Emerging from the devastation caused by back-to-back hurricanes, Puerto Rico is slowly coming back to life. In September 2017, the island first faced Hurricane Irma before being hit by Hurricane Maria. The two storms thrust Puerto Rico into the media spotlight after the devastating blow.
Bienvenidos – Welcome to Puerto Rico
Nevertheless, Puerto Rico survived, and it is in the stages of being rebuilt. While the devastation of the hurricanes is still visible, most of the island has successfully integrated into its new normal. The streets are coming to life and tourists are eager to hit the beach. Mother Nature may be brutal, but she has allowed Puerto Rico’s coast to thrive once again. The waves are great for surfers, and beneath the water’s surface, you can glimpse the vibrant coral and tropical fish.
Puerto Rico’s capital is San Juan, which was founded in 1521. The city is one of the oldest European settlements in the Americas. A juxtaposing skyline is the highlight of San Juan and where history melts into a modern landscape. Old San Juan is most recognizable because of the forts by the sea, but like many cities, new buildings appeared as the world changed. Now, San Juan is a hub for tourists looking to explore the resorts, restaurants, and shops of the capital.
- Culture and Language
- Visa Requirements
- Spending Budget
- How to Get Around
- Top Cities to Visit
- Points of Interest
Culture and Language
Before the start of colonization, Puerto Rico’s oldest culture came from South America’s Orinoco region, which has been dated back to 4,000 years ago. The Arawak people then moved to the island before the Taíno culture developed. The Taíno people were the ones who were colonized by Europeans starting in 1493, when Christopher Columbus discovered the island.
Puerto Rico History
For Spain, Puerto Rico was priceless to the empire because it was Europe’s gateway to Mexico, Cuba, and Central and South America. While Spain’s rule over Puerto Rico lasted for centuries, it eventually ended in 1898, when the United States took control of the island. Ultimately, Puerto Rico is self-governing, but it is considered to be a territory of the United States.
However, the official title is “unincorporated territory”, so the United States controls the island, but it is not considered to be one of the country’s states, so it does not have the same rights as the 50 states. Puerto Rican citizens are also US citizens, but they cannot vote for President and they do not pay federal income tax.
Similar to the United States, Puerto Rico is a melting pot. There are many people who have European ancestors and others whose family came from Africa. With the country’s integration as a US territory, American culture has a great influence on the island. However, most people would still consider Puerto Rico to be a Latin country.
The country’s culture is often influenced by Spain, Africa, and the United States. But more so, Spain and the US. There are two official languages in Puerto Rico: English and Spanish. The vast majority of the population only speak and are fluent in Spanish, but about 10% of the island speaks English. For travelers, the tourist areas in Puerto Rico have more English speakers to cater to the international visitors.
One of the biggest shocks Americans receive when they begin to research a trip to Puerto Rico is the many articles debating whether you need a passport to visit the island. If you are a US citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States and you will be traveling to Puerto Rico, you do not need to bring your US passport or your legal resident card.
Puerto Rico is a US territory, so US citizens (or legal residents) from the 50 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Ricans can move freely throughout the country. The only identification you will need would be what you use to fly domestically. For most travelers, this means using your valid US driver’s license.
However, officials in Puerto Rico may ask you for proof of your citizenship and the US Customs and Border Protection recommends that you take a photocopy of your passport or other form of proof of US citizenship (birth certificate or legal resident card). Some travelers would prefer to just travel with their passport, which is okay too. But it is not legally required.
If you plan on traveling to more destinations in the Caribbean, you will need to bring your valid US passport. For some travelers, this affects people who are on a cruise ship. If your cruise itinerary includes Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, you will need a valid US passport for the port in the Dominican Republic.
For travelers who are not US citizens, the entry requirements for Puerto Rico are the same as visiting any of the 50 states or Washington DC. You will need to have the right travel documents and any visas approved prior to your arrival to Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is a Latin American country, but its ties to the United States makes it an expensive destination for travelers. It has become increasingly difficult to find budget friendly options in Puerto Rico, but it isn’t impossible. The country is considered to be more affordable than visiting most of the 50 states.
You can estimate the costs of your trip by outlining a spending budget. This should help you reduce the unnecessary costs of your trip, so you can put more of your money into fun activities or nice restaurants. A spending budget will include the cost of airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
Your first expense will be the cost of your airline ticket. There are plenty of airlines that service and connect the major airports in the US to the three international airports in Puerto Rico. The average cost of a ticket is $350 US dollars, but there are often deals or specials that can reduce the price by 50% or more.
- Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU)
- Mercedita/Ponce International Airport (PSE)
- Rafael Hernández International Airport (BQN)
Tourist season will also affect the cost of a ticket, so the most expensive time to fly to Puerto Rico is when the cold weather hits the mainland United States. From December to April, Puerto Rico receives most of its visitors who are trying to catch a break from winter weather. This is also the best time to visit Puerto Rico because it is the dry season.
After you’ve made flight reservations, it’s time to look at booking a room. Hostels, hotels, resorts, and Airbnb are the most popular accommodation options for guests that cater to various price points. Budget travelers are better off choosing hostels, which will save you more money.
Hostels in Puerto Rico have gotten more expensive in the recent years and the average price for a single night is about $30 US dollars. In the big cities, like San Juan, you should expect the price to increase to about $45+ US dollars per night.
However, hostels are not everyone’s cup of tea and you might want to look at a local hotel instead. There are plenty of hotels in Puerto Rico, but the nightly rate has a wide range of averages. You may be able to find a hotel for $100 US dollars out of the big city, but in urban areas or tourist hotspots, you should expect to spend about $250 US dollars per night. Boutique hotels will cost more, and many will charge about $350 US dollars per night.
In the beach towns and areas, resorts are the money makers with some including all-inclusive options. Most resorts will charge $500 US dollars per night, but luxury options may cost over $1,000 US dollars per night. There are plenty of resorts to choose from and you can add or subtract resort packages as needed.
If you are a part of a group who are traveling to Puerto Rico, renting an apartment or home from Airbnb can be a great way to save money. Most Airbnb rentals throughout the island cost $50-$150 US dollars per night. Apartments are more affordable and the most popular option, but some private homes are listed on the site.
The next items to tackle on your list are food and drink. Unlike airfare and accommodation, you can’t prepay for meals unless you are purchasing an all-inclusive package at a resort. While resorts offer you convenience, it’s a lot more fun to head off to a good restaurant in town, so you can taste authentic Puerto Rican food.
With a zest of Latin flavors and a love for fresh ingredients, Puerto Rican cuisine is reaching beyond the island and becoming more popular in international communities. Some of their dishes are staples throughout Latin America and others are special to the country.
One unique dish that takes a Latin classic and mixes it with Puerto Rican flair is called mofongo. This dish is made of mashed plantains, which have been seasoned and stuffed with garlic, vegetables and your choice of beef, chicken, or shrimp. Rellenos de papa is another favorite meal, which is deep fried potatoes with ground meat in the center. Asopao is a popular soup that features rice with chicken, pork, or shrimp.
Much like the rest of Latin America, rice is a staple ingredient for many Puerto Rican dishes. Arroz con gandules is like a fried vegetable rice that adds a kick of flavor by using sofrito. The rice is sometimes eaten with just vegetables but can also be served with meat. Plantains are also a favorite ingredient and they can be fried and boiled to sit as a side with your meal.
Finally, empanadillas are like empanadas, but they have a thicker crust. In Puerto Rico, empanadillas are a favorite amongst people who are looking for a quick meal. The traditional empanadillas were stuffed with ground beef, but now you can find plenty of varieties that include vegetables, chicken, and sometimes pork.
The good news for travelers who have eyes bigger than their stomach is that food in Puerto Rico is affordable. Eating locally can really help you save on your budget. Most local meals will cost about $10 US dollars with street food vendors selling their dishes for about $5 US dollars. Nicer restaurants or ones that cater to tourists and are in resort areas will be more expensive. A 4- or 5-star restaurant in Puerto Rico will cost more than $40 US dollars for a meal for one person.
Drinks are usually not included in the price of a meal and only a few resorts will offer all-inclusive packages that also cover the cost of your beverages. This means that you must be conscious of how much you spend on drinks when you’re in Puerto Rico. Drinks cost an average of $6 US dollars, but the price can be as high as $8+ US dollars in the resort areas. The cost can really add up and negatively affect your spending budget, if you don’t keep track of your tab.
For most travelers, you will spend about $175 US dollars per day of your trip to Puerto Rico. Budget travelers may be able to drastically reduce the cost to about $100 US dollars per day, if they stick to hostels and local establishments. A resort vacation to Puerto Rico is the most expensive way to visit the island and you could easily spend up to or more than $700 US dollars per day.
How to Get Around
The last part of your budget and one that can add a considerable amount to how much you spend on your vacation is the cost of transportation. Puerto Rico is a big island and it can take a long time to get from one side to the other, but most travelers recommend that you rent a car if you want to get the most out of your trip.
For those who aren’t staying at a single resort, you will probably want to explore different cities on the island. While there are three international airports, most people only use domestic flights if they are going to visit the neighboring islands of Vieques or Culebra. Most domestic flights cost about $80 US dollars for a one-way ticket. Flights with a return can range in price from $100-$180 US dollars, depending on your two destinations.
It is less expensive to rent a car each day and more convenient than taking the bus. Car rentals cost about $40 US dollars per day. If you are going on a long road trip, you will probably have to pay a toll. Most tolls are less than $1.50 US dollars. Fuel is also less expensive than in the US, and it is sold in liters. The only downside to the car is the chaos of the road. There is a lot of traffic around Puerto Rico, especially around the capital, San Juan.
However, you may be willing to sacrifice your time sitting in traffic to avoid having to take the local bus. The reason people suggest you drive yourself around Puerto Rico is because the local buses are not very reliable, and you will need a decent grip on the Spanish language to navigate the system.
Many buses do not have long distant service routes either. So, if you want to cross the island, you will have to take multiple buses and make various transfers in different towns. For this reason, most visitors avoid the bus system entirely for long distance traveling. However, backpackers are often willing to tackle the bus system because it saves them money. Most bus tickets will cost less than $20 US dollars.
Top Cities to Visit
While most travelers think of the beaches and beautiful coast of Puerto Rico, there are cities all throughout the island that are fun to visit. Some on the interior of the island and others as splashed by the waves. Here are the top cities to visit in Puerto Rico.
The country’s capital was built like a fortress, and one of the most recognizable parts of the city is the 15-foot-thick wall that sits on its border. The walls have helped protect the city for hundreds of years. Originally, San Juan was settled 100 years before the famous Mayflower ship landed in the United States. Now, San Juan has become the center of attention in Puerto Rico.
The city is packed with historical artifacts that have been preserved in the local museums and you can step out onto the street to witness history in Old Town San Juan. The streets are now home to magnificent galleries, world-class restaurants, and never-ending nightlife. With so much energy and a great seaside location, it is easy to see why San Juan is a place that shouldn’t be missed.
Ponce is Puerto Rico’s second largest city and a popular destination for tourists because of its old square, fountains, and boardwalk. Colonial architecture is another nightlight in this city, which has been converted into museums, restaurants, and shops. Many travelers find it hard to describe Ponce completely because it is so unique.
With heavy surf and a white lighthouse, Rincón is a small town on the island’s West Coast. There are several beaches in the area, but the most popular are Domes, Steps, Central Sandy, and Corcega. Also, in the area is the Tres Palmas Marine Reserve, which gives you the chance to view rare aquatic wildlife like Hawksbill turtles and parrotfish.
Points of Interest
For some people, it isn’t the city or town that is the main attraction. Instead, their focus is on the various points of interest throughout the island. Many travelers build their itineraries around attractions without care as to what cities are nearby. Here are Puerto Rico’s top points of interest.
Vieques is an island off of Puerto Rico, which is home to the Vieques National Wildlife Refuge. In this refuge, the highlights are the black sand beaches, sea turtles, and wild horses. Mosquito Bay is also on the island, which is where there is a permanent colony of bioluminescent animals in the water. When they glow at night, it makes the waves glow blue. The island is just a short ferry ride from Puerto Rico’s main island, and it does have its own small airport for domestic flights.
Another island just off of the coast of Puerto Rico is Culebra. This island is where you can visit Playa Flamenco, which is the country’s most famous beach. The blue water and white sand are great for snorkeling and just like Vieques, it is easy to get to the island. You can take a ferry or a domestic flight.
Rio Camuy Cave Park
Further into the island is the Rio Camuy Cave Park, which is home to a vast cave system with waterfall, caverns, cliffs, and millions of bats. The caves are a short drive from San Juan, which makes them the perfect destination for a day trip out of the city.
El Yunque National Forest
El Yunque National Forest is the only rainforest within the United States. Puerto Rico’s status with the United States means that the US government is in control of this area and it keeps it well protected for future generations. In the park, the Coquí frog is the most sought-after wildlife, which doesn’t exist anywhere else on Planet Earth. Other critters include native species of parrot and boa.
Get Out and Go
Most US travelers never knew that there were rainforests and tropical beaches at their fingertips, but with no passport requirements, it too tempting to visit this beautiful island. With Puerto Rico recovering from the hurricanes, it is back to being one of the United States’ top travel destinations. There is a lot to do and with an itinerary that fits every budget, it is well worth the trip.