The ancient ceremonial center of Tibes is one of the Caribbean's most important archaeological sites, due largely to evidence found here of pre-Taíno civilizations, such as the Igneris. Though Tibes lacks the dramatic scale of sites such as Mexico's Uxmal, it is a quiet spot, ideal for imagining the people who once dwelt here (brought alive by enthusiastic staff and an excellent interpretation center), and is a highly recommended way to spend an afternoon.
Puerto Rico owes the discovery of its most significant archaeological site to tropical storm Eloíse, which hit Ponce in 1975 and caused the Río Portugués to flood. When floodwater retreated from local farmland, it exposed the ruins of Tibes. The government expropriated more than 30 surrounding acres, only five of which have been fully excavated.
Current excavations have uncovered seven bateyes (Taíno ball courts), two ceremonial plazas, burial grounds, 200 skeletons, pottery, tools and charms. As you tour the manicured setting – with its bateyes and plaza rimmed by bordering stones (some with petroglyphs) – guides explain that the first settlers on this spot were Igneris, who probably arrived at Tibes from Venezuela about 300 BC.
As part of their cassava-based diet, the Igneris became fine potters, making vessels for serving and storing food. Many of these bell-shaped vessels have been found buried with food, charms and seashells in more than 100 Igneri graves. Individuals were buried in the fetal position in the belief that they were bound back to the ‘Earthmother’ for rebirth. Many of the Igneri graves have been discovered near or under the bateyes and walkways constructed by the pre-Taíno, who probably came to the site around the first millennium.
In a tidy museum you can see some of the weapons, cemíes (deities) and tools that they used. You will also see reconstructed pre-Taíno bohíos (huts), set amid a natural botanical garden with fruit trees, including the popular guanábana (soursop).
Make reservations prior to visiting, particularly if you want an English-speaking tour. To see everything here, you should arrive by 2pm. All visits include a one-hour tour, including a movie and a visit to the museum. Tibes lies about 5km north of Ponce at Km 2.2 on Hwy 503.