๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡ท Planning a Trip to Puerto Rico: 11 Practical Things To Know

A narrow streets with stairs and colorful buildings.

Receiving over 6 million tourists last year, Puerto Rico is a popular archipelago in the Caribbeanย that is known for its beautiful beaches, unique tropical rainforest, and rare bioluminescent bay.

Having experienced a memorable trip in Puerto Rico, I share must-know travel tips that are especially useful for first-time visitors.

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1. Best Places To Visit in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has great places to visit ranging from historic cities with colorful architecture to islands boasting some of the best beaches in the world.

Below are Puerto Rico’s most popular destinations and the top things to see and do in each location.

A first-time trip to this Caribbean island typically includes a visit to at least one of these areas.

Best City: San Juan

The capital city of San Juan is the largest metropolitan area in Puerto Rico and offers beaches, nightlife, historic architecture, and local cuisine.

San Juan has several notable neighborhoods, but the most visited one is the charming district of Old San Juan. The district’s best attractions include:

  • Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a historic fortification and one of the country’s top landmarks
  • Paseo de la Princesa, a promenade with coastal views
  • La Fortaleza, an iconic and historic structure

With its narrow streets, a great way to explore Old San Juan is on foot. If you want to learn about its historical hidden gems, consider taking a walking guided tour.

A cobblestone street surrounded by colorful buildings and trees.
Street in Old San Juan. (Photo by my friend, Aida Luu.)

Old San Juan is also known for its lively nightlife. Unlike the United States’s legal age, the legal drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18 years old.

๐Ÿ€ My Take on Old San Juan

I spent two days in Old San Juan and my favorite three things there were seeing the spectacular expansive park surrounding El Morro fort, aimlessly wandering around the colorful streets both during the day and at night, and eating local Puerto Rican food.

Due to Old San Juan’s popularity and proximity to the San Juan airport, you should expect long lines at top restaurants on the weekends. Deaverdura, my favorite restaurant that served traditional dishes, had a 45-minute wait on a Saturday night.

A big grass area with an old castle in the distance.
San Juan National Historic Site.

Natural Treasure: El Yunque Rainforest

El Yunque National Forest is the United State’s only tropical rainforest, offering a unique opportunity to visit a lush ecosystem within the states.

The rainforest has amazing biodiversity and has survived several major hurricanes, including Hurricane Maria in 2017.

While El Yunque is not considered a massive rainforest, it still offers many things for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Visitors can:

  • Hike through one of El Yunque’s dozen trails that vary in difficulty
  • Birdwatch and try to catch the famous Puerto Rican parrot
  • Chase waterfalls and swim in their watering holes
  • Zipline over the scenic rainforest

El Yunque is roughly an hour’s drive away from San Juan, making it a great day trip from the city. Many of the trails are accessible, so you can visit them without a tour guide. But if you need transportation, you can hire a local guide.

Two women standing at the top of a lush green moutain.
Summit of El Yunque National Forest.

๐Ÿ€ My Take on El Yunque

I spent a half day hiking a moderate trail to the top of El Yunque. The summit involves a fun rock scramble with a rope, and you’re rewarded with beautiful views of the surrounding area. Consider hiking harder trails if you want to minimize the crowd.

A popular place to stop after El Yunque is the town of Luquillo, which has over 80 food trucks and vendors. The town is next to the popular Luquillo beach where you can cool down after your rainforest visit.

A man standing in a swimming hole surrounded by lush trees.
El Yunque swimming hole. (Photo by my friend, Aida Luu.)

Best Island: Vieques

Excluding the main island, Vieques is Puerto Rico’s largest and most popular island. It’s located a 40-minute ferry ride from the Ceiba Ferry Terminal on the east coast of the main island.

The second most popular island is a small island called Culebra, which is a 30-minute ferry ride from Vieques. It’s home to Flamenco Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

A woman standing in the ocean while looking out some cliffs.
Playa Negra in Vieques.

Vieques is most famous for Mosquito Bay, one of the brightest bioluminescent bays in the world, giving visitors a unique and jaw-dropping experience. It’s also famous for its many beautiful pristine beaches.

You can visit Mosquito Bay on your own. I booked a bioluminescent bay tour because it requires considerably more planning to do it on your own (e.g., the road to the bay is extremely dark and bumpy, you’ll need to rent a kayak, etc.)

An amusing characteristic of Vieques is the large number of free-roaming horses. Many visitors think they are wild horses, but most belong to a local who lets them roam freely.

๐Ÿ€ My Take on Vieques

The bioluminescent bay of Mosquito Bay is one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had while traveling. It’s difficult to describe how dreamlike it is to watch the water light up as you paddle through the bay at night.

I also enjoyed Vieques’s unique and less crowded beaches. Playa Negra required a short, but interesting hike to get to (three horses blocked the trail for some time when I was there) and Playa Caracas was stunning with its crescent shape.

See how to efficiently plan a Puerto Rico itinerary.

A white, sandy beach with clear blue ocean water and palm trees in the background.
Sun Bay Playa in Vieques. (Photo by my friend, Aida Luu.)

Other Top Places in Puerto Rico

The three places mentioned above are usually regarded as Puerto Rico’s best places to travel to. Other notable places include the following:

  • Ponce, called the “Pearl of the South”, is a southern coast city that’s known for its architectural gems and numerous museums. It’s also the gateway to an uninhabited island called Caja de Muertos, which boasts crystal-clear waters.
  • Rincรณn is the west coast area of Puerto Rico, and its laid-back beach atmosphere is a great place for surfers and those looking for a relaxing beach vacation.

