Ponce, Puerto Rico

Most tourists come to Puerto Rico for San Juan and then are delighted when they explore Ponce in the south. The city is a charming mix of arts, culture, architecture, history, beaches and entertainment. Enjoy the “City of Lions.” Note: Photos taken two months before Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

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1 Introduction to Ponce, Puerto Rico

Ponce richly deserves its nickname “The Pearl of the South.” Founded in 1693 and named after Spaniard Juan Ponce de León y Loayza, this delightful city of 170,000 Puerto Ricans is filled with marvelous architecture facing the Caribbean Sea. Ponce also makes an excellent hub to explore the island’s western towns and coastline. This cityscape was captured from the gardens of Castillo Serrallés.

Sector El Vigia, Paseo De La Cruceta, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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2 Lions Fountain at Plaza Federico Degetau, in Ponce, Puerto Rico

Since the late 17th century, the center of Ponce has been a square now called Plaza Las Delicias. It consists of two plazas on either side of the Ponce Cathedral. The visual highlight of the Plaza Federico Degetau is the Fountain of the Lions. Fuente de los Leones was originally featured at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and then installed at Ponce.

Cll Plaza Degetau, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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3 Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral in Ponce, Puerto Rico

The first chapel was built here in 1670 when the area was only a modest Spanish settlement. In 1692, Carlos II, the King of Spain, declared it a parish church at the same time Ponce was founded by royal degree. The Catholic church was replaced in 1839 and then declared a cathedral in 1924. The twin square towers were revised in 1937 based on a design by architect Francisco Porrata Doria. Each is crowned with a silver dome and a crucifix.

S/N Concordia, Ponce, 00732, Puerto Rico
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4 Armstrong-Toro House in Ponce, Puerto Rico

Carlos Armstrong-Toro, a prominent local banker, commissioned this mansion across from the cathedral in 1899. It is also called Casa de las Cariatrides in recognition of the caryatids flanking the entrance. The property is now a museum and listed by the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The estate was designed by Manuel Victor Domenech. He was one of the architects who created the Ponce Creole style. He was also the city’s mayor, a member of the House of Representatives, the Treasurer of Puerto Rico and the island’s governor during the first half of the 20th century.

3 Calle Unión, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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5 Parque de Bombas in Ponce, Puerto Rico

This former pavilion was designed by Maximo de Meana y Guridi for the 1882 Exhibition Trade Fair. The following year, it was transformed into a firehouse, a role it retained until 1990. Parque de Bombas translates to Pumps Park. The landmark station is now a firefighting museum. The vibrant black and red façade reflects the city’s official colors. This stunning building located at Plaza Las Delicias is the most photographed in Ponce.

75 PR-1, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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6 Historic Banks in Ponce, Puerto Rico

Side-by-side on Plaza Degetau are two of Ponce’s historic financial structures. On the left is the former headquarters of Banco Crédito y Ahorro Ponceño. It was founded in 1895 and became the island’s largest credit and savings bank with over 50 branches. After collapsing in 1978, it was acquired by Banco Santander. On the right is the Banco de Ponce building. This institution started locally in 1917 and grew across Puerto Rico with branches in the United States. It merged with Banco Popular in 1990. Both landmarks were built in 1924.

Cll Plaza Degetau & Calle Amor, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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7 Juan Morel Campos Statue in Ponce, Puerto Rico

Juan Morel Campos was a 19th century composer. He is often called the father of Puerto Rican danzas (dances). The island’s favorites are merengue, bomba, salsa and the cha-cha. Other famous Puerto Rican entertainers are José Feliciano, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin and Tony Orlando.

Cll Plaza Degetau, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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Ponce Creole Architecture in Ponce, Puerto Rico

During the late 19th century, an architectural style emerged in Ponce blending features of Victorian, Art Deco and Neoclassical elements. This was a period when design and wealth flourished in the city. Fortunately, many of the nearly 1,000 residences built in this Ponce Creole style have been or are being restored. This pale blue home with ornate French detailing is a gorgeous example.

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8 Museum of Ponce Architecture in Ponce, Puerto Rico

What better place to house the Museum of Ponce Architecture than the wedding-cake shaped building named Casa Wiechers-Villaronga? The Art Nouveau style was designed in 1911 by the famous local architect Alfredo B. Wiechers as his home. Six years later, it was purchased by the Villaronga Mercado family. The museum opened in 1996 to celebrate the city’s elaborate buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This mecca of architecture covers 66 blocks.

