Traveling is part of my spiritual maintenance. I feel connected to the earth every time I witness other cultures around the world. And although my globally inquisitive spirit visited Puerto Rico a few times in the past, I was in for a trip of a lifetime when I got to experience the southwest side of the beautiful island.
We Are Boricua Southwest Fam invited me to Ponce, PR, for a jam-packed weekend of great food, water excursions, and cultural tours. I couldn’t have been paired with a better guide for the weekend. Nicole Olmeda of Discover Puerto Rico went above and beyond to ensure the accommodations were top-notch. I was pampered from the second my toes hit the ground to the second the airplane wheels left the airport. I was well taken care of and had unlimited access to a great time. If I learned anything at all about Puerto Ricans, it’s that they’re never short of a reason to celebrate. From their 3-month long Christmas celebration to their street festivals, Boricuas know how to live life to the fullest.
While hurricanes and earthquakes have shaken up the island, resilience is rooted in the Puerto Rican people. Despite the damage each natural disaster contributed, the island thrives with lots of fun activities, opportunities to celebrate, and meals made with love. If you’re looking for your next vacation destination, look no further. Here are 11 things to do and places to visit in the southwest region of Puerto Rico. Also, check out the highlights below!
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1. Ponce Plaza Hotel and CasinoSource:Marsha B
During the first leg of my trip, I stayed at the Ponce Plaza Hotel and Casino located in downtown Ponce. I was in the heart of rich history, great food, and endless places to dance and drink the night away.
Although the Ponce Plaza Hotel and Casino was under construction in some parts, the available amenities did not disappoint. The facility has a 24/7 casino, a quaint pool/lounge area, an on-site library, a cafe that sells everything from coffee to burgers, and a fantastic restaurant with traditional Puerto Rican food.
After an early morning flight into San Juan, a 2-hour drive to Ponce, and a few hours to unwind, I was pleased to know we’d be dining on-site at Lola Eclectic Cuisine. The food was terrific, the staff was warm, and after I stuffed my face, I could roll myself back to my room in less than 5 minutes.Learn More
2. Ponce History & Culture Walking TourSource:Marsha B
To learn about the rich history of Ponce, I took a walking tour accompanied by Melina Colon of Isla Caribe Tours. As we explored the city, I learned more about Bomba, a traditional style of dance music derived from the island’s history of African slavery.
As Melina explained the style of music, she reiterated how important African culture is to Puerto Rican culture. From music to the arts, the influence is strong and undeniable.Learn More
3. Castillo SerrallésSource:Marsha B
Perhaps one of the best parts of the walking tour was the stop at Castillo Serrallés. The Serrallés family occupied the 1930s-style home before the last generation moved out and handed it over to the city. The enormous castle now operates as a museum and event space. The Serrallés family is also responsible for creating Don Q, the infamous Puerto Rican rum.Learn More
4. Castillo SerrallésSource:Marsha B
The castle is full of unforgettable views. The original woodwork and furniture were one thing, but stepping out on one of the many balconies to take in the gorgeous downtown Ponce scenery was next level. Believe it or not, I spotted my hotel from what felt like my spot on top of the world.
5. El Balcon de la CrucetaSource:Marsha B
When I first landed in San Juan and took the 2-hour drive to my hotel, I noticed a giant cross from the highway. I’m familiar with the heavy Catholic influence on Puerto Rican culture, so I thought nothing of the enormous religious figure. During a stop on my walking tour, I got up close and personal with the cross, eventually ending up inside. The views from the castle were excellent, but witnessing Ponce from inside El Balcon de la Cruceta was out of this world.Learn More
6. El Balcón de la Cruceta by Finca EmachElSource:Marsha B.
I worked up quite the appetite after a morning or walking and absorbing information. Not only is El Balcón de la Cruceta a crucial stop on the walking tour because of it’s views, they also have a restaurant that overlooks Ponce.Learn More
7. El Balcón de la Cruceta by Finca EmachElSource:Marsha B.
El Balcón de la Cruceta by Finca EmachEl passed the vibe check. The food was superb, the views were flawless, and the ambiance was one for the books.
8. DiversoSource:Marsha B
I absolutely brought back a few extra pounds from Puerto Rico. I ate so well! My final meal in Ponce was at the swanky Diverso restaurant, located in the downtown area, just one block from my hotel. Proving to be a hot spot in the area, I watched countless people enter the establishment to celebrate birthdays, grab a drink with loved ones, or indulge in great company and an elaborate dinner menu. While there, I met Miss Universe 2007 winner and Miss Puerto Rico Universe 2006 Uma Blasini, who was dining with her family.Learn More
9. Caribbean ChiliboatsSource:Marsha B
First thing Saturday morning, I checked out of Ponce Plaza Hotel and Casino and traveled west. The first stop was to explore the Caribbean Nature Reserve in a fun and unconventional way. We explored the keys, canals, and mangroves of La Parguera on a water bike catamaran.
I’m part of the population of Black people who don’t know how to swim. Because of that, I decided to ride the double chili boat with my tour guide. After my first go-round with the water, I quickly realized that I could’ve maneuvered one on my own.
I’m a highly spiritual person, so this excursion was very grounding for me. I felt immense gratitude for my life as I sat in the middle of the water, surrounded by the beauty of nature and overwhelming positive energy.Learn More
10. Driving TourSource:Marsha B.
With Bad Bunny blasting and the wind blowing in my hair, we toured the rest of the island in these cute little jeeps. We toured luxurious beach houses, quaint hotels, and a known field for alien sightings.Learn More
11. El PiñatonSource:Marsha B
Most of the businesses I visited were owned and operated by families. The idea of community is engraved in the business model. One of my favorite stops was El Piñaton. The quaint juice bar serves every drink you can imagine. From festive pina coladas housed in a pineapple shell to Oreo frappes, this family-owned shop will undoubtedly have something to quench your thirst.
12. Combate Beach ResortSource:Marsha B
During the second leg of my trip, I stayed at Combate Beach Resort. The award-winning family-owned hotel boasts comfort, relaxation, and views. The amenities made this a place I’d want to visit again. It was steps away from the beach, had an on-site pool, and had a full-service bar/restaurant.Learn More
13. Bioluminescent Bay Tour by Paradise Scuba & SnorkelingSource:Marsha B
The last excursion on the list was an evening boat ride/Bioluminescent Bay Tour. This tour is excellent for people who enjoy the underwater world. With scuba gear on, tour attendees hopped in the La Parguera bio-bay, the only bio-bay that allows swimming, to swim with the dinoflagellates that light up around you.
Because I can’t swim, I didn’t hop in the water; instead, I adjusted my focus to the dark sky with the moon and stars intensely illuminated.Learn More