Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island that is a self-governing commonwealth of the United States of America. Located in the Caribbean Sea to the east of the Dominican Republic and west of the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico lies on a key shipping lane to the Panama Canal, the Mona Passage.
Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Puerto Rico in 1493 on his second voyage of discovery, and originally named it San Juan Bautista in honor of Saint John the Baptist. The name of the island's present day capital, San Juan, honors the name Columbus first gave the island. It was then settled by explorer Ponce de Leon, and the island was under Spanish possession for over four centuries.
Puerto Rico became United States territory under the Treaty of Paris, which also ended the Spanish–American War. The United States passed Law 5600 giving Puerto Rico authorization to create and approve its own constitution. The relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico is known in English as a commonwealth. There is no precise Spanish equivalent to this word; thus, it is translated as estado libre associado (literally, "freely-associated state").
The culture of Puerto Rico is nearly independent from the 50 states. The culture is distinctly Carribean, but closely related to the culture of Spain with a few African and native influences. When traveling to Puerto Rico, one will get the feeling that they are in another country. But of course you're not, due to the U.S. flag being flown everywhere reminding you that you are still on U.S. soil and other noticeable mainland influences including numerous strip malls, basketball, and the popular love affair with large cars.
Puerto Rico has a tropical marine climate, which is mild and has little seasonal temperature variation. Temperatures range from 21˚C to 32˚C (70˚F to 90˚F), and tend to be lower at night and up in the mountains. Year-round trade winds help ensure the sub tropical climate. The average annual temperature is 26°C (80°F). Rainfall is abundant along the north coast and in the highlands, but light along the south coast. Hurricane season spans between June and November, where rain showers occur once a day, almost every day. Periodic droughts sometimes affect the island.
Puerto Rico is mostly mountainous, although there is a coastal plain belt in the north. The mountains drop precipitously to the sea on the west coast. There are sandy beaches along most of the coast. There are many small rivers about the island, and the high central mountains ensure the land is well watered, although the south coast is relatively dry. The coastal plain belt in the north is fertile. Puerto Rico's highest point is at Cerro de Punta, which is 1,338m (4,390 ft) above sea level.
The island of Puerto Rico is a rectangular shape and is the smallest, most eastern island of the Greater Antilles. It has almost 580km (360 mi) of coast. In addition to the principal island, the commonwealth islands include Vieques, Culebra, Culebrita, Palomino, Mona, Monito, and various others isolated islands. Puerto Rico is surrounded by deep ocean waters. To the west, Puerto Rico is separated from Hispaniola by the Mona Passage which is about 120km (75 mi) wide and as much as 3,300m (2 mi) deep. The Puerto Rico trench, 8,000m deep (5 mi), is located off the northern coast. Off the south coast is the 5,466m (3.4 mi) deep Venezuelan Basin of the Caribbean. Because Puerto Rico is relatively short in width, it does not have any long rivers or large lakes. The Rio de la Plata is the longest river in the island of Puerto Rico, which flows to the northern coast and drains into the Atlantic Ocean about 18km (11 miles) west of San Juan. Puerto Rico does not have any natural lakes; however, it does have 15 reservoirs.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. There is no passport control or customs inspection for travel between the US mainland and Puerto Rico or vice versa, although the USDA does perform agricultural inspections of luggage bound from Puerto Rico to the U.S. mainland.
For travel within the United States, any TSA-compliant document, such as your state-issued driver's license or identification card, is sufficient identification to board a flight to or from Puerto Rico, as with any other domestic flight.
Puerto Rico choose to follow the Mainland US entry reqirements. As with the Mainland, any non-US citizen must follow the Visa Waiver Program. American, American Samoan citizens don't need a passport nor visa to travel to Puerto Rico. Only some form of government ID(example; a driver's license) is needed for proof of citizenship. Citizens of the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau only need a passport to enter. Citizens of Canada do not require a visa for entry, and can study and work under the TN Status. Any citizen of Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, and the US/American Samoa citizen can live, work and travel freely for a unlimited time while in Puerto Rico.
Visa Waiver Program requirements
Travel under the Visa Waiver Program is limited to tourism or business purposes only; neither employment nor journalism is permitted with a Visa Waiver. The 90-day limit cannot be extended nor will travel to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean reset the 90-day limit. Take care if transiting through the US on a trip exceeding 90 days to Canada and/or Mexico. See Visa Waivr Program requirements for the U.S. Mainland for more information.
All travelers arriving in Puerto Rico from outside the United States (including U.S. citizens) must meet the requirements for entry (or re-entry) to the United States.
Puerto Rico's main airport is Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (IATA: SJU) in Carolina, near San Juan. Jet Blue, United, and Spirit also fly to smaller airports in the cities of Aguadilla and Ponce.
Most U.S. and many international airlines offer direct flights from many cities to Puerto Rico. Flights are economical and numerous. SJU is the biggest and most modern airport in the Caribbean and offers all the conveniences and services (McDonalds, Dominos, Starbucks, etc.) of a major city airport. American Eagle operates a hub at SJU, and airlines like Caribbean Sun, Liat, and Cape Air offer cheap and easy connections to most Caribbean islands.
If you have lots of luggage, beware there are no baggage carts in the domestic terminal, although there are plenty of baggage porters available to help you for a tip or fee. Luggage carts are available in the international terminal of the airport. At the exit, a porter will assist you with your luggage for a fee.
