We recently spent a month in Puerto Rico. It was our first time there and beforehand we knew nothing about Puerto Rico. As it turns out, it is a beautiful country and place to visit. If it’s on your travel list (and it should be) here are 13 Puerto Rico travel tips, we learned. 

1. It’s an island in the Caribbean 

Puerto Rico is an Island in the Caribbean and is an unincorporated territory of the U.S. It’s known as La Isla Del Encanto (the Island of Enchantment) by the locals. 

2. You need a U.S visa to visit 

If you need a visa to enter the U.S., you’ll need one to enter Puerto Rico. If you don’t, you’re good to go!

3. Spanish is the local language

Spanish is the primary language, but most people do speak some English, especially in San Juan. We managed with English, some sign language, and the few Spanish words we picked up. Our biggest language lesson was, don’t take “si” accompanied by smiles and nods as a sign that what you have said has been understood. Puerto Ricans use “si” which means yes, like South Africans use “just now”. 

4. The currency used is US Dollars 

Start saving your pennies. 

5. Choose the airport you fly into carefully

There are no direct flights to Puerto Rico. You need to fly into the U.S (New York is the most common stopover) and then take what is considered a local flight to Puerto Rico. There are 3 airports, with San Juan being the main airport. If you can, pick the airport closest to where you are staying, or you’ll have to drive between 1.5 to 2 hours to get to your location. We stayed primarily in Ponce but flew in and out of San Juan which meant very long car rides. 

6. Car Rental vs Uber

If you’re staying for an extended period, plan on spending time in the more remote towns or are doing a lot of missioning around, hire a car. It gives you the freedom to explore without worrying about finding an Uber, especially in the more remote areas. 

That being said, here are some things to look out for when renting a car.

  • Consider luggage when picking the size of the car (and always go bigger than you think), you need to fit everyone including all their baggage. 
  • If you plan on taking out any add ons, like insurance, a gps navigator, a toll road sticker etc. Book these items upfront with your car rental. It won’t get any cheaper at the counter (it is often more) and makes your pickup time take longer.
  • Look out for hidden fees. If you book your rental via a deal website, make sure the price is including taxes and the basic insurance most rental companies insist on you taking.
  • Some rental companies may offer you GPS or wifi in a car as an add in. We chose wifi for our stopover leg and it landed up being a tablet, that had GPS on it, that you could take out the car with you – major win. If you have a smartphone wifi is the best option as it allows you to use your phone for maps, internet and messaging. 

If you’re flying into San Juan, there is a car rental place across the road which has 4 different rental companies to choose from. You can literally walk out of the airport, cross the road and you’re there. It’s incredibly convenient. 

7. Driving and Directions

Puerto Rican drivers drive on the right side of the road (with driver’s seat being on the left). It takes some practice but is quite easy to adapt to. A handy trick a friend shared was to remember that the driver is always closest to the middle of the road, remember that when turning. 

Navigating the streets and highways however is tricky and it’s not because the signs are in Spanish (Salida means exit by the way). It’s because the signage is shocking. So many streets don’t have signs and exit signs on the highway pop up with no advance warning. We used Google maps, but the key was having someone in the car looking at the map and directions and navigating the driver. 

8. Sim cards/ Phone plans

On arrival we went to a Walmart and purchased a Claro sim card for under $30. It had unlimited calls and a decent amount of data to help you navigate, that lasted the whole trip. There are Claro sims available in many stores and out of all the options it’s the most convenient and cheapest option for travelers. It’s definitely a cheaper and better alternative to purchasing GPS with your car rental, you’ll just need to rely on directions from locals to get to the SIM card purchasing location. We did not spot any shops in the airport selling sims. 

9. Using an Airport Shuttle

We returned our rental halfway through our trip and used an airport shuttle service (puertoricoshuttle.com) to take us to the airport. You book your car online, pick the size based on the amount of people and luggage you have and give the time you want to be picked up. 

They ask for your flight details and give a warning if you select a time that is different from their suggestion. Their suggestion would have had us arriving when our flight was taking off so it is best if you calculate your own leaving time by including the time it would take to pack the car, the average time it takes to get to the airport and how much in advance you want to be there.

They called three times from booking to pickup to confirm the trip, our driver arrived early, was incredibly helpful, patient and friendly, and it took the stress out of rushing to the airport. Highly recommend them!

10. The beaches are a plenty and the sea magical

There are beaches everywhere and we went both to little ones and the popular must visit ones. Some we liked and some we didn’t, but the one thing that remained true of any beach we went to was that the Caribbean Sea is the most swimmable water. It’s warm and calm and you can literally spend hours in it. 

There are few to no waves and it’s the type of water that lends itself to bringing boogie boards and pool floaties and just chilling, or if you want to channel Black Cake, swimming for miles. It is heavenly. 

11. It’s a hiker’s paradise

Puerto Rico has an abundance of natural beauty and mountains. The hikes are majestic, and some take you to what feels like the most isolated spots of the island. There are short hikes and long hikes, hikes that take you into the mountains and those that take you along the sea. Use All Trails to explore hikes near you. One of the hikes we did was the Meseta Trail which was relatively easy and flat with the most majestic sea views. Just bring water, it’s hot up there and NEVER forget your sunscreen.

12. Eating Kosher

There are no certified kosher restaurants as the Jewish community is incredibly small. There is however a Chabad House in San Juan that offers takeaway meals and a kosher shop you can buy meat, dairy and other kosher items from. They also cater a Friday night and Shabbat lunch. However, finding kosher food was incredibly easy no matter where we were. Every major grocery store we went to had plenty kosher items with very visible signs (mainly OU) including smoked salmon, dairy, canned food, condiments and snacks. As long as you stay at self-catering accommodation, you’ll be able to easily make yourself meals. 

13. Walk through Old San Juan

Old San Juan is a beautiful neighborhood comprising narrow streets packed with colorful buildings, stores, and restaurants. It also leads to the Paseo del Morro, a National Historic site which feels like stepping into Pirates of the Caribbean. Take an uber there as parking is next to impossible, both from finding a space and then being able to parallel park into the tiniest of spots.  Wear comfortable shoes as the streets are incredibly hilly. If you do find yourself there, pop into Anita del Gelato La Mama for the biggest and most delicious selection of gelato (there’s also dairy and sugar free options!). 

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