At the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C., last September, Gabe Ferris interviewed Scholastic authors Sonia Manzano, Peter Sis, David Baldacci and Jennifer Holm. Here are highlights from his conversations with them.
Guatemala’s close proximity to U.S. shores and easy access by air (just 2.5 hours from Houston or Miami; 5 hours from New York) makes it a great candidate for an international weekend getaway.
Plan this day to be a Friday or Saturday. There are nonstop flights from New York/Newark on Saturdays (and now also Friday nights, in season). Most other gateway cities have multiple flights daily.
Arrive in Guatemala City around noon. Grab a shuttle van or taxi to La Antigua and check into your hotel. Take the afternoon to explore the cobblestone streets and a museum or two, do some shopping, and get a bite to eat in one of the excellent restaurants. Grab drinks or dinner from Café Sky or Lava Terrace Bar and watch the sun set behind the volcanoes.
Grab an early breakfast and then hike up to the Cerro de la Cruz for a wonderful view of the city with Agua Volcano in the background. Alternatively (between December and February), head out early to go whale-watching on the Pacific Coast (one hour away). Have lunch and an afternoon round of golf at La Reunión Antigua Golf Resort and spend the night there. From your suite, enjoy views of Agua and Pacaya Volcanoes over your private plunge pool.
Transfer to Guatemala City and its international airport. Depending on the time of departure, you may be able to visit one or several of the museums near the airport: the Museo Nacional de Arqueología y Etnología and the Museo Popol Vuh and Museo Ixchel (next door to each other). Allow some extra time at the airport for some duty-free shopping before you fly out.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Guatemala.
The south coast stands in stark contrast to Puerto Rico’s north coast.
Instead of lush, rocky coastlines, rough Atlantic waters, mountainous karst country, and a dense population, the south coast features a flat, dry topography, and considerably less commercial development. It’s a great place to go if you want to escape the traffic and American influence found elsewhere on the island. And there are many great historic and cultural sights to explore.
[pullquote align=right]Ponce was once a very wealthy city, which is apparent in its many beautiful buildings, museums, and elaborate festivals.[/pullquote]Historically, the south coast was a major player in the island’s sugar industry. It was once dotted with enormous sugarcane plantations, as well as sugar refineries, rum distilleries, and shipping operations. As that industry died out, the south coast turned its economic development toward the manufacturing of goods, although it hasn’t come close to restoring the area to the level of wealth it once enjoyed.
Ponce is the south coast’s biggest city, and what a city it is. It has a large, lovely central plaza that bustles with activity night and day, and it rivals San Juan as the island’s cultural, historical, and architectural center. Home to the founders of Don Q rum, Ponce was once a very wealthy city, which is apparent in its many beautiful buildings, museums, and elaborate festivals.
The south coast was home to a significant Taíno Indian community, established in the 1200s, that stretched from Guánica to Ponce. At the time of Columbus’s arrival, its chief was Cacique Agüeybaná, who is believed to have been the island’s most powerful leader at that time. But the south coast’s indigenous history predates the Taíno culture. Just north of Ponce, Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes is one of Puerto Rico’s most significant historical sites. Many ceremonial ball fields, plazas, and petroglyphs have been discovered on this site, which archaeologists have attributed to Pre-Taíno and Igneri cultures that date back as far as 300 BC.
East of Ponce is Baños de Coamo, a natural hot springs near the center of the region. Believed to contain restorative powers, Baños de Coamo has been a tourist attraction since colonial times, and it remains one today.
The southeastern corner of Puerto Rico is the least populated part of the island. Official tourist sights are few in Patillas, but it has a couple of unique hotels, and its clear blue Caribbean waters beckon those eager to escape the hubbub of San Juan. And the fresh seafood is legendary, especially among the restaurants that line the water’s edge in the fishing village of Salinas.
Planning Your Time
Most of the south coast is conveniently connected by multilane divided highways—Highway 2 west of Ponce, and toll roads Highway 52 and Highway 53 east of Ponce. Highway 52 also connects San Juan to the south coast near Salinas. Traffic along the south coast is generally pretty light, so all in all, getting around the area is fairly easy.
