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Ponce & South Coast

The Caribbean-facing south coast offers the opportunity to unplug, escape the cruise-ship crowds and take a DIY journey into Puerto Rico’s tempestuous, rough-and-tumble piratical past.

Even the proud southern capital of Ponce – the so-called Perla de Sur (Pearl of the South) – stands in elegant disrepair, where haute eateries and mesmerizing museums neighbor slouching colonial-era facades. Along coastal Hwys 2 and 3, the dilapidation increases, with crumbling chimneys of sugar mills standing beside their graying industrial replacements – chemical and pharmaceutical factories. But for all these dichotomies, unpolished charm abounds in the towns and the tatty beaches get increasingly magical as you progress west through mazes of mangroves, ethereal dry tropical forest and, finally, the surreal glow of the Bahía de Fosforescente alongside some of the Caribbean's most captivating diving.

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