The island of Puerto Rico has a rich history and culture, exceptional food, pristine beaches, majestic mountains, relaxation, adventure — all packed into one sun-kissed Caribbean paradise. La Isla del Encanto is full of people who are “buena gente” (which is boricua slang for kind and friendly) and welcoming. Around every corner, you’ll find a celebration of life, a vibrant cultural experience, food for the soul, and a captivating rhythm.
EXPLORE PUERTO RICO
Nonstop flights to San Juan from New York are 3¾ hours; from Miami, 2½ hours; from Atlanta, 3½ hours; from Boston, 3¾ hours; from Chicago, 4½ hours; from Dallas, 4½ hours.
There are dozens of daily flights to Puerto Rico from the United States, and connections are particularly good from the East Coast, although there are a few nonstop flights from the Midwest as well. San Juan’s international airport is a major regional hub, so many travelers headed elsewhere in the Caribbean make connections here. Because of the number of flights, fares to San Juan are among the most reasonably priced to the region.
The island’s main airport is Aeropuerto Internacional Luis Muñoz Marín (SJU), 20 minutes east of Old San Juan in the neighborhood of Isla Verde. San Juan’s secondary airport is the small Fernando L. Ribas-Dominicci Airport (SIG), also called Isla Grande, near the city’s Miramar section. From either airport, you can catch flights to Culebra and Vieques, and from SJU you can also connect to other destinations in Puerto Rico and throughout the Caribbean.
Other Puerto Rican airports include Aeropuerto Internacional Rafael Hernández (BQN) in the northwestern town of Aguadilla, Aeropuerto Eugenio María de Hostos (MAZ) in the west-coast community of Mayagüez, Mercedita (PSE) in the south-coast town of Ponce, José Aponte de la Torre (RVR) in the east-coast town of Ceiba, Antonio Rivera Rodríguez (VQS) on Vieques, and Aeropuerto Benjamin Rivera Noriega (CPX) on Culebra.
Before arriving, check with your hotel about transfers: some hotels and resorts provide transport from the airport—free or for a fee—to their guests; some larger resorts run regular shuttles. Otherwise, your best bets are taxis turísticos (tourist taxis). Uniformed officials at the airport can help you make arrangements. They will give you a slip with your exact fare to hand to the driver. Rates are based on your destination. The base rate for a taxi turístico to Isla Verde is $10. It’s $15 to Condado and $19 to Old San Juan. There’s a $1 charge for each bag handled by the driver, and other fees, too, including a fuel surcharge (currently at $2 per ride), an “airport fee” (currently $1 per each ride to/from the airport), and fees for rides with more than five passengers ($2 for each additional passenger up to seven passengers), as well as rides taken between 10 pm and 6 am ($1 surcharge per ride).
San Juan’s busy Aeropuerto Internacional Luis Muñoz Marín receives flights from all major American carriers. American Airlines flies nonstop from Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Miami, New York–JFK, and Philadelphia. Delta flies nonstop from Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and New York–JFK. JetBlue flies nonstop from Boston, Chicago O’Hare, Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Newark, New York–JFK, Orlando, Tampa and Washington National. Southwest flies nonstop from Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington, Chicago-Midway, Fort Lauderdale, Houston–Hobby, Orlando, and Tampa. Spirit Air flies nonstop from Fort Lauderdale. United flies nonstop from Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Newark, and Washington, D.C.–Reagan National.
It used to be that travelers arriving at San Juan’s international airport had to transfer to nearby Aeropuerto Fernando L. Ribas-Dominicci (known as Isla Grande Airport) to take a flight to Vieques or Culebra. These days, all the carriers servicing the islands also have flights from the international airport. (That said, if you don’t mind changing airports, flights to Vieques and Culebra are much cheaper from Isla Grande than they are from SJU. They are even cheaper–by as much as half–from Ceiba, which is about a 90-minute drive from San Juan.) Air Flamenco and Vieques Air Link offer daily flights from both airports in San Juan, as well as Ceiba, to Vieques and Culebra. Cape Air flies between the international airport and Culebra, Mayagüez, and Vieques.