Ponce is 79 miles away from San Juan and takes about 1.5 hours to drive. You can get there and back in a day, but you’d be hard-pressed to see it all in that short span of time. Better to stay a weekend or longer, so you’re sure to have time to visit the Indian grounds at Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes; the city’s impressive Museo de Arte de Ponce; the castle-like former home of the Don Q founder, the Castillo Serrallés; the former coffee plantation Hacienda Buena Vista; and the new waterfront development, Paseo Tablado La Guancha.
Salinas, on the other hand, is close enough to drive to from San Juan for dinner. Patillas is the kind of place where you want to kick back and chill out for a while. It’s a great place to spend the weekend if you want to do nothing more than sunbathe, swim, and dine on fresh seafood.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.
Mid-island, Virgin Gorda has great hiking, a beautiful beach, and nature lovers will find one of the best examples of dry forest in the islands exceptionally rich in rare and endangered species.
At 1,370 feet, Gorda Peak is the highest point on Virgin Gorda and one of the highest in the Virgin Islands. The peak and all land above the 1,000-foot contour is national park, and much more remains unspoiled because of the difficult topography. On the western shore, the green hillsides cascade down to a string of white sand beaches.
Two paved roads wind through this terrain: the main road, which traverses steeply past Gorda Peak National Park and vistas to the southeast, and an alternative route, which circles the peak passing through Nail Bay, providing views of Tortola and the Dog Islands before intersecting with the main road just before the village of North Sound.
Gorda Peak National Park
[pullquote align=right]Gorda Peak’s richness led it to be chosen as a UK Darwin Initiative site for the preservation of biodiversity.[/pullquote]Gorda Peak National Park (North Sound Rd., no phone, free), designated in 1974 after the land was donated by Laurance Rockefeller, is one of the best examples of dry forest remaining in the region. Although the park is relatively small (just 265 acres), the percentage of rare and endangered species is remarkably high. For example, keep a lookout for the billbush, a shrub you won’t find elsewhere in the Virgin Islands. While it appears to have leaves, the stiff dark appendages are really modified stems. It puts out tiny scarlet flowers that smell, surprisingly, like boiling potatoes. Other rare species include the Christmas orchid, St. Thomas prickly ash, and the Virgin Gorda gecko, the smallest lizard in the world. Gorda Peak’s richness led it to be chosen as a UK Darwin Initiative site for the preservation of biodiversity.
Two trails cut through the forest to a lookout tower near the peak. The main trail (the second you will encounter when driving from The Valley) provides the most direct route (about 0.75 mile) to the summit. The other trail is less steep and meanders pleasantly through the forest before climbing to the summit. Near the summit a lookout tower climbs above the treetops and provides a stunning view of North Sound below. On a clear day, you can see Anegada.
Besides the trail and the tower, facilities here include picnic tables, in a flat clearing a few hundred yards below the lookout tower, and a pit toilet.
The National Parks Trust publishes an informative brochure on Gorda Peak. Look for a copy at the BVI Tourist Board office at the marina (none are available at the park).
If you feel constrained by boulder-strewn beaches or just want a change of scenery, head to Savannah Bay, a white sand beach about a mile north of Spanish Town and the best beach for snorkeling on Virgin Gorda. The sand is narrow but long, with plenty of sea grape bushes for shade and the same exquisite white sand as other Virgin Gorda beaches. Savannah Bay is shallow a good distance out and protected from swells, making it a good beach for small children or unsure swimmers and a good anchorage for yachts. A healthy offshore reef teems with life in the shallow, usually calm waters. The bay is also a good place for running or walking in the early morning or late afternoon. There are no facilities except for a few trash cans.
Most people drive to Savannah, but you can also hike from Little Dix Bay Resort; ask at the hotel guard desk for directions to the trailhead. The 30-minute hilly trail is mostly shaded and offers lovely vistas of Savannah. The payoff for your labors: a refreshing swim in the ocean.
Along the Western Shore
Several villa resorts line the western shore of Virgin Gorda north of Savannah Bay. Take the road immediately north of Savannah to explore this territory, which is seeing a steady stream of development as new homes are built. Pond Bay, just north of Savannah Bay and accessible by a rocky foot trail, shares many of Savannah Bay’s characteristics: white sand, calm waters, good reef. Mahoe Bay is a pretty, tree-lined beach serving two resorts, and farther on, Mountain Trunk Bay is located at the Nail Bay development. Mahoe and Mountain Trunk have hard-packed, caramel-colored sand that may prove a disappointment to visitors spoiled by the quality of other Virgin Gorda beaches.
Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon U.S. & British Virgin Islands.
