Except for larger items like paintings in souvenir stalls, you'll find few places where it's appropriate to bargain. Prices in stores and most markets are firm and attempts at negotiation will not be welcome.
Dangers & Annoyances
The dangers in Puerto Rico are relatively few, even when compared to other Caribbean destinations.
- The worst trouble you'll likely get into is a scrape on your rental car due to the somewhat crazy island roads (and drivers).
- Environmental factors throw up a few issues so it's wise to be aware of them – strong ocean currents and the chance of hurricanes between June and November.
Dangers While Hiking & Camping
- Don’t ever head into the forest without leaving someone your planned itinerary.
- Minor cuts and scrapes can get infected easily in this climate; carry disinfectant with you.
- Getting lost is easy; invest in a good topographical map for serious hikes.
Hazards in the Water
The currents of Puerto Rico’s beaches can be deadly, with the biggest hazards being riptides and dangerous ocean currents. Obey all posted signs on beaches. If you get caught in a riptide that carries you away from shore, never panic or swim against it, you’ll only get worn out. Instead, swim parallel to the shoreline and when the current lessens make your way back to shore.
Hazards on the Road
Puerto Rican drivers are more aggressive than drivers on the mainland US, and rules of the road are taken as more of a suggestion. Remember to keep your cool and proceed with caution. Mountain roads can be very narrow and have sudden drop-offs and rough surfaces. Beep before driving into blind curves. If you come to a point in the road too narrow for both cars to pass, the car on the uphill side should reverse and let the other driver pass. GPS can easily malfunction here, too, and direct you up what might officially be a road but is actually a 4×4-only track.
If you’re driving and see a police car with its blue lights on, don’t worry, police in Puerto Rico are required to have their lights lit whenever driving. Police will sound a siren during emergencies.
Weather & Natural Disasters
Although somewhat predictable, Puerto Rico can get pounded with tropical storms and hurricanes, which can result in a number of serious disruptions for visitors, including washed-out roads and trails, and shuttered attractions. Hurricane season is usually between the beginning of June and the end of November. If you’re visiting during this time there’s still likely nothing to worry about.
Embassies & Consulates
Most nations’ principal diplomatic representation is in Washington, DC, which means many countries do not maintain consulates in Puerto Rico. Consulates in Puerto Rico tend to be the honorary kind that have very limited services – if any – for travelers. The following consulates may be of use:
Emergency & Important Numbers
|Puerto Rico's country code||1|
|International access code||011|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Puerto Rico's entry and exit formalities are the same as they are for mainland US.
Goods brought into the US in greater quantity than the duty-free customs allowances are subject to taxes and tariffs and must be declared at customs.
Cigarettes/Cigars Each person over 18 can bring 200 cigarettes or 100 cigars duty free into Puerto Rico or the US.
Currency US law permits you to bring in or take out as much as $10,000 in US or foreign currency, traveler’s checks or letters of credit without formality.
Gifts US citizens are allowed to import, duty free, $400 worth of gifts from abroad, while non-US citizens are allowed to bring in $100 worth.
Liquor Each person over the age of 21 can bring 1L of liquor, duty free, into Puerto Rico or the US. From Puerto Rico, you can take out as much purchased alcohol and tobacco as you wish without paying any duty on it.
Plants Declare any plants, fruits or vegetables at the airport. The US department of agriculture restricts many island plants.
Visa formalities are exactly the same as for the mainland US.
- You only need a visa to enter Puerto Rico if you need a visa to enter the US, since the Commonwealth follows the United States’ immigration laws. For many countries, an ESTA (Electronic System for Transport authorization, https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta) must nevertheless be applied for.
- As a commonwealth, Puerto Rico subscribes to all the laws that apply to traveling and border crossing in the United States.
- US citizens can enter the Commonwealth with proper proof of citizenship, such as a driver’s license with photo ID, a passport or a birth certificate.
- Visitors from other countries must have a valid, scannable passport. Countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program – the EU, Australia, New Zealand and much of Latin America – don’t need visas to get into Puerto Rico.
- International travelers will most likely transit through an East Coast hub such as New York City or Miami, or arrive from Europe on one of several new, cheap, direct flights.