Puerto Rico is also a good spot from which to hop to other Caribbean islands. American Eagle serves many islands in the Caribbean from San Juan; Cape Air connects San Juan to St. Thomas, St. Croix, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda. Seaborne Airlines departs from San Juan International to Anguilla, Antigua, Dominica, La Romana (Dominican Republic), Martinique, Nevis, Pointe a Pitre, Punta Cana (Dominican Republic), Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic), St. Croix, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Tortola, and Virgin Gorda. JetBlue now flies to St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. Maarten, Punta Cana, Santo Domingo, and Santiago from SJU.
San Juan is no longer the only gateway into Puerto Rico. If you’re headed to the western part of the island, you can fly directly into Aguadilla. United flies here from Newark, JetBlue flies here from Ft. Lauderdale, New York-JFK, and Orlando, and Spirit Air flies nonstop from Fort Lauderdale. If the southern coast is your goal, JetBlue flies to Ponce from New York–JFK and Orlando.
The Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses (AMA) operates buses that thread through San Juan, running in exclusive lanes on major thoroughfares and stopping at signs marked “Parada.” Destinations are indicated above the windshield. Bus B-21 will take you from Condado to Old San Juan. Bus A-5 runs from San Juan through Santurce and the beach area of Isla Verde. Note that bus service has been reduced significantly due to the island’s financial crisis, with route elimination and reduction in service introduced in phases beginning in late 2015. Service starts at around 5 am and generally continues until 9 pm, but buses are not viewed by visitors as an efficient or easy way of getting around San Juan. Fares are 75¢ and are paid in exact change upon entering the bus. Most buses are air-conditioned and have wheelchair lifts and lockdowns.
There’s no bus system covering the rest of the island. If you do not have a rental car, your best bet is to travel by públicos, which are usually shared 17-passenger vans. They have license plates ending in “P” or “PD,” and they scoot to towns throughout the island, stopping at a terminal in each community’s main plaza. They operate primarily during the day; routes and fares are fixed by the Public Service Commission, but schedules aren’t set, so you have to call ahead.
Several well-marked, multilane highways link population centers. Route 26 is the main artery through San Juan, connecting Condado and Old San Juan to Isla Verde and the airport. Route 22, which runs east–west between San Juan and Camuy, and Route 52, which runs north–south between San Juan and Ponce, are toll roads. Route 2, a smaller highway, travels west from San Juan toward Rincón, and Route 3 traverses east toward Fajardo. Route 3 can be mind-numbingly slow, so consider taking Route 66, a toll road that bypasses the worst of the traffic. Note that most tolls are cashless, so opting-in to a rental car company’s EZ-Pass option is usually convenient; some companies, including Payless, even offer unlimited toll use for a flat daily rate.
Five highways are particularly noteworthy for their scenery and vistas. The island’s tourism authorities have even given them special names. Ruta Panorámica (Panoramic Route) runs east–west through the central mountains. Ruta Cotorra (Puerto Rican Parrot Route) travels along the north coast. Ruta Paso Fino (Paso Fino Horse Route, after a horse breed) takes you north–south and west along the south coast. Ruta Coquí, named for the famous Puerto Rican tree frog, runs along the east coast. Ruta Flamboyán, named after the island tree, goes from San Juan through the mountains to the east coast. Note, however, that signage for all of these highways tends to be poor and inconsistent.
All types of fuel—regular, super-premium, and diesel—are available by the liter. Most stations are self-service. Hours vary, but stations generally operate daily from early in the morning until 10 or 11 pm; in metro areas many are open 24 hours. Stations are few and far between in the Cordillera Central and other rural areas, so plan accordingly. In cities you can pay with cash and bank or credit cards; in more remote areas, cash is occasionally your only option. Note, too, that you cannot pay at the pump, even with a debit or credit card; you’ll need to go inside the station to pay before pumping.
