When you cruise to Ponce, Puerto Rico, you are sailing to a port with a significant history in the Caribbean. The port of Ponce dates back to 1789 and has been used commercially since 1804. Though the port predominantly serves as an international shipping hub, it is also sometimes used as a port of call on Caribbean cruise itineraries.
Learn more about the rum and sugar plantation past of Puerto Rico during a visit to El Museo Castillo Serrallés. This mansion-turned-museum was built in 1930 for the Serrallés family, who owned the Don Q rum distillery. The mansion reflects this era as well as the Spanish Revival architecture of the time.
One of Ponce’s most famous landmarks, the Parque de Bombas, is located in the city’s main square, Plaza Las Delicias. This building is impossible to miss thanks to its red-and-black checkered exterior. Parque de Bombas is a historic firehouse that also houses a museum, where you can learn more about Ponce’s past. Another site with a fire-related past in Ponce is Calle 25 de Enero. Its name translates to January 25 Street, a name that reflects the day when Ponce nearly burned to the ground in 1899. The buildings along this street are bright red with black trim and were built as a thank you to the firefighters who saved the city on that fateful day. Many of the houses have stayed in the families of those firefighters, whose descendants now live in them.
See one of Puerto Rico’s most famous cave systems with a visit to La Cueva del Indio, located on a beach in Arecibo. It’s been featured in a number of blockbuster movies.
This 19th century coffee plantation is impressive to behold, thanks to the unique hydraulic turbine on its property powered by a waterfall in the nearby Canas River. During your visit, you’ll also get a better understanding of how coffee plantations were operated in the 1800s.
This boardwalk that runs along the water is a great place for a leisurely stroll or people-watching during your cruise to Ponce.
Discover one of the best views you can find during a Ponce port of call with a climb up La Cruz del Vigia, an observation tower in the shape of the cross that extends 100 feet into the sky. You will be rewarded for your climb up the steps with a panoramic view of the Caribbean Sea and the green peaks of Puerto Rico.
Walking around the downtown area of Ponce is a great way to get in touch with the city’s culture and ambiance. You’ll discover why it’s nicknamed the “Pearl of the South” as you amble through lovely squares and past colonial architecture. Take a break in Plaza Las Delicias to enjoy the fountains and leafy trees, and then stop in the Museum of History to learn more about the economy, architecture, and politics of Ponce’s past and see interesting artifacts and photographs of the city.
Toroverde Adventure Park, a thrill-inducing destination and the largest aerial adventure park in the world, boasts fabulous views of the mountains of Puerto Rico. Its claim to fame is “The Beast,” a ziplining experience that speeds you along one of the world’s longest single run ziplines.
The tiny island known as Isla de Caja de Muertos is home to a stunning nature reserve, where you’ll find gorgeous beaches, scenic hiking trails, a picturesque lighthouse, and even a cave to explore.
Popular dishes to try during your cruise to Ponce, Puerto Rico are empanadillas filled with lobster or other shellfish; bacalaitos, which are cod fritters; and one of Puerto Rico’s beloved soups, such as black bean soup called frijoles negros or a chicken and rice soup called sopón de pollo con arroz; and a gumbo-style meal called asopao made with chicken or shellfish. A side dish you’ll commonly see served with many meals is mofongo, which looks a bit like mashed potatoes, but is actually fried green plantains that have been mashed up with olive oil, garlic, and salt. For dessert, try a piraguas, which is a refreshing shaved ice cone flavored with fruit-based syrups.
Ponce is named after the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon, who was the great-grandfather of the city’s founder, Loíza Ponce de Leon, who founded the city in 1692. Though most visit the capital city of San Juan, a cruise to Ponce, Puerto Rico gives travelers the chance to experience a different side of the island not often seen by tourists. Ponce is the second-largest city in Puerto Rico and has some cosmopolitan flair, but it is also defined by its long history in agriculture and produce that continues to this day. The area around Ponce is where you’ll find coffee fields and rum distilleries that produce two important exports for the island.
Ships that cruise to Ponce, Puerto Rico pull into port about five miles south of downtown Ponce. From the cruise port, you can take a shuttle or taxi into town, or hop on a shore excursion that provides transportation.
You won’t find a very well-developed transportation system in Ponce, so don’t plan on relying on buses to get you around, especially when you have to go back to your ship by a certain time. Instead, plan on taking a shore excursion for the most convenient way to explore the area. Taxis are also available for hire.
For a mall experience in Ponce, head to Plaza Del Caribe, which is Ponce’s largest shopping center. You’ll find nearly 100 shops to browse through that sell clothing, perfume, jewelry, and traditional souvenirs. Centro del Sur Shopping Centre is another shopping complex in Ponce that offers a variety of stores.
In Plaza Las Delicias, a popular shop to visit is Utopia, which is known for its traditional carnival masks, jewelry, and pottery. Another popular souvenir to bring home with you from Ponce is a Caribbean cigar, which you can find at Utopia or one of the cigar shops in the city.
The official currency of Ponce is the U.S. Dollar. You’ll find ATMs throughout the city dispensing dollar bills. Credit and debit cards are also accepted at most businesses. The tipping culture is similar to the United States mainland, with 15% to 20% being the expected norm. Some restaurants in Ponce may automatically add a service charge, especially if you are dining in a larger group, so double check before deciding how much to leave if some tip has already been calculated into the bill.