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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 you didn't recall from high school history class). So when you're shopping in San Juan, 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 the corkscrew caves of Parque de las Cavernas del Río Camuy. 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. Convinced?

If not, we can drive a few further points home. When other Caribbean isles put a premium on wintertime at the beach, Puerto Rico offers year-round affordable packages so travelers can relax along its blanched sands. And while other regional spots like to advertise exciting nightlife, the capital city of San Juan actually delivers. Follow a pulsating beat to the dance clubs in the Santurce neighborhood, catch some live music in a Ponce lounge or grab a casual drink at a San Sebastián bar. Note: Puerto Rico suffered significant damage in 2017 due to Hurricane Maria. Though residential areas of the island are still recovering, tourism areas have mostly rehabilitated (though you will find some hotels are still closed due to storm damage).

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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. 

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What You Need to Know

  • The term "balneario" In Puerto Rico, this normally means "public beach." Some of the island's best include Balneario de Carolina and Balneario de Luquillo — great family spots that are free to enjoy and have changing facilities on site.
  • The term "comida criolla" It's the phrase Puerto Ricans use for traditional street food. The plantains, pork, rice and beans served here will be tastier (and cheaper) than anything you'll find at the hotels.
  • The term "paradores" These inns scattered throughout the island's countryside could be a nice, affordable compromise to staying around the activity of San Juan. 

How to Save Money in Puerto Rico

  • Take an Eastern Caribbean cruise Puerto Rico really should be explored over at least three or four days. But if all you want to see is the famous El Morro fort, you can get your fill during a port of call.
  • Plan ahead You can visit this "Island of Enchantment" in the peak winter for less money than other Caribbean spots, but to do so you should book two to three months in advance.
  • Use a road map The buses are essential to navigating much of San Juan, and the públicos provide a less stressful way of visiting neighboring towns. But it's easy to get turned around, miss your stop and therefore, spend more money. Knowing your route will also help you when taking a taxi.

Culture & Customs

Much of Puerto Rican culture, from the food to the music, represents the island's combined North American, Caribbean 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 Polo Ralph Lauren 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, turn up your fashion a notch and leave the culottes in the suitcase.

Many Puerto Ricans speak English, but Spanish is the language of daily life. Packing a Spanish phrasebook is handy, and Puerto Ricans welcome your efforts to converse with them in Spanish.

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 percent 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. If you want to try something new, head to a fonda, or storefront eatery, along San Juan's Plaza del Mercado. South Fortaleza Street, or Calle Fortaleza — or even SoFo for short — is another dining hub with some of the newest bars and restaurants. The food on San Juan's SoFo is good at any time, but it's a special treat to try some during SoFo Culinary Week in June. That's when Calle Fortaleza is barricaded to car traffic and transformed into an outdoor tasting plaza that's popular with tourists and residents alike. If you're staying in the northeast, you can expect a quieter dining experience along Luquillo or Fajardo beaches. The atmosphere and clientele is more subdued, and the affordable food exceeds expectations.

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; and lechón is smokey, roasted suckling pig.

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Safety

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 more rundown areas like La Perla in San Juan, as these towns are prone to drug activity and violence. If you're planning on taking some jungle hikes — and then want to take a dip in a refreshing lake or stream — keep in mind that some bodies of water are polluted. Stick to bodies of water higher up in the rainforest.

Getting Around Puerto Rico

The best way to get around Puerto Rico largely depends on where you're staying. In San Juan, you can try the combination of walking and taking the bus; on other parts of the island, a car will be your best bet. Unfortunately, driving is a courageous pursuit carried out on snaking roads, and you'll need to carry spare change for the occasional toll. To rent a vehicle, first check the rates at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU). You also have the option of a taxi, but keep in mind that only the white "turístico" taxis will definitely charge fixed rates.

Puerto Rico has smaller airports: Mercedita Airport (PSE) on the southern coast and Rafael Hernández Airport (BQN) on the western coast. Check the flight schedule for airlines like JetBlue and Delta to fly into either of those hubs. 

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Entry & Exit Requirements

You don't need a passport to enter Puerto Rico. 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.

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