Planning a trip to Puerto Rico? Here are some general considerations to take into account when planning a trip to Puerto Rico regardless of your specific destination.
Puerto Rico is known to locals as “La isla del encanto” which translates to the island of enchantment. This is due to the magical effect the island’s beauty and diversity has on both the proud population of 3.548 million residents and it’s yearly influx of about 4 million visitors a year.
This article is designed to help you prepare so you can enjoy the benefits of this gem in the Caribbean. Let’s get started!
Best time to visit
- Puerto Rico and the Caribbean have great weather year round fluctuating between 75 – 90 degrees depending on the time of year. With this consideration planning a trip to Puerto Rico depends more on when you really want to go than the islands climate.
- Hurricane season is officially from June 1st to November 3oth but most of the hurricanes and storms happen around August and September.
- Prepare for humidity and lots of it.
*Note: Always check the weather report before you go. If you are planning your trip way in advance you can use weather.org to check the historic temperatures for the dates you want to travel. This should give you a good idea of what to expect.
Transportation and getting around
- It is best to rent a car if you are planning to do some exploring. Puerto Rico does not have a good public transportation system and taxis are quite expensive.
- Alternatively, if you are planning on staying in Old San Juan, Isla Verde and/or Condado you might survive with the occasional taxi ride and tourist transportation provided by your hotel (if available). However, this option is limiting and will only work for short trips where your itinerary is concentrated on beach, party, beach and more party around the tourist metropolitan areas.
- If you decide not to rent a car immediately or at all; when you arrive at the Luis Muñoz Marin Airport you will have plenty of taxi, shuttle and pre-arranged hotel transportation options.
*Note: For safety reasons NEVER take unmarked or unlicensed shuttles or taxis.
GPS and directions
Roads in Puerto Rico sometimes are not marked properly. GPS and Google Maps may not always register your exact location or the location you want to go to (depending on the remoteness of the location) so make sure you call ahead of time and get detailed directions on how to get to your destination. You will find that directions in Puerto Rico are not typical, so be prepared to get a lot of “left at the 3rd traffic light, then 1st entrance to the right after the curve, take the sharp hill when you see the green house turn right”. When you get them (and you will) you may think these directions are useless but right them down because when you come across unmarked roads that little green house will be your best friend.
This video will explain it better 🙂
Passport and documentation required to travel
For US Citizens Coming from U.S.: When it comes to the bigger picture Puerto Rico is an easy place to travel and a popular destination to jump-start your trip to other islands in the Caribbean. If you are a US Citizen coming from the U.S. you don’t need a passport. However, don’t forget your passport if you plan on doing some island hopping in the Caribbean when your trip to Puerto Rico is over. If you need more information check the U.S. Customs and Border Protection – US Citizens – Documents needed for entry into the U.S. website for updates.
- For non-US citizens: You will need a passport, visa and/or other documentation depending on your special situation. Basically whatever you would need to enter the U.S. is what you will need to enter in Puerto Rico. More information U.S. Customs and Border Protection – Entering the U.S. – Documents required for Foreign Nationals (International Travelers)
- Additional information on Needing a passport to enter the United States from U.S. territories.
Type of accommodations
Want a local experience?
- Stay in “paradores”. “Paradores” are PR’s version of hostels, which are more like locally owned small boutique hotels. This option may be a little harder to plan, as most of the good “paradores” don’t have online booking capabilities but it is well worth the extra effort and it is truly how you can help the local economy and get the best experience possible.
- Here are some of the most popular resources for finding a “parador” and booking information (you may even get lucky with the occasional online booking tool):
- Rent an apartment from a local using sites like airbnb, homeaway and flipkey just to name a few.
Want a luxury yet non-constricting experience with a local flavor?
- Stay in one of the many hotels.
- Booking a hotel in Puerto Rico is simple. Just go to your favorite hotel booking site and select your desired location.
Want a carefree experience?
- Stay in one of the few all-inclusive hotels. But good luck finding one as these hotels are few since Puerto Rico is quite expensive and the all-inclusive model has not proven to be as successful as in other cheaper Caribbean destinations. Still some hotels may offer all-inclusive specials or packages. This is the least recommended option, as you will not get to really experience the island’s culinary culture.
Looking for budget accommodations?
- HOSTELS: Puerto Rico is not a hostel culture when it comes to accommodations so there are very few hostels in the island. Lately more and more are opening as the island opens its doors to backpackers.
- MOTELS: An alternative to hostels is the Motels. But be warned, as in many Latin cultures motels in Puerto Rico are not set for tourist and travelers and they are more for the locals that want to spend a few private hours with their significant others but can’t do so in the family home (you get the picture right?).
- GUEST HOUSES / B&Bs / CHEAP HOTELS: Do your homework and you may find cheap 1, 2 and 3 star hotels with decent reviews that will give you a good bang for your buck. Some are really Guest Houses or B&B that are locally owned just like the “paradores” but with a modern/Americanized approach feel.
