Your Trip to Puerto Rico: The Complete Guide

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Puerto Rico is a crown jewel of the Caribbean, a tropical island with great weather year-round and a wide assortment of fantastic attractions. Whether your visit is for a week or a month, you won’t run out of things to do, places to go, and wonders to experience. You may love the beaches the most, or the climate in general, or the deep forest ecosystems, or the mountain peaks and valleys, or the rich and diverse cultural milieu. Whatever your preferences, when you come to Puerto Rico, you’ll find endless delights to enjoy and experience.

Planning Your Trip

Best Time to Visit: The weather in Puerto Rico is ideal during the late fall, winter, and early spring. Temperatures stay warm and comfortable, and there is less rain and humidity than at other times of the year. Summer and the approximate months are sweltering and humid in Puerto Rico, and also represent the beginning of tropical storm and hurricane season. However, because summer is less busy, better deals on travel, hospitality, and recreation can often be found at that time of the year.

Language: Spanish is the dominant language in Puerto Rico, and only about a fifth of its citizens speak English fluently. But bilingualism is especially prevalent in the tourism industry, and visitors who speak English exclusively will seldom have difficulty being understood.

Currency: The U.S. dollar. Puerto Rico is a part of the United States.

Getting Around: Outside the capital city of San Juan, good public transportation options in Puerto Rico are limited. This means you’ll likely have to rent a car if you want to explore different parts of the island. Taxis are expensive in Puerto Rico and should only be used sparingly, although the service is dependable when you need them. Boat rides are another way to explore the area if you plan to travel along the coast. Uber is an option in the metro area (San Juan and surrounding towns), but they’re scarce the further west and south you travel.

Travel Tip: Not everyone knows it, but there is more to Puerto Rico than just the main island. Just a few miles off the southeastern shore, you can find the small islands of Culebra and Vieques, each of which has been blessed with abundant natural beauty. Formerly used by the U.S. military for various training activities, both are now autonomous and open to receiving tourists. Both small islands are accessible by ferry or a short airplane ride, and a day spent on each would truly complete your trip.

Things to Do

Puerto Rico is one of the few places in the world where you can see and experience the ocean, arid land, forest, and mountain ecosystems and geological features on the same trip. Its culture is active and vibrant, its monuments and museums have faithfully preserved its history and cultural diversity, and there are so many breathtaking beaches you could spend your entire vacation just lying in the sun and enjoying them. Fishing, swimming, snorkeling, rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, zip-lining, bird watching, boating: name your favorite form of recreation, and your Puerto Rican vacation can include it.

The list of most memorable and enjoyable tourist attractions in Puerto Rico includes:

  • Beaches: Puerto Rico’s most populated cities are almost all located along its contiguous coastline. Virtually all feature clean, sparkling, well-maintained beaches that are considered among the world’s most attractive. In all, Puerto Rico has more than 270 miles of coastline and more than 300 beaches, some of which are crowded but many of which are quiet and secluded.
  • National Forests: The interior region of Puerto Rico is a haven for nature enthusiasts. Three of its most visited nature sanctuaries are the tropical El Yunque National Forest in the east, Toro Negro in the southeast, and the desert-like Guanica Dry Forest Reserve in the southwest corner.
  • Old San Juan: Old San Juan is the cultural and historical birthplace of Puerto Rico’s capital city. While walking its streets or strolling on its trails, you encounter an impressive array of specialized museums, many historical sites, colorful public art displays, great restaurants and clubs, amazingly well-preserved colonial architecture, and picturesque views of the sea.

Discover more things to do in Puerto Rico, including the best things to do and things to do with kids.

What to Eat and Drink

Puerto Rico does have its own distinct type of cuisine, which is known as cocina criolla, comidas criollas, or Creole cooking. It is a unique blend of Spanish, American, African, and indigenous cooking styles and ingredients, and it creates a broad menu of tasty mixtures that offers something to please the taste buds of every traveler (often at “mom and pop” restaurants and food trucks found off the beaten path). Puerto Rico is also an ideal destination for seafood lovers, as would be expected given its sea-blessed location. Some of the most delicious seafood can be found in restaurants in smaller cities and fishing villages, where fresh-caught fare is the norm.

