Four Must-Do Experiences in Ponce, Puerto Rico

When visiting a place like Puerto Rico, it’s easy to just go to San Juan. It’s the largest city, the capital and often the most talked about in tourism. However, there is so much to Puerto Rico beyond San Juan–especially in Ponce. Ponce is the second-largest city on the island and is known as “La Perla del Sur” or “The Pearl of the South.”

You’ll understand when you arrive in Ponce why it is considered such a treasure. 

With stunning beaches, an incredible arts scene, and architectural beauties you will fall in love with this city as I did. Although truth be told, I didn’t get to experience the beaches or the bioluminescent bay because of continuous torrential rain. So obviously I have reason to want to go back. 

Here are the experiences you do not want to miss out on when seeing Puerto Rico’s Southern Pearl.

The patio of a gallery in Ponce.

See the bio bay

This is a no-brainer for me. There are only five ecosystems on Earth that can sustain the high number of platonic dinoflagellates that create the famous “glow” of a bioluminescent bay. Puerto Rico has three bio bays, one of which is accessible from Ponce. La Parguera is where you’ll want to check out this remarkable phenomenon. As you travel through the water you see the plankton “light up” from the movement, emanating a blue-green glow. 

Of course, as I said earlier, visiting a bio bay can be deterred by bad weather. The planktons are saltwater marine life that doesn’t like the fresh rain water. Sadly, that’s a part of travel. Sometimes things don’t work out. But definitely plan on seeing the bay if you can!

The main square in downtown Ponce and the Fountain of Lions.

Book a tour with Isla Caribe

Walking tours usually end up on my must-do lists. I love a good walking tour because you get a closer view of the history of a place and really get to understand how it feels to be there. No tour has ever come close to the ones offered of Ponce by Isla Caribe.

Not only is the company woman-owned, but it is also run with the kind of care you don’t usually see in the tour industry. Our tour guide didn’t just memorize a set of factoids about Ponce–she is from the city and deeply loves it. Plus there is more care when giving the history of a place you love than somewhere you just know about. You walk away with a deeper sense of place than you would elsewhere.

(Bra wearing folks, be sure to wear your Vai Athletica on walking tour days. You’re going to want those phone cameras handy! Be sure to pack one of these flexible holders too, because getting good photos/videos isn’t always easy on the move.)

This is the kind of tour that should be offered everywhere. I would go back just to learn more from the women behind Isla Caribe. 

Check out Castillo Serrallés

From high above the city of Ponce, just below the giant concrete cross-shaped tower (Cruceta del Vigía), is Castillo Serrallés. Also known as El Castillo or Serralés Castle, this estate circa the 1930s was once home to the Serralés family. The family is one of the foremost families in Ponce’s (and Puerto Rico’s) history. They introduced sugar cane production to the island in the 1830s before starting the island’s first rum distillery.

Now El Castillo houses the museum of their legacy as well as that of their ongoing rum company: Don Q. 

Don Q is short for Don Quixote. So, if you’re anything like me, you will make a bunch of silly windmill jokes on the tour. The tasty drinks you sample certainly help with the bad joke-making. I loved the mixology portion of our tour, it was a fabulous way to end the excursion.

A view of Ponce from El Castillo.

Grab lunch at Níspero Asador

Just steps away from downtown Ponce is Níspero Asador. Named for the shady fruit tree on the patio, Níspero was my favorite foodie stop in Ponce. Try to sit out on the patio if you can, though be mindful that níspero (or Japanese loquat) fruits may drop from the tree. So if you hear a *thud* on the brick, don’t be alarmed. 

No matter what time of day you visit this spot, definitely bring your appetite! I ordered a salad with churrasco, a crispy marinated skirt steak, and got a cut of steak almost the size of my plate! It was so tasty, but way too much food for me! 

If you like a good cocktail, don’t skip the cocktail menu here! You will have a hard time narrowing it down. And definitely don’t skip the desserts either. I highly recommend the tiramisu. Especially if the weather is hot and humid, the tiramisu cools you right down.


Published by Amanda Finn

Founder of Dream Suitcase, Amanda Finn is an award-winning travel, theater and lifestyle journalist.

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