Ah…Mayagüez, the Sultan of the West, the commonwealth’s underrated and slightly disheveled dock town that has always had to play third fiddle to San Juan and Ponce. But savvy travelers should take note. Mayagüez is undergoing a dramatic rebirth. Positive signs are everywhere. Examine the deftly renovated cathedral and adjoining central plaza (Plaza Colón). Mull over the rebranding of Puerto Rico’s west coast as the ‘Porta del Sol’ with Mayagüez as its HQ. Consider the prospect of Mayagüez hosting the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games.
Founded in 1760 by émigrés from the Canary Islands, Mayagüez had an inauspicious early history considering its current size and importance. The emerging economy was based on fruit production and agriculture, and even today the city remains noted for the sweetness of its mangos. In the mid-19th century Mayagüez developed a contrarian nature and sheltered numerous revolutionary thinkers including Ramón Emeterio Betances, architect of the abortive Grito de Lares. Disaster struck in 1918 when an earthquake measuring 7.6 on the Richter scale all but destroyed the central business district, but the city rose from the rubble.
Mayagüez today boasts a vibrant university (specializing in sciences), numerous historic buildings, a couple of parks and one of the most salubrious central plazas on the island. Exciting local taste buds, the settlement has also been heralded for its contributions to Puerto Rican gastronomy and drinking. Two 19th-century bakeries concoct a locally famous delicacy known as brazo gitano (gypsy’s arm; a jam sponge cake presented in the style of a Swiss roll). Additionally, there’s a factory producing Medalla beer, a popular ice-cream store and a dive bar that invented an insanely sweet rum-and-wine cocktail known as Sangría de Fido.
Little visited by tourists who veer northwest to Rincón or south toward Cabo Rojo, Mayagüez has enough distractions to fill a long afternoon (including Puerto Rico’s only zoo and planetarium), the delightful Yagüez theater and a lively student nightlife. Then there’s the congenial mayagüezians, always up for a spontaneous fiesta, such as Cinco Días con Nuestro Tierra, an agricultural-industrial fair.
GPS Coordinates: 18°12'01.9"N 67°08'41.8"W