Cll Mendez Vigo & Calle Reina, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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9 National Pantheon Román Baldorioty de Castro in Ponce, Puerto Rico

The National Pantheon Román Baldorioty de Castro is a Catholic cemetery established in 1843. Its namesake was a 19th century journalist, political activist and abolitionist who died in Ponce in 1889. Other famous politicians and citizens are interred in the Panteón Nacional. Many of the mausoleums follow a neoclassical design. Attached is the Museum of Puerto Rican Autonomism. The 3.7 acre property is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

15 Calle Frontispicio, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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10 Antonio Paoli Mausoleum in Ponce, Puerto Rico

Opera singer Antonio Paoli Marcano was born in Ponce in 1871. At the turn of the century, his voice propelled him to international fame. He soon became known as “The King of the Tenors and the Tenor of the Kings.” That career ended as he lost his ability to sing and World War I forced all European opera houses to close. In 1915, he became a boxer in Spain. Later, after regaining his voice, he resumed his performances and then returned to Puerto Rico to teach. His mausoleum is in the National Pantheon Román Baldorioty de Castro.

15 Calle Frontispicio, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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11 Landmarks on Cerro Vigía in Ponce, Puerto Rico

The Municipality of Ponce is nestled between the Caribbean Sea and over a dozen mountains. The tallest peak at 4,390 feet is Cerro de Punta. Considerably smaller at 364 feet is Cerro del Vigía. However, this hill attracts the most attention from tourists because of its side-by-side landmarks. On the left is La Cruceta del Vigía. On the right is Castillo Serrallés. Read more about these attractions in this gallery.

85-73 Cll Pico Dulce, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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12 La Cruceta del Vigía in Ponce, Puerto Rico

La Cruceta del Vigía is a concrete, cross-shaped structure overlooking the city of Ponce. The landmark stands 110 feet tall and 70 feet wide. The location of the Watchman Cross atop Cerro Vigía is where Spanish sentries began posting sentries in 1801 to look out for approaching merchant and enemy ships. At the top of the ten-story structure is an observation deck offering terrific views of Ponce. Adjacent to the property is a 24,000 square foot Japanese Garden.

Sector El Vigia, Paseo De La Cruceta, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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13 Castillo Serrallés in Ponce, Puerto Rico

Juan Serrallés Colón was born in Ponce in 1845 and became the city’s most successful businessman, largest employer and generous philanthropist. In 1861, he founded the Hacienda Mercedita sugar plantation. Four years later, he began distilling rum. This evolved into Destilería Serrallés, the producer of the popular Don Q rum brand named after Don Quixote. In 1930, his son, Juan Eugenio Serrallés, commissioned architect Pedro Adolfo de Castro to build this lavish, Spanish Moroccan mansion on 2.5 acres atop Vigia Hill. The Serralles Castle is now a museum. One look at this elegant terrace overlooking Ponce makes it easy to see why this is a popular wedding venue.

Sector El Vigia, Paseo De La Cruceta, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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14 Museo de Arte de Ponce in Ponce, Puerto Rico

The Museo de Arte de Ponce is the largest art museum in Puerto Rico and one of the best in the Caribbean. Its collection exceeds 4,500 works by Puerto Rican and European artists from the 14th through the 20th centuries. The most famous pieces are from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They were an association of mid-19th century, English painters. The Pre-Raphaelites specialized in complex paintings with realistic details and elegant colors.

2325 Expreso Luis A. Ferré, Ponce, 00717, Puerto Rico
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15 Monument to the Abolition of Slavery in Ponce, Puerto Rico

In the early 16th century, conquering Spaniards enslaved the Taíno. But as these indigenous people died from infectious diseases, the Spanish began importing Africans to work the gold mines and later the plantations. On March 22, 1873, the practice was abolished. However, the slaves had to work for another three years and then pay for their freedom. This 1956 monument is dedicated to the abolition of slavery. At the base of the 100 foot, marble obelisk is an iron statue of a slave with broken chains. Monumento A La Abolición De La Esclavitud is located in Parque de la Abolición.

Calle Salud & Hwy 123, Ponce, 00717, Puerto Rico
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16 Brushstrokes in Flight in Ponce, Puerto Rico

This 28 foot, pop art sculpture is named Brushstrokes in Flight. It was created in 1984 by the celebrated American artist Roy Lichtenstein. He rose to prominence in the 1960’s with a style mimicking comic books. This artwork, part of his Brushstroke Series, was gifted to the Museo de Arte de Ponce in 2010 and stands near the museum’s entrance.

2325 Expreso Luis A. Ferré, Ponce, 00717, Puerto Rico
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17 Primera Iglesia Bautista in Ponce, Puerto Rico

Among the many influences left behind on Puerto Rico by the Spaniards was their religion. About 85% of the island’s residents are Catholic and another 15% are Protestant. Consequently, it is rare to find a Baptist church such as the Primera Iglesia Bautista.

Cll Bertoly & Calle Victoria, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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18 Paseo del la Salsa Cheo Feliciano in Ponce, Puerto Rico

José Luis Feliciano was called Cheo during his illustrious career as a composer and performer of salsa music. After his death in 2014, his hometown of Ponce created a walkway in his honor. Paseo del la Salsa Cheo Feliciano is located between Paseo Atocha and Plaza del Mercado Isabel Segunda. Cheo is not to be confused with another prolific Puerto Rican singer: José Feliciano. The later musician was propelled to fame during the 1960’s for his hit pop songs despite being blind at birth.