Transferring from the airport to your hotel usually requires taking a taxi, although some hotels provide complimentary transportation to their properties in special buses. Puerto Rico Tourism Company representatives at the airport will assist you in finding the right transportation. All major car rental agencies are located at the airport, and others offer free transportation to their off-airport sites.
Typical flight times (eastbound flights are slightly longer due to headwinds):
When departing Puerto Rico to the mainland, your bags will be inspected by the US Department of Agriculture before departure. Generally the same rules apply as when returning to the United States from a foreign country, although certain local fruits such as avocado, papaya, coconut, and plantain may be brought back; mangoes, sour sop, passion fruit, and plants potted in soil may not. In any event, all agricultural items will be checked for disease. If you are carrying prescription drugs (especially prescription narcotics) with you, you must have the original prescription with you, or a letter from your physician.
Cruise ship passengers with ship luggage tags are exempt from customs screenings.
A commercial ferry service connects the west coast city of Mayaguez and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. This service is very popular and convenient way to travel between both cities. More than a million passengers visit the island on cruise ships every year, whether on one of the many cruise lines whose homeport is San Juan, or on one of the visiting lines. No passport is required for U.S./American Samoan citizens who use this service. There are also daily ferry connections from the neaby U.S. territory of U.S. Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico. Again, U.S./American Samoan citizens in the U.S. virgin Islands don't need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico and vice versa. It is also possible for you to rent a boat and travel from the U.S. Virgin Islands to Puerto Rico and vice versa without being intercepted by U.S. border patrol.
Public transportation in Puerto Rico is fairly bad: outside the Metro Area (San Juan, Guaynabo, Carolina and Bayamon), there are no scheduled buses or trains. Most travellers choose to rent their own cars, but intrepid budget travellers can also explore the shared cab (público) system.
Official tourism company-sponsored taxis on the Island are clean, clearly identifiable, and reliable. Look for the white taxis with the official logo and Taxi Turístico on the front doors.
Under a recently instituted Tourism Taxi Program, set rates have been established for travel between San Juan's major tourist zones. Rates are as follows:
If you are planning to explore outside of San Juan, renting a car is by far the most convenient way to get around. Rentals are available from the airport as well as larger hotels, and can be available for as little as $25 a day. Most national car rental companies are present at SJU, either on-site or fairly close to the airport grounds. There are also local companies that provide great service (and are usually cheaper than the national brands). Most of the rental companies that are off-airport provide a free shuttle service to their offices, just call ahead to inquire about the service.
Many U.S. mainland car insurance policies and/or credit card companies will cover insured drivers involved in rental car accidents that occur anywhere in the United States, including outlying territories like Puerto Rico, so check with your own insurer before you rent a car in Puerto Rico. If you have such coverage, you can probably decline collision insurance from the car rental company and request only the loss damage waiver.
Puerto Rican traffic law allows a driver -between midnight and 5am- to proceed with caution at a red light after coming to a full stop. Main roads and highways are well maintained, however, many of the frequently-used city-center roads and remote mountainous roads can be quite bad, with potholes, and uneven pavement. Some lane markings are often faint or non-existent since painting fades fast under the harsh tropical sun and frequent rain. Be cautious of other drivers, as turn signals are not commonly used or adhered to. Most natives do not drive like mainlanders are used to. Watch out for cars pulling out in front of you, or crossing an intersection, even if you have right of way. Also, there are many cars with non-functional head lights or tail lights, making driving in traffic even more dangerous. Speed limits are similar to the mainland U.S., however, as with other areas in the world these are considered suggestions for the locals, but high fines should make wise tourists cautious.
The historical part of San Juan (Old San Juan) has several public parking garages conveniently located on the southern side of town, near the cruise port. Each garage has its own rate, sometimes they have a fixed rate during nights and weekends. Tourists are highly advised to use these garages, as street parking is mainly for residents. Furthermore, streets in the old town date from the 1500's, thus are very narrow and most of them are one-way. Parking in the San Juan Metro Area (outside the old town) is principally on-street, and as in all major cities, highways are usually congested during rush hour (6:30 am–8:30am and from 4pm–7pm), so give yourself plenty of time coming and going.
Road signs are Spanish language versions of their U.S. counterparts, so you shouldn't have trouble figuring them out. However, note that distances are in kilometers, while speed limits are in miles. Gas is also sold by the liter, not by the gallon, and it's a little bit cheaper than on the mainland.
In addition to the regular free highway (carretera) network, there are four major toll roads (autopistas) on Puerto Rico. They're much faster and less congested than the regular highways, and it's worth using them if in any kind of hurry. Tolls for a 2-axle car range from $0.50 and $1.50.
Since 2011, the Puerto Rico government has been converting all toll roads to electronic toll collection (AutoExpreso) only and removing cash toll booths from toll plazas. Some but not all toll plazas still have a human-staffed "R" lane where drivers can purchase AutoExpreso tags or add more money to their accounts. Most rental car agencies now put AutoExpreso tags on all cars and automatically pass through all tolls incurred to the credit card presented at the time of rental, plus a per-day service fee for each day on which the tag was actually used.
