterContinental. When it opened in 1960, its mod architectural
style welcomed glamorous guests like Celia Cruz and Harry
Belafonte. The property closed in 1975 and has not operated as a
hotel since; numerous proposals to restore it have not come to
Luckily, there are
good hotels to fill in where El Ponce left off. These include the
148-room Hilton Ponce & Casino, the 116-room Holiday Inn Ponce
& Tropical Casino, the 120-room Ponce Inn, the 75-room El Tuque
and the 75-room Melia, which is adding a small courtyard
La Guancha is Ponces
boardwalk, the port district that once bustled with trade and today
bustles with locals and visitors on weekends, sampling seafood and
Water lovers should
head for Caja de Muertos, an island off Ponces coast with
snorkeling and an 1887 lighthouse.
pre-Hispanic heritage can be seen at the Tibes Indian Ceremonial
Center outside the city. Tibes, the site of the oldest cemetery
discovered in the Antilles, dates to 400 B.C. and has ancient ball
fields and a re-created Taino Indian village.
events highlight Ponces heritage, including Carnaval, the
pre-Lenten celebration where participants wear handmade masks, and
Semana de la Danza in mid-May, which commemorates the danza, a
ballroom dance created at the turn of the 19th century.
The citys Tourism
Fair is held in April.
For information, call
the Ponce Tourism Office at (787) 841-8160, visit www.ponceweb.org or
the Puerto Rico Tourism Co. at www.gotopuertorico.com.
To contact the
reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].