In many ways Puerto Rico is a very modern country. But when you’re in Ponce there is a coffee plantation and estate called Hacienda Buena Vista and visiting it would seem like you are traveling back in time. Built by Don Salvador de Vives back in the 1830s, it is also sometimes called the Hacienda Vives. It is now lovingly run by the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust as a museum, and it is one of the best examples of how coffee plantations looked like back in the day.
Hacienda Buena Vista is about half an hour away from downtown Ponce, but it’s a worthwhile trip. You can bring your kids with you, and they won’t get bored here. There are four two-hour tours offered daily, and at least one of them will be in English. The tours are by reservation only, and because of its popularity, you may want to make a reservation a few days in advance.
To make it a real treat, you may want to ask around for the best tourist guides. The entire coffee plantation serves as a backdrop to the tourist guide’s presentation, and a good guide is crucial. Most of the guides are excellent, as they can answer your questions and give some very fascinating explanations. Others have special information that can cover even the flora and fauna in the area. If you don’t speak Spanish, make sure you reserve a spot with an English-speaking guide.
The grounds of the plantation are truly breath-taking. You’ll walk around quite a bit, so you’ll need sensible shoes especially around the wet rocks. But the buildings have been restored, and by taking a closer look at them you’ll begin to understand how the plantation produced ten thousand pounds of coffee for shipment to Europe.
The plantation used technology creatively, as water from the nearby Río Canas was funneled into narrow brick channels. The water could then be used for all manners of work. It could be used to turn the waterwheel, and seeing this two-story wheel turn is quite a treat especially for children. (But for the most part, the children will be fully engrossed with the donkeys and chickens around the place).
Aside from the warehouses, there is the two story-manor house, which has been lovingly restored with antique furniture. The kitchen is a visual treat, and the massive hearth will surprise you. It’s a stark contrast to the buildings where the black and Puerto Rican slaves lived. It’s like traveling back in time, and the many aspects of Puerto Rican society are displayed unapologetically.
After the tour, you can visit the gift shop. Aside from the usual trinkets and T-shirts, you can also buy coffee beans as well. In October they have coffee, and in March they offer chocolate.
You should bring your own bottled water, but make sure to dispose of your trash properly. You’re in a beautiful coffee plantation, and you want to keep it that way for the 40,000 people who visit the place every year.