Puerto Rico has some of the Caribbean’s best roads, but potholes, sharp turns, speed bumps, sudden gradient changes, and poor lighting can sometimes make driving difficult, especially outside of the metropolitan area. Be particularly cautious when driving after heavy rains or hurricanes; roads and bridges might be washed out or damaged. Many mountain roads are very narrow and steep, with unmarked curves and cliffs. Locals are familiar with such roads and often drive at high speeds, which can give you quite a scare. When traveling on a narrow, curving road, it’s best to honk your horn before you take any sharp turn. Roads–even major ones–are often poorly marked, if at all.
Traffic around cities—particularly San Juan, Ponce, and Mayagüez—is heavy during rush hours (weekdays from 7 am to 10 am and 3 pm to 7 pm).
In an emergency, dial 911. If your car breaks down, call the rental company for a replacement. Before renting, make sure you investigate the company’s policy regarding replacement vehicles and repairs out on the island, and ask about surcharges that might be incurred if you break down in a rural area and need a new car.
Rules of the Road
U.S. driving laws apply in Puerto Rico. Street and highway signs are most often in Spanish but use international symbols; brushing up on a few key Spanish terms before your trip will help. The following words and phrases are especially useful: calle sin salida (dead-end street), carril (lane), cruce de peatones (pedestrian crossing), cuidado (caution), desvío (detour), estación de peaje (tollbooth), no entre (do not enter), no estacione (no parking), salida (exit), tránsito (one-way), zona escolar (school zone).
Distances are posted in kilometers (1 mile to 1.6 km), but speed limits are posted in miles per hour. Speeding and drunk-driving penalties are much the same as on the U. S. mainland. Police cars often travel with their lights flashing, so it’s difficult to know when they’re trying to pull you over. If the siren is on, move to the right lane to get out of the way. If the lights are on, it’s best to pull over—but make sure that the vehicle is a marked police car before doing so.
The Autoridad de Transporte Marítimo (Maritime Transportation Authority) runs passenger ferries from Fajardo to Culebra and Vieques. Service is from the ferry terminal in Fajardo, about a 90-minute drive from San Juan. Advance reservations are not accepted. There are a limited number of seats on the ferries, so get to the terminal in plenty of time. This means arriving an hour or two ahead of the departure time in Fajardo, somewhat less in Vieques and Culebra. In Fajardo the ticket counter is in the small building across the street from the actual terminal. In Vieques and Culebra the ticket counters are at the entrance to the terminals. There are food kiosks at Fajardo and Vieques that are open even for the early-morning departures. Culebra has casual eateries within a short walking distance of the ferry.
The Fajardo–Vieques passenger ferry departs from Vieques daily at 9:30 am, 1 pm, 4:30 pm, and 8 pm, returning at 6:30 am, 11 am, 3 pm, and 6 pm. Tickets for the 90-minute journey are $2 each way. The Fajardo–Culebra ferry leaves Culebra daily at 9 am, 3 pm, and 7 pm, returning at 6:30 am, 1 pm, and 5 pm. The 90-minute trip is $2.25. Note that schedules and service can change without advance notice due to weather and other circumstances.
Puerto Rico’s weather is moderate and tropical year-round, with an average temperature of about 82°F (26°C). There are no big seasonal changes, although winter sees cooling (not cold) breezes from the north, and temperatures in higher elevations drop by as much as 20 degrees. The rainier summer months are hurricane season in the Caribbean, which runs July through November. (Historically, August and September present the greatest risk for hurricanes.) The southwest is relatively dry year-round, while the region around El Yunque can be deluged at any time of year, feeding the lush rain forest.
Internet access in Puerto Rico is as widespread as it is on the U.S. mainland. You can expect rooms in large hotels or resorts to have plug-in Ethernet access or Wi-Fi—or, more likely, both. Many hotels also have business centers; these may be quite sophisticated or merely a computer terminal or two for guest use. In smaller B&Bs and inns, Wi-Fi is occasionally limited to common areas only, but this is the exception rather than the rule. If it’s important to you, call ahead to double-check that the hotel you want to stay in can meet your needs. Wi-Fi is also available in many chain restaurants, including Burger King and Starbucks, as well as some local cafés.
