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Puerto Rico

Getting around

Boat

Charter yacht

All of the island’s major resorts have marinas where you can charter yachts or powerboats, either with a crew or a ‘bareboat.’ Crewed boats come with a skipper and crew, and you don’t need any prior sailing experience. With bareboat charters, you rent the boat and be your own skipper.

Charter companies include the following:

Caribbean School of Aquatics (787-728-6606; Condado)

Castillo Watersports (787-791-6195; Isla Verde)

Driftwood Charters (787-255-0690; Puerto Real)

Erin Go Bragh (787-860-4401; Fajardo)

Traveler (787-863-2821; Fajardo)

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Hitching

Hitching is not recommended in Puerto Rico.

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Bus & tram

Bus

Puerto Rico does not presently have an islandwide bus service. San Juan, however is a different matter and buses are cheap, abundant and well-run. The system is administered via the Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses (AMA; Metropolitan Bus Authority; 787-767-7979; www.dtop.gov.pr/ama/default.htm, in Spanish) and Metrobus (787-763-4141). AMA buses charge 50¢ to any destination on their routes; Metrobuses usually charge 75¢. Visitors can identify bus stops by an obelisk marker that reads ‘Parada’ or ‘Parada de Guaguas’ (Bus Stop). Bus system maps are everywhere.

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Car & motorcycle

Despite the occasional hazards of operating a car in Puerto Rico, driving is currently the most convenient way to get around the countryside, see small towns, cross sprawling suburbs and explore wide, open spaces. This is particularly relevant to roads such as the Ruta Panorámica where public transport is scant and cycling deemed too dangerous.

On the other side of the coin, it’s easy to list the circumstances in which you won’t want a car. In San Juan, for example, the hassles of traffic, parking and navigating the maze of thoroughfares make using a car in the city a challenge, to say the least. Elsewhere, a liberal scattering of wrecked abandoned vehicles that litter numerous roadsides across the country provide ample testimony to the evils of driving in Puerto Rico. While islanders certainly share a North American love of motor cars, their driving skills inhabit a whole different ballpark (think Mexico City or Guatemala rather than LA).

Puerto Rico’s best roads are its Expressway toll roads; these include numbers 22 (San Juan–Arecibo), 66 (San Juan–Canóvanas), 52 (San JuanPonce) and 53 (Fajardo–Yabucoa). You must pay a fee on these roads at a booth at one of various entry-exit checkpoints. Prices for 2-axle vehicles range from 50c to $1.50. It is wise to have the right money available.

The next best roads are the main highways such as Hwys 2 and 3 (which effectively ring the island), Hwy 10 (Arecibo–Ponce) and Hwy 30 (Caguas–Humacao). These roads have two to three lanes in either direction but are infested with traffic lights and are often jammed packed with cars – especially during rush hour. With their ubiquitous shopping malls and unsightly concrete satellite towns, they’re hardly the best advert for the island’s scenic attractions.

Lesser roads are far more charming, but considerably narrower (often only 1½ lanes wide). Crisscrossing the island’s precipitous inland terrain, they are also invariably slow and winding. Bank on an average speed of 25mph in the mountains.

In Puerto Rico – rather bizarrely – speed limits are posted in mph and road distances in kilometers.

Rental

All of the major international car-rental companies operate, along with dozens of smaller, local firms. The trusted names such as Avis and Hertz are usually the safest bet. Most companies require that you have a major credit card, that you be at least 25 years old and that you have a valid driver’s license (your home license will do). Some companies (Budget, for example), may rent to drivers between the ages of 21 and 24 for an additional charge. Larger companies will accept debit cards, but expect them to put at least a $500 hold on your funds until the car is safely returned.

Car-rental agencies are listed in the local Yellow Pages and in the Puerto Rico Tourism Company’s (PRTC) publication, Qué Pasa. You will find plenty of rental companies at the LMM airport, in major cities and in resort towns ringing the island’s coast. Agencies in San Juan include the following:

AAA (787-791-1465)

Alamo (787-753-2265, 800-327-9633)

Avis (800-874-3556)

Budget (787-791-0600, 800-468-5822)

Charlie Car Rental (787-728-2418)

Dollar Rent-A-Car (787-591-5500)

Hertz (787-791-0840, 800-654-3131)

L&M (787-725-8307, 800-666-0807)

National (787-791-1805, 800-568-3019)

Target (787-728-1447, 800-934-6457)

Thrifty (787-253-2525, 800-367-2277)

