Exploring The Island - South
There is Another Puerto Rico Looking South to the Caribbean Sea
You can almost claim that Puerto Rico has two sides divided by the Central Mountain range, the North with its Atlantic Ocean exposure and the South facing the calmer, Caribbean Sea. This difference is both climatic and economic. The South has many more protected ports that were used during the 17th to the 20th century for agricultural trade (coffee and sugar) while in the North the most protected harbor was San Juan. San Juan was also the seat of the Spanish government and their taxmen while the South was pretty much out of their reach and full of small ports ideal for extracurricular economics. This created a cultural and economic difference especially when you consider that crossing the Island in the past could take days.
When you travel South you’ll feel this difference in the architecture, the people and in the landscape. Open rolling plains abound and the coast is a maze of small inlets, large mangrove swaths and lagoons filled with amazing vistas. With this in mind, the best way to see the South is to go for the “old” coastal roads. These will be the most scenic and offer plenty of opportunities to explore the small towns along the way. Arroyo offers great colonial architecture and Salinas a spectacular harbor filled with sailboats from all over the world.
For nature exploration check out Bahía de Jobos in Aguirre, a mangrove-lined large estuary with trails to explore and plenty to see. It’s close to Guayama and Gallo Pinto restaurant a savory attraction all to itself.
The largest town is Ponce with it’s unique 19the century architecture and central plaza. This town, the second largest on the Island is ideal to walk around and explore. You can also visit the Don Q Rum visitors center nearby. If you want secluded beaches take a ferry day trip to the uninhabited Caja de Muerto Island. Hacienda Buena Vista in the mountains just outside of Ponce will give you a taste of what life was like in a restored coffee hacienda.
Another feature of the South can be found in Coamo. Here you can visit thermals baths to cure your aches and pains or just relax. The town of Yauco has one of the largest urban murals on the island. The houses on one of the streets outside of the town have been painted with a colorful pattern. This is an Instagram ready photo opp that you shouldn’t pass up.
There’s a long standing rivalry between Ponce and San Juan, each claiming to be more “important”. In Ponce they say “Ponce is Ponce and the rest of the island is parking”. San Juaneros will reply that “the best thing about Ponce is the exit to San Juan”. What we say is check them both out they’re marvellous.
Where Locals Go?
Every day is a good opportunity to catch up with friends over coffee, lunch, drinks, or dinner. Weekends are mostly dedicated to road trips along the Island, beach days, and family outings. If you want to experience Puerto Rican life as a true local, these are just a couple of areas where you must go during your visit.
- Castillo Serrallés, Ponce
- Parque de Bombas, Ponce
- Gilligan’s Island, Guánica
- Hot Springs, Coamo