If you want a few days of urban adventure without the crowds of San Juan, head down to Ponce, Puerto Rico. Some 75 miles southwest of San Juan on the island’s southern Caribbean coast, Ponce is just a hop and a skip away via Highway 52.
Stop #1 should be Plaza Las Delicias–the city’s main square–where you’ll find the iconic and incredibly photogenic Parque de Bombas. Built for the 1882 Exhibition Trade Fair, it later became the island’s first fire station and now serves as a museum dedicated to the history of firefighting. The equally photogenic Fuente de los Leones and Ponce Cathedral are right there as well.
Next, check out the city’s bustling marina area, La Guancha, where there’s no shortage of good food and even better views–all connected by a boardwalk. For some “green time,” visit Parque de la Ceiba to commune with the ancient Ceiba tree, a symbol of the city’s resilience. To get on the water, hop the ferry to the small island of Caja de Muertos. There you’ll find quiet, unspoiled natural areas and some of the best beaches around.
There are clearly many great options for what to do in Ponce, but there’s even more to experience in the region if you’re up for a little extra travel. With the luxurious Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort as home base, here are three exciting excursions worthy of your precious travel days.
Day Trip #1: Aerostatic Balloon Puerto Rico
Less than 30 miles north of Ponce, in the picturesque town of Jayuya, you’ll find one of Puerto Rico’s most exhilarating attractions: the Aerostatic Balloon Puerto Rico. This giant helium balloon will carry you and your party 500 feet into the air, tethered to a platform that’s already 3,200 feet above sea level high up in the Central Mountains. For 15 minutes you’ll remain suspended, enjoying an incredible view of the surrounding forested peaks.
Costs for a ride in the Globo Aerostático are less than $20 per adult. The best time to arrive is in the morning when rain or wind is less likely to keep the balloon grounded.
To round out your day trip, consider a pitstop in the Toro Negro State Forest, a high-elevation cloud forest in Jayuya. There’s also the Puente La Hamaca (Hanging Bridge) in Adjuntas, located about 15 miles west of the Globo Aerostático. This steel and rope suspension bridge over a section of Garzas Lake is just wide enough for a single person, so hold on tight and tread carefully!
Day Trip #2: La Parguera
Located in the municipality of Lajas on the coast some 40 miles west of Ponce, this charming fishing village is a remarkable place to spend the day. Boating, scuba diving, kayaking, swimming, and deep-sea fishing are some of your options when you visit La Parguera–which is also home to one of the three bioluminescent bays found in Puerto Rico. The folks at Paradise Scuba & Snorkeling can get you in the water, whether on a bio bay tour or a dive trip.
Despite all of these attractions, La Parguera retains its small-village feel. Culinary options are simple and traditional, which can be a welcome change if you like your food homegrown and reasonably priced as well as delicious. Make sure to check out the series of houses built on floating platforms right off the shore.
To reach La Parguera from Ponce, follow Highway 2 along the coast and take the turnoff for Highway 116. You’ll pass the Guánica State Forest and the ferry dock to get to Gilligan’s Island, both great options to fill out your day.
Day Trip #3: Yauco and the Yaucromatic Murals
Just 20 miles west of Ponce on Highway 2, directly north of Guánica State Forest, is the small town of Yauco. You’ll want to make sure to bring your camera on this excursion, as the walls of Yauco’s homes and public buildings are covered with colorful murals designed and painted by the group Arte Para Unir (Art for Unity).
The murals feature vibrant and glowing shades of pink, orange, blue, and yellow. Social, cultural, political, and ecological themes are covered in the murals, telling the story of Puerto Rico and the generations that have called the island home.
The young artists of Arte Para Unir completed the first phase of this imaginative project, called Yaucromatic, in 2017. A second phase, Yaucromatic 2, followed in 2018. While the first effort was intended to boost local tourism, the goal of the second set of murals was to lift the spirit of the community in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Hilton: Your Home Away From Home in Ponce
A proper exploration of Ponce, Puerto Rico and its surroundings will definitely broaden your perspective of the island. To maximize the fun, you should also take advantage of everything offered at the Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort. Make the short walk to the beach, soak up the amazing views of the Caribbean, sample the superb food at the three onsite restaurants, and tackle the 27-hole championship golf course and 24-hour hotel casino. Ponce is an amazing destination, and your stay will be a big part of what makes it so special.