Wheelchair Getaways Rent-A-Car (787-883-0131, 800-868-8028)

Insurance

Liability insurance is required in Puerto Rico, as in most US states. Insurance against damage to the car, called Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW), is usually optional, but will often require you to pay for the first $100 or $500. Some credit-card companies cover car rentals, so extra coverage may not be needed. Always take some insurance – accidents happen far too easily. Note also that most rental agencies don’t cover accidents that happen on Culebra or Vieques. You aren’t supposed to take cars there because there’s no way to get a tow-truck to you in an emergency. Nobody at the ferry will stop you from bringing a rental to the island, but any accidents, nicks or dings will be paid for with your money.

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Local transport

Metro

The Tren Urbano is the brand new public transportation system that shuttles people around San Juan. The only one of its kind in the Caribbean, it runs 12 miles from Sagrado Corazon in Santurce to Bayamón, stopping at 16 stations along the way. Ultramodern and efficient, the Tren opened in 2005 after years of delays.

Although it still avoids the areas of main tourist interest, plans are afoot to extend it in the future. Tickets are a standard $1.50 one-way.

Taxi

Taxis are available in most of the midsized to large cities on the island, and in theory they all use meters. Getting the driver to turn it on can be quite a challenge, however, so either establish what you are willing to pay up front or threaten to get out if the driver won’t hit the button. San Juan is the exception to this haggling hassle: its ‘tourist taxis’ have fixed rates for all their trips.

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Water

Ferry

The Puerto Rican Port Authority (787-863-0705, car reservations 800-981-2005) has large, high-speed ferries that run from Fajardo to Culebra and Vieques. While timetables can be changeable and getting on is a bit of a scrum, the boats are generally quick and reliable. For reservations, contact the Puerto Rican Port Authority or call the island offices on Vieques (787-741-4761) and Culebra (787-742-3161); reservation office hours are 8am to 11am and 1pm to 3pm weekdays. If you have reservations, plan to pick up your tickets at the ferry terminal a half-hour before the scheduled sailing. If you haven’t, the ticket office opens an hour before departure.

Note: reservations go quickly for boats bound for the islands on Friday evening to Saturday morning, and returning to Fajardo on Sunday afternoon to Monday morning, so plan ahead.

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Air

Because Puerto Rico is such a small island, its domestic air transportation system is understandably basic. Suffice to say there are daily flights between San Juan, Ponce, Aguadilla and Mayagüez. The bulk of Puerto Rico’s domestic air traffic links San Juan to the offshore islands of Culebra and Vieques.

Domestic airports & airlines

From its Isla Verde location on the eastern edge of San Juan, LMM handles a fair amount of the island’s scheduled domestic air traffic.

Isla Grande (SJG) airport in San Juan’s Miramar district, on the Bahía de San Juan, is the center for private aviation as well as Puerto Rico’s air-taxi operations. To get to Culebra and Vieques from this convenient downtown airport, you can fly on Vieques Air Link (San JuanVieques flights 787-741-8331, San JuanCulebra flights 787-722-3736; www.vieques-island.com/val). Fares to Vieques are $50/95 one way/round-trip; fares to Culebra are about $55/95. Air Flamenco (787-724-1818; www.airflamenco.net) also flies these routes at similar fares. Other airports include the following:

Culebra Airport (CPX; 787-742-0022; Culebra)

Eugenio María de Hostos Airport (MAZ; 787-833-0148; Mayagüez)

Fajardo Airport (FAJ; 787-860-3110; Fajardo)

Mercedita Airport (PSE; 787- 842-6292; Ponce)

Rafael Hernandez Airport (BQN; 787-891-2286; Aguadilla)

Vieques Airport (VQS; 787-741-0515; Vieques)

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Bicycle

While bicycling hasn’t traditionally been a popular means of getting around the island, things are changing. Most resorts have at least one bicycle-rental outlet, and independent bicycle supply shops can be found in a few select places. For serious long-distance bicycling, you’ll need to bring your own bike or buy one in Puerto Rico.

The hazards of cycling in Puerto Rico include nightmare traffic, dangerous drivers and a general lack of awareness about cyclist’s needs. Puerto Rico is a country where the car is king and most natives simply aren’t used to seeing touring bikes on the road. Bear this is mind before venturing out on two wheels and stick to quiet back roads and the smaller towns. Never cycle after dark. For further advice (and empathy) contact the Puerto Rican Cycling Federation.

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