Visiting Puerto Rico is an idyllic island escape and especially convenient for American travelers who want to leave the mainland without traveling internationally. However, it can be disconcerting to see Puerto Rico appear on lists of the most dangerous Caribbean islands, and would-be travelers may be asking themselves if it's truly safe to visit. Even though violent crime is relatively high in Puerto Rico, keep it in perspective and know that it is actually much lower than in many major U.S. cities. If you stay out of notoriously bad neighborhoods, you can bask in the warm Caribbean sun at the beach and party at San Juan's best nightclubs without problems.
Is Puerto Rico Dangerous?
There are undoubtedly dangerous parts of Puerto Rico and safety precautions to take into account. The murder rate has dropped significantly since reaching a high in 2011, but it's still about four times higher than the U.S. murder rate overall (although when compared to U.S. cities, Puerto Rico would have the 13th highest murder rate, falling between Philadelphia and Milwaukee). Other crimes, including muggings and carjackings, happen frequently all over the island.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of crimes, especially violent crimes, are limited to gang activity and don't affect tourists. Parts of San Juan should be skirted, the most notorious being the La Perla neighborhood, which hugs the coast below Norzagaray Street on the way to El Morro. Also, parts of Puerta de Tierra aren't recommended at night.
Apart from crime, visitors should be aware of hurricanes and earthquakes. Hurricane Maria devastated the island in September of 2017, killing nearly 3,000 people in Puerto Rico alone and causing widespread damage. The hurricane season lasts from June to November, so keep an eye on weather forecasts if you'll be traveling during this time.
Is Puerto Rico Safe for Solo Travelers?
If you're traveling alone, you shouldn't experience any major problems in Puerto Rico. Avoid dangerous areas and be cautious at night—just as if you were in any other big city—but you don't need to worry about exploring on your own, especially in popular zones. If you're staying in Old San Juan, where most of the nightlife is located, you can easily get around on foot. If you're out at night alone, don't drink so much that you lose control or you could become a target for theft.
Taxis might be expensive in Puerto Rico, but they are safe and available. At night, it's definitely the best way to get around for longer distances. Look for the white taxis with the distinctive garita or sentry box icon painted on them. They are usually found at designated taxi stands. Also, if you're at a club or restaurant late into the night, ask an employee to call you a taxi. Uber is also available on the eastern side of the island, including all of San Juan.
Is Puerto Rico Safe for Female Travelers?
Overall, Puerto Rico is considered a safe place for female travelers, although women, and especially women traveling alone, should be prepared for flirty behavior from men. Catcalling is commonplace, but no worse than other major American cities and it's best to just ignore it. If you're going out at night, use the same precautions you would take anywhere else and don't accept drinks from strangers.
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
Puerto Rico is considered one of the most gay-friendly islands in the Caribbean and there are plenty of nightlife spots in San Juan that cater to the LGBTQ+ crowd. As in the rest of the U.S., same-sex marriage is legal in Puerto Rico. The local government also includes several protections for gay and trans individuals.
Keep in mind that Puerto Rico's population is largely Catholic and many parts are still very conservative, so some discretion may be necessary outside of the city. However, LGBTQ+ Puerto Ricans are able to live openly and for many on the island, it's just a part of everyday life.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
Puerto Rico has a long and complicated history of racism. On the one hand, many locals of all skin tones have to endure discrimination from "mainland Americans" who consider Puerto Ricans to be foreigners, when in fact Puerto Rico is a part of the U.S. And then on top of that, dark-skinned and Afro-Puerto Rican residents suffer an additional layer of racism from lighter-skinned neighbors. In the summer of 2020, massive protests took over the island in support of Black Lives Matter and to condemn racist practices and policies.
Safety Tips for Travelers
- While many people on the island, especially in San Juan, speak at least some English, learning a few words in Spanish will go a long way to making your trip all the more enjoyable.
- If you need to call emergency services, the number is 911, just as in the mainland U.S. In Puerto Rico, there is also a dedicated tourist police force.
- Never leave valuables in a parked car. In fact, many beachgoers leave the car windows rolled down as a signal to potential thefts that there's nothing of value inside.
- Many beaches are not supervised by lifeguards, so be careful when swimming and always heed local safety signs.
- The issue of statehood and independence is a sensitive topic in Puerto Rico. Be respectful of local opinions and don't impose your own when unsolicited.