These two old colonial cities
are an easy drive from San Juan.
The Ponce Expressway, a modern highway running north to south, links San Juan with Puerto Rico 's second largest city, Ponce (pronounced Pon-tse).
The Ponce Museum of Art with over 1,000 paintings (including Reubens and Gainsborough) and 400 sculptures contains perhaps the best European art collection in the Caribbean.
The heart of Ponce is the old plaza central. On one side, benches, pruned India-laurel fig trees and statues surround the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, a 17th century Spanish creole church topped with rounded silver towers.
Casa Armstrong Poventud, a restored turn of the century neoclassic mansion, faces the plaza and now serves as both a city museum and tourist information center.
Ponce's most famous sight is its fire station, the Parque de Bombas, a red and black building built in 1883 for an architectural fair.
Nearby is the Tibes Indian Ceremonial Center, an Amerindian site uncovered in 1974. A museum houses axe-heads, ceramic pots and ceremonial idols. The site also includes seven rectangular ball courts and two dance ground areas.
The Hacienda Buena Vista is a restored 19th century coffee and corn plantation seven miles north of Ponce. The original waterwheels, crushers and turbines have been restored and the entire complex, amazingly, is driven by a network of waterways. Guided tours are offered of the two-story estate house, slave quarters and mills.
SAN GERMAN, the oldest town after San Juan , retains its distinctive colonial flavor with old white buildings and paved plazas. The Porta Coeli Church, primarily a religious art museum, was built in 1606 and is another rare example of Spanish medieval architecture still surviving in the Caribbean.