Quite possibly the prettiest part of the Ruta Panorámica, the section running from Aibonito to Adjuntas takes you through Puerto Rico's mountain region and the Toro Negro Forest. The views from Aibonito to the midway point of this route open up onto sweeping panoramas of valleys; from the vantage point of your high elevation, the houses below look like tiny dots.
Be sure to stop at the Mirador Villalba-Orocovis at Km 39.7 for some of the most spectacular views. This state-run overlook has ample parking and is open from 9 am until 5 pm, Wednesday to Sunday. In addition to the view, there's a playground and sheltered picnic areas. Don't worry if your visit doesn't coincide with the overlook's hours; there's plenty of room to pull over on the side of the road and you can still enjoy the view, surrounded by mountains on either side. It tends to be windy up here at 2,000 feet, so bring an extra layer of clothing.
After the Mirador, the next stop is Toro Negro Forest. Climbing to an elevation of more than 4,000 feet, the forest has the distinction of being home to the highest point in Puerto Rico, Cerro de Punta, which tops out at 4,390 feet. Outdoor enthusiasts should stop by the ranger station at Km 32.4 to inquire about trails, request maps, or obtain camping permits. For those who enjoy their scenery within easy reach, pull over at the Area Recreativa Doña Juana (Doña Juana Recreational Area). Just a short walk across from the parking area is a natural pool; feel free to dip your feet in!
From the forest, you can drive through to Adjuntas, picking up either Route 10 South or Route 123 South. Both will lead you to Ponce, Puerto Rico's second largest city, after San Juan, but 10 is faster and less scenic. It's also newer and somewhat less treacherous than 123.
If time allows, don't miss Hacienda Buena Vista, one of the historic sites operated by the Fideicomiso de Conservación de Puerto Rico (the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico). This 79-acre property was once one of the island's most important agricultural hubs; today the Fideicomiso maintains the restored hacienda and invites you to explore coffee and cacao production on tours with knowledgeable guides. You'll need to make reservations to visit. Be sure to ask if any special activities—such as the cacao or coffee harvests—coincide with the dates of your visit. Four general tours are offered each day: 8:30 am, 10:30 am, 1:30 pm, and 3:30 pm. Guides also offer a four-hour "long trail" tour Friday to Saturday and two, two-hour short-trail tours Wednesday to Sunday.
From Buena Vista it's just a 20-minute drive to Ponce. Start your visit at the Plaza de las Delicias (Plaza of Delights), Ponce's main square. Here you'll see a historic firehouse, a church, and decorative fountains, all rich with history. Guides and brochures are available at the firehouse. Along the side streets radiating from the square you'll notice Ponce's distinctive architecture, quite different from that of San Juan. If you extend your visit another day, visit the town's cemetery, where many of the island's prominent politicians are buried in elaborate mausoleums. Alternatively, you can scale the hillside for a tour of Castillo Serrallés, the former home of the Serrallés family, Puerto Rico's rum barons, and Cruceta La Vigía, a cross-shaped observatory that provides views straight to the Caribbean Sea.