Guatemala’s top ten must-sees range from colonial towns and archeological sites to majestic volcanoes and stunning emerald green limestone pools. There’s something here for everyone, whether you’re a nature lover, history buff, or adventure traveler.
- La Antigua Guatemala: This fascinating colonial town flanked by volcanoes is just an hour from the Guatemala City airport. Among the ruins of old convents destroyed by an 18th-century earthquake are brightly colored restored colonial structures housing some of the country’s best restaurants and fanciest hotels. Explore the cobblestone streets on foot, on Segway, or by horse-drawn carriage.
- Volcano Climbs: Much of Guatemala’s highland region is dotted with majestic volcanic guardians. Active Pacaya Volcano is a fairly easy climb that most anyone in reasonable shape can do. Acatenango Volcano is extremely difficult, but you’ll get an unparalleled view of Guatemala’s amazing scenery, complete with an unobstructed view of lava-spewing Fuego Volcano right next to it.
- Lake Atitlán: Compared by writer Aldous Huxley to Italy’s Lake Como but with the added embellishment of three conical volcanoes, Lake Atitlán is spectacular. Its fringes are populated by small towns quickly gaining popularity with foreign travelers and residents, each with its own vibe.
- Chichicastenango’s Market: This twice-weekly affair is Latin America’s largest outdoor market. Much of it is local trade among Mayan people, but there is also considerable trade in handicrafts.
- Iztapa and Monterrico: Guatemala’s Pacific Coast offers warm weather year-round in addition to black-sand beaches. Iztapa is well known by anglers for its impressive yields of sailfish and billfish. In season (Dec.-Feb.) it also serves as the gateway for whale-watching tours. Monterrico (and the village of Hawaii to the east) is the site of sea turtle conservation efforts but also has become popular with travelers seeking sun, sand, and surf.
- Río Dulce National Park: This waterway connects Guatemala’s Caribbean Coast to its largest lake. Its impressive canyon is lined with jungle scenery. There are numerous lodges from which to enjoy outdoor activities and the eponymous town at the mouth of the river’s confluence is a popular boat marina. Also at the confluence with the Caribbean Sea is the charming Garífuna enclave of Lívingston.
- Semuc Champey Natural Monument: Slowly gaining more popularity (but still not mainstream due to its remote location and difficult access), the emerald green limestone pools and waterfalls of Semuc Champey are a huge hit with those who make it here.
- Tikal National Park: This impressive archaeological site is among the finest in the Mayan world and the exuberant tropical forest all around (full of wildlife) only adds to the allure.
- Yaxhá: This archaeological site has its own unique feel because it overlooks not only verdant forests but two large lagoons. The sunsets viewed from its tallest structures are amazing.
- El Mirador: Many people come to Guatemala just to see the Mayan ruins, so it’s not surprising that three of Guatemala’s top ten must-sees are archaeological sites. Accessible only by helicopter or a two-day mule trek, the pyramids here are among the largest ancient structures in the world. The largest, La Danta Complex, is bigger (in volume) than Egypt’s Great Pyramid.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Guatemala.
Carmel-by-the-Sea has one of the state’s best beaches along with a downtown full of art galleries and tasting rooms. Carmel Valley is home to an up-and-coming wine industry. Take a long weekend to explore a little of everything.
Start your time in Carmel with an open-faced breakfast sandwich made with organic ingredients at Carmel Belle. Then stroll along Ocean Avenue, taking time to peer into the art galleries and upscale boutiques. Make your way west as the road starts its descent to Carmel Beach, one of the finest beaches in the entire state. Once on the sugar-white sands, take off your shoes and let your dog run on the beach. Save some energy for the walk back up Ocean Avenue.
Having returned to your vehicle, head three miles south on CA-1 to reach Point Lobos State Reserve, which is rumored to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. There, the Cypress Grove Trail boasts twisted Monterey cypress trees and stunning coastline views.
Return to Carmel-by-the-Sea for a drink and snack on the rooftop bar at Vesuvio, or go to Mundaka for tapas and wine. Save some room for fine French dining at Casanova or a lively Mediterranean meal at Yafa, where your server may break out in song.
Spend the night with the sounds of the nearby sea at La Playa Carmel or stay in the Far East-inspired Tradewinds Carmel. Traveling with a furry friend? Consider the pro-pup Cypress Inn, co-owned by actress and animal-rights activist Doris Day.
