Ponce es ponce (Ponce is Ponce), runs a simple yet telling Puerto Rican saying: the explanation given as to why the nation's haughty second city does things, well, uniquely – and, as is the wont of second cities worldwide, in defiance of the capital. Native son and author Abelardo Díaz Alfaro went a step further, famously calling Ponce a baluarte irreductible de puertorriqueñidad – a bastion of the irreducible essence of Puerto Rico. Strolling around the sparkling fountains in the central square and narrow streets of the city’s historic center evokes the stately spirit of Puerto Rico’s past. Unfortunately, the neighborhoods that surround the square bear witness to some woeful characteristics of Puerto Rico’s present: irreducible snarls of congested traffic, economic stagnation and cookie-cutter urban sprawl.
But stick central amidst the outstanding colonial architecture and the city's dozen or so museums, or three miles south at the seashore-hugging restaurant-lined boardwalk of La Guancha Paseo Tablado, and it's only Ponce's elegant, time-lost side that you need experience. Decent restaurants await, too, if you've tired of the otherwise prevalent pork and paper plate dining culture.