What to Know Before Going to Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

Table of Contents

Beautiful travel photos of Puerto Rico might make us believe it’s a faraway exotic location with a completely different culture and customs. Truth is, while it is indeed a beautiful tourist destination, it’s close, accessible, and very similar to the rest of the USA.

You’re not leaving the US

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the USA which means you don’t even need a passport to travel here. The flights are quite short and you won’t need to go through all those time-consuming customs. However, if you’re planning on boarding a cruise ship you’ll need it, aside from that all you need is your driving license or state ID.

What currency does Puerto Rico use?

The currency that you’re used to won’t change. Puerto Rico uses the US dollar, even though locals sometimes call it “peso”.

How much money should I take to Puerto Rico?

Accommodations are not cheap, even if you choose to stay at an Airbnb. Prices can go up to $100-$150/ night at a hotel. Food is not very cheap either, as prices for a night out can be comparable to going to a restaurant in NYC.

A nice way to stay within budget is to take advantage of street food, which is everywhere in Puerto Rico. Locals are keen on their frituras and this is your chance to try some of those popular dishes, such as empanadillas, pinchos, relleno de papas or bacalaitos.

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Rent a car in Puerto Rico

Most Puerto Ricans use cars in their day-to-day lives. Public transportation is available in the forms of buses, shuttles, and taxis, but if you want to travel to longer distances, renting a car is the way to go. Most big-name representations have offices here. 

Alcohol allowed under 21

It’s a good thing that Puerto Rico is the world capital of rum, as the drinking age here is only 18. It’s also the birthplace of Piña Colada. Rum is the cheapest alcoholic drink to get here, the rest being at about the same price as in the rest of the US.

Beaches in Puerto Rico

Even though swimming is allowed on most beaches in Puerto Rico, some of them have warning signs and are dangerous even if they’re not blocked. Families with children and tourists who are not very good at swimming should stay away from Conando Beach in San Juan, as it’s considered to be one of the most dangerous ones, because of it’s big waves and strong currents that can pull people in. Consider doing small research before deciding what beaches you want to stay on.

One place where tourists are not allowed to swim is the Mosquito Bay on the Island of Vieques, but not for any dangerous reason. This is the home of one of the most delicate ecosystems in the world, where small organisms called dinoflagellates turn the water bioluminescent. Even if the insects living on the surface might bug you, it’s advised to not use any repellent as it can harm the ecosystem.

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It’s not just about the beaches

Puerto Rico Beach

Yes, they’re one of the main attractions, but these lands contain so much more. The Rio Camuy Cave Park, El Yunkue National Rainforest, and Cueva Del Indio, all are natural wonders that can be visited by tourists who love the wild. Cueva Del Indio offers a glimpse into the local history from before the arrival of Columbus. The carvings were made by the Taino, a group of indigenous people of the Caribbean. 

History junkies will love the Fort of San Cristóbal, Fort El Morro, and the old neighborhood of San Juan. 

Puerto Rico area

Puerto Rico, Viequest, and Culebra are the three main islands where tourists prefer to spend their vacation because they’re the only ones that are inhabited. However,  whoever likes to stay away from crowds and general bustle, can take trips to one or more of the many uninhabited islands that are part of this archipelago. There are over 140 of them.

Some of the best ones to visit are Desecheo, Monito and Mona, which are all wildlife refuges for various species of plants and animals like iguanas, geckos, and the coral reefs.

Shopping in Puerto Rico

There are many malls and outlets, but when it comes to buying authentic souvenirs and local goods, it’s best to do it from locals. The Old San Juan neighborhood has shops targeted exactly for this. If you want quality, avoid the shops that sell very cheap trinkets, as these are probably made in China. Check the label for it before you buy anything. 

Some of the best shops you’ll find in the area are La Casa de las Casitas & Handcraft, Tienda de Artesanías, Puerto Rico Homemade Crafts Gallery, and Galería Don Pedro.

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San Juan tips

“La Perla” is one of the neighborhoods of San Juan where authorities advise caution. There is a lot of drug trafficking and other crimes happening in this area and it’s considered to be one of the most dangerous places in Puerto Rico. Not far from it is the neighborhood of Puerto de Tierra where similar activities take place.

Streets Puerto Rico

Transportation: ferries and boats

You can fly between the islands that make Puerto Rico for a couple of hundred dollars, however, if you want a cheap travel alternative, you’ll be happy to know that the ferry only costs a few dollars. It doesn’t even take a lot longer and you’ll be able to enjoy the breeze and the water while traveling. A trip by plane to Culebra takes about 30 minutes, and if you opt for the ferry you’ll be there in 50 minutes. I think it’s worth it!

Final thoughts

Among other things you need to know before going to Puerto Rico is that you need plenty of sunscreen for the tropical weather with lots of sunshine. Also, even if the weather is warm year-round, try to avoid the hurricane season. Most of all, these lands have not yet fully recovered from Hurricane Maria, so treat the locals with compassion.

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