Off the main highways, roads in Puerto Rico quickly become narrow, twisty and turny, especially up in the mountains. Roads that are only one-and-a-half lanes wide are common, so do like the locals do and beep before driving into blind curves. Signage is often minimal. At intersections, highway numbers are nearly always signposted but destinations are not, so a detailed highway map will come in handy.
Navigating a car can be very challenging because most locals give directions by landmark rather by address and using maps in PR can be somewhat challenging for visitors. Google Maps works fairly well in Puerto Rico, however, don't be surprised if some street names are either misspelled or missing. In order to avoid this, some tourists type the destination coordinates instead of the destination address; this could become handy in remote areas. Always leave some room for the usual highway traffic or other unexpected circumstances. Note that the larger metro areas, especially San Juan, can have several streets with the same name, so it's important to know the neighborhood (urbanization) name when communicating with taxi drivers, etc.
Police cars are easy to spot, as by local regulation, they must keep their blue light bar continuously illuminated any time they are in motion. Avoid getting a speeding ticket: fines start at $50 plus $5 for each mile above the speed limit.
As of 2013, there have been recent installments of traffic cameras throughout Puerto Rico and drivers can expect fines for traffic violations.
A público (also known as colectivo and pisicorre) is a shared taxi service and is much cheaper than taking a taxi around the island, and depending on your travel aspirations, might be cheaper than renting a car. Públicos, which run Monday-Friday, can be identified by their yellow license plates with the word "PUBLICO" written on top of the license plate. The "main" público station is in Río Piedras, a suburb of San Juan.
There are two ways of getting on a público. The easier way is to call the local público stand the day before and ask them to pick you up at an agreed time (your hotel or guesthouse can probably arrange this, and unlike you, they probably know which of the multitude of companies is going your way). This is convenient, but it'll cost a few bucks extra and you'll be in for a wait as the car collects all the other departing passengers. The cheaper way is to just show up at the público terminal (or, in smaller towns, the town square) as early as you can (6–7 a.m. is normal) and wait for others to show up; as soon as enough have collected, which may take minutes or hours, you're off. Públicos taper off in the afternoon and stop running entirely before dark, usually around 4 p.m.
Públicos can make frequent stops to pick up or drop off passengers and may take a while to get to their destination terminal, but you can also request to be dropped off elsewhere if it's along the way or you pay a little extra. Prices vary depending on the size of the público and the distance being traveled. For example, a small público that can seat three or four passengers from Ponce to San Juan will cost roughly $15, while a 15-passenger público that is traveling between San Juan and Fajardo will cost about $5 each person.
Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses, also known in English as Metropolitan Bus Authority, or by its initials in Spanish, AMA; is a public bus transit system based in the San Juan metropolitan area. The AMA provides bus transportation to residents of San Juan, Guaynabo, Bayamón, Trujillo Alto, Cataño, and Carolina through a network of 30 bus routes, including 3 express routes. Its fleet consists of 149 regular buses and 54 paratransit vans for handicapped persons. Its ridership is estimated at 30,000 on work days.
Most bus routes work Monday to Friday from 5:00am to 9:00pm; Saturdays and holidays from 6:00am to 8:00pm. The only two bus routes with service on Sundays are the T3 between Old San Juan and Sagrado Corazón train station at Santurce downtown; and E40 express between the San Juan Airport and Piñero train station. Many interesting places could be found on the routes, like the remains of the first European settlement on the island and the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico. Maps are available at the bus terminals, trains stations, or at ati.pr. You can also plan your trip using Google Maps or downloading the unofficial Tren Urbano App.
There are certain routes which are very reliable: T3, E10 express, E40 express, and C22 . E10 express goes between Old San Juan and Sagrado Corazón train station; and C22 between Sagrado Corazón, Hato Rey Golden Mile banking zone, and Plaza Las Américas.
As a tourist staying in Condado or Isla Verde hotel districts, be aware there is a bus line going to and from Old San Juan. It costs only 75 cents, but takes 45 minutes to an hour, and the right bus comes by irregularly. The bus only takes quarters and no bills, so plan ahead. So the trade-off is between low cost versus your time and convenience. In the rainy months, standing at the bus stop can be uncomfortable. One good way to get from San Juan to the Airport is to take the D53 or T5 to Isla Verde.
Tren Urbano ("Urban Train") is a 17.2km (10.7 mile) fully automated rapid transit that serves the metropolitan area of San Juan, which includes the municipalities of San Juan, Bayamón, and Guaynabo. Tren Urbano consists of 16 stations on a single line.
The Tren Urbano complements other forms of public transportation on the island such as the public bus system, taxis, water ferries, and shuttles. The entire mass transportation system has been dubbed the Alternativa de Transporte Integrado ("Integrated Transportation Alternative") or "ATI". Its services are very reliable and are almost always on time.
A single trip costs $1.50 ($0.75 if you transfer from an AMA bus), including a 2-hour bus transfer period. If you exit the station and wish to get back on the train, the full fare must be re-paid. There is no train-to-train transfer period. Students and seniors (ages 60–74) pay 75¢ per trip. Senior citizens older than 75 and children under 6 ride for free. Several unlimited passes are also available. In 2010, all Tren Urbano fares were reduced by 50% in order to increase passenger numbers. Expect to pay $0.75 for a single trip.
