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Utopía (Calle Isabel 78), conveniently located in Plaza Las Delicias, has the most imaginative and interesting selection of gift items and handicrafts in Ponce. Prominently displayed are vegigantes, brightly painted carnival masks inspired by carnival rituals and crafted from papier-mâché. In Ponce, where many of these masks are made, they sell at bargain prices of between $20 and $500, depending on their size. Other items include cigars, pottery, clothing, and jewelry; gifts imported from Indonesia, the Philippines, and Mexico; and rums from throughout the Caribbean. Julio and Carmen Aguilar are the helpful and enthusiastic owners, who hail from Ecuador and Puerto Rico, respectively.

The big mall in town is Plaza del Caribe (Hwy. 2), located right off exit 104-B from the Luis A Ferrre Expressway 52. A smaller version of Plaza las Américas, there are still 140 stores, many of them similar to the San Juan mall, in more than 7,000 square feet of shopping space. If you are looking for it, you can find it here. Plus, there are lots of good places to eat, and a Cineplex movie theater as well.



There are many shops in the renovated downtown area of Ponce that have local arts and crafts. The Atocha Pedestrian Mall runs along Calle Cristina just off the city’s central Plaza Las Delicias. It’s been one of Ponce’s main shopping areas for decades. There’s not a whole lot here, but it’s fun to walk around, and the shops and offerings are a throwback to a simpler time.

For artisans’ work, try El Palacio del Coquí Inc. (Calle Marina 9227), whose name means “palace of the tree frog.” This is the place to buy the colorful veijantese masks (viewed as collectors’ items) that are used at carnival time. Ask the owner to explain the significance of these masks.

Pito’s Seafood Café & Restaurant

Pito’s Seafood Café & Restaurant (Hwy. 2, Las Cucharas, Ponce) — This is the best of the string of seafood restaurants along the undeveloped waterfront west of the city center. The building has a handsome wooden structure on the water, with three different dining levels with open air views of the sea. There is a large and fine wine selection, with 25 bottles available by the glass, and a cigar menu available at a separate smoking bar. The spot offers the freshest seafood, in the finest of island and Spanish recipes. A really great spot to experience the best Puerto Rican seafood meal of your vacation. It’s a great place to try grilled Caribbean lobster, which is lighter than its Maine cousin. I’ve also tried the Ponce style conch salad and mahimahi in mango curry coconut sauce. The halibut filet sautéed with pesto and shrimp is as tasty as it sounds, but everything looks great. If it’s anything like mine have been, your meal will be as perfect as the view.

La Monserrate

La Monserrate (Rte. 2, km. 252, Sector Las Cucharas, Ponce) — This is one of a string of seaside restaurants specializing in Puerto Rican cuisine and seafood lined along the beautiful coastline about 4 miles (6.4km) west of the town center. This restaurant draws a loyal following, and has a large dining room overlooking the waterfront. Specialties, concocted from the catch of the day, might include octopus salad, several different kinds of asopao, a whole red snapper in Creole sauce, or a selection of steaks and grills. Nothing is innovative, but the cuisine is typical of the south of Puerto Rico, and it’s a family favorite. The fish dishes are better than the meat selections.

La Cava

La Cava (Ponce Hilton Hotel, 1150 Avenida Caribe, Ponce) — The restaurant underwent a modern makeover, but the food is still classic continental and its still one of this southern city’s best dining experiences. Start out with the duck terrine and lingonberries or the lobster empanadillas with spicy mango sauce, and move on to the crusted veal chop with Spanish sausage, provolone cheese and a rioja wine risotto, or a red snapper filet with capers and lime. The menu is filled with similar thrills. If you need a good meal in Ponce, you are guaranteed one here.