A trip to the south and western coast of Puerto Rico can be an interesting and rewarding experience. You’ll leave the verdant area of your Puerto Rico Vacation Home rental and arrive in the arid southwest in less than one hour. The trip is much like driving from the lush green forests of Vermont to New Mexico in the same morning. When on your trip, you’ll see peaks 4000 feet high, watch the climate change right before your eyes, and, then, view the Caribbean sea as you descend. If you leave on a cloudy day, as you travel west you are likely to find the sun. But whatever the weather, you’ll definitely find new things to see and do.
Getting There: The primary route to the southwest is expressway Route 30 west to Caguas, where you take the expressway Route 52, south toward Ponce.
Day Trip 1: Ponce—An Architectural and Cultural Gem
Ponce Town Square
Ponce has a wonderful square called the Plaza Las Delicias. It is famous for its fountains, umbrella trees, the Western Hemisphere’s oldest fire station, and the Cathedral of our Lady of Guadalupe. Around the square you’ll find eateries, shops and banks; many located in some of Ponce’s 1000 historic buildings. It’s a great place to relax, take a few photos, and soak in the Spanish colonial history.
Ponce Art Museum
On the Avenue Las Americas, just a few block south and east of the town center you’ll find the Ponce Art Museum (Museo de Arte de Ponce). It is well worth a half day of your time and features the largest collection of European and Latin American art in the Caribbean. Designed by Edward Stone, also known for designing the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC, it is called the “Parthenon of the Caribbean.” Its permanent collection features works by Gainsborough, Van Dyke, Rubens as well as Puerto Rican masters, Oller and Campeche.
El Vigia Hill and the Museo Castillo Seralles
A couple of miles from the town square near the top of the city’s most prominent hill, El Vigia, sits the Museo Castillo Seralles. Once the home of the Seralles family, owners of Don Q Rum Company, the building is now a museum of Spanish revival architecture. It features a small cafe, souvenir shop and gardens. Just above it is a park with a wonderful view of the city below.
Ponce is an Architectural + Cultural Delight
Drive Time: About 1 Hour 30 Minutes
Directions: Expressway, route 30, west to Caguas, where you meet the expressway Route 52 South to Ponce. Once arriving in Ponce look for signs directing you to the Ponce Centro Area, which is five or six blocks north of the Ponce Expressway Bypass (Route 52).
Day Trip 2: Gilligan’s Island + Caña Gorda
A trip to Gilligan’s Island is little adventure that is great for kids and fun for adults alike. Besides the experience of touring southern Puerto Rico to get there, you’ll have a most unusual day at the beach. For the modest fee of $5 per person (buy tickets from at the open air snack bar) a local captain will ferry you from the restaurant dock to a group of deserted mangrove islands about a mile from shore. Except for a few picnic tables, the islands are completely natural with small protected beaches and calm crystal clear water. Snorkeling is good on the Caribbean side of the islands, but expect some current. We swim “upstream” then drift with the current while observing the vast array of marine life. Swimming in the shallow bays on the protected side gets four stars from us. The boat runs every hour, but take a picnic lunch and use the bathrooms at the restaurant before departing. (Note: The boat does not run on Mondays and weekends will be more crowded than weekdays.)
The Caña Gorda area is most unusual and well worth a drive to see. After reaching Guanica, you’ll head south along the coast. Plan time for some picture stops. You’ll want to snap some photos as you wind along the rocky cliffs overlooking the sea. Caña Gorda is home to the Guanica Forest, a well-known destination for birders and hikers. (You can get more information from the visitors center or join an adventure travel group for hikes and kayaking tours.) Remember, you’re headed for cactus country, it will be very hot and dry!
Besides the trip to Gilligan’s Island, there are other places to swim here. A Caña Gorda Beach is a pleasant government run facility with calm waters and facilities. Next door is the Copa Marina Resort. Water sports can be arranged here, including scuba and snorkeling. The small resort is pleasant to walk around, and offers a good restaurant. Continue on past the resort to find several “wild” beaches before the road ends. You’ll find good surf for swimming, good beach combing and you can walk the beach to a private spot on most days.
Swim + Snorkel Around the Mangroves
Drive Time: 2hrs. 30 minutes
Directions: Follow directions for Ponce. Then continue on Route 2 west of Ponce. Take the Guanica Exit to Guanica and go south on Route 333 to the Copa Marina Resort. Turn right after passing the resort entrance to find a small marina, restaurant and parking area on your right.
Day Trip 3: Boqueron Beach + Cabo Rojo
Boqueron Beach is a well run government beach with white sand and full facilities. In a protected bay, there will be little surf. South of Boqueron is the Cabo Rojo area, which ends at the far southwestern tip of the island at the Cabo Rojo lighthouse. We have not ventured this far, but the area is renowned for empty, natural beaches with rough roads leading to them. The beautiful beach and lighthouse make it all worth the trip.
Drive Time: About 3 Hours
Directions: Follow directions for Ponce. Then continue on Route 22 west of Ponce about one hour. Exit for Route 122, which will take you through San German, a town famous for its historic architecture. Take Route 101 from San German to Boqueron Beach.
Day Trip 4: Rincon + Crash Boat Beach
Rincon is the best surfing area in Puerto Rico. Waves run long distances along the coastline providing exceptional surf for devotees. Many small beaches provide varying access to the water in this area. A wonderful lookout over the surfing area is found at El Faro Park, which is the site of the Rincon Lighthouse. Just to the north of it is a beautiful beach. There is also a maritime museum in the immediate area.
A great place to see a sunset is “Crash Boat Beach” in Aguadilla just north of Rincon. This beach is famous for its fleet of colorful fishing boats, which are pulled up on the beach during the day. Swimming is pleasant here as well.
Drive Time: About 3.5 Hours
Directions: Follow directions for Ponce. Then continue on Route 2 west of Ponce through Mayaguez exit Route 2 on Route 115 and then follow the coastline of the Rincon peninsula on various Routes numbered in the 400s. You may wish to return along the north of the island on Route 2 or Expressway 22 (many small tolls) to make better time.