A stored-value multi-use farecard may be used for travel on buses as well as on trains. The value on the card is automatically deducted each time it is used. It is a system similar to the Metrocard system used in New York City.
Ferries depart from San Juan and Fajardo and the most popular arrivals are Cataño, Vieques Island, Culebra Island. The Mayaguez ferry used to travel between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. It is no longer in operation.
Both Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico, but Spanish is without a doubt the dominant language. Fewer than 20 percent of Puerto Ricans speak English fluently, according to the 1990 U.S. Census. Spanish is the mother tongue of all native Puerto Ricans, and any traffic signs and such are written exclusively in Spanish, with the exception of San Juan and Guaynabo. Even in tourist areas of San Juan, employees at fast-food restaurants generally have very limited comprehension of English. However, people working in tourism-related businesses are usually fluent in English, locals in less touristed areas of the island can usually manage basic English, as it's taught as a foreign language in school.
That said, as anywhere, it's respectful to try make an effort and try to learn at least the basics of Spanish. Average Puerto Ricans appreciate efforts to learn the most widely spoken language of their territory, and most are more than happy to help you with your pronunciation. If you're already familiar with the language, be aware that Puerto Rican Spanish speakers have a very distinct accent, similar to the Cuban accent, which is full of local jargon and slang unfamiliar to many outside the island. Puerto Ricans also have a tendency to "swallow" consonants that occur in the middle of a word. Puerto Ricans also speak at a relatively faster speed than Central Americans or Mexicans. It is not offensive to ask someone to repeat themselves or speak slower if you have trouble understanding them.
Examples of words that are unique to Puerto Rican Spanish include:
When the Spanish settlers colonized Puerto Rico in the early 16th century, many thousands of Taíno people lived on the island. Taíno words like hamaca ("hammock"), hurakán ("hurricane"), and tobacco came into general Spanish as the two cultures blended. Puerto Ricans still use many Taíno words that are not part of the international Spanish lexicon. The Taino influence in Puerto Rican Spanish is most evident in geographical names, such as Mayagüez, Guaynabo, Humacao or Jayuya. You will also find Taino words in different parts of the Caribbean.
The first African slaves were brought to the island in the 16th century. Although 31 different African tribes have been recorded in Puerto Rico, it is the Congo from Central Africa that is considered to have had the most impact on Puerto Rican Spanish. Many of these words are used today.
Old San Juan- The Spanish colonial district of San Juan is located on a small island on the north coast and contains numerous popular tourist sites, such as 17th and 18th century forts, fountains, plazas, and other historic buildings.
Fort San Felipe del Morro- Constructed in the 16th century by the Spanish to guard the entrance to the port of San Juan, the fortress known colloquially as el Morro survived bombardments by foreign forces (including a fleet led by Sir Francis Drake) over multiple centuries. The fort is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well as a US National Park and serves as a major tourist attraction in the historic district of Old San Juan.
Fort San Cristóbal- The largest fortification ever built by the Spanish in the New World, El Castillo de San Cristóbal was completed in the late 1700's and guarded the land entrance to San Juan against invasion. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fort now serves as a museum and attracts millions of visitors each year.
Fortín San Juan de la Cruz- Better known as "el Cañuelo," the smallest of the three island forts in the harbor of San Juan was built to guard the mouth of the Bayamón River while providing crossfire with the batteries of the larger El Morro fortification across the bay. Like its sister fortresses of El Morro and San Cristóbal, el Cañuelo is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Plaza de Armas- Located on San José Street, this picturesque square in Old San Juan is the site of the City Hall and contains numerous historic statues as well as a round fountain known as "The Four Seasons."
Whether you're dreaming about spectacular surfing waves, a challenging golf course, or the perfect sunbathing beach, Puerto Rico offers the active traveller a tremendous array of opportunities. Surfing and golf compete with tennis, fishing, kayaking, scuba diving, and horseback riding, not to mention windsurfing and parasailing, for your active time.
Places that take credit cards often take only Visa and MasterCard. Large hotels and car rental places will likely take Discover and American Express. Many places only take cash. Consider bringing enough cash with you to warrant only one or two withdrawals if you will be subject to transaction fees.
There are plenty of ATMs in Puerto Rico. Most are linked to the Cirrus, Plus, American Express, and Discover networks. You may be subject to multiple ATM fees unless your financial institution is a member of Allpoint, a surcharge-free ATM network located all over the island.
The only bank that has mainland US branches is Banco Popular and Santander. None of the big four US banks have retail branches or ATMs in Puerto Rico. However, Bank of America customers can withdraw from ScotiaBank ATMs surcharge free, as both of these banks belong to the global ATM alliance.
For general fashion shopping, check out the Belz Factory Outlets (Canovanas) and Puerto Rico Premium Outlets (Barceloneta). They feature major brand name stores like Polo, Tommy Hilfiger, Banana Republic, Puma, Gap, PacSun, etc.
Most large cities on the island have a large regional mall with familiar international stores.
If you're looking for local crafts of all sorts, and want to pay less than in Old San Juan while getting to know the island, try going to town festivals. Artisans from around the island come to these festivals to sell their wares: from typical foods, candies, coffee and tobacco to clothing, accessories, paintings and home décor. Some of these festivals are better than others, though: be sure to ask for recommendations. One of the most popular (yet remote) festivals is the "Festival de las Chinas" or Orange Festival in Las Marías.