Get a hearty breakfast at the Little Swiss Café or drive to the Lafayette Bakery in the Barnyard Shopping Center for some wonderful pastries. Then take in the grounds of the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo Mission, better known as the Carmel Mission.
Following a self-guided walk around the mission, take a tour of the nearby Tor House, a fascinating castle-like structure on Carmel Point constructed by nature poet Robinson Jeffers. Tours are only offered on Fridays and Saturdays.
It’s late afternoon, and you deserve some wine. Carmel-by-the-Sea has a handful of tasting rooms downtown, including the popular Scheid Vineyards Tasting Room.
For dinner, enjoy the hip atmosphere at the New American restaurant Affina or get some of the freshest sushi around at the hole-in-the-wall Akaoni.
For your third day in this area, head inland to Carmel Valley. Save your appetite for a hearty down-home breakfast at the Wagon Wheel or a more creative egg dish at Jeffrey’s Grill & Catering.
Work off those calories with a hike at Garland Ranch Regional Park, an expansive parcel of land with steep hikes, ridges, and fine views of the valley. One option is the Mesa Trail.
Carmel Valley is a burgeoning but unassuming wine region, so be sure to head to the Carmel Valley Village for some wine tasting. Seven tasting rooms are located in a small strip mall and several more are a short walk away. Had your fill of reds and whites? Head to Baja Cantina for a cold margarita on its sunny deck instead.
Enjoy dinner at Will’s Fargo, a classic Old West steakhouse helmed by a classically trained French chef.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Monterey & Carmel.
The land rises gradually from the southern coastal plains to the Maya Mountains; driving south on the Southern Highway, you’ll see the highlands to the west and flatlands to the left, mostly covered by orange and banana groves. The highway passes through a few villages and soon delivers you to the area’s prime attraction: Maya Centre village and Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary. Heavy rain along the peaks of the Maya range, as much as 160 inches per year, runs off into lush rainforest thick with trees, orchids, palms, ferns, abundant birds, and exotic animals, including peccaries, anteaters, armadillos, tapirs, and jaguars.
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary
[pullquote align=right]There are more than 20 miles of maintained hiking trails, which range from an easy hour-long stroll along the river to a four-day Victoria Peak expedition.[/pullquote]Commonly called the “Jaguar Preserve,” this is one of the most beautiful natural attractions in the country. A large tract of approximately 155 square miles of forest was declared a forest reserve in 1984, and in 1986 the government of Belize set the region aside as a preserve for the largest cat in the Americas, the jaguar. The area is alive with wildlife, including margays, ocelots, pumas, jaguarundis, tapirs, deer, pacas, iguanas, kinkajous, and armadillos, to name just a few, along with hundreds of bird species and even howler monkeys. The park is also home to the red-eyed tree frog and the critically endangered Morelet’s tree frog. And though you probably won’t spot large cats roaming during the day (they hunt at night), it’s exciting to see their prints and other signs—and to know that even if you don’t see one, you’ll probably be seen by one.
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary is managed by the Belize Audubon Society, which also conducts research and community outreach in support of conservation. The park is open 8am-4:30pm daily. Entrance is US$5 for non-Belizeans (pay at the Maya Centre Women’s Group craft shop at the head of the access road, immediately off the Southern Highway). Just past the entrance gate into the park is a gift shop and office where you’ll be asked to sign in. Visitor facilities include an interpretive center, a picnic area, and an outhouse.
The second-highest point in the country is the top of Victoria Peak (3,675 feet). Geologists believe the mountain is four million years old, the oldest geologic formation in Central America. Reportedly, area Mayan populations thought the peak was surrounded by a lake, unapproachable by people and occupied by a powerful spirit. The first known people (a party led by Roger T. Goldsworth, governor of then-British Honduras) to reach the summit did so in 1888. Today, it is a protected natural monument, managed by the Belize Audubon Society.
Summit trips can be arranged in the dry season only (Feb.-May) and must include a permit and a licensed guide. The 30-mile round-trip trek takes three or four days; the up-and-down terrain is steep, and there are no switchbacks. Contact the Belize Audubon Society for trail and campsite details; entrance is US$5 pp plus camping fees.
The Belize Audubon Society does not have guides for hire, but they can provide a list of guides with contact information. There are a few reputable mountain guides in the surrounding villages, including Marcos Cucul (tel. 501/670-3116), who can take you rock climbing or on a backcountry trip to the top of Victoria Peak (US$500 pp).