- US Department of State (www.state.gov) has up-to-date information about visas, immigration etc.
Puerto Rico is pretty laid back, but your welcome will be even warmer if you grasp a few principles of local etiquette.
- Eating Meals, even a pause for a coffee, are meant to be unhurried affairs.
- Greetings When entering a restaurant or cafe, offer a general greeting to those around you: 'Buen provecho' (enjoy your meal), coupled with a salutation appropriate to the time of day.
- Politics Understand that Puerto Rico is part of the United States (residents pay taxes and serve in the military), but that it is not a state with voting rights in Congress, and know that questions about the Commonwealth's future political status are cause for intense local debate.
Puerto Rico is probably the most gay-friendly island in the Caribbean. San Juan has a well-developed gay scene, especially in the Condado district (and also now in Santurce) for Puerto Ricans and visitors. Vieques and Culebra have become popular destinations for an international mix of gay and lesbian expatriates and travelers. Rincón, whilst some way behind these other destinations in specifically gay venues, is a gay-friendly destination too. Ponce and Mayagüez, as sizeable university cities, are also liberal places.
In the cities and in major resort areas, it is easier for gay men and women to live their lives with a certain amount of openness. As you travel into the middle of the island, it is more difficult to be out, as people are not used to seeing same-sex couples holding hands or displaying affection publicly.
As of 2015, same-sex couples can legally marry and apply to adopt.
Purple Roofs (www.purpleroofs.com/caribbean/puertorico.html) Comprehensive site that has gay-owned and gay-friendly accommodation listings across Puerto Rico.
GayCities (http://puertorico.gaycities.com) Read reviews of hotels, restaurants and clubs written by and for gay travelers.
Check your health and/or your homeowners insurance to see what is and is not covered in terms of problems that may arise on the road. You may want to consider travel insurance for lost luggage, trip cancellations and delays, health coverage and more.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Wi-fi is common in places to stay, cafes and many public places and squares. In this book, the wi-fi symbol means that wi-fi is available throughout the property unless otherwise noted, while the internet symbol means there are public internet terminals available.
The thing to remember is that in the majority of legal matters, things follow exactly the same pattern as they do in the mainland US.
- Puerto Rico follows US laws in all criminal and most legislative matters. If you are arrested, you have the same rights as you would elsewhere in the US.
- If you are stopped by the police, remember there is no system of paying fines on the spot. Don't attempt to pay the officer.
- Although English is widely spoken, many police in rural areas do not speak English.
Alcohol is deeply ingrained in the island’s social scene – more so than in parts of the US and Europe. Puerto Rico has few ‘blue laws’ prohibiting the times and places where alcohol can be consumed.
- Minors are not permitted in bars and pubs, even to order nonalcoholic beverages.
- Old San Juan has laws to prevent drinking in the streets, and violators are subject to heavy fines.
- Driving while under the influence of alcohol will result in stiff fines, jail time and penalties.
- Drinking on the beach is legal.
Apps from Apple and Google have Puerto Rico well covered. There are also many free maps available that will do in most cases. When you hire a vehicle from a car-rental agency they give out complimentary travel maps that suffice for getting around most places. Otherwise you'll find more detailed maps at drug and convenience stores. The best maps for Puerto Rico can be purchased from the US Geological Survey.
Most American TV stations make it across the island, in the usual plethora of digital and satellite channels. Several useful and comprehensive publications aimed at tourists can be picked up at information centers, such as Places to Go, which comes out with a new edition twice per year.
- TV & Radio American TV is broadcast across the island. Radio is mostly in Spanish. Places to stay will have the full compliment of US cable/satellite channels.
- Newspapers Some main newspapers have good websites. El Nuevo Dia (www.elnuevodia.com) is Puerto Rico's leading news publication and it also has one of the island's most popular websites. It has as an English section, too.
ATMs dispensing US currency are easily found. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted. Watch for mandatory fees at upscale hotels and resorts.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
- Major bank offices in San Juan and Ponce will exchange foreign currencies. There are also exchange desks at San Juan's Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport and major resorts (which offer terrible rates).
- ATMs are easily found in all but the smallest towns.
- Tipping in restaurants averages 15% to 20% but is not as expected as it is in mainland US.
Generally, you tip in Puerto Rico as you would on the US mainland.
- Bars $1 per drink.
- Luggage attendants $1 to $2 per bag for anyone who helps with your luggage.
- Restaurants 15% of the bill.
- Taxis 15% of the fare.
- Check for service charges included in your bill at touristy restaurants, even for groups smaller than six.
- If possible, tip servers with cash even when paying by credit card; this precludes management taking a cut.
Hours can vary from those posted and they change sporadically, so check before setting off.
Banks 8am-4pm Monday to Friday, 9:30am-noon Saturday
Bars 2pm–2am, often later in San Juan
Government offices 8:30am–4:30pm Monday to Friday
Museums 9:30am–5pm, often closed Monday and Tuesday
Post offices 8am-4pm Monday to Friday, 8am-1pm Saturday
Restaurants 11am–10pm, later in San Juan
Shops 9am–6pm Monday to Saturday, 11am–5pm Sunday, later in malls
Post offices run by the US Postal Service (www.usps.com) are found in towns and cities large and small. International postal rates are very reasonable.
US public holidays are celebrated along with local holidays in Puerto Rico. Banks, schools and government offices (including post offices) are closed, and transportation, museums and other services are on a Sunday schedule. Holidays falling on a weekend are usually observed the following Monday.
New Year’s Day January 1
Three Kings Day (Feast of the Epiphany) January 6
Eugenio María de Hostos’ Birthday January 10
Martin Luther King Jr Day Third Monday in January
Presidents’ Day Third Monday in February
Emancipation Day March 22
Palm Sunday Sunday before Easter
Good Friday Friday before Easter
Easter A Sunday in late March/April
José de Diego Day April 18
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
Independence Day/Fourth of July July 4
Luis Muñoz Rivera’s Birthday July 18
Constitution Day July 25
José Celso Barbosa’s Birthday July 27
Labor Day First Monday in September
Columbus Day Second Monday in October
Veterans’ Day November 11
Thanksgiving Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
- Smoking Banned in most public places, including hotel rooms and restaurants.
Taxes & Refunds
Sales tax stands at a whopping 11.5%: the highest of any US state or territory. Room tax is 7–11% of the bill depending on what type of lodging you are in.
The good news for US cell-phone users is that Puerto Rico is treated as just another state in terms of coverage and roaming fees.
Hotels hike up the price of local calls by almost 200%, and long-distance rates are raised between 100% and 200%. Many hotels (especially the more expensive ones) add a service charge of between 50¢ and $1 for each local call made from a room phone, and also add hefty surcharges for long-distance calls. Public pay phones, which can be found in most lobbies, are always cheaper.
All major US cell-phone carriers provide service in Puerto Rico, so US travelers do not have to suffer high international calling rates. Foreign travelers who are going to be in Puerto Rico for an extended period should look into getting a prepaid cellular phone.
All phone numbers within Puerto Rico consist of a three-digit area code (787) followed by a seven-digit local number. If you are calling locally, just dial the seven-digit number.
- To call the island from the US, dial 1 + 787 + the seven-digit number. Call the island from any other overseas destination the same way, after dialing the appropriate code for an international line in your country.
- For directory assistance on the island, dial 411.
- For US directory assistance outside Puerto Rico, dial 1 + the three-digit area code of the place you want to call + 555-1212. For example, to obtain directory assistance for a toll-free number, dial 1-800-555-1212 or 1-888-555-1212.
- If you need Puerto Rican directory assistance while you’re outside the country, dial 1-787-555-1212.
- The 800, 866 and 888 area codes are designated for toll-free numbers within Puerto Rico, the US and sometimes Canada as well. These calls are free.
To call home from Puerto Rico:
- First dial 011, the international dialing prefix in the US.
- Dial the country code of the country you want to call. For Australia, dial 61; the UK, 44; Ireland, 353; New Zealand, 64.
- Dial the rest of the number.
Phonecards are available and sold at kiosks, in bodegas and around town.
Puerto Rico is on Atlantic Standard Time (GMT-4). Clocks in this time zone read an hour later than the Eastern Standard Time zone, which encompasses such US cities as New York and Miami. There is no Daylight Saving Time observed on the island.
- Toilets in hotels and restaurants are normally of a good standard.
- Toilets are sit-down, just like they are in mainland US.
- Public toilets are none too common.
Puerto Rico Tourism Company is the commonwealth’s official tourist bureau. It has a fair range of general interest materials and a decent website, See Puerto Rico (www.seepuertorico.com). Privately produced tourist magazines and brochures are abundant.
Check out Eye Tour Puerto Rico (http://places.eyetour.com) for short videos posted on the website that give good insights into Puerto Rico.
Welcome to Puerto Rico (http://welcome.topuertorico.org/) is part encyclopedia, part travel guide, and an excellent online resource on the island of Puerto Rico.
Travel With Children
Combining comforts of home and lots of all-ages outdoor adventures, Puerto Rico is an excellent destination for travelers with children. The options for family activities on the island are extensive and happen mostly outdoors. Snorkeling, cave exploring, rainforest adventures and just plain beach fun are some of the highlights.
Best Regions for Kids
Young travelers will be thrilled by San Juan’s vibrant culture, wide beaches and kid-friendly museums. San Juan’s historic sights have a lot of diversions for kids and the tunnels and turrets of El Morro and Fuerte San Cristóbal capture young imaginations with stories of pirates and seafaring adventure.
Snorkeling and swimming in the clear, calm waters is excellent for kids and the islands boast holiday home and apartment rentals, which can be an affordable option for families.
Rainforests and frogs, drippy palms and mountain lookouts – the easy hikes of El Yunque rainforest are thrilling. The bioluminescent waters of Fajardo are also magical.
The west coast has excellent surfing and boogie boarding, with waves big enough or small enough to match all abilities. And it's fun to get off the beaten path.
Families will have the most fun on Puerto Rico if they plunge into its beloved outdoor charms: playing on sandy beaches, swimming in warm water and exploring the island’s wildlife. However if it rains, many of the island’s museums have programs for kids and there’s a small kids’ museum in San Juan.
Families will also find a number of more adventurous activities in parts of the island further afield, though the winding hairpin turns of the central mountains are not recommended. Following the coast, there’s lots to keep a family busy: you can ride a horse along the beach in Isabela, explore the mysterious subterranean caves at the Río Camuy or hit the pirate-themed historical amusement park in Faro y Parque Histórico de Arecibo.
- Condado San Juan's most famous beach is also a family winner. Beautiful sand, gentle surf and lots of nearby places for treats.
- Isla Verde San Juan's other main beach can be a little quieter than Condado, which makes for more sandcastle-building solitude.
- Sun Bay The original public beach on Vieques has the facilities some of the wilder beaches around the island lack: changing rooms, bathrooms and picnic benches.
- Playa Flamenco Culebra's famous beach is also famously fun for families. The gentle surf offers a relaxing frolic, while there are many vendors selling beach toys, snacks and other treats.
- Playa Luquillo Visiting families can join scores of local families at this beach popular with young and old. There's plenty of shade and the famous stalls sell every treat imaginable.
- Playa Jobos Watch surfers offshore beyond the reef, while enjoying protected waters close to shore. There are some good cafes for lunch.
- Playa Shacks Older kids will enjoy the underwater caves here for snorkeling at this somewhat secluded beach.
The best hikes for the whole family are in the rainforest of El Yunque. Unlike virtually every other forest on the island, these trails are well marked, easy to follow and easy enough for shorter legs. A favorite is the popular Big Tree Trail, which ends at a waterfall where kids who are brave enough can take an icy dip. The rainforest also has informative ranger-led walks.
Remember that the trails in El Yunque can get pretty crowded after 11am, so it’s good to start early. Also, it’s essential to bring water on your hike, as there are no facilities on the trails. The Las Cabezas de San Juan nature reserve is another great natural area for families, with minitours through a diverse coastal environment, a tram and lots of skeletons of marine animals.
Mind-blowing Sights for Children
Bioluminescent Bays Near Fajardo in the east and on Vieques, the waters glow on dark nights, which produces many a delighted shriek as you float along by kayak or small electric boat.
Observatorio de Arecibo This mountain-top radio telescope is like a giant ear listening to the heavens.
Marine life in Culebra Coral, tropical fish and clear waters make for excellent snorkeling and the island is fun and relaxed.
Rainforest flora in El Yunque The soggy trails of North America’s only rainforest, El Yunque, lead past fascinating flora and fauna, often with fun information posted en route.
Although fast-food chains and strip malls can be a bit off-putting for more adventuresome adults, the familiar sights make Puerto Rico more comfortable for kids. That said, there are several things parents can do to ensure a delightful visit.
- Call ahead Puerto Rican attractions can be notoriously unpredictable with their hours of operation – particularly in state-operated parks – so confirm opening hours before you go.
- Know your accommodations Look carefully at your hotel options to see what offerings they have for kids. Even though many of the hotels have swimming pools, some are tiny and not kid-friendly; others splash out with mini water parks. Check if resorts have evening programs designed to occupy younger travelers, which can give parents time for a moonlit stroll down the beach. Many major resorts offer 'kids clubs' during the day with myriad activities.
- Consider an apartment Holiday rental apartments are common and often quite affordable. Besides a lot more space than a hotel room, they offer cooking facilities for the vagaries of young appetites. Many have pools and are close to a beach.
- Find a sitter Getting someone to mind the kids is not always easy. Resorts and large hotels usually have agencies they recommend; elsewhere, finding a sitter you trust can be haphazard.
Puerto Rico for Kids
Puerto Rico is a safe and fun destination for kids, with perhaps the best services for families in the Caribbean. Facilities are comfortable and you’ll receive fewer icy stares from curmudgeonly yachters than you might do elsewhere. Families will find it easy to fill their agendas.
Travel to and around Puerto Rico is becoming easier for people with disabilities as the country is subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Public buildings (including hotels, restaurants, theaters and museums) are now required by law to be wheelchair-accessible and to have appropriate restroom facilities.
Public transportation services (buses, trains and taxis) must be made accessible to all, including those in wheelchairs, and telephone companies are required to provide relay operators for the hearing impaired.
Many banks now provide ATM instructions in Braille. ADA-compliant curb ramps are common, and some of the busier roadway intersections have audible crossing signals. Playa Luquillo has a beach especially for the mobility-impaired, and ferries to Culebra and Vieques are accessible.
As a relatively rich country in close geographic and economic proximity to the United States, Puerto Rico offers limited opportunities for volunteering.
Rainforest management The Earthwatch Institute (www.eyeontherainforest.org) partners with Las Casas de la Selva to run one- to three-week research missions to the Bosque Estatal de Carite, where participants learn forest management skills and aid in the rejuvenation of the tropical rainforest. Volunteers stay in tents in the Casas de la Selva complex inside the park and spend their time planting seedlings, studying trees and monitoring local frog populations. Some of the trips are family friendly.
Beach cleanup The Surfrider Foundation (www.surfrider.org) has chapters in San Juan and Rincón. They organize plastics and beach cleanups, and run public education programs.
Turtle watching The US Fish and Wildlife Refuge runs a volunteer turtle watch on Culebra's Playa Brava during nesting season. You can access this project through CORALations (www.coralations.org), a nonprofit organization that is involved in coral reef protection.
Wildlife protection The Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust accepts volunteers for a wide variety of projects, including assisting with animals and reefs, maintaining a tank of rescued marine animals, and feeding animals.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures Puerto Rico follows the American imperial system with two major exceptions: all distances on road signs are in kilometers and gas is pumped in liters.
Puerto Rico’s status as a US commonwealth means that women have a position in society not dissimilar to that in the United States.
Puerto Rican women crisscross the island all the time by themselves, so you won’t be the only solo woman on the ferry or public bus, but as a foreigner you will attract a bit more attention. Most of it will be simple curiosity, but a few may assume you’d much rather be with a man if you could. If you don’t want the company, most men will respect a firm but polite, ‘no thank you.’