Ponce is a city -- not a beach resort -- and should be visited mainly for its sights. There are no beaches within the city, but an offshore cay ringed with white sand and aquamarine waters filled with marine life is just a ferry ride away.About 30 minutes to the west, however, are some of Puerto Rico’s best beaches. They ring the coast from Guánica through Cabo Rojo.
Because the northern shore of Puerto Rico fronts the often-turbulent Atlantic, many snorkelers prefer the more tranquil southern coast, especially the waters off the coast of La Parguera. Throughout the southwest coast, water lovers can go snorkeling right off the beach, and it isn’t necessary to take a boat trip. Waters here are not polluted, and visibility is usually good, unless there are heavy winds and choppy seas.
La Guancha is a sprawling boardwalk around Ponce’s bayside harbor area near the Ponce Hilton. Several eateries are located here, and it is the scene of free concerts and other events at night. There’s no beach, but during weekend afternoons children and their families come here to fly kites or ride bicycles. Hundreds of yachts and pleasure craft tie up here, which is also home to the Ponce Yacht Club. La Guancha is a relatively wholesome version of Coney Island, with a strong Hispanic accent and vague hints of New England. On hot weekends, the place is mobbed with families who listen to merengue and salsa. Lining the boardwalk are small establishments selling beer, party drinks, fried beach snacks, and souvenirs. There is also a lookout tower here, which is worth a climb.
A ferry runs from La Guancha to Caja de Muertos, or Coffin Island, an uninhabited cay that’s covered with mangrove swamps and ringed with worthwhile beaches. It’s some of the best snorkeling in the southwest. A 125-passenger ferry run by Island Venture (tel. 787/842-8546 or 866-7827; www.islandventruepr.com) provides transportation to and from the island. It leaves at 8:30am and returns at 3:30pm. Roundtrip fare is $25 for adults and $20 for children. Bring lunch and snorkeling gear, or you can sign up for a deluxe package ($54 for adults, $33 for children), which includes beer and soft drinks, hot dogs, and chicken kebabs.
Other private outfits will take passengers to the island, with some providing snorkeling equipment and even lunch to guests. There are hiking trails, gazebos, and basic bathrooms, but no running water. The island has a lighthouse and a nice beach. Make sure to visit Almeida Cave. Legend says it was named after a pirate who buried his bride there following a fatal attack, visiting her every year to adorn her coffin with stolen gold, silver and emeralds.
The city has a municipal-run tennis facility at sports complex Polideportivo Frankie Colón Alers (tel. 787/432-7500). There are also private facilities at Club Deportivo de Ponce, or Ponce Sports Club (tel. 787/383-4066 or 787/842-1260) and Centro de Tenis La Rambla, or La Rambla Tennis Center (tel. 787/642-1545). All the courts are open daily and have lights for night play.
One of the south coast’s best golf courses is the Costa Caribe Golf & Country Club ★ ([tel] 787/812-2650), on the site of the Hilton Ponce & Casino (see below). This 27-hole course has beautifully landscaped holes—with commanding views of the ocean and mountain—are laid out in former sugar-cane fields. The no. 12 hole, one of the most dramatic, calls for a 188-yard carry over water from the back tees. Trade winds add to the challenge. The three 9’s can be played in 18-hole combinations, as conceived by golf architect Bruce Besse. The greens are undulating and moderate in speed, averaging 6,000 square feet (557 sq. m). Greens fees are $74 Friday to Sunday and holidays, and $63 Monday to Thursday; golf carts are included in the greens fees. There is also tennis available.
Another course, Club Deportivo del Oeste, Hwy. 102, Km 15.4, Barrio Joyuda, Cabo Rojo (tel. 787/851-8880 or 787/254-3748), lies 30 miles (48km) west of Ponce. This course is an 18-holer, open daily from 7am to 5pm. Greens fees are $37 ($26 twilight) weekdays and $48 ($37 twilight) weekends, and include a golf cart.
Ponce also has several nice parks, which may be especially attractive if you are travelling with children. The Julio Enrique Monagas Park (tel. 939/247-9336) is a sprawling oasis with two ponds with paddle boats, several splash parks, beach volleyball courts, an exotic bird aviary, a skate park and a miniature train. There are a number of picnic gazebos across the park and a children’s playground. The Luis A. Wito Morales Park (tel. 787/812-0076) is another green dream with amenities, located in the middle of the Cerrillos State Forest Reserve next to the large Lake Cerrillos. Four miles into the highlands north of the city, the lush park has barbecue areas, picnic gazebos, basketball, baseball and beach volleyball facilities and a splash park and play area for the kids.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.