There are more than 20 miles of maintained hiking trails, which range from an easy hour-long stroll along the river to a four-day Victoria Peak expedition. An early morning hike on the Wari Loop offers the best chance to see wildlife and to admire the large buttress roots of the swamp kaway (Pterocarpus officinalis) trees. At the end of the Tiger Fern Trail, a rigorous hike, you’ll find an impressive double waterfall—the most beautiful waterfall in Belize, according to top Belizean landscape and underwater photographer Tony Rath. There are more waterfalls, including a less difficult fall with a pool, within a 30-minute hike. Check the front of the visitors center building for a detailed map.
If you climb Ben’s Bluff, you’re not just looking out over a park where jaguars live—you’re at the entrance of a forest that goes all the way into the Guatemalan Petén, part of the largest contiguous block of protected forest in Central America. The bluff was named after Ben Nottingham, who monitored radio-collared jaguars with radiotelemetry. From here you can see Outlier Peak, a moderate one-day hike (about 8.5 miles round-trip) and great place to camp.
Bring your swimsuit when visiting, as you’ll find cool natural waterfalls and pools for a refreshing plunge. You can also rent an inner tube and float down South Stann Creek. All visitors are encouraged to bring sturdy shoes, a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, insect repellent, sunscreen, and plenty of water. If you would like to hire a guide, there are several renowned wilderness guides who grew up in these forests and who can be found up the road in Maya Centre.
Accommodations and Camping
Bring your own tent to stay at one of three well-maintained campgrounds (US$10 pp). The park’s overnight accommodations (US$20) begin with zinc-topped buildings with bunk space for 32 people. Expect a bed in a shared “rustic cabin” or a bunk in the main dormitory, clean sheets, shared baths with cold showers, and solar power. There are also a few private cabins (6 beds and a kitchen US$54).
Be prepared with food and supplies if you plan to stay a few days; the only food for sale in the visitors center is chips, cookies, candy bars, and soft drinks. There are a couple of small shops in Maya Centre, so feel free to stock up there before catching a taxi into the park. You may also be able to arrange for meals to be cooked in Maya Centre and delivered to you. Otherwise, there is a communal kitchen with a refrigerator, gas stoves, and crockery and cooking utensils for rent. Again, visitors are required to bring their own food and water. A walled-off washing area has buckets, and a separate cooking area has a gas stove and a few pots.
Cockscomb Basin is about six miles west of the Southern Highway and the village of Maya Centre; from Dangriga, it’s a total of 20 miles. The road can be rough after it rains. For public transportation, catch any bus traveling between Dangriga and Punta Gorda and hop off at Maya Centre. From there, it’s an extremely long—at least an hour—and hilly walk; I strongly recommend a US$15-20 taxi ride.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Belize Cayes.
Time in Monterey should be spent exploring the bay itself, whether by visiting the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium or heading out in the water on a kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or whale-watching vessel.
After an early arrival in Monterey, take a leisurely walk around the Monterey Harbor on the Monterey Bay Coastal Recreation Trail. Be sure to head out on the Coast Guard Pier if you want to view some harbor seals and sea lions up close.
Grab a quick lunch of fish tacos at Turtle Bay Taqueria or a fine Greek salad at Epsilon before heading over to Cannery Row to spend the afternoon taking in furry sea otters and swirling jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Recall all the cute critters over a happy hour beer at the nearby Cannery Row Brewing Company or enjoy a cocktail with a bay view at the C Restaurant & Bar. Head a few blocks up the hill for an elegant seafood dinner at The Sardine Factory, a steak at the Whaling Station, or a more casual dinner with tiki drinks at Hula’s Island Grill.
The Jabberwock Inn offers a quiet bed-and-breakfast experience a few blocks up from Cannery Row, while the Spindrift Inn is perched right on McAbee Beach with sweeping panoramic bay views. Budget travelers can bed down at the HI-Monterey Hostel, conveniently located just a few blocks from the aquarium.
It’s time to experience Monterey’s amazing marine life firsthand. Mornings are the best time to hit the water, before the wind comes up. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddleboard from Monterey Bay Kayaks and paddle out into the bay from nearby Monterey State Beach. Or head underwater by scuba diving or snorkeling off Monterey’s Breakwater Cove, one of the best beginner dive spots in the state.