All Puerto Rican phone numbers consist of a three-digit area code and a seven-digit local number, just like those in the United States. Puerto Rico’s area codes are 787 and 939. Toll-free numbers, with the prefixes 800, 888, or 877, are widely used in Puerto Rico, and most can be accessed from North America. By the same token, you can also access most North American toll-free numbers from the island.
Most major American cell-phone companies consider Puerto Rico as part of regular nationwide calling, so it’s unlikely that those with U.S. calling plans will incur roaming charges during a visit. Nevertheless, it’s always best to call your provider to confirm before you travel. Companies that offer service in Puerto Rico include AT&T, Claro, T-Mobile, and Sprint.
Note that calling from a hotel is almost always expensive; hotels usually add huge surcharges to all calls, particularly international ones. Locally purchased calling cards can help keep costs to a minimum.
Puerto Rico is considered a part of the United States for customs purposes, so you will not pass through customs on arrival if you’re coming from the mainland. When leaving Puerto Rico, you must pass your bag through a checkpoint of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The list of organic products that can be transported from Puerto Rico to the States includes avocados, bananas, breadfruits, citrus fruits, ginger, papayas, and plantains.
Throughout the island you can find everything from French haute cuisine to sushi bars, as well as superb local eateries serving comida criolla, traditional Puerto Rican meals. Note that the mesón gastronómico label is used by the government to recognize restaurants that preserve culinary traditions. By law, every menu has a written warning about the dangers of consuming raw foods; therefore, if you want something medium rare, you need to be specific about how you’d like it cooked. The restaurants we list are the cream of the crop in each price category.
Meals and Mealtimes
Puerto Ricans’ eating habits mirror those of their counterparts on the mainland United States: They eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, though they don’t tend to drink as much coffee throughout the day. Instead, islanders like a steaming, high-test café con leche in the morning and another between 2 and 4 pm, perhaps alongside a local pastry or other sweet treat. They may finish a meal with coffee, but they never drink coffee during a meal.
People tend to eat dinner late in Puerto Rico. Many restaurants don’t open until 6 pm. You may find yourself alone in the restaurant if you eat before 7 pm; from 8 pm onward, it may be quite busy.
Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed are open daily for lunch and dinner.
Reservations and Dress
Regardless of where you are, it’s a good idea to make a reservation if you can. In some places, it’s expected. We mention reservations specifically only when they’re essential (there’s no other way you’ll ever get a table) or when they are not accepted. For popular restaurants, book as far ahead as you can (often 30 days), and reconfirm as soon as you arrive. (Large parties should always call ahead to check the reservations policy.) We mention dress only when men are required to wear a jacket or a jacket and tie.
Puerto Ricans generally dress up to go out, particularly in the evening. And always remember: beach attire is only for the beach.
Wines, Beer, and Spirits
Puerto Rico isn’t a notable producer of wine, but it does make several well-crafted local beers and, of course, lots of rum. Legends trace the birthplace of the piña colada to several San Juan establishments. Puerto Rican rum is popular mixed with cola (known as a cuba libre), soda, tonic, juices, or water, or served on the rocks or even straight up. Look for Bacardí, Don Q, Palo Viejo, Caliche, and Barrilito. The drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18.
Puerto Rico uses the same 110-volt AC (60-cycle), the two-prong-outlet electrical system as in North America. Plugs have two flat pins set parallel to each other. European visitors should bring adapters and converters, or call ahead to see whether their hotel has them on hand.
Consider making a small investment in a universal adapter, which has several types of plugs in one lightweight, compact unit. Most laptops and mobile phone chargers are dual voltage (i.e., they operate equally well on 110 and 220 volts), so require only an adapter. These days the same is true of small appliances such as hair dryers. Always check labels and manufacturer instructions to be sure. Don’t use 110-volt outlets marked for shavers only for high-wattage appliances such as hair dryers.
Emergencies are handled by dialing 911. You can expect a quick response by police, fire, and medical personnel, most of whom speak at least some English. San Juan’s Tourist Zone Police are particularly helpful to visitors.
Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián. The annual Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián in January features four nights of live music as well as food festivals and cabezudos parades, where folk legends are caricatured in oversize masks. www.seepuertorico.com/en/what-to-do/events.
Carnival. In the days preceding Lent, Ponce celebrates Carnival with flamboyant costumes, parades, and music. www.visitponce.com.
Casals Festival. San Juan’s annual Casals Festival honors world-renowned cellist Pablo Casals, who lived in Puerto Rico for nearly three decades until his death. Classical music performances feature the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra, as well as soloists, trios, and quartets from the island and around the world. 787/918–1106.
Heineken JazzFest. The annual Heineken JazzFest attracts some 15,000 aficionados to San Juan for four days of outdoor concerts by the likes of Michel Camilo and Eddie Palmieri. prheinekenjazz.com.
Jayuya Fiesta del Café. One of several coffee festivals held annually around the island, Jayuya’s Fiesta del Café features all the usual activities at these types of events—live music and coffee-making demos among them—but is notable for “la colada del café,” which organizers contend is the largest coffee pot on the island, brewing up to 100 pounds of coffee at once. Free.
Saborea Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s largest culinary event, Saborea Puerto Rico, is a three-day extravaganza held at Escambrón Beach in San Juan. It includes presentations by island and international chefs, and food from local restaurants, as well as beer, wine, and rum tastings. saboreapuertorico.com.
Puerto Rico Restaurant Week. PRRW is a one week, island-wide dining celebration held every May. It’s the perfect opportunity to visit top restaurants and enjoy specially priced pre-fixe menus lunch and dinner menus. www.prrestaurantweek.com.
SoFo Culinary Festival. For several days in both June and December, Old San Juan’s Calle Fortaleza is closed to traffic for the SoFo Culinary Festival, when many restaurants set up shop on the cobblestone street.
Late June–early July:
Aibonito Flower Festival. This popular festival displays incredible tropical foliage, including countless varieties of colorful orchids and ginger plants. There’s also plenty of food and music.
Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra. The annual season of the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra begins in San Juan with classical and pop performances by the island’s finest orchestra.
Festival del Mundillo. Moca’s Festival del Mundillo showcases delicate woven lace with demonstrations and exhibits.
Festival de Café. The mountain towns of Maricao and Yauco host the annual Festival de Café. Performers play music and artisans and home cooks sell their crafts and regional foods.
Festival de las Máscaras. The annual Festival de las Máscaras honors the mask-making traditions of Hatillo, where colorful masks used in religious processions have been crafted for centuries.
In sophisticated San Juan gays and lesbians will find it easy to mingle. Many gay-friendly hotels, restaurants, and clubs are scattered throughout the city, and beaches in Condado and Ocean Park tend to attract a gay crowd. Many guesthouses here are gay-owned and -operated. The bohemian Old San Juan crowd is particularly friendly and—just as in Ocean Park and Condado—many businesses there are owned by gays or lesbians. However, in recent years the gay energy has moved south to the relatively nontouristy but artsy and increasingly lively Santurce district; take a taxi to get there.
Some clubs and bars also host a weekly “gay night.” On the first Sunday in June, a gay pride parade takes place in Condado and is preceded by a week of events.
Other welcoming areas include Ponce in the south, Rincón in the west, and the island of Vieques in the east, although the local population here is more conservative and it’s the large and bohemian expat crowd that is tolerant. Remember that Puerto Rico is overwhelmingly Catholic and evangelical, which has a strong effect on how locals view gay people. In rural areas and small towns, overt displays of affection between same-sex couples can cause problems.
The most common types of illnesses are caused by contaminated food and water. Make sure food has been thoroughly cooked and is served to you fresh and hot; avoid vegetables and fruits that you haven’t washed (in bottled or purified water) or peeled yourself. If you have problems, mild cases of traveler’s diarrhea may respond to Imodium (known generically as loperamide) or Pepto-Bismol. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids; if you can’t keep fluids down, seek medical help immediately.