Additional accommodation tip: ALWAYS do your research to confirm your gut about the place with reviews from previous travelers. tripadvisor is always a good place to start or simply google “[name of accommodation] review” and you should find the good the bad and the ugly.
*Note: Support locally owned accommodations over chain hotels to get a better experience.
Currency and money
- If you are coming from the U.S. when planning a Trip to Puerto Rico currency will be the easiest thing on your checklist as USD is the official currency used in Puerto Rico. Locals also refer to the USD as “peso” and “chavos”.
- For international travelers make sure to have cash in hand so you can exchange your local currency into USD once you arrive at the airport.
- ATMs are locally know as ATH. Banco Popular and Banco Santander are the most popular ATMs you will find in Puerto Rico, so be prepared to pay transaction fees if you do not have account in these banks.
- ATMs will give you USD if you have a Visa logo on the card. For currency exchange purposes Santander will most likely give you the best exchange rate.
- CREDIT CARDS are widely used and if you have a U.S. bank you will most likely have no additional charges for using your credit card in Puerto Rico.
- You will need CASH for small purchases and for purchasing from some of the local vendors.
*Note: Always check with your bank before you travel to make sure you can use your debit/credit card in Puerto Rico/US, confirm transaction fees and notify that you will be traveling to Puerto Rico as some banks may block your card for security purposes unless if you notify them first.
General money saving tips for food and drinks
- Food is expensive so be prepared. Most hotels and “paradores” will include breakfast, which is always a good way to save some cash.
- Rum is cheap and the local beer “Medalla” is usually between $1 – $3 depending on where you buy it.
- Ask for a mini refrigerator to stock-up on a few items in the supermarket and prepare some sandwiches for the road or the beach.
- Invest in a disposable or cheap cooler that you can find in any Walgreens, supermarket, “colmado” or gas station. Depending on how long you plan on staying in the island and how often you plan on going to the beach this might be a good option to save money on drinks in the long run.
- Eat in local “panaderias” (bakeries) as often as possible and stock-up on puertorican “pan sobao” (sweet and soft bread) or “pan de agua” (crunchy on the outside fluffy on the inside bread). A loaf of bread is usually between $1 – $2. “Panaderias” in Puerto Rico are more like cafeterias with delicious varieties of sandwiches and local coffee. Some even have lunch specials that go beyond your typical sandwich. It is not just cake and cookies here.
- You can drink on most if not all beaches in Puerto Rico but drink responsibly, avoid glass and bring your own trash bag. Stop by the local “colmado” or gas station to buy your choice of drinks and ice before you go.
- Sign up for Gustazos (the PR version of Groupon) to get restaurant and accommodation deals.
Social style and interacting with locals
- Locals are very friendly and love to help out tourist so don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Smile and thank everyone for everything. It is the Caribbean way.
- A kiss on the cheek and a short hug are normal greetings among locals. Puertorricans are very kissy and huggy people but lead with a handshake and if you are casually pulled in for a hug accept it as a nice gesture.
- When at the bar or club; use social queues and be respectful. This goes specially when your “target” (prospective dancing partner) is accompanied by a significant other. This goes for both men and women.
Puerto Rico’s official languages are Spanish and English, with Spanish been the predominant language. Some sources indicate that only 10% of the island’s inhabitants speak English, however based on experience this low number seems hard to fathom.
Puerto Rico has gained a bad reputation over the past few years due to its decaying economic and unemployment situation. Crime rate has increased however it is mostly contained within local communities and tourist are often “not messed with”. Use caution as you would in any unknown destination. Such precautions may include:
- Keep important phone numbers and addresses written down on paper or send yourself an email to access in case of robbery or theft.
- Don’t leave packages, backpacks or purses unattended.
- If you don’t feel safe, follow your gut instinct.
- You can use jewelry and smartphones openly as long as you follow the gut instinct rule.
- Locals like to dress up so no need to bum down your style to look like a local. You might actually stand out more if you do.
- Always check for travel alerts related to your destination before you travel. For more information refer to the following link: http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html
Health and vaccines
- No vaccines are required but many are recommended based on your planed activities. If you are traveling from specific countries you might have additional vaccination regulations. Always check before you travel. For more information refer to the following link: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/clinician/none/puerto-rico
- It is always a good idea to check your coverage in case you have an incident while you travel. You may or may not need supplemental travelers insurance if you have a U.S. based health insurance.
- Some credit cards also provide travelers insurance and you might not even be aware of the benefits you are entitled to so always check first as you might be surprised.
- If you are traveling from outside the U.S. and do not have one of the above options available you might want to consider travelers insurance.
Important Disclaimer: All the information contained in this article was written based on extensive travel experience to Puerto Rico and research done on December 1st 2015 and is not intended to provide legal, immigration or medical advise. Always check government sites for the most up to date information specially if you are a foreign national or traveling from a non-U.S. destination.
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