7 Tips on How to Prepare for Your Trip to Puerto Rico

San Juan, Puerto Rico

There is so much to do and see in Puerto Rico that can easily overwhelm any traveler visiting the island for the first time.  Here are some simple tips that can help you plan your tropical adventure in a successful way.

Know it is a U.S. territory

Puerto Rico’s current political status might be confusing to many.  It is a U.S. territory, but it is not a state.  Spanish is its official language, but English is widely spoken (especially on tourist areas).  Like in any U.S. territory, the dollar is the currency.

If you are a U.S. Citizen, you don’t need your passport to go to Puerto Rico, unless your visit is the starting point of a cruise vacation.

Know why you want to go there and what you want to do

Puerto Rico’s tourism is focused on the leisure and outdoor adventure niches.

Looking for a relaxed time at the beach? Spend time at resorts? Eco-tourism?  Outdoor Adventures? Diving? Sailing? Spanish culture and history?  All this can be done, and more.

Puerto Rico has the oldest city in the United States –Old San Juan– and it has the only rainforest protected by the U.S. – El Yunque.  Just an hour away, you can find a dry forest, a dwarf forest, or the largest cave system in the western hemisphere, among other natural features.  Caving, anyone?

Did you know Puerto Rico is considered the rum capital of the world?  You know what this means… lots of nights out in a vibrant nightlife!

Vieques Island, Puerto Rico

Know when to go and what to pack

The island sits at latitude 18N, so the tropical weather lasts 365 days a year (highs in the 90s, lows in the 70s).  Awesome, eh?  With that being said, your packing should consist of bathing suits, flip-flops, sunglasses, and sunscreen (among other things).  For hikers and outdoor adventurers, hiking boots and a rain jacket are highly recommended.  For a night out, stylish is what’s in.

While it is fine to visit the island year round, the ideal months are between March and August (late spring/summer).  During the winter, beaches get full of algae; and during late summer/early fall, the hurricane season is at its peak.

Understand your transportation options

Let’s be honest, public transportation in Puerto Rico sucks big time!  Unless you are staying at a resort that will shuttle you wherever you want to go or are planning to stay exclusively at Old San Juan, you will need to rent a car.

Planning on walking around?  Old San Juan and the old sector of Rio Piedras are the only pedestrian oriented urban centers in the metropolitan area.  Sadly, cities in the island weren’t designed to be walked, plus, walk for three minutes under the scorching sun and you will be wishing you were inside an air-conditioned car.

There’s a single rail line called Tren Urbano that can be useful, but it mainly serves people that live in San Juan’s suburban areas.

El Yunque, Puerto Rico

Know your budget

Puerto Rico is not cheap.  Seeing the island on a budget is possible, but it’s difficult.  You can find budget-oriented accommodations, often found at paradores (rustic government-sponsored accommodations) but they still can go at $100 per night or more.

Cheap food can be typically found at beach or mountain kiosks, and at local markets.  Restaurants will eat your budget since prices are in the mid range and are similar to other U.S. destinations.  The farthest away you get form the metropolitan area, the cheaper things get.

English is widely spoken, but learn a few words in Spanish

While English is widely spoken in the island, Spanish is the official language.  The more you venture outside urban areas, the less you will be able to communicate in English.  But still, basic communication is always possible.

It is recommended to learn a few Spanish expressions, greetings, and phrases.  The effort is always appreciated.  Have in mind that due to the dual language, the “official” Puerto Rican language can be considered to be Spanglish (so full of funny and horrible slangs).  Check out this Puerto Rican slang dictionary.

El Morro, Old San Juan

Know that you can explore the island by yourself

Don’t get fooled by tour companies or hotels that say places are far and hard to reach.  These are lies and tourist traps.  No single place in the island is more than two hours away and the expressways circle the whole island, making every single county easily accessible.

Don’t be afraid to ditch the tour bus and experience the island by yourself.  Take your car and go to the mountainous region (off the beaten path), or take the ferry to one of the surrounding islands – Vieques and Culebra (great beaches there!).