Infectious diseases can be airborne or passed via mosquitoes and ticks and through direct or indirect physical contact with animals or people. Some, including Norwalk-like viruses that affect your digestive tract, can be passed along through contaminated food. Condoms can help prevent most sexually transmitted diseases, but they aren’t absolutely reliable and their quality varies from country to country. Speak with your physician and/or check the CDC or World Health Organization websites for health alerts, particularly if you’re pregnant, traveling with children, or have a chronic illness.
Specific Issues in Puerto Rico
While uncommon, dengue fever, a mosquito-borne disease, is a reality of everyday life in the Caribbean. Puerto Rico has experienced several recent epidemics, most recently in 2010 and 2012. Virulent forms of the virus can cause high fever, joint pain, nausea, rashes, and occasionally death, but the most common strain is relatively mild, causing mostly flulike symptoms. Most cases were reported in urban areas far from the usual tourist destinations. As a precaution, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises the use of an insect repellent with DEET and clothing that covers the arms and legs. In 2015, the island also reported its first cases of another mosquito-borne virus, Zika, which poses serious risks to pregnant women and children in particular. The CDC issued travel warnings for Puerto Rico and other countries where Zika has been reported. Check the CDC website for current warnings.
Health care in Puerto Rico is among the best in the Caribbean, but expect long waits and often a less-than-pleasant bedside manner. If you require treatment, it is likely you will be charged in cash, even if you have active health insurance. Be sure to obtain a receipt for services that you can submit to your insurer. At all hospitals and medical centers you can find English-speaking medical staff, and many large hotels have an English-speaking doctor on call.
Tap water on the island is generally fine for drinking, but avoid drinking it after storms (when the water supply can become mixed with sewage). Thoroughly wash or peel produce you buy in markets before eating it.
Do not fly within 24 hours of scuba diving.
All the U.S. brands of sunscreen and over-the-counter medicines (for example, Tylenol, Advil, Robitussin, and Nyquil) are available in pharmacies, supermarkets, and convenience stores.
San Juan, Mayagüez, and Ponce, like most other big cities, have their share of crime, so guard your wallet or purse in markets, on buses, and in other crowded areas. Avoid beaches at night, when muggings have been known to occur even in Condado and Isla Verde. Don’t leave anything unattended on the beach. If you must keep valuables in your vehicle, put them in the trunk. Always lock your car. The exception is at the beaches of Vieques, where rental-car agencies advise you to leave the car unlocked so thieves don’t break the windows to search for valuables. This happens extremely rarely, but it does happen.
We recommend that women carry only a handbag that closes completely and wear it bandolier style (across one shoulder and your chest). Open-style bags and those allowed to simply dangle from one shoulder are prime targets for pickpockets and purse-snatchers. Avoid walking anywhere alone at night.
Puerto Rico observes all U.S. federal holidays, as well as many local holidays. Public holidays in Puerto Rico include New Year’s Day, Three Kings Day (Jan. 6), Eugenio María de Hostos Day (Jan. 8), Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day (third Mon. in Jan.), Presidents’ Day (third Mon. in Feb.), Emancipation Day (March 22), Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Memorial Day (last Mon. in May), Independence Day (July 4), Luis Muñoz Rivera Day (July 16), Constitution Day (July 25), José Celso Barbosa Day (July 27), Labor Day (first Mon. in Sept.), Columbus Day (second Mon. in Oct.), Veterans’ Day (Nov. 11), Puerto Rico Discovery Day (Nov. 19), Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas.
Bank hours are generally weekdays from 9 to 5, though a few branches are also open Saturday from 9 to noon or 1. Post offices are open weekdays from 8:00 to 4:30 and Saturday from 8 to noon. Government offices are open weekdays from 8 to 4 or 9 to 5.
Most gas stations are open daily from early in the morning until 10 or 11 pm. Numerous stations in urban areas are open 24 hours.
As a rule, San Juan–area museums are closed on Monday and, in some cases, Sunday. Hours otherwise are 9 or 10 am to 5 pm, often with an hour off for lunch between noon and 2. Sights managed by the National Parks Service, such as Castillo San Felipe del Morro and San Cristóbal, are open daily from 9 to 5.