Don't forget that Puerto Rico is a large rum-producing island. Hand made cigars can still be found in San Juan, Old San Juan, and Puerta de Tierra. Also a wide variety of imported goods from all over the world are available. Local artesanías include wooden carvings, musical instruments, lace, ceramics, hammocks, masks and basket-work. Located in every busy city are gift shops with the typical tee-shirts, shot glasses, and other gifts that say Puerto Rico to bring home to friends and family. Make sure to visit the Distileria Serralles, the home of Don Q, one of the oldest rums made in Puerto Rico (whose logo is visible in the window of most PR bars). You would not only enjoy tours of the process of making rum, but a little taste of the rum. They also have a museum and it is an enjoyable place for a warm afternoon in the Enchanted Island.
For many years, the most prestigious large U.S. retail fashion goods chain present on Puerto Rico was the department store chain Macy's, whose sole store in the Caribbean is located at the Plaza Las Americas mall in San Juan. While significantly larger than the average Macy's store, the Plaza Las Americas store is still smaller than Macy's regional flagship stores on the mainland. Thus, it is of less interest to tourists from the U.S. mainland or who plan to visit the U.S. mainland shortly.
Historically, because Puerto Rico has a high crime rate and its per capita income has lagged far behind the mainland, many of the most elite and upscale luxury U.S. and international retailers (e.g., Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue) refrained from entering the Puerto Rican market. Instead, they preferred to serve Caribbean and South American customers out of their stores in Miami, Florida. During the 2000s, the Caribbean gradually accumulated enough wealthy "baby boomer" U.S. and European expatriates to make it attractive to those brands. In September 2012, Taubman Centers and New Century Development broke ground on the long-expected Mall of San Juan, which finally became the first true upscale shopping mall in the Caribbean when it opened in March 2015 with Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue as the anchor tenants.
Puerto Rico is a drive-through buffet. All you need is a car, an appetite (the bigger the better), time, and the realization that your swimsuit won't fit as well when you get to your destination. The island has the most diverse culinary offerings in the entire Caribbean. There's something for everyone. You can enjoy the finest Puerto Rican food at most traditional town squares and also (for those of you who get homesick) have a steak at a place like Morton's.
Authentic Puerto Rican food (comida criolla) can be summed up in two words: plantains and pork, usually served up with rice and beans (arroz y habichuelas). It is rarely if ever spicy, and to many visitors' surprise has very little in common with Mexican cooking.
Plantains (plátanos) are essentially savory bananas and the primary source of starch back in the bad old days, although you will occasionally also encounter other tropical tubers like yuca (cassava) and ñame (white yam). Served with nearly every meal, incarnations include:
The main meat eaten on Puerto Rico is pork (cerdo), with chicken a close second and beef and mutton way down the list. Seafood, surprisingly, is only a minor part of the traditional repertoire: the deep waters around Puerto Rico are poorly suited to fishing, and most of the seafood served in restaurants for tourists is in fact imported. Still, fresh local fish can be found in restaurants across the east and west coast of the island, especially in Naguabo or Cabo Rojo respectively. Common fish used include chillo (red snapper), pulpo (octopus), jueyes (land crab) and carrucho (conch); the latter two are often served in salads which resemble ceviche in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world, served refreshingly cold with vinegar and lime juice.
The pinnacle of Puerto Rican porkcraft is undoubtedly lechón asado - roast whole suckling piglet. Slow-cooked over an open wood flame for hours, this succulent masterpiece rivals the best of any barbeque joint in the American South. Lechón is typcially served at specialty restaurants, often little more than roadside shacks, which serve mile-high portions accompanied by a dizzying array of very caloric side dishes (listed below). To experience authentic lechón, take a trip down Route 184, the Pork Highway (La Ruta del Lechón), in the island's southeast corner around the town of Guavate. This rural mountain community is famous for its many lechóneros, where you can kick back with a fantastic meal and a Medalla while watching the sun set over the scenic Cordillera Central mountains.
Other incarnations of pork Boricua-style include:
A few other puertorriqueño classics include:
Places to eat
Meals in sit-down restaurants tend to be fairly pricey and most touristy restaurants will happily charge $10-30 for main dishes. Restaurants geared for locals may not appear much cheaper, but the quality (and quantity) of food is usually considerably better. It's not uncommon for restaurants to charge tourists more than locals, so bring along a local friend if you can! Note that many restaurants are closed on Mondays and Tuesday.
If you want to eat like a local, look for places that are out of the way. There is a roadside food stand or 10 at every corner when you get out of the cities. Deep-fried foods are the most common, but they serve everything from octopus salad to rum in a coconut. You might want to think twice and consult your stomach before choosing some items - but do be willing to try new things. Most of the roadside stand food is fantastic, and if you're not hung up with the need for a table, you might have dinner on a beach, chomping on all sorts of seafood fritters at $1 a pop, drinking rum from a coconut. At the end of dinner, you can see all the stars. In the southwest of the island, in Boqueron, you might find fresh oysters and clams for sale at 25 cents a piece. The beach at Piñones is a particularly well-kept secret; the numerous food stands lining this lovely beach west of Isla Verde offer a dizzying variety of cholesterol-laden traditional Puerto Rican foods such as bacalaítos (fried codfish fritters), empanaditas (fried pastry dough stuffed with meat, potatoes, or plantains), and chicarrones (crispy fried pork skins).