Plaza Del Mercado Isabel II Shopping Center, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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19 Teatro La Perla in Ponce, Puerto Rico

Italian architect Juan Bértoli Calderoni drew the Neoclassical design of the Teatro La Perla. The theater opened in 1864. La Perla Theater was substantially rebuilt in 1941 after suffering major damage in a 1918 earthquake. Up to 1,047 patrons of the arts can enjoy each performance of operas, plays and concerts.

Calle Mayor Cantera & Calle Cristina, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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20 Museo de Historia de Ponce in Ponce, Puerto Rico

In 1992, the Ponce History Museum was established to preserve and display the city’s heritage. Since then, the extensive collection of lifestyle, political, economic, architecture and health exhibits has grown into three buildings within the Cultural District. They are the Salazar-Candal Residence (1911), the Rosali-Zapater House (1880) and this Ernesto Ramos Antonini Auditorium built in 1998. The auditorium’s namesake was a 20th century lawyer who became the president of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives.

Calle Isabel Muñoz Rivera & Puerto Rico 14, 00730, Puerto Rico
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21 Francisco Porrata-Doría Plaza in Ponce, Puerto Rico

Parque del Tricentenario was created in 1992 to celebrate Ponce’s 300th anniversary. One of its three plazas is named Plaza de la Arquitectura or alternatively The Francisco Porrata-Doría Plaza. Its namesake is Francisco Porrata-Doría. He was a prolific architect of commercial buildings and luxury residences in Ponce until his death in 1971. The inscription on this rotunda reads, “Ponce is tradition, culture, spirt, civism, illusion and virtue.”

21 Bulevar Miguel Pou, Ponce, 00730, Puerto Rico
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22 Puente de los Leones in Ponce, Puerto Rico

On the Bridge of the Lions spanning the Portugués River are two sculptures. This one is named El Leon Joven (The Young Lion) representing the city’s glorious future. Since 1844, Ponce’s coat of arms has displayed a lion standing on a bridge. The symbol is a tribute to Juan Ponce de León y Loayza. His grandfather was a Spanish conquistador who landed in the region with Christopher Columbus in 1493. In 1508, Juan Ponce de León became the first governor of San Juan Bautista (present day Puerto Rico) while mining its gold.

Puente de Los Leones Bulevar Miguel Pou, Ponce, 00716 Puerto Rico
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23 La Guancha Boardwalk in Ponce, Puerto Rico

At the southern tip of the Municipality of Ponce is the La Guancha Boardwalk. Since opening in 1998, the Paseo Tablado La Guancha has been a popular attraction for local families. It features food, watercraft rides, paddle board and kayak rentals, concerts in the pavilion, a playground plus great views of the marina along the Caribbean Sea. Kids especially enjoy feeding fish to the tarpons and pelicans. Nearby is the Ponce Beach.

La Guancha de, Calle C, Ponce, 00716, Puerto Rico
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24 Observation Tower at La Guancha in Ponce, Puerto Rico

The visual anchor of the Paseo Tablado La Guancha is this observation tower. Over $18 million dollars were invested in the surrounding recreation complex before it opened in 1998. The project was spearheaded by the former mayor of Ponce, Rafael Cordero Santiago. During his time in office, from 1989 until his death in 2004, “Churumba” was a tireless advocate for the city’s renewal and development.

La Guancha de, Calle C, Ponce, 00716, Puerto Rico
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25 Painted Kiosk at La Guancha Boardwalk in Ponce, Puerto Rico

There are several choices for eating at the La Guancha Boardwalk in Ponce. In addition to a couple of outdoor restaurants, the area near the parking lot is lined with food trucks. Most offer snacks and light entrees. Some include alcohol. The owner of this kiosk earns an A for creativity by painting the side of his truck with this vivid mural of four eyes.

La Guancha de, Calle C, Ponce, 00716, Puerto Rico
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26 Lion Fountain at La Guancha in Ponce, Puerto Rico

At the entrance of the La Guancha Recreational and Cultural Complex is a dramatic water fountain. In the center is a statue of a lion standing on a bridge. The top is golden, the middle is red bricks and the base is gray. This image is the symbol for Ponce plus the prominent feature of the city’s coat of arms and flag.

La Guancha de, Calle C, Ponce, 00716, Puerto Rico
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27 Costa Caribe Golf Course in Ponce, Puerto Rico

Part of the Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort is the Costa Caribe Golf Course. The 27-hole, professional-level course was designed by Bruce Besse and occupies a former sugarcane field. The greens, ranging from 5,000 to nearly 7,000 feet, weave among 14 lakes and the Caribbean Sea include one hole in the middle of a small island.

1300 Sancho's Avenue, Ponce, 00716, Puerto Rico
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