In cities, locally run pharmacies are generally open weekdays and on Saturday from 9 to 6 or 7. U.S. chain pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, are open seven days a week; some are open 24 hours.
Street shops are open Monday through Saturday from 9 to 6; mall stores tend to stay open till 9 or sometimes even later. Count on convenience stores staying open late into the night, seven days a week. Supermarkets often open at 11 am on Sundays, although some remain open 24 hours, seven days a week.
Puerto Rico, which is a commonwealth of the United States, uses the U.S. dollar as its official currency. Prices for most items are stable and comparable to those in the States, and that includes restaurants and hotel rates. As in many places, city prices tend to be higher than those in rural areas, but you’re not going to go broke staying in the city: soft drinks or a cup of coffee run about $1–$2; a local beer in a bar, $3–$5; museum admission, $5–$10.
Prices listed here are for adults. Substantially reduced fees are almost always available for children, students, and senior citizens.
ATMs and Banks
Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs outside its network; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, if you’re visiting from overseas, you’ll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.
PIN numbers with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs in many countries. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave.
Automated Teller Machines (or ATMs, known here as ATHs) are as readily available and reliable as on the U.S. mainland; many are attached to banks, but you can also find them in gas stations, drugstores, supermarkets, and larger hotels. Just about every casino has one—to keep people in the game—but these can carry large surcharges, so check the fee before withdrawing money. ATMs are found less frequently in rural areas, but there’s usually at least one in even the smallest village. Look to local banks, such as Banco Popular.
It’s a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you’re going abroad and don’t travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you’re prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you’re abroad) if your card is lost, but you’re better off calling the number of your issuing bank since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank’s number is usually printed on your card.
U.S. citizens don’t need passports to visit Puerto Rico; any government-issued photo ID will do. Nor is there passport control either to or from Puerto Rico; in this respect, flying here is just like traveling on any domestic flight. Nevertheless, it’s always wise to carry some form of identification that proves your citizenship, and we still recommend that you carry a valid passport when traveling to Puerto Rico; it’s a necessity if you’re making any other trips around the Caribbean, except to the U.S. Virgin Islands, where you will pass through customs but not passport control.
You must pay a tax on your hotel room rate: For hotels with casinos it’s 11%, for other hotels it’s 9%, and for government-approved paradores it’s 7%. Ask your hotel before booking. The tax, in addition to each hotel’s discretionary service charge (which usually ranges from 5% to 16%), can add a hefty 12% to 27% to your bill. The island’s sales tax was raised from 7% to 11.5%—the highest in the U.S.—in late 2015.
Some hotels—usually those classified as resorts—automatically add a 5%–16% service charge to your bill. Check ahead to confirm whether this charge is built into the room rate or will be tacked on at checkout. Tips are expected, and appreciated, by restaurant waitstaff (15%–20%), hotel porters ($1 per bag), maids ($1–$2 a day), and taxi drivers (10%–15%).
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.
Puerto Rico is a tropical island, so temperatures don’t vary much. When considering what time of year to visit, think about the “dry” and “rainy” seasons. Dry season runs from mid-December through mid-April. Hotel rates can be as much as 25% higher than the rest of the year, and hotels tend to be packed. This doesn’t mean that rooms won’t be available, but if you plan to beat that winter sleet in Duluth, make arrangements for flights and accommodations as far in advance as possible. A less expensive time to visit is during the “shoulder” seasons of fall and spring, when discount rates may be available, the weather is still perfect, and the tourist crush is less intense.
The best bargains are in the slower summer season, when temperatures are hotter, it’s rainier, and hurricanes are a slim possibility. Puerto Rico can be an excellent hurricane-season option for the Caribbean for last-minute flight and hotel deals, when you’ll be able to watch the weather report and know a storm isn’t about to strike.
However, business travel—not to mention the fact that San Juan serves as a major hub for connecting flights to the rest of the Caribbean—keeps flights to Puerto Rico fairly full on weekdays all year long.