If you are really lucky, you might get invited to a pork roast. It's not just food, it's a day-long affair - and it's an unforgettable cultural experience. Folks sing, drink, hang out telling stories, and help turning the pig as it roasts; when it's ready, you'll likely find yourself served a succulent cut of pork paired with arroz con gandules (rice and beans).
Typical fast food restaurants, such as McDonald's and Wendy's are numerous in Puerto Rico and identical to their American counterparts. Some feel, however, that fried chicken restaurants are somewhat different in PR. Pollo Tropical is a fast food restaurant unique to Puerto Rico that serves more traditional Puerto Rican
Finally, there are some wonderful restaurants, and like everywhere, the best are found mostly near the metropolitan areas. Old San Juan is probably your best bet for a 4-star meal in a 4-star restaurant. However if your experimental nature wanes, there are lots of "Americanized" opportunities in and around San Juan. Good luck, keep your eyes open for the next roadside stand, and make sure to take advantage of all the sports to counteract the moving buffet.
Strict vegetarians will have a tough time in Puerto Rico, although the larger towns have restaurants that can cater to their tastes. Traditionally almost all Puerto Rican food is prepared with lard, and while this has been largely supplanted by cheaper corn oil, mofongo is still commonly made using lard, bacon or both.
Unlike most U.S. jurisdictions, Puerto Rico's drinking age is 18. That, coupled with the fact that the U.S. does not require U.S. residents to have a passport to travel between Puerto Rico and the continental U.S., means Puerto Rico is a popular destination for teenagers on spring break. Puerto Rico has a relatively relaxed attitude toward alcohol consumption compared with most US states, more similar to attitudes in Europe and other Caribbean countries. Beer and hard liquor are available at almost every grocery store, convenience store, panadería (bakery), connell cabinet shops, and meat shops. There are many bars just off the sidewalk that cater to those of age, especially in San Juan and Old San Juan.
Puerto Rico is obviously famous for its rum and rum-based cocktails, and is the birthplace of the world renowned Piña Colada. Several fine rums are distilled in Puerto Rico, including Bacardì, Captain Morgan and Don Q. Rum is not a connoisseur's drink in the same way as wine or whiskey, and you may get a few odd looks if you ask for it straight since it is almost always drunk as a mixer. This is a shame, because the best aged Puerto Rican rums are drinks of dazzling subtlety and extremely high quality. Perhaps the best rum for a tourist to get in Puerto Rico is known as Ron del Barrilito. It isn't available in the mainland US, and is considered to be the closest to the rums distilled in the Caribbean in the 17th and 18th centuries, both in taste and the way it is distilled. It has an amber-brown color and a delicious, clean taste with a soft dried-fruit nose, sugary-sweet flavor, a silky texture, and a slightly smoky finish. Aged rum is very refreshing on a hot day on the rocks and garnished a mint leaf. Common highballs are mostly of Cuban origin; they include the Mojíto (rum, lime juice, mint leaves, and seltzer water) and the Cuba Libre (spiced rum and cola), often known jokingly as a Mentiríta (literally "little lie"), a stab at the Cuban government.
The local moonshine is known as pitorro or cañita, distilled (like rum) from fermented sugarcane. It is then poured into a jug with other flavorings such as grapes, prunes, breadfruit seeds, raisins, dates, mango, grapefruit, guava, pineapple, and even cheese or raw meat. Its production, while illegal, is widespread and a sort of national pastime. If you are lucky enough to be invited to a Puerto Rican home around Christmastime, it is likely that someone will eventually bring out a bottle of it. Use caution as it is quite strong, sometimes reaching 80% alcohol by volume (although typical alcohol levels are closer to 40-50%).
During Christmas season, Puertoricans also drink Coquito, an eggnog-like alcoholic beverage made with rum, egg yolks, coconut milk, coconut cream, sweet condensed milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. It is almost always homemade, and is often given as a gift during the Christmas holidays. It is delicious, but very caloric. It will also make you very sick if you drink too much of it, so be careful if someone offers you some.
Most stores stock a locally-produced beer called Medalla Light that can be purchased for $1-$2 each. Medalla Light is first in the Puerto Rican market share, and until recently was only available in Puerto Rico (It is now being exported to select US markets such as Florida). Other beer options for the discriminating drinker include Presidente, a light pilsner beer from nearby Dominican Republic (note: it's a different brew from the Dominican version), and Beck's. Beck's imported to Puerto Rico and the rest of the Caribbean is a different brew from the one that makes it to the U.S., and is considered by many to be better. Other beers which have popularity on the island are Budweiser (Bud Light is not available or very difficult to find), Heineken, Corona and Coors Light, which happen to be one of the prime international markets. Many other imported beers are also available, but usually at a higher price.
Most of the beers sold vary from 10 to 12 ounce bottles or cans. The portions are small (compared to the Mainland) so that the beer may be consumed before it has time to warm up.
Tap water is treated and is officially safe to drink, though it tastes rather chlorinated; many opt for bottled water instead.
