Many travelers planning a trip to Puerto Rico wonder if the island is safe. I'm pleased to report that, for the most part, this is a safe place for tourists. Violent crimes against tourists are rare, and in my many trips to the island, I have never had any problems. That said, there is crime here, and people should exercise common sense and caution, especially when they go out at night. If you take into account these simple tips and suggestions, you can enjoy a safe vacation here.
When in Doubt, Take a Cab
Taxis might be expensive in Puerto Rico, but they are safe and available. At night, it's definitely the best way to get around. 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, get the manager to call you a taxi.
The caveat to this rule is Old San Juan. Because this is such a populated hotspot at night, if you're staying in the old city and you've walked down (or up) to Fortaleza Street to check out the nightlife scene, it should be pretty safe to return to your hotel on foot. Crowds are always your friend.
Avoid Bad Neighborhoods
As in any destination, there are bound to be a few corners to avoid. Puerto Rico is no different. Parts of Old San Juan should be skirted, the most notorious being the La Perla neighborhood in Old San Juan, which hugs the coast below Norzagaray Street on the way to El Morro. Also, parts of Puerta de Tierra aren't recommended at night.
Wherever you are on the island, I wouldn't recommend heading to the beach (unless you're going to visit a biobay). This is especially true of isolated beaches away from the cities and towns; Puerto Rico has plenty of these, and you might be tempted to enjoy a romantic interlude at one. Better to stay away. If you must take a moonlight dip, stick to the populated, hotel-heavy strip around Condado and Isla Verde.
Know Your Emergency Contacts
Good news: 911 works in Puerto Rico just like is does in the U.S. San Juan has a tourist police as well as the local police, and in the old city they're especially visible (another reason why walking around here is relatively safe). Don't hesitate to flag one down if needed, even if you find their English a bit weak. Here are some other useful numbers:
- Department of Health: 787-766-1616
- Medical emergencies: 787-754-2550
- Dental emergencies: 787-795-0320
- Fire department: 787-725-3444
- Police: 787-343-2020
- Tourist Zone Police in Conado: 787-726-7020
- Tourist Zone Police in Isla Verde: 787-728-4770
- Weather: 787-253-4586
Also, make sure to have your emergency contacts on you when you travel. This is a standard precaution for any traveler.
Don't Leave Valuables in the Car
This is a no-brainer, but it's especially true in the islands of Culebra and Vieques. On the islands, no one will steal your car (where will they take it?), but a purse or camera lying in the front seat might well tempt thieve. Considering that your car is likely to be parked near a beach, chances are that it will stay abandoned for hours at a time. In fact, in Vieques, I was constantly cautioned to leave the car windows rolled down when I left my rental car, so as to give interested parties free reign to check it out and realize there was nothing of value in it.
Learn Some Spanish
This might not be so obvious to those who believe everyone on the island speaks English. This is not the case; Sanjuaneros, for the most part, will get by with basic conversation in English, especially those involved in the tourist industry. But leave the city behind and the locals' grasp of English is drastically reduced (that is until you get to Culebra and Vieques). Even if you don't run into any emergencies, a few words in Spanish and an understanding of basic Spanish will go a long way to making your trip all the more enjoyable.
When You're in the Water
If you've come to Puerto Rico, it's a good bet that you'll find yourself in the water at one point or another. The siren call of the island's beaches is hard to resist. When you go swimming, keep in mind these excellent safety tips offered by the Red Cross and compiled by Robert Curley, About.com's guide to Caribbean travel.