2. When To Visit Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a tropical island with warm temperatures year-round.

โ˜€๏ธ Best Time To Visit Puerto Rico

The best and most popular time to visit Puerto Rico is during its dry season, which is also its high season. The dry months are December to April.

โ›…๏ธ Puerto Rico’s Seasons

The weather varies by region, but Puerto Rico is largely characterized by two seasons:

โ˜€๏ธ Dry SeasonDec-Apr– Less rainfall
– Sunnier days
– More pleasant temperatures
๐ŸŒง๏ธ Rainy SeasonMay-Nov– More rainfall
– Higher humidity
– Temperature tends to remain above 70 ยฐF
Puerto Rico’s Twp Seasons

Here are some things to keep in mind about the seasons and climate in Puerto Rico:

  • While the dry season is the more popular time to visit Puerto Rico, the island also has a second peak season during the summer months of July and August.
  • The peak hurricane season in Puerto Rico is in August and September. It’s a good idea to check weather reports if you’re planning to visit during those two months as tropical storms can be common.

๐Ÿ€ My Experience With Puerto Rico’s Weather

I traveled to Puerto Rico in February during the dry season. During my trip, I experienced daily sunny weather where I was constantly in a bathing suit or short sleeves.

I wore athletic leggings during my hike in El Yunque and wished I had worn shorts instead.

Two women taking a selfie at a beach during a sunny day.
Sunny day in Puerto Rico.

3. How Long To Spend in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a small island where visitors typically spend seven to ten days traveling.

๐Ÿ—“๏ธ How Many Days Do You Need in Puerto Rico?

First-time visitors should spend at least four to five days in Puerto Rico to explore some historical sites and the island’s stunning beaches.

  • With three days in Puerto Rico, you’ll have enough time to explore San Juan and do a day trip to El Yunque.

See how to spend four days in Puerto Rico.

  • With five days to one week in Puerto Rico, you’ll have time to visit two to three areas (typically the capital city and an island).
  • With more than a week in Puerto Rico, you’ll get to visit more than three areas and also have the opportunity to visit the west and/or southern parts of the island.

๐Ÿ€ How Long I Stayed in Puerto Rico

During my Puerto Rico trip, I was able to spend four days exploring three areas: Old San Juan and other nearby neighborhoods, El Yunque rainforest, and Vieques. I strongly recommend budgeting at least three days to make the trip worthwhile.

A woman sitting and looking out at the ocean.
Old San Juan ocean view.

4. Entry Requirements for Puerto Rico

The entry requirement for Puerto Rico is the same as the United States.

๐Ÿ›ƒ Puerto Ricoโ€™s Visa Requirements

Since Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, a visa is not required for US citizens visiting it.

If youโ€™re a citizen from another country, youโ€™re required to get a US visa to enter Puerto Rico.

โœˆ๏ธ Puerto Rico’s Passport Requirements

For the same reason as above, you do not need your United States passport to enter Puerto Rico. Like the rest of the US, people born on the island are considered American citizens.

Starting in May 2025, you will be required to have a REAL ID to enter Puerto Rico if you’re a US citizen.

5. Budgeting and Cash in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a semi-expensive island destination for the Caribbean.

๐Ÿ’ฐ Expected Budget in Puerto Rico

Here’s approximately how much you can expect to spend when visiting Puerto Rico:

Travel StyleBudget per Day
Budget Travelers$80
Mid-Range Budget Travelers$300
Expected Daily Budget for Puerto Rico

๐Ÿง Do You Need Cash In Puerto Rico?

Like the US, Puerto Rico has a good credit card infrastructure, so you’ll rarely be in a situation where you need cash.

Places that are cash-only are usually roadside fruit and juice stalls, small restaurants, and beach parking.

๐Ÿ’ต Are US Dollars Accepted in Puerto Rico?

Since Puerto Rico is a US territory, its official currency is the US dollar, so it’s widely accepted.

๐Ÿ€ My Puerto Rico Trip’s Budget

I share all my travel expenses in this Puerto Rico budget breakdown.

A woman holding two coconuts with straws sticking out.
Cash-only coconut juice stand in Puerto Rico.

6. How To Get Around in Puerto Rico

Like much of the United States, the best way to get around Puerto Rico is by car, as there is no reliable public transportation.

If you don’t get a rental car, you’ll need to rely on tour transportation or taxis, which can get expensive.

โœˆ๏ธ Flying Into Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has three international airports to fly into:

Luis Muรฑoz Marรญn International Airport (SJU)San JuanNorth
Rafael Hernรกndez International Airport (BQN)AguadillaNorthwest
Mercedita International Airport (AIM)PonceSouth
Puerto Rico’s International Airports

The main and largest airport is the San Juan Airport. Once you land in Puerto Rico, there are several common ways to get around the island.

๐Ÿš— Option 1: Car Rental

Renting a car in Puerto Rico will provide you with the most flexibility to get around the island. A rental car will set you back about $45 per day, not including gas.

๐Ÿš™ Option 2: Taxi and Uber

Taxi and Uber are the second most used transportation by tourists in Puerto Rico. While they’re widely available in San Juan, I found that getting one in Vieques required more upfront planning.

๐ŸšŒ Option 3: Bus

Puerto Rico has a limited bus system that’s primarily used by locals. If you don’t mind the inconvenience and primarily staying in the San Juan area, the bus is the best option if you want to travel on a tight budget.

โ›ด๏ธ Option 4: Ferry

The main island of Puerto Rico is surrounded by over 100 smaