That 25 million tourists flock to the Caribbean each year for umbrella-topped drinks and cabana lounging gives the impression that the group of islands off Miami's coast is something of a vacationer's paradise, immune to crime and corruption. In reality, parts of the Caribbean are laden with drug- and gang-related activity, such as Puerto Rico, a common pit stop for smugglers en route to the U.S. from South America. Safety is a concern for many people visiting the beachy haven, but not to worry: Tourists are not the common target for crime here.
Rather, much of the island caters specifically to travelers, meaning you can walk along Fortaleza Street in Old San Juan at 3 a.m. without a worry. Given you avoid certain parts of town—notably the La Perla neighborhood (adjacent to El Castillo San Felipe del Morro) and much of Puerta de Tierra (beyond the hotels)—at night and don't encounter a hurricane during your visit, your trip to Puerto Rico will most likely be incident-free.
The U.S. Department of State has tacked Level 2 travel advisories onto a number of Caribbean Islands (Haiti is even under a Level 4), but Puerto Rico remains under a Level 1. The government advises exercising "normal precautions" in Puerto Rico, suggesting travelers take the necessary precautions to avoid petty crimes like theft and muggings.
Is Puerto Rico Dangerous?
In general, Puerto Rico is not a dangerous place. In fact, it's one of the safest islands the Caribbean and has a lower crime rate than most U.S. cities. However, the island is often troubled by the local drug trade. Puerto Rico’s borders are open to many small, private charter planes, as well as ships carrying illegal cargo north. Naturally, drugs find their way onto the island, and even though both the FBI and the DEA have offices in Puerto Rico, drugs remain a large problem.
Additionally, Puerto Rico (like any island) occasionally falls victim to hurricanes, and with natural disasters comes an uptick in crime. After September 2017's Hurricane Maria, for instance, Puerto Rico experienced an increased homicide rate (now 675 per 100,000 people). Again, tourists are not the main target of these crimes. Storms can be avoided by traveling outside of the hurricane season, which runs from June to November.
Is Puerto Rico Safe for Solo Travelers?
Puerto Rico is no less safe for solo travelers than any other place, so long as lone visitors take precautions like not walking alone at night, avoiding crime-popular areas, and keeping track of possessions at all times.
Like all travelers, solo tourists should keep to safe neighborhoods like San Juan Viejo, Culebra, and Vieques and avoid taking moonlit strolls along the beach at night. Puerto Rico's taxis, public buses, ferries, the Tren Urbano ("Urban Train"), and públicos are all considered to be perfectly safe.
Safety Tips for LGBTQ+ Travelers
With Puerto Rico being one of the most gay-popular slivers of the Caribbean, LGBTQ+ travelers need not shy away from this island and the rainbow flag-flying area of Condado Beach, especially. Tourists are protected by the United States' federal hate crime laws in Puerto Rico, which means that crimes committed on the basis of sex, gender, ethnicity, and religion are punishable by law. Hate crimes should be reported to local law enforcement (911 is still in effect for emergencies) and to the FBI, when necessary . Otherwise, LGBTQ+ revelers can find their birds of a feather at Circo's Bar, a gay nightclub, or SX, a stripper bar, both in San Juan.
Safety Tips for BIPOC Travelers
The population of Puerto Rico is primarily Hispanic . There aren't many reports of BIPOC travelers being treated unfavorably because of race, but such incidents are not entirely unheard of. The New York Times reported in 2020 that Puerto Rico is still plagued by its long history of racism; however, it isn't necessarily the kind of racism that translates into tourist-targeted hate crimes. Again, should you fall victim to verbal or physical harassment on the basis of discrimination, you should report the incident to local authorities.
Safety Tips for Travelers
Overall, tourists shouldn't expect to run into trouble during a trip to Puerto Rico. Stay safe by maintaining awareness of your surroundings and taking necessary precautions to reduce risks.
- Avoid wearing expensive jewelry or other clothes that signify wealth, which can attract pickpockets and muggers.
- Many hotels have in-room safes, which are excellent places to keep a passport and some extra cash. Credit cards are widely accepted on the island, so don't travel around with too much money in your wallet and when handling it, do so in a private place.
- Many police officers in the most touristy areas (like Old San Juan) are bilingual, but once you get out of the popular areas, you should expect them to only speak Spanish. Have some essential phrases memorized or download a translator app on your phone for emergencies.
- If you plan to rent a vehicle, don't leave your valuables in it. Carjackings aren't uncommon in Puerto Rico, even in safe areas like Vieques and Culebra, where thieves rarely think twice before smashing through a window.
- Tourist police can be reached in Condado at 787-726-7020 and in Isla Verde at 787-728-4770. Otherwise, you can call the national police line at 787-343-2020 or 911 in an emergency.
U.S. Department of State. "Travel Advisories Level Map."
Miami Herald. "On the streets of San Juan, police struggle to rein in crime after Hurricane Maria." October 20, 2017.
U.S. Department of Justice. "Puerto Rico."
U.S. Census Bureau. "Puerto Rico." 2010.
The New York Times. "Why Some Black Puerto Ricans Choose ‘White’ on the Census." February 9, 2020.