Baños de Coamo: Fountain of Youth
The town of Coamo is located about 10 miles east of the city of Ponce, and both places can cite the intrepid explorer, conquistador and governor in their history. Juan Ponce de Leon, of course, was the first governor of Puerto Rico. He landed on the island (called San Juan Bautista at the time) in 1508 to assume the island’s administration. Ponce de Leon is also associated intimately with the legend of the Fountain of Youth.
Many sources state that Ponce de Leon’s two exploratory expeditions in which he first discovered, then attempted to colonize Florida were motivated by rumors he had heard of a magical Fountain of Youth. While this is not technically true, the legend has a certain romantic allure that has helped maintain its popularity. What most people outside of Puerto Rico do not know, however, is that Ponce de Leon’s so-called Fountain of Youth may be found inside Puerto Rico itself!
Coamo was inhabited long before the arrival of the Spanish, and the original Taino Indians were well aware of the hot springs that bubbled up from the earth at the site. After the Spanish colonists had settled in the area, they began to partake of the mineral-rich waters at Coamo. By the early years of the 19th century, structural work had been performed at Coamo that resulted in the springs filling a series of shallow pools. Buildings were constructed and the colonists were able to enjoy the waters in the style of a traditional European spa. This was the formal birth of what is known as the Baños (in English: “baths”) de Coamo.
In 1898, the Spanish-American War saw invading troops perform amphibious landings at nearby Guánica and penetrate inland to the Coamo area where the Battle of Coamo was fought. Approximately 3,500 American troops led by General James H. Wilson unleashed an artillery barrage on the Spanish garrison holding the town of Coamo, forcing them to retreat and causing significant damage to the Baños de Coamo that was never fully repaired.
Today, the 48-room Parador Baños de Coamo offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy the warm, healing waters of the legendary Baños – perhaps the same waters enjoyed by Ponce de Leon and, dare I say it: left him feeling “rejuvenated”.