Puerto Rico budget travel tips enable visitors to enjoy it all: lush, impressive mountains, unspoiled beaches and islands, historical sites and tropical rain forests. San Juan offers the Caribbean's best selection of restaurants, hotels, and clubs. It can be expensive, especially in the city, but here are five tips for budget travelers who want to enjoy this Eastern Caribbean tropical paradise.
Find the Kioskos
The first Puerto Rico budget travel tip is to avoid expensive food. It's good advice anywhere. But here, spending less can actually bring you closer to the culture you've traveled this far to experience.
A sound piece of advice: find the Kioskos.
Kioskos is the Spanish word for the English word kiosk. In Puerto Rico, it often refers to a food stand with small booths where you can pick up a variety of island delicacies at modest prices.
Care for a pionono? It's a sweet plantain stuffed with beef and topped with cheese. Don't knock it until you've tried it. Little risk here, because even if it isn't your favorite food, you won't spend more than a dollar or two for the sample.
Many of the offerings are less elaborate: fried fish, rice and beans, and roasted chicken are common purchases. Quality varies a bit, but so long as your expectations are reasonable, you'll find the food filling and tasty for the prices paid.
Plan a lunch or even a dinner at a Kiosko to benefit your budget as well as your taste buds.
Walk Old San Juan
When San Juan began to spread out in the early twentieth century, the historic center of the city began a slow decline to seediness.
Fortunately, local leaders eventually committed themselves to preserving the old city. The result of their efforts is one of the finest old city sections in this part of the world.
Narrow cobblestone streets are often clogged with very slow-moving traffic. So if you're not in a hurry, it's a good idea to walk into this relatively compact area. You can find some hotel bargains here, and you'll find some quality restaurant and shopping options, too.
Certainly, not everything you encounter here will fit a budget travel itinerary. But you'll also pay absolutely nothing to soak in the atmosphere.
Take note of weekend schedules here. Frequently, these times bring out a lot of sidewalk artists and displays that enhance the experience.
Experience El Morro
This Puerto Rico budget travel tip is easy to see: you can visit a major historic site with scenic views of the harbor and the city for just a few dollars. Locally, they call it El Morro.
To be correct, the name is Castillo de San Felipe del Morro, but it's a lot easier to simply refer to it as El Morro. It is the fort that once defended San Juan (and all of Puerto Rico) from invaders.
Your initial reaction to walking around an old fort might be less than enthusiastic, but this is no ordinary historic site. It's easy to lose track of time as you look at walls 16 feet thick and designed so well that only one invader ever captured the place.
El Morro was effective at repelling invaders from the sea. But a second fortification here was built to ward off land invasions. The Castillo San Cristóbal is located at the eastern entrance to Old San Juan. It was finished in 1790 and improved for many decades thereafter.
The entry fees are modest for each fortification, and you can get a day pass to visit both sites to save even more money. Those 15 and under get in for free.
Get out of San Juan
We're talking about Puerto Rico budget travel tips, not just San Juan. At some point in your visit, try to leave the city behind and enjoy the remainder of the island.
Like this view? It's from the front of my room at the Ceiba Country Inn, a bed and breakfast at the edge of El Yunque National Forest. A room, with breakfast, generally runs about $100 USD/night for up to two people. Tree frogs serenade you to sleep each night, to say nothing of this view!
You see, San Juan often resembles a mainland American city: lots of tall buildings, fast food, and busy expressways. Nothing wrong with any of those things, but you owe it to yourself to see as much of Puerto Rico as is possible.
The good news for budget travelers is that prices for hotel rooms and meals tend to fall once outside of greater San Juan. Rent a car or take a tour, but be sure to explore other parts of the island.
Visit El Yunque Rain Forest
El Yunque National Forest is a special place.
It's the only tropical rain forest in the U.S. Forestry Service system. You'll have to pay for a car rental or a tour to get here, but once you arrive, the forest is yours to explore for free.
The visitor center at the entrance does charge a modest entry fee, but you are under no obligation to stop there. But a stop is recommended because you'll find an impressive array of displays, a guided tour and a video explaining the ecosystem.
A road about eight miles long takes you upward in elevation, and you'll pass a number of pull-offs for trails and overlooks. It's best to arrive early in the day before the tour buses pull in.
At the top, elevations exceed 3,500 ft. There are 240 species of trees, 23 of which can only be found here.
Remember: the only cost is getting here. Everything else can be enjoyed for free.