The now empty plains between the southeast coast and the mountains, once the heart of sugar country, show few signs of their former glory. Yet the inviting hot springs at Coamo and the graceful old sugar towns of Arroyo and Guayama are steeped in history, legacies of the great wealth created in the colonial and early American periods. The last in particular is a smaller, less pretentious version of Ponce, well stocked with ramshackle but striking architecture, and a smattering of galleries and museums. The lack of beaches means you’ll see few tourists here, and for once the coast is not the main attraction. Salinas is the modest exception, with a yacht-filled marina, seafood specialities and a spread of tempting offshore cays to explore. Access to the region is easy via PR-52 and PR-53, slicing through vast swathes of abandoned, overgrown plots of land that testify to the drastic collapse of not just the domestic sugar industry, but all of Puerto Rico’s traditional agriculture since World War II.

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