A hurricane brought massive flooding to the Tibes section of Ponce in 1975 and unearthed remnants of indigenous cultures that had been hidden for centuries. Archaeologists soon uncovered the largest ceremonial center in the West Indies—one that was in use more than a thousand years before the birth of Christ. Ponce expropriated the 32-acre site and now this archeological gem is open to the public.
More than 80,000 visitors come to the Tibes Ceremonial Park every year to see the ceremonial bateyes (courts), one of which measures 118 feet long. Tombstone-like rocks, many with petroglyphs—ancient symbols etched by the Indians—surround each court. Outside the perimeters of the courts are walkways made up of smooth, flat stones, called tibes by the Indians.
Nine of the twelve stone structures are open to the public. Some were used as ball courts and others were used for areytos, or ceremonial dances.
Some of the plazas and courts align with the stars on the equinox and solstice of the four seasons of the year, suggesting that they may have been used to study the heavens. There are enough rare and unusual shapes involved to challenge both astronomers and astrologists!
More than 180 remains of Igneri and Pre-Taíno Indians have been unearthed. Many are children, some are headless, and others have their hands tied behind their backs. There is enough evidence to speculate that the island’s earliest settlers practiced human sacrifice. The latest inhabitants were the Taínos, who abandoned the center and built their own ceremonial park farther inland near Utuado.
The museum on the grounds has permanent and visiting educational displays about the archaeology and ethnology of the site. A reconstruction of an Indian village helps visitors understand their way of life. Of special interest is a garden of plants and trees used by the Indians. The park also has a small cafeteria and a gift shop.
How to Get There
From San Juan take Highway 52 south to Ponce. Take Road 503 to Km. 2.2.