Another way to experience the bay is to secure a seat on a whale-watching tour leaving from Monterey Harbor. During the winter and spring migration, gray whales swim right off Monterey’s coast. Pack a sandwich from Mundo’s Café or from Parker-Lusseau Pastries & Café.
For dinner, opt for seafood at the Sandbar & Grill on the Municipal Wharf or creative New American fare at the Montrio Bistro. Enjoy a nightcap on the outdoor patio of The Crown & Anchor or sip a beer at Alvarado Street Brewery.
Begin the day with a breakfast near the water at LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle, a microdiner perched on the Municipal Wharf, or First Awakenings, located a block from the aquarium.
Monterey is chock-full of historic buildings. The Monterey State Historic Park has historic adobes and old government buildings scattered around downtown that are well worth visiting. The Custom House and Pacific House Museum located around Custom House Square are good places to start. On weekends, guided ours of the park provide an overview of the area’s history.
Fans of old Victorian buildings should head to nearby Pacific Grove and take in its quaint downtown along Lighthouse Avenue. Be sure to detour down to Lovers Point Park for its views of the curving bay.
Stay in Pacific Grove for dinner. Passionfish is known for serving sustainable and tasty seafood, while the Jeninni Kitchen & Wine Bar showcases Mediterranean-inspired small plates and entrées. Or head to Il Vecchio if you’re craving Italian food.
Day Trip to Salinas
Break a sweat and then crack open a bottle of wine on a day trip around inland Monterey County. Start by embarking on the hour-long drive to the country’s newest national park: Pinnacles National Park, a wonderland of rock spires, sheer walls, steep canyons, and caves. The park’s west end, the closest entrance from Monterey, provides access to a handful of trails. One recommended hike is the Juniper Canyon Loop, which goes up to the impressive High Peaks.
Cool off afterward by crossing the Salinas Valley to reach the River Road Wine Trail, a string of wineries in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Post up on the outdoor deck at Hahn Winery Tasting Room for views of Pinnacles rising in the distance as you sample pinot noir and chardonnay.
Head to Salinas for dinner. Choose between upscale European fare at Patria on Main Street or go for hearty Italian food at the family-friendly Gino’s.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Monterey & Carmel.
Set high on a hill overlooking Ponce is a startling reminder of the height of the city’s flourishing sugar industry, when its port was the busiest on the island. Castillo Serrallés (17 Calle El Vigía, 787/259-1774, 787/259-1775, or 800/981-2275, Thurs.-Sun. 9:30am-5pm; gardens: $5.50 adults, $2.75 children; gardens, castle, and butterfly garden: $12.80 adults, $6.40 seniors, $5.50 children) was built in 1934 for Eugenio Serrallés, a leader in the local sugarcane industry and founder of the still-operating Serrallés Rum Distillery, maker of the island’s premier rum, Don Q.
[pullquote align=right]Designed by architect Pedro Adolfo de Castro, the four-story Spanish Moroccan-style mansion was last inhabited in 1979 by Serrallés’s daughter. It became a museum in 1991.[/pullquote]
The house contains many of the Serrallés family’s original furnishings, many of them made by Puerto Rican artisans or imported from Europe, the oldest piece being a small 16th-century table in the foyer. No cost was spared in the construction of the house. The parquet wood floor in the parlor was imported from Brazil; the dining room, which took 18 months to build, features a painted, hand-carved ceiling made of oak, mahogany, and ceiba woods; and the black-and-cream bathrooms are designed in an art deco style. The building was technologically advanced for the times: It even has an intercom system with 14 receivers as well as an elevator. In the kitchen is a 1929 GE side-by-side refrigerator that still works. One room in the house has been converted into an exhibition space that explains and illustrates sugarcane processing and rum-making.
Across the street from Castillo Serrallés is Cruceta del Vigía ($6 adults, $3 students and seniors, includes admittance to Castillo Serrallés and the gardens), an enormous concrete cross with an observation deck built in 1984. It marks the site of a Spanish lookout station established in 1801 to watch over the Ponce harbor. At that time, a crude wooden cross was erected on the site that remained there until it was destroyed in 1998 by Hurricane Georges. The cross was used as a flag-signaling system to alert troops to the arrival of merchant ships in the harbor. If a white flag was raised, it meant the harbor was under possible attack.
Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon Puerto Rico.