In the north and west coasts of Puerto Rico the presence of the mighty Atlantic Ocean is clearly seen in the deep blue colors of the waters, and even felt in the somewhat cooler temperature and might of its waves. From the Yauco shores to the city of Guayama, Puerto Rico belongs to the calmer and shallower Caribbean Sea. The towns that run between these two spots are the jewels of Puerto Rico’s glorious agricultural and commercial past, before and after the American presence.
Yauco, known as the “Pueblo del Café” (the coffee town) is still the island’s major coffee grower. The quality of its coffee became known around the world when during the 19th century the coffee served in the Vatican and the royal venues of Europe came from the mountains of Puerto Rico.
West of Yauco, Ponce became Puerto Rico’s most important city regarding commerce and culture when, during the early part of the 19th century, the Spanish colonial government promoted free immigration, free trade and tax incentives to Catholic foreigners coming to Puerto Rico to establish businesses. Many of the newcomers had fled South America and Haiti, areas on revolutionary turmoil, and brought their know-how and European contacts to Puerto Rico. The conditions of the southern valleys of the Island were perfect for sugar cane agriculture, the hottest commodity at the time, and the mountains north of those valleys made an excellent site for quality shaded coffee plantations.
The wealth created during those years is still present in the buildings and the historic landmarks of Yauco, Ponce, and Guayama. Ponce’s restored historic district has a distinctive Creole architectural style that mixes European and Caribbean influences. Visit Ponce and make sure you go to the Castillo Serrallés. Their daily guided tours will give you a clear idea of how the sugar cane bonanza left its mark in this beautiful city. Once there, walk to the Vigía tower to appreciate a majestic view of the southern coast of Puerto Rico and the fine lines of streets and plazas that distinguish this city from all other cities in Puerto Rico. Another attraction you should not miss in Ponce is La Guancha. Sundays at this boardwalk food court is a party for people of all ages and tastes. Do You want to see what the real Puerto Rico is all about? Go to La Guancha in Ponce.
For those interested in pre-Columbian cultures, the Tibes Indian Ceremonial Site is a must visit. Its plaza and museum will take you back to a time when Puerto Rico was untouched by Europeans and modernity. Also in Ponce, high in the mountains north of the city, Hacienda Buena Vista recreates a coffee plantation of the 19th century (reservations required).
Between Ponce and Guayama, Coamo turns the clock back to early colonial times. It is the third oldest town in the Island, and its church is worth the detour from the coastal plains. On the way to the town center of Coamo you will see signs pointing to the Baños de Coamo. These are Puerto Rico’s only hot springs. Many locals and travelers alike swear by the healing powers of its sulfur-rich spring waters. Among those who came to try the curative baths of Coamo were F.D. Roosevelt, Alexander Graham Bell, and Thomas Edison.
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