Why Go To Puerto Rico
Determining Puerto Rico's charm is a no-brainer. Less than a three-hour flight from Miami, this island is a U.S. territory (in case your high school history class didn't teach you that). So when you're shopping in San Juan, the capital city, you can pay for your souvenirs with American bills. But don't be mistaken: This isn't quite a home away from home. Puerto Rico has both 20-foot waves for surfers and calm, clear waters for families. It's a stroll back through time (El Morro) and an up-close look at the contemporary (Calle del Cristo). It's an exhilarating mix of landscapes, from the serpentine jungle of El Yunque to brilliant beaches like Condado and Crash Boat. And if you want to get away from civilization entirely, you can ferry over to the secluded – not to mention jaw-droppingly gorgeous – islands of Vieques and Culebra.
Unfortunately, the island suffered major blows in recent years. In 2017, Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that claimed thousands of lives and left much of the island still reeling two years later. Then, in December 2019 and January 2020, a series of earthquakes plagued the southwest portion of the island, temporarily disabling power and damaging homes, natural wonders and tourist attractions. However, traveling to Puerto Rico is safe and tourism will help the island in its recovery efforts. So, go ahead and book your flight; a wild world of natural enchantment, delicious food and historic experiences await.
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Puerto Rico Travel Tips
Best Months to Visit
The best time to visit Puerto Rico is from mid-April to June, right after the busy winter season and just before the rainy summer. Spring weather is also very pleasant, barely escaping the mid-80s on most days. The island sees its best weather in winter – which is partly why this is the most crowded and expensive time to visit – but with careful planning you might uncover a pretty good discount during those months as well. You could also plan an enjoyable and affordable trip for the fall, when hotels can be as cheap as $80 a night. However, keep in mind a fall visit leaves you susceptible to the effects of Atlantic hurricane season.
Weather in Puerto Rico
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
What You Need to Know
- It's open for tourism Despite its recent string of natural disasters, Puerto Rico is safe and ready for visitors. Tourism is a vital part of the island's economy and traveling there is a great way to help Puerto Rico recover.
- It's got a great food scene From traditional foods like mofongo (mashed plantains with meat and garlic), arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas) and tostones (fried plantains) to staple drinks like rum and coffee, sampling cuisine in Puerto Rico is a must. Sign up for one of the best tours in Puerto Rico for help navigating the local food scene.
- The term "paradores" These inns scattered throughout the island's countryside could be a nice, affordable compromise to staying in San Juan.
- That sound is the coquí The coquí (pronounced ko-KEE) is a tiny tree frog. It's a symbol of the island and is indigenous to Puerto Rico. You'll hear the males singing nightly throughout the island.
How to Save Money in Puerto Rico
- Take an Eastern Caribbean cruise Puerto Rico really should be explored over several days. But if you're short on time, you can get your fill during a cruise shore excursion.
- Book your flight carefully Flight costs vary wildly for Puerto Rico; booking early won't necessarily be cheaper.
- Eat like a local Finding spots away from the touristy, popular parts of town (or eating away from your resort) will not only help you keep your food budget low, but also let you sample some of the island's best cuisine.
Culture & Customs
Much of Puerto Rican culture, from the food to the music, represents the island's combined North American, Caribbean, Spanish and indigenous Taíno ancestry. In Old San Juan, for example, you can grab comida criolla (traditional Puerto Rican meals of pork, rice and beans) just a stone's throw from Calle del Cristo's Coach and Tommy Hilfiger factory outlets.
Speaking of clothes, you're on vacation in the tropics and you're going to want to dress informally. But it's a good idea to cover up your swimsuits with clothing unless you're at the pool or the beach. Also pay special attention to your attire before enjoying Puerto Rico's nightlife – only tourists go out dressing like they're at a barbecue. If you want to blend in at the bar, smart casual attire (slacks or dark jeans for men and dresses with heels or statement flats for women) is a must.
Many Puerto Ricans speak English, but Spanish is the language of daily life. Know some basic phrases such as "hola" (hello), "gracias" (thank you), "por favor" (please) and "de nada" (you're welcome). As you move farther outside San Juan, you'll likely meet fewer people who know English fluently. Pack a Spanish phrasebook, and know that Puerto Ricans welcome your efforts to converse with them in Spanish. In addition, you'll find that conversing with locals means carrying on several conversations at once or being interrupted. You may also find Puerto Ricans will stand closer to you when they meet you or reach for a handshake or hug when greeting you.
