Much renovation has taken place in the heart of the city; the Casas Villaronga and Salazar-Zapater have been restored (the latter to accommodate the Museo de Historia de Ponce), other houses are being repainted in pastel shades, streets have been made into pedestrian areas (for example the Paseo Peotonal Atocha and Callejón Amor), and the large, air-conditioned market on Vives and Atocho (north of the plaza) has been remodelled. The city is now very pleasant to walk around.
The cathedral is worth a look, and so is the black and red fire-station, built for a fair in 1883. Both buildings stand back to back in the main square, Plaza Las Delicias, which has fountains and many neatly-trimmed trees. Also on the plaza is the Casa Armstrong-Poventud (or Casa de las Cariatides), facing the Cathedral, with the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueño (Región Sur) and tourist information centre. Monday-Friday 0800-1200, 1300-1630; the Instituto is open 0900-1200, 1300-1600 Tuesday to Sunday. East of the plaza is the Teatro La Perla, painted cream, white and gold, the city’s cultural centre (19th century), restored in 1990, as was the Alcaldía on the Plaza.
Ponce has a very fine Museum of Art, donated by a foundation established by Luis A Ferré (industrialist, art historian and Governor 1968-72) in a modern building designed by Edward Durrel Stone, with a beautiful staircase, now famous. It contains a representative collection of European and American art from the third century BC to the present day. As well as an extensive Baroque collection and fine examples of pre-Raphaelite painting, there is a small collection of precolumbian ceramics and two cases of beautiful Art Nouveau glass. Most of the best Latin American painters are exhibited and there are often special displays. There are three gardens, one Spanish, one American and one Puerto Rican. T848-0511/0505. US$3 for adults, US$2 for children under 12. Open daily 1000-1700.
The Ponce History Museum on 51-53 Calle Isabela, near La Perla, opened in 1992 and has 10 exhibition halls with photographs, documents and memorabilia provided by locals, as well as models and other exhibits chronicling the city’s history. Guided tours in English, Spanish or French. T844-7071/7042. US$3 adults, US$1 children. Weekdays 1000-1700, weekends 1000-1800, closed Tuesday. The Museo de la Música Puertorriqueña, Calle Cristina 70, T8449722. n Tuesday to Sunday 0900-1200 and 1300-1730, catalogue US$3.
On El Vigía hill is the Observation Tower. US$0.50. Tuesday-Wednesday, 0900-1730, Thursday-Sunday 1000-2200. The Museo Castillo Serrallés is also on El Vigía hill. This fine, 1930s mansion has been restored by the Municipio. T2591774. US$3, children US$1.50, groups must reserve in advance. Tuesday-Thursday 0930-1630, Friday-Sunday 1000-1700.
Outside the town by the Yacht and Fishing Club is a good place to be at the weekend: vibrant atmosphere. A wooden broadwalk, La Guancha, has been built along the edge of the harbour. There are kiosks selling pinchos and other local treats, simple meals, cold beer and drinks. At one end is an open-air stage for live music or DJs with big sound systems. The music is ear-splittingly loud, especially at weekends. A two-storey building houses a restaurant, small theatre, tourist office and police substation. There is also an observation tower you can climb up. The beach is being developed, with a large recreation area (tennis, basketball courts). Getting there: taxi or own car needed.