Río de Janeiro’s celebration may be the world’s most famous, but Ponce’s Carnaval is no slouch. In February, during the five days preceding the first day of Lent, Plaza de Las Delicias is filled with festivities. Elaborate masquerade dances and parades are held each day, during which revelers show off their elaborate costumes and play out a symbolic battle between the Christians and the Moors. Traditional costumes include caballeros, who represent Spanish knights, vejigantes (horned entities), who represent the Moors, as well as the evil trickster spirits of the viejos (old men) and locas (crazy women).
In dramatic contrast to the frivolity of Carnaval is Las Mañanitas (787/841-8044). Every December 12 beginning at 5 a.m. a religious procession marches from Calle Lolita Tizol to Plaza de Las Delicias. Leading the way are a band of mariachis who sing songs honoring the city’s patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Semana de la Danza (787/841-8044) features a weeklong series of events celebrating danza, a turn-of-the-20th-century ballroom dance that originated in Ponce, and one of its most beloved composers, Juan Morel Campos. Held mid- to late May, the festival features conferences, concerts, parades, and dance competitions.
Feria de Turismo de Puerto Rico (787/287-0140) is an annual tourism fair held in late April at Paseo Tablado La Guancha from noon until midnight. Municipalities around the island represent themselves with their traditional foods, music, and crafts. There are also exhibits representing the island’s hospitality industry.
In early April, Ponce hosts Las Justas, a massive athletic event that started as an intercollegiate track and field competition but now embraces all varieties of sporting events, including swimming, baseball, basketball, judo, table tennis, and cheerleading. Each year the event attracts more than 100,000 people, drawn as much by the athletic competition as by the nightly concerts featuring the island’s biggest reggaetón stars. If this isn’t your thing, stay far away from Ponce during Justas. Many businesses, including restaurants and hotels, not only close down but board up their windows; the heavy-drinking crowds are known to get rowdy.
© Suzanne Van Atten from Moon Puerto Rico, 2nd Edition