Since Puerto Rico is part of the United States, the island's currency is the U.S. dollar and credit cards are widely accepted. Tipping etiquette is the same here as in other parts of the United States; 15 to 20% is considered the standard, but more is appreciated for exceptional service.
What to Eat
Dining in Puerto Rico reflects the island's mixture of Caribbean, Latin, North American and indigenous Taíno influences. No matter where you dine, make sure you get a taste of some of Puerto Rico's most authentic eats: asopao is a traditional stew often made with chicken or beef; mofongo consists of seafood, meat or vegetables atop mashed plantains; pasteles are made of mashed banana (or yucca) and stuffed with pork, chicken or cod; and lechón is smoky, roasted suckling pig. Other items to try include tostones (fried plantains), arroz con gandules (rice and pigeon peas). For something sweet, try tembleque (a coconut custard), pastelitos de guayaba (a guava-filled pastry) or mantecaditos (a Puerto Rican shortbread cookie).
Drinks in Puerto Rico are a huge part of the island's dining culture, too. Coffee and rum are its two best-known beverages. Puerto Rico's climate makes it perfect for growing coffee, so you'll find lots of local growers and no shortage of places to enjoy a great cup. You can also visit one of the haciendas for tours of the coffee farms or to enjoy a warm drink.
You won't want to leave the island without trying local rum. Start with a piña colada, which was first created in Puerto Rico (specifically at the Caribe Hilton Hotel) and is the island's national drink. If you'd rather do a tasting, pop by the Bacardí or Ron del Barrilito distilleries. Each distillery offers tours of its facilities, tastings and mixology classes. And if you visit around the holidays, be sure to sample coquito, a coconut-based drink akin to eggnog.
As the major metropolitan area, San Juan offers a variety of dining options (though you'll want to be prepared to battle crowds). Some favorites include Jose Enrique. Though lauded for its bacalaito (fried cod fritter) and other seafood dishes, travelers warn the restaurant's perpetual crowds can deaden the vibe. For upscale fare, head to Marmalade for a varied tasting menu that could include vegan sausage, "rum barrel" pork cheeks and butterscotch bread pudding. Hacienda San Pedro, a local coffee grower, also has a popular cafe in San Juan. If you're looking for more of a local feel in the city, start out with one of the best food tours of Old San Juan. The tours will not only give you a taste of traditional cuisine but also help you orient yourself in the city.
If you're staying in the northeast, you can expect a quieter dining experience along Luquillo or Fajardo beaches. The kiosks in Luquillo are a must-visit in the area, as you can sample a range of different cuisines. If you want to try some of the best eats in the area, Puerto Rico's tourism board has put together a list of food trails themed around island staples like pork, coffee and rum.
Puerto Rico sees some violent drug-related crime as well as thefts in San Juan and Ponce, but it's usually not directed toward tourists. Still, watch out for pickpockets, especially on the beach, and don't leave your property unattended or it might be swiped. Steer clear of certain areas in San Juan at night, such as La Perla and portions of Santurce, as these towns are prone to drug activity and violence.
Getting Around Puerto Rico
The best way to get around Puerto Rico is by car. If you want to see more than the city in which you're staying, you'll need your own vehicle as intercity train service doesn't exist and intercity bus service is time-consuming and uncomfortable. Unfortunately, driving is a courageous pursuit carried out on snaking roads, and you'll need to carry spare change for the occasional toll.
In San Juan, you can likely get around without a car with careful planning. Parking can be expensive and traffic is a nightmare in the city, so relying on the bus and your own feet are likely your best bet during your time in the capital. Uber is also available in the city, as are a few local ride-hailing companies.
You'll likely fly in to Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU), which is about 7 1/2 miles east of San Juan. You can pick up a rental car here or you can take a taxi to your destination. Taxis from the airport charge a fixed rate to different destinations around the island. The airport's website provides the fare list.
Puerto Rico has smaller airports: Mercedita International Airport (PSE) on the southern coast (about 4 miles east of Ponce) and Rafael Hernández Airport (BQN) on the west coast in Aguadilla. Check the flight schedule for airlines like Spirit, United or JetBlue to fly into either of those hubs.
Entry & Exit Requirements
You don't need a passport to enter Puerto Rico, as it's a United States territory. However, if you are traveling onward to another Caribbean destination (other than the U.S. Virgin Islands) from Puerto Rico, you will need to present your passport. Visit the U.S. State Department's website for more information on entry and exit requirements.
San Juan's lively daytime energy translates into action-packed nightlife — one of many popular draws for tourists.
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