Puerto Rico is the top rum producer in the Caribbean, and tropical cocktails like the piña colada (a Puerto Rican specialty) and other beverages made from local ingredients can be found everywhere. While the coffee industry is no longer as prosperous as it once was, Puerto Rican coffee is still some of the highest quality found anywhere, and coffee shops that serve a variety of coffee drinks are standard on the island—offering tasty alternatives to Starbucks.

Find out more about the best restaurants on the island, and learn more about the best bars in San Juan.

Where to Stay

Even if you plan to explore extensively outside the city limits of San Juan, the capital city may still be the best place to stay. Puerto Rico is not a large island, and you can reach Ponce on the southern coast and Mayaguez on the west coast (the next two largest cities) in two hours or less from San Juan. Budget and luxury hotels alike are widely available in San Juan, Ponce, Mayaguez, and in smaller coastal cities like Arecibo and Ceiba, as are inexpensive Airbnb facilities, giving you a wide range of suitable options if you’d like to stay near the beach and the ocean during your time on the island.

Before you make your reservations, read more about the best places to stay in Puerto Rico, including the top hotels on the island, and the best budget hotels in San Juan.

Getting There

Tourists coming to Puerto Rico will arrive at one of three major airports:

Most tourists fly into the airport in San Juan, since this large, modern facility is designed to handle heavy two-way traffic. If you’re coming specifically to Mayaguez or other locations in western Puerto Rico, the international airport in Aguadilla could be an option, and visitors to southern Puerto Rico may be able to fly directly into Ponce. But service to these two airports is far more limited, meaning San Juan will be your likely arrival point in most instances.

Culture and Customs

It's a good idea to learn at least a little basic survival Spanish, if not more, before you arrive in Puerto Rico. If you venture outside the typical tourist areas, you'll certainly need it, since English is not commonly spoken. Puerto Ricans everywhere will appreciate your attempts to use Spanish, even if your knowledge of the language is sparse, and as long as they see you’re trying, they will usually go out of their way to help you as best they can.

Tipping waitstaff and taxi drivers is normal in Puerto Rico. You should expect to pay the same 15-20 percent range you’d pay in the continental United States. It is generally considered rude not to say “please,” “hello,” and “thank you,” in Puerto Rico, even to people you only encounter briefly or casually. If you say it to them in Spanish (“por favor,” “hola,” and “gracias”), your gesture will be noticed and appreciated.

Money-Saving Tips

The cost of living in Puerto Rico is somewhat higher than in the United States. Many goods must be imported to the island, accruing extra expenses that are ultimately passed on to consumers by retailers.

Consequently, you'll want to save money any way you can while you're on the island. Here are a few money-saving tips that can keep you within the confines of your budget:

  • Rent from Airbnb or stay at a hostel: The prices for quality accommodations at Puerto Rican Airbnbs are surprisingly cheap. Homes, rooms, and apartments are well-maintained and generously furnished, and it usually isn’t hard to find places within walking distance of nearby beaches. Staying at a hostel is another budget-friendly possibility if you don’t mind sharing accommodations with other travelers.
  • Buy your lunches or breakfasts at kioskos: Street vendors selling all types of food from carts or small stands (called kioskos) are common in Puerto Rico, especially in more populated areas. Prices at these food stands are significantly less than you’d pay in a sit-down restaurant, and the food is both diverse and tasty.
  • Soak up as much free history, culture, and nature as you can: In Puerto Rico, museums, and historical sites (like the fortresses at El Morro and La Fortaleza) are often free to enter. When they aren’t, the price of entrance is usually quite low, rarely more than $10. Walking tours won’t cost you a penny, and the historic district of Old San Juan is highly recommended for this type of activity. Popular national forests like El Yunque and Guanica Dry Forest are also free to enter and explore. The beaches, of course, are Puerto Rico’s most famous free attraction, and at many beaches, you’ll be able to park at no cost as well.
  • Travel during the off-season: June to November is hurricane season in Puerto Rico, and the heat, humidity, and rainfall can be quite prodigious. But it is much easier to find deals on flights, hotels, car rentals, and tours if you travel in the summer or fall. If you are at all worried about being in Puerto Rico at this time, because of the weather, you can purchase travel insurance to help alleviate your concerns.

Find out more about the best free activities in Puerto Rico, which will help you get the absolute most out of your marvelous Puerto Rican vacation.

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