Founded in 1579, COAMO is one of the oldest towns in Puerto Rico, best known today for its rustic outdoor hot springs. The town itself is 34km from Ponce and a short drive from autopista PR-52, the oddly appealing cluster of ageing buildings in the centre evidence of its long history. There are no options for lodging here – your best bet is to stay near the hot springs themselves, or visit for the day from Ponce or the coast.
Downtown Coamo is worth a detour to soak up the bustling, no-nonsense atmosphere and pretty buildings around the central Plaza Luis Muñoz Rivera, dominated by the main church, the Iglesia Católica San Blás de Illesca. The current building dates from 1784. The interior is unusually ornate, with a fine Neoclassical retablo, and you’ll also see a rare painting by José Campeche, El Bautisterio – the artist originally had three paintings inside the church, but one was lost and the other, Las Animas, deteriorated so badly it had to be copied and replaced by Francisco Oller in 1888. The latter is near the main entrance (on the right as you come in) – the blonde woman at the base is said to have been Oller’s mistress at the time.
On the plaza’s southwest corner, the Museo Histórico (t787/825-1150) occupies an eye-catching, reddish townhouse with a tranquil patio interior that virtually drips with a sense of colonial Spain; the odd collection of bits and pieces inside reflects Coamo’s chequered history. It’s normally only open on weekdays or by appointment – check at the Instituto de Cultura next door. The house was built in the nineteenth century by Don Clotilde Santiago, a wealthy landowner, and much of his original mahogany and cedar furniture is on display inside.