During this year’s World Baseball Classic you might have noticed all the advertising for travel to Puerto Rico (P.R.) What is all the hype you ask? Puerto Rico is known for its gorgeous beaches, Latin music and flavorful food. The culture is rich among the residents and the flags fly high with pride. Tourists are always welcome to visit and experience life in the Island. Here are a few locations, tips and information on where to go outside of the commonly selected “tourist” areas.
The north east side of the island is the familiar place to visit for most tourists since it is close to the Luis Muñoz Marín Airport. If it is your first time visiting then you might want to stick to this area since everything will be close and designed specifically for tourists to come and enjoy. There you will find four and five star hotels, excellent golf courses and of course, amazing beaches. Another plus of staying in this area is that you can get a chance to visit El Morro and walk around Old San Juan where you can learn about the history of the island. There are also many excellent photo opportunities with the old brick roads and colorful buildings! Information about the history is easily provided by any search engine or the hotel where you stay at but you can get a general idea at www.gotopuertorico.com. If you wish to stay in this area then I suggest El Conquistador Resort given that it is one of the best. It is sure to please anyone ready for some R&R in the sun. But if you are more active, there is no need to fret since there is a little island off the hotel called Palomino Island which will be sure to leave you breathless and fill your day with everything from water sports to horseback riding! The hotel provides the transportation to and from Palomino throughout the day. Be sure to check out they’re website at www.elconresort.com, you won’t be disappointed.
However, if it is not your first time visiting the island, and are looking for something different, here are some great tips of where to go eat and stop in the West side of the island.
Ponce is known by the locals as the second capital of the island, the first being San Juan, and the citizens are very proud Ponceños something evident in every basketball game and the entrance to the town via Carr #2 (or the main highway from San Juan). There are a lot of feuds as to which city is better and if you ever go to a tourist shop in the Plaza Las Delicias Square (main downtown area) called Utopia, you just might find a shirt that reads “Ponce es Ponce y lo Demás Es Parking”. Translated this means Ponce is Ponce and the rest is just parking space. Plaza Las Delicias Square is rich in history.
Plaza las Delicias Square
Many grandparents can tell stories of going out at night to meet their dates and walk around the plaza with a chaperone. That was the only thing they were allowed to do… walk around the plaza 3,4, 5 times around. Now you will find a very busy section of the town, with very little parking, lots of shops, many tourists photographing the beautiful fountains and the City Hall. In the middle of the plaza you will find the Cathedral. One thing you can learn here is that every town in P.R. was formed around the central square or plaza which always consisted of the cathedral. Next to it is the Parque de Bombas which used to be the firehouse. It is very colorful as it is painted in the town’s official colors of black and red. In the Plaza you will also find many tourist shops as well as an excellent, must try, ice-cream shop where the locals go often.
King’s Cream is found just across from the firehouse. They have been making ice-cream concoctions for roughly 40 years with ingredients such as: almond, lemon, tamarind, grape, passion fruit coconut and much more! Can’t decide what flavor, they can put two in the same cup! My favorite is chocolate and almond…yummy! It is very small but you won’t miss it… just look for the place where sometimes the line goes all the way to the end of the block.
Mark’s at the Melia is a fine dining restaurant that will tantalize your palate with exquisite creations from local ingredients such as plantains, mangoes and more. It is located in the town square and is part of the Hotel Melia. The owner and chef, Mark French, has been awarded various prizes for his culinary talent and has been reviewed by many well known magazines to be one of the best. The ambiance is exquisite, the staff is friendly and Mark’s wife can always be seen saying hello to the guests and helping out. Be sure to visit but make a reservation beforehand because their hours are limited and their tables are full. Hotel Meliá, 75 Cristina St, Ponce Centro, Ponce, 00733 (787) 284-6275
Teatro La Perla.The local theater is the location for many plays, competitions, graduations and performances. It was built in 1864 and though it was later damaged in an earthquake it was once again rebuilt around 1940. It is situated between Cristina and Mayor street just a couple blocks away from Plaza las Delicias. You can check if there are any plays or events during your visit by calling (787) 843-4322.
Cesar’s If you want to try one of the best places to get local food, then just cross diagonally from the theater to this “hole in the wall” type restaurant. The amount of food served is insane, so you can easily share if you’d like and the prices are more than reasonable (meaning less than $10). All the food is excellent but make sure to ask what the special of the day is and order a glass of fresh squeezed orange juice. If you don’t mind the occasional flies, grab a plastic chair and converse with the owner. Cesar doesn’t speak much English but he is as friendly as they come. The cash register and drinks are served by his wife, and in the kitchen you can find his son helping out. The place isn’t air conditioned so, if you would rather keep going on your adventure through Ponce, you are more than welcome to take it “to-go”. This family joint has been around for quite a while proving the test of times.
(Hint: If you have trouble finding the place, look for the chair outside the door that the owner puts in the street so no one will park in front of it!)
Paseo Tablado La Guancha. A mile or so from the Hilton Ponce Golf and Casino Resort , which has an excellent golf course in Costa Caribe and a frequently visited casino, a familiar place to be for Ponceños is La Guancha, a pier right next to the Ponce Yacht and Fishing Club. It is the location for many regional activities such as marathons, concerts or championship celebrations, but mainly it is where the locals go for a drink, a bite to eat and a walk with their friends, family or date. Looking out to the bay area you can see and even get a chance to feed “sabalos” or tarpons during the day, bathe at the nearby beach or let the kids play at the playground. During the night you can dance away to the tunes of salsa and merengue at the “Paladar Bar & Grill”, which serves excellent, typical food, or take a night cruise around the bay on the Island Adventure Water boat found next to the boardwalk. All of the kiosks are usually called out by their numbers amongst locals. Kiosks #11 and #13 are great places to get a new type of drink or snack.
Caja de Muerto , literally translated as Coffin Island,is one of the most beautiful islands seen anywhere. Local legend says that it is the burial place for one of the wife of a pirate. If you look at it from far away, the shape of the island resembles that of a woman lying down with her arms resting on top. It has been preserved by authorities to maintain the eco system and the wildlife can be seen from the coral at one end of the island, to the dark caves and running iguanas. The beaches are crystal clear which provides great snorkeling and diving opportunities. Most of the times you will be sure to see starfish, conch, and a wide variety of fish. If you have the opportunity to meet a local willing to take you up, or if you want to brave it on y
our own, take the small path that will take you up to the lighthouse. On the way there is a cave where there it is said that buried treasure is hidden. (There are two ways out of the cave, stay to your right for the easiest and safest exit) Be sure to put on lots of sun block lotion, sun burns are extremely harsh here, but other than that all you have to do is relax in the cool water and maybe even visit the small museum that explains the history of the island. You can get here from La Guancha boardwalk using Island Adventure Water Excursions (787) 842-8546 or (787) 608-3082 … ask for everything that they offer, like diving.