As you can see, with just a little research you can have a tropical vacation under a good budget and with a huge variety of activities that can easily cater to any traveler niche.  You can check SeePuertoRico.com to learn more about the island.

Images by Angela, Michael, csuspect, and churl respectively from Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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  1. says

    In only had a few hours in Old San Juan because I came on a cruise ship. I would love to explore the jungle and your tips are very useful, particularly as far as getting around on your own is concerned.

    • says

      Thanks Inka! Many tourists go to Puerto Rico on cruises, since it is right in the middle of the Northern and Southern Caribbean route. When you have the chance to explore the interior of the island, you will see it is completely different from what you experience at Old San Juan.

  2. says

    This is a really, really helpful post, and the photos are gorgeous! I’ve always wanted to see Puerto Rico. Hopefully I’ll make it there soon!

  3. says

    We are very interested in gong to Puerto Rico, especially since we have been listening to “In the Heights” non-stop for WAY to long (and the neighborhood is largely Dominican, Puerto Rican and Cuban – at least it is in the broadway musical).

    “…Alza la bandera,
    La bandera Puertoriquena…”

    I just read a brilliant article about how PR is going through some multi-billion dollar redevelopment plan to improve public transportation and make part of the city car free. Perhaps it is just a proposed plan (I don’t remember) but it is the kind of thing that piques our interest for sure.

    • says

      It’s a shame I haven’t seen “In The Heights”, but I’ve heard it is great and that it does a pretty accurate representation. Ha! I bet it must be a catchy soundtrack since some of my friends have done the same… repeat!… :)

      Wow, you guys are well informed. In my opinion, some of those redevelopment projects will take a (long) while to be implemented (knowing how the government works), but the island is doing a good job by implementing these initiatives in becoming more “sustainable” to its inhabitants and visitors. But for sure, PR has been redeveloping a lot in the tourism industry, since it has a lot to offer.

  4. says

    I loved Puerto Rico, but you are right – the public transportation isn’t the greatest. Fortunately, I stayed pretty much in San Juan, so I didn’t have to worry about it too much, but still.

    • says

      LOL!! That is a must! Especially is you plan to visit Carolina, the “birth place” of reggaeton. If you see how those girls dance! O_O They know how to polish walls with their booty!
      I’m not sure if I’m proud or not to say reggaeton and I share the same hometown. :)

    • says

      Renee, you have no idea how many people ask me about that everywhere I go. But that’s fine with me, it is a good conversation starter since everyone has an opinion on politics.

  5. says

    Nice article and totally agree about the public transport, though it seems that the mayor of San Juan is looking to the future with his light rail plans.

    It’s also worth noting that you can get some decent deals on car rentals which is the best way to get out of San Juan and explore the rest of the island

    • says

      You got good points there Brian. There are plans for a light rail to connect with the airport and to go to Old San Juan. Hopefully it will be developed in the following years. And yes. Often times there are great deals on car rentals.

    • says

      Yes, it is somewhat expensive since most of the economy follows the U.S. standards. I love Puerto Rican culture and history, it spans for over 500 years and it is a mix of native, african, spanish, and now american cultures.

    • says

      Thanks Lorna! That’s one of the things I try to avoid too; being a pawn of the tourist industry. Good thing we can all help each other through these blogs and more. :)

  6. Brian says

    I’m leaving for puerto Rico on Saturday and am looking for the best places to SCUBA dive. I’m open water certified, but my brother needs to get his certs. Any thoughts on the best place to start?

    • says

      So cool you’re going there! Definitely… In my opinion the best places to SCUBA are in the small islands of Vieques and Culebra (loved Culebra more), and on the west coast of the island. You can also go to Fajardo (lots of diving shops to rent equipment there), take a catamaran and dive at some of the “in between islands” spots. Let me know if you need any more info. :)

  7. ile de ré says

    Thanks for these bunch of tips about puerto rico’s island. $100/night’s quite a good deal for europeans who’re not facing the very bad effects of the crisis. alright i’ll see puerto rico .com

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by! Yes, it can be relatively affordable to many europeans who visit the island. The currency exchange gives you an advantage there.

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