If you are an avid coffee drinker, you may find heaven in Puerto Rico. Nearly every place to eat, from the most expensive restaurants to the lowliest street vendors, serves coffee that is cheap, powerful, and delicious. Puerto Ricans drink their coffee in a way particular to the Caribbean, known as a café cortadito (literally, "coffee cut [with milk]"), which is half espresso coffee and half sweetened steamed milk. A cup of coffee at a good panadería is rarely more than $1.50.
As a legacy of Puerto Rico's status as one of centers of world sugercane production, nearly everything is drunk or eaten with sugar added. This includes coffee, teas, and alcoholic drinks, as well as breakfast foods such as avena (hot oatmeal-like cereal) and mallorcas (heavy, yeasted egg buns with powdered sugar and jam). Be aware of this if you are diabetic.
There are over 12,000 hotel rooms in Puerto Rico. 50% are located in the San Juan area. The largest concentrations of hotels are near the Atlantic Ocean, in the neighborhoods of Condado, Isla Verde, and Old San Juan.
Tourists concerned about San Juan's high crime rate but whom wish to partake of its cultural and culinary delights should consider one of the secure luxury beachfront resorts outside the city, at Dorado, Rio Grande, Fajardo, or Humacao. The only downside is having to "commute" to the city while on vacation.
All major international hotel chains have properties in Puerto Rico. Guests can expect a high level of service, even at lower-quality properties. The San Juan area is very popular and perennially full of visitors, but also suffers from a shortage of hotel rooms which results in high prices during the winter season. New developments on the horizon look to alleviate this problem.
International chains such as Sheraton, Westin, Marriott, Hilton, Ritz-Carlton, Holiday Inn as well as some luxurious independent resorts offer very reliable accommodations. There is a boom underway in boutique hotel construction which promise a higher level of service and Miami-chic appeal. Most large cities have at least one international chain hotel.
There are also many properties to rent, buy, or lease available, whether it is a quiet home or a vacation rental. There are also many fully furnished apartments you can rent by the day, week and month, especially in Old San Juan. These are usually inexpensive, clean and comfortable and owned by trustworthy people. They are located mostly in the residential area, which is safe (day and night), and within walking distance to everything from museums to nightlife.
Hostels are just getting started in Puerto Rico but there are some great affordable options! Staying at hostels allows you the opportunity to get the scoop from other travelers, cook your own meals, and get to know the neighborhood. In San Juan there are several hostels including Island Time, Palace Hostel and San Juan International. Culebra International Hostel is located on the island of Culebra. On the west coast visit the Hostile Hostel for luxury beachfront beds with waffle breakfast included.
Camping is a low cost alternative, with spots available throughout the island, as well as on the nearby islands of Culebra and Vieques. The most popular campsite is on Flamenco Beach on Culebra.
See the San Juan section for contact numbers for hotels and short-term rental apartments.
It's very easy to find Spanish courses as well as learn to dance salsa.
Puerto Rico has 3 ABA-accredited law schools which are very competitive. The University of Puerto Rico Law School is very friendly towards international students and is a great option for foreigners looking for a quality, cheap education (subsidized by the government) that is less than 10 minutes from a beach!
As a US territory, Americans and American Samoan citizens can come here and work with no special visa or requirements, and they can stay and work indefinitely. Foreigners must go through the rigorous process of obtaining a US work permit. See the United States work section for more information.
There is a small international workforce on the island. In general, it's possible to find a nice job on the island doing various things. The island is full of international businesses which look for skilled labor all the time. Tourism is obviously a big industry for Puerto Rico. Also, the majority of pharmaceutical companies can be found in PR & the island plays a very important part in pharmaceutical manufacturing for the US & other places in the world.
If you look at the Crime in the United States reports published online by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it's clear that Puerto Rico has a crime problem. As of 2013 the island's murder rate of 24.4 per 100,000 residents was substantially higher than murder rates in the New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago metro areas for that year (3.5, 4.5, and 6.4). The crime rate is lowest in the wealthy suburbs outside major metropolitan areas, such as San Patricio or Guaynabo.
Nearly all crime is concentrated in the big metropolitan cities of San Juan and Ponce, and most of it is connected to the drug trade. However, the tourist areas of both cities are heavily patrolled by police, and violent crime directed against tourists is very rare. The main problem is theft: don't leave your belongings unattended. Carjacking and car theft are also depressingly common, so take care where you leave your car and don't leave valuables inside. If you are driving late at night, running red lights (after slowing or stopping to check for cross-traffic) is generally tolerated by the police because of the risk of carjacking, as long as you don't do it in a dangerous fashion (i.e., racing continuously through multiple red lights at high speed with no apparent concern for cross-traffic).
If you are concerned about the risk of being mugged while walking around at night, or while walking on beaches or shorelines at dawn or dusk (a serious problem in San Juan and Ponce), then simply stay at a gated luxury resort in the countryside and visit the cities during daylight hours. Secure resorts can be found in Dorado, Rio Grande, Fajardo, and Humacao.
Make sure to stay away from public housing projects known as caseríos, which are numerous and widespread throughout the island, and avoid shanty slums as well (La Perla in San Juan). These are frequently the location of drug dealers and other illegal activity as well as violent crime. If you must venture into such a location, avoid doing so at night and do not take pictures or film local residents without permission. You should never take pictures of children without permission, as this is considered quite rude. Avoid drawing a lot of attention to yourself and be polite at all times.
