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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 in defiance of the capital. Native son and author Abelardo Díaz Alfaro went further, calling Ponce a baluarte irreductible de puertorriqueñidad – a bastion of the irreducible essence of Puerto Rico. Strolling around the sparkling fountains and narrow architecturally ornamented streets of the historic center certainly evokes Puerto Rico’s stately past. Unfortunately, the neighborhoods that surround the central square exhibit woeful characteristics of Puerto Rico’s present: irreducible snarls of congested traffic, economic stagnation and cookie-cutter urban sprawl.

But stick central amid the outstanding colonial-era architecture and the city's dozen or so museums (many ranking among the island's best), or 5km south at the seashore-hugging restaurant-lined boardwalk of La Guancha Paseo Tablado, and it's only Ponce's elegant side that you need experience.

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