Though small, Puerto Rico is so diverse that it is generally divided into five general regions, each offering distinctive attractions and personal tropical charms. Use the map at the right to navigate through the tours.
Southern Region Tour
Travel through the West Indian landscapes of the south and experience a semi-arid region of colonial homes, historic agriculture, and dramatic coastlines.
Bordered by mangroves and fringed with coral, the southern coastline remains much as nature intended it to be. Once a center for the production of sugarcane, with ports that exported sugar, coffee and other tropical crops, southern Puerto Rico lures visitors who want to see a traditional side of the island.
The southern coastline along Route 3 connecting the towns of Patillas and Arroyo has a yesteryear beauty about it, with overgrown coconut palms, modest homes and semi-arid greenery. This is one of the least-traveled seascapes in Puerto Rico, wonderfully out-of-the-way. To reach the region from San Juan (an hour and a half drive), take Expressway 52 to Caguas, Highway 30 to Humacao, and Expressway 53 to Yabucoa. Drive around the coast on Road 901 to Maunabo (site of the island’s newest tunnel) and continue south on Route 3 to Patillas and Arroyo.
Arroyo, found at the end of Road 753, was once a major trade partner with the then-Danish islands to the southeast. When visiting his daughter-in-law, U.S. inventor Samuel Morse established Puerto Rico’s ﬁrst telegraph line here. Today, a picturesque ﬂag-decked seaside promenade has been restored (along with a nearby lighthouse), and old buildings fan out from the waterfront. The former U.S. Customs House has been converted into a small museum.
For centuries, Arroyo was the port and Guayama, to the west on Route 3, was the unofﬁcial capital of the region, made prosperous by sugar production. This wealth produced the town’s lovely central plaza, the Catholic church which resembles a small Notre Dame, and many elegant homes. Casa Cautiño was the home of one of Guayama’s richest families. Now a museum, it has been restored and decorated with original Cautiño furnishings. Nearby, Guayama’s Fine Arts Museum exhibits art works and historical pieces in a large, restored building.
Continue west on Route 3 and turn south at Road 7710 to enter Aguirre Mangrove Forest. It surrounds Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, a sprawling network of mangrove forests and an eight-mile-long string of cays.
Once back on Route 3, make another detour south on Road 705. A double row of stately royal palms welcomes you to Aguirre, home of the former Aguirre Sugar Mill (Central). Aguirre still retains much of the charm and many of the old buildings once used by the mill’s employees. The nine-hole Aguirre Golf Course, oldest course on the island, is open to the public. The mill’s old clubhouse has been restored to house the Jobos Bay Visitor Center. Here you’ll ﬁnd historic photographs of Aguirre as well as exhibits explaining the estuarine reserve and orientation about bird watching, hiking, and boating in the area.
To reach Salinas Beach in Salinas, turn south off Route 3 at Km. 158.4. A labyrinth of narrow roads and modest homes lead to a mangrove-fringed bay. Popular seafood restaurants rim the bay, offering such specialties as fresh ﬁsh in creole sauce, octopus salad, and seafood mofongo. For a change of pace nearby, the Puerto Rico International Speedway, built on an old air runway, holds weekly hot rod racing. Slightly to the north, Puerto Rico’s own Olympic Village features spacious grounds, parts of which are open to the public. The next coastal town to the west is Santa Isabel, named in honor of the Spanish queen Isabel la Católica. The town’s seafront district features small restaurants and bars in a traditional ﬁsherman’s village setting at Santa Isabel Beach.
Two inland towns nearby are also worth a visit. Third settlement to be established in Puerto Rico, Coamo has an impressive cathedral and lovely architecture in and around its central plaza. The Coamo Thermal Springs have soothed many a weary sojourner, from Taino Indians to Franklin D. Roosevelt. The public springs have undergone a major renovation, and they feature two pools, nicely landscaped grounds, and picnic areas. The Coamo Springs Golf Club & Resort pampers golfers who come to play on the 18-hole course. Nearby, the town of Juana Díaz, dubbed the “Bethlehem of Puerto Rico," is known for its Three Kings celebration on January 6 and its Three Kings Museum. As you continue west toward Ponce, you can detour into the mountains along Route 10. Within 15 minutes, you’ll be on the ridge of the Cordillera Central, on the Panoramic Route near the mountain town of Adjuntas, both of which are discussed in greater detail in the Central Region tour.
Ponce, the island’s second largest urban center and the unofficial capital of Porta Caribe, is a stately, historic city surrounded by several major attractions. From its port zone you get a magnificent view of the region. It is an historic city, with homes and public buildings reflecting a variety of architectural styles popular at the turn of the last century. The large central plaza is divided by two historic buildings - the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the whimsical Parque de Bombas, a firehouse built in 1882. An historic district, with several theme museums housed in lovely colonial homes, surrounds the plaza. Ponce also boasts modern comforts, from resorts to trendy restaurants to shopping malls, and a jewel of a museum. The Ponce Museum of Art, finest in the Caribbean.. Major attractions nearby include the Tibes Indian Ceremonial Center, with ceremonial ball courts; Hacienda Buena Vista, a working coffee farm; Castillo Serrallés, the former mansion of a sugar baron; and Caja de Muertos, an islet of back-to-back beaches and a hilltop lighthouse.
Beyond, the coastline is rimmed with mangroves and bordered by low-lying hills draped in scrub forest. A large bay, a beach, a river and a nearby town all share the same name, Guayanilla, of Taino Indian origin. Sugarcane production extended to here in centuries past, and old plantations and chimneys remain from those days. There is also a modern petroleum reﬁnery, partially in use. Local ﬁshermen make their living as their ancestors did, and a park in town commemorates ﬁshermen lost at sea.
West of Guayanilla is the town of Yauco. In this region Tainos and Spaniards signed a treaty of friendship in the early 1500s. In the 19th century, Yauco was renowned as a bustling coffee town. Beans from farms in the central mountains were transported here to be processed and shipped to European cities. Every February the town celebrates the end of the coffee harvest with its National Coffee Festival. Two historic homes near the central plaza house small museums – the Franceschi Art Center and the Amaury Veray House of Music. In the hills to the north, the Río Loco passes through Susúa Forest, where there are campsites and recreational areas in rugged forest terrain. Nearby, the Lake Luchetti/Yauco reservoir is the site of a wildlife refuge.
U.S. Customs House
Fine Arts Museum (Museo de Bellas Artes)
Aguirre Golf Club
Jobos Bay Visitor Center
Puerto Rico International Speedway
Olympic Village (Albergue Olímpico )
Santa Isabel Beach
Coamo Public Thermal Springs
Coamo Springs Golf Club & Resort
Three Kings Museum
Franceschi Art Center
Amaury Veray House of Music
Lake Luchetti Wildlife Refuge
Ponce Tourism Ofﬁce
La Guancha Complex
Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Parque de Bombas
Ponce History Museum
Museum of Puerto Rican Music
Wiechers-Villaronga/Ponce Architecture Museum
Ponce Museum of Art (MAP)
Tibes Indian Ceremonial Center
Hacienda Buena Vista
Caja de Muertos
Tweets by @PlacesToGoPR