Pleasures of Ponce, Puerto Rico
Ponce was officially founded in 1692 by Loiza Ponce de Leon, great grandson of the famous Juan Ponce de Leon first governor of Puerto Rico, and seeker of the fountain of youth (the source of its name and its symbol of the lion). The beautiful heart of Ponce is the historic district.
The Houses of The 25th of January Street
The reason for the order is not really known but what is certain is that several firemen decided to disobey orders, extinguishing the fire and saving the town. Although they were initially in danger of being punished for insubordination, the people of Ponce considered them heroes and the city government eventually rethought their decision and honored the men in a public celebration.
Fast forward to 1906. The firefighters of the city had always been volunteers who did not receive any pay for their service and the municipal government decided to recognized their courage and importance by selecting a firefighter each year to receive a new home. These houses were constructed by the government and the official name of the street where they were built was eventually changed to 25 de enero street "the 25th of January Street" in honor of those firefighters who saved the city in 1899. The houses, which today number about 60, are easily spotted. They're painted in the distinctive red and black colors of Ponce.
Fire Station - Parque de Bombas
One of the highlights of a visit to Ponce is the eye-catching red and black striped Parque de Bombas, or Fire Station. Originally built in 1882 for an Exposition, the Moorish-style building is painted in the colors of the flag of Ponce. It became the Ponce Fire Station in 1883, and served proudly until it was renovated and reopened over a hundred years later in 1990 as a combination museum with a collection of antique fire trucks, and tourism information center. One of the most visited, loved, and photographed buildings in Ponce, it is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Parque de Bombas is a must-see attraction, and along with the Cathedral of Our Lady of
Guadalupe it dominants Plaza Las Delicias (Plaza of Delights) in the heart of historic Ponce.
Originally built in the 1830s the Cathedral was partially destroyed and then reconstructed with its
current facade in the 1930s.
At the edge of historic Ponce is the Tercentenary Park Plaza, built in 1992 for the 300th
anniversary of the founding of the city, and the Bridge of Lions. The plaza was constructed with
commemorative plates and plaques for famous native sons and daughters from actors to
governors. And the lions are, of course, the emblem of Ponce.
Museums and Parks of Ponce
After enjoying the plaza stroll east on Isabel Street admiring more beautiful buildings, and
visiting the Museo de la Historia de Ponce (Museum of the History of Ponce), and the Museo de
la Musica Puertorriquena (Museum of Puerto Rican Music) housed in heritage buildings. City
Hall, dating back to 1847 when it served as a jail and, Casa Armstrong-Poventud are both magnificent classics.
At the edge of historic Ponce is the Tercentenary Park Plaza, built in 1992 for the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city, and the Bridge of Lions. The plaza was constructed with commemorative plates and plaques for famous native sons and daughters from actors to governors. And the lions are, of course, the emblem of Ponce.
Outside of Downtown PonceThe pleasures of Ponce extend beyond the historic district and include some of Puerto Rico's most engaging attractions.
Museo de Arte de Ponce -- Ponce Museum of Art
Because all the paintings are originals, there are many that visitors have never seen, including the complex and fascinating El Diluvio Universal by Leandro Bassare ca 1700 who depicted the biblical flood story but placed it in Venice. We produced a nonstop stream of questions which delighted our knowledgeable guide who tailors the tour to the interests of the group. An expansion of the museum is planned to allow them to display currently unavailable works as well as provide an amphitheater for concerts.
Centro Ceremonial Indigena de Tibes -- Tibes Ceremonial Center
The site appears to go back to 300 AD and was discovered in 1975 after a hurricane exposed some ancient pottery, shells and bones. Almost 200 skeletons have been found so far in the ancient cemetery. The guided tours, available in English, provide the narrative describing the inhabitants' lives. In addition, a recreated dwelling allows visitors to walk through a construction.
Eating in Ponce
Mark's at the Melia Hotel
This charming restaurant provides a wide selection of expertly prepared food. The appetizers were delicious, and the platter for two could easily have been for three or four. The entrees range from continental specialties (often with a gastronomic twist) to local seafood. My plaintain perfectly crusted dorado (also known as mahi mahi) was white fleshed with crunchy shell served with rice and beans. Since Puerto Rico I've taken to fantasizing about rice and beans but haven't found anything that compares. Desserts were elegant and delicious.
Ponce is currently served by midnight flights out of JFK (Jet Blue) and Newark (Continental). Jet Blue is planning to add a second flight at a more congenial hour in spring, 2006. Alternatively, you can fly into San Juan and rent a car and explore the island. The road that connects the two cities cuts right through Toro Negro and takes you through towns along the way which tourists seldom see.
Once in Ponce a free trolley/bus runs during the day and there is public transportation to San Juan and nearby towns, also daytime only. In addition, Rico Sun Tours provides tours and services. The guides in this family-owned business are licensed by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company and certified by the Public Service Commission as well as being friendly and knowledgeable. Aventuras Puerto Rico is another well-regarded tour operator in Ponce.
For adventure travel Ray Sepulveda of Acampa Tours is excellent. Thoroughly professional, knowledgeable and with a great staff.
For more information on Puerto Rico (and Ponce) visit SeePuertoRico.com.
Neala Schwartzberg Photos: © Neala Schwartzberg
2006 - updated August, 2012