YOU ALREADY KNOW SAN JUAN. Now, meet the reason you might be able to expand your Puerto Rico client base: Porta Caribe, an area in the southern portion of the island that's a perfect place for clients who are looking to chill out after few late nights in San Juan. It's a region that is rich with old Puerto Rican culture and 19th-century architecture—from the Catedral de Nuestro in the historic downtown plaza to its famous art museum, Museo de Arte de Ponce, which holds a collection of European art as well as important Puerto Rican works. There are also the beaches of Guanica and Ponce, great spots for fishing and hiking excursions and real dining finds.
"Porta Caribe is rich in culture and history, and is most representative of Puerto Rico's Latin heritage than any other region," says Terestella Gonzalez-Denton, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (PRTC, www.gotopuertorico.com). "Its beauty and historic Colonial architecture bring visitors back in time. The vast coffee plantations dispersed throughout the region allow visitors the opportunity to experience another perspective of our growing tourism industry. In addition, the rum industry has long been a part of the economy of Puerto Rico's south, adding to Porta Caribe's diverse attractions and unique alternatives for today's travelers."
Gonzalez-Denton has held several meetings with representatives of the hotel industry in the region of Porta Caribe in order to launch the area's Strategic Plan for 2007-2011, which includes spreading the wealth from San Juan to other regions of Puerto Rico. In fact, the development of 346 rooms in Porta Caribe has already been announced—an investment of nearly $60 million and 106 jobs. Agent Advice
Additionally, a project is currently being negotiated that will create 150 additional rooms, says Gonzalez-Denton. The new developments in Porta Caribe include the Plaza Las Delicias Hotel, Vista Magna (formerly the Intercontinental Hotel) and the expansion of Pichis Convention Center.
Porta Caribe also has a growing seaport, with Puerto Las Américas in Ponce already welcoming six vessels to its facilities. For cruise information, contact Janice Colon Bennett, director of the PRTC Cruise Line Division, at 800-815-7391, ext. 17, 305-445-9112.
Where to Stay in Porta Caribe
Porta Caribe has no shortage of hotels to offer the traveler.
On the southern tip of Puerto Rico, the Hilton Ponce Golf & Casino Resort ( www.hiltoncaribbean.com/ponce) is 75 miles from Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in San Juan or 10 miles from Mercedita Airport.
Of its 253 accommodations, 10 are executive suites, and 60 are brand new deluxe rooms. For VIPs, there are 40 Executive Floor rooms with an exclusive lounge.
If booking for business travelers, this property is your best choice in the area; it's also great for those traveling for leisure and with families. The resort offers a 10 percent commission. Call Reservations Manager Linda Pacheco at 787-259-7676 or 800-981-3232.
The Holiday Inn Ponce and Tropical Casino (www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/hi/1/en/hotel/sjupn?_requestid=158752) is set on top of a panoramic mountain with a view of the Caribbean and the city of Ponce, which is known as the City of Museums. El Tropical Casino in the main lobby is open 24 hours daily; Tanama, a locally acclaimed restaurant, is also onsite. Live music is featured Friday and Saturday at the Barlavista Lobby Bar, where guests have stunning views of the pool and Caribbean Sea. There are 116 renovated rooms and junior suites. Book this hotel for leisure travelers with or without families, but since it has great nightlife, we suggest it especially for young-at-heart couples. A 10 percent commission is offered; call Jennifer Rivera, reservations manager, at 787-844-1200 or 800-465-4329. Porta Caribe
Copamarina Beach Resort (www.ichot elsgroup.com/h/d/hi/1/en/hotel/sjupn?_requestid=158752 ) in the town of Guanica features a number of attractive amenities, including a spa and two restaurants, and its close to a number of must-see sites. The resort has 106 guest rooms, suites and villas. Like most hotels in Porta Caribe, this property is ideal for all clientele, but couples and business travelers especially should consider it, due to the large number of conference and banquet facilities available. It offers a 10 percent commission. Call Wilmer Feliciano, reservations manager, at 787-821-0505.
As its name implies, the Paradoe Guanica 1929 (www.guanica1929.com/index_us.html) was constructed back in the roaring `20s. It follows the architecture of Spanish haciendas and is surrounded by spacious verandas. A short driving distance from some of the best beaches on the island, this is one of the area's smallest properties, with just 27 guest rooms. We suggest booking this for couples; an inclusive family package is also available. A 12 percent commission is offered. Call Alana Martinez, reservations manager at 787-821-0099.
Book Caribe Playa Beach Resort (www.caribeplaya.com) for couples. With 32 rooms, this is also one of the smallest hotels in the area. It sits on a crescent-shaped beach that's a little rocky but still good for a dip; beachfront rooms are spacious and have small kitchenettes. Guests can relax in either the property's pool, a hammock tied between coconut trees or in the informal library. Also, agents can arrange for boat rides, fishing trips, and scuba-diving excursions for their clients. The property offers a 10 percent commission. Call Frances Carrasquillo, reservations manager, at 787-839-6339.
In Ponce, suggest that clients try Pito's Sea Food Café & Restaurant (787-841-4977). It not surprisingly specializes in seafood, and it has a cigar room and a wine cellar. Also recommend Puerta Al Sol (787-824-1133) in Salinas. Specialities here include whole red snapper and lobster; it's also known for its mojo sauce and potent mojitos.
In the last year, $2.5 million has been invested in airport improvement at Mercedita Airport in Ponce. New flights have been launched by Cape Air, Continental and JetBlue, and in the coming months, JetBlue and Spirit Airlines will begin new routes from Fort Lauderdale.