Discover some of the top cultural attractions in Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second-largest city, often called the Pearl of the South (La Perla del Sur) due to its stately beauty. With a local guide, visit three landmarks, all of which are now museums: the old firehouse (Parque de Bombas), the Ponce Art Museum and Serrallès Castle. You’ll also stop at a local Ponce restaurant, where you can buy lunch.
Your day trip to Ponce begins with the 1.5-hour drive from San Juan, on Puerto Rico’s north coast, across the island and through the central mountain range to Ponce, which sits on the south coast.
When you arrive with your guide, head to your first stop, the Parque de Bombas, which literally translates to Park of Pumps, aka the city’s old firehouse. The striking black-and-red-striped façade of the building — listed on the National Register of Historic Places — makes it one of the most iconic attractions in Ponce, if not all of Puerto Rico. Built in the late 1800s, the firehouse is now a museum that displays historic firefighting artifacts.
If you don’t want to tour the museum or you finish quickly, you can simply admire and take photos from the outside while waiting for the rest of your group; the firehouse sits on Ponce’s main square, the shady and fountain-filled Plaza Las Delicias.
Next up is the Ponce Art Museum (Museo de Arte de Ponce), one of the finest art museums in the Caribbean. After your guide gives you a brief introduction to the museum outside the entrance, you are free to enter and explore it on your own, checking out its collection of European and Puerto Rican art. Known for its pre-Raphaelite works, the museum houses pieces by such artists as Peter Paul Rubens and Eugéne Delacroix. Highlights include Flaming June by Frederic Leighton and The Last Sleep of Arthur in Avalon by Sir Edward Burne-Jones. (Entrance fee to the museum is at your own expense.)
Meet back up with your guide outside the museum and head to your final site, Serrallès Castle (Castillo Serrallès), a Spanish Colonial Revival home built in 1930. More sprawling mansion than true castle, the home was built for the Serrallès family, the founders of the Serrallès rum company, known for its Don Q rum. The beautifully manicured estate is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and now houses a museum. Tour the Moorish-style home with a docent, and then once again meet your guide, who will take you to a local restaurant for lunch. Restaurants vary daily, but you can expect local Puerto Rican cuisine. (Entrance fee to the museum and lunch are at your own expense.)
After lunch, make the drive back to Puerto Rico, where you day trip ends.