Ponce is like a grand dame who has deteriorated a bit through the years but still maintains a shabby elegance that harks back to a gilded past when wealth, culture, and social graces were the glue that held society together.
An economic and cultural rival to San Juan , Ponce experienced great growth and wealth during the 18th and 19th centuries thanks to its international shipping trade, which brought in an influx of European immigrants who established lucrative rum distilleries and many coffee and sugar plantations in the area.
All that wealth translated into the construction of hundreds of gorgeous, ornate homes and buildings that combine rococo, neoclassical, and Spanish Revival architectural elements with traditional criolla building styles, distinguished by broad balconies, large doorways, and open-air patios. At the city’s core was built Plaza de Las Delicias , an enormous plaza anchored by a massive fountain, Fuentes de Leones, and the impressive Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe .
Plans are underway to expand and renovate Aeropuerto Internacional Mercedita (PCE, 787/842-6292, fax 787/848-4715) to better accommodate bigger commercial jets. Currently there are two passenger terminals and one cargo terminal. Jet Blue offers direct flights to Ponce from JFK airport in New York City and from Orlando, Florida. All other U.S. airline companies go through San Juan ’s Aeropuerto Internacional Luis Muñoz Marín, where you can catch a plane to Ponce on one of several daily flights by Cape Air.
There is no public transportation service available from the airport, but you can catch a taxi waiting at the airport. There are several car-rental agencies at the airport, including Avis, Hertz, L&M, and Budget.
Ponce is a great place to spend a few days, but because this beautiful, culturally rich city is pocketed with economically depressed areas that can sometimes be unsafe, a car is recommended. Just be aware that Ponce drivers represent an old-school Caribbean style of driving that’s less apparent in the rest of the island. Stop signs and traffic lights are more suggestion than law. Intersections can be a free-for-all, and horns are constantly blaring—often nanoseconds after a traffic light has turned from red to green.