Like anywhere in the world, you will encounter beggars on the streets of San Juan and Ponce. Avoid eye contact and resist the temptation to give them money, as most are drug abusers or scam artists. If you feel a beggar is harassing you, a loud "No" will suffice in most cases.
Driving habits in Puerto Rico are generally appalling. Concepts like coming to a full stop at stop signs, changing lanes cautiously/predictably, maintaining safe following distance, yielding when merging, etc. go completely out the window on Puerto Rican roads. Cross streets at your own peril and never jaywalk. If you rent a car, purchase insurance, drive with extreme caution, and don't drive over the speed limit; Puerto Rican transitos (highway patrol) are only too happy to issue citations to tourists for even minor speeding, as these fines constitute a major portion of their department's budget.
Puerto Rico is generally much more LGBT-friendly than other Caribbean nations. Homosexual acts are legal, LGBT people are protected by law from discrimination, and there are many gay-friendly areas in San Juan and Ponce. As in the United States, youth are more tolerant of LGBT people than the older generation.
Nevertheless, attitudes towards homosexuality in Puerto Rico are still at least as conservative as those found in the American Bible Belt, due to the island's Roman Catholic heritage and a culture that places a lot of emphasis on machismo. Open hostility is rare, especially toward foreigners, but be prepared for stares or criticism.
Tap water may be unsafe to drink in Puerto Rico. When spending the day walking in the hot tropical sun it is important to stay hydrated. Ask for bottled water at restaurants, bars, hotels.
Fresh water lakes and streams in metropolitan areas are often polluted so avoid going in for a dip. You can, however, find freshwater streams and ponds in the rain forest that are safe to swim in. Generally, if you see Puerto Ricans swimming in it then you are probably okay, especially high in the rain forest. Puerto Rico is a tropical island but is free of most diseases that plague many other tropical countries of the Caribbean and the world. Tap water is safe to drink almost everywhere, and your hosts will let you know if their water is suspect. Bottled water, if necessary, is available, at grocery and drugstores in gallons, and most small stores have bottled water as well.
Medical facilities are easily available all around the Island, and there are many trained physicians and specialists in many medical fields. There are a number of government as well as private hospitals. Health services are fairly expensive. Keep in mind that a visit to the doctor may not be as prompt as one is used to, and it is common to have to wait quite some time to be seen (three to four hours would not be exceptional).
Visitors should expect a high level of quality in their medical service - it is comparable to the U.S. mainland. Drug stores are plentiful and very well stocked. Walgreen's is the biggest and most popular pharmacy chain, although Wal-Mart, K-Mart, CVS and Costco offer medicines, as do numerous smaller local chains.
Dengue fever, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes, is sometimes a problem (mostly in metropolitan areas). Although not too many people are affected by this, if you're prone to bug bites it would be good to use bug repellent when staying near some suburbs.
Puerto Rico has a modern cell phone network. With one major exception, all the major US carriers are represented and offer domestic non-roaming service for US subscribers with nationwide plans. As of 2014, AT&T has the best coverage on the island, while T-Mobile runs a close second. Sprint works in some areas, but is not as reliable. Verizon phones work, displaying "Extended" without incurring roaming charges (you may have to enable data roaming to use 3G). Other CDMA carriers will also roam on Claro or Sprint. For non-US travelers, AT&T and T-Mobile are the GSM carriers; Sprint and Claro are CDMA and are probably not compatible with your phone.
All of the major metro areas have solid coverage with all carriers. For rural areas and the islands Culebra and Vieques, coverage is pretty good but can be spottier than in the states and you may find poor or no coverage at the beaches. AT&T is generally regarded to have the best voice coverage, followed by Sprint and T-Mobile, and then Claro (Verizon).
T-Mobile has 3G and 4G data in the major metro areas, averaging over 1,500 kbps, but they only have 2G outside those areas. Personal hot spots work well for streaming and other uses in the 3G and 4G areas. T-Mobile's data network has been updated in many metropolitan areas with HSPA+ and most recently LTE service providing for faster speeds.
AT&T has the most consistent and by far the fastest data coverage on the island, with solid 4G LTE/HSPA+ and 3G coverage in the metro areas and 3G or 2G in the rural areas. Data rates average around 500 kbps on 3G and speeds on the 4G LTE network can be up to 10 times fast than 3G. Personal hot spots work well for streaming and other uses in the 3G and 4G areas.
Sprint has coverage similar to AT&T, but their data rates average around 200 kbps and are bursty with a lot of latency. Personal hot spots don't work well for streaming but are okay for basic data.
Public access internet penetration is not as good as in the Mainland U.S. or Europe yet. Internet cafes exist but are not very common, although some cafes, such as Starbucks, and restaurants, such as Subway, provide free Wi-Fi. Some of the major metro areas provide free WiFi zones, such as along Paseo de la Princesa in Old San Juan, but these tend to be slow and unreliable. There is no free Wi-Fi at the primary airport, Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU). Most hotels provide wired or wireless (or both) internet for guests, either for free or a fee, however many motels do not.
Puerto Rico has continually strived to improve Internet access across the island. And with 4G having since introduced, you shouldn't worry about internet speed (though if you're from other countries besides the U.S., it's best to switch SIM cards to avoid roaming charges).
The United States Postal Service provides mail service to the island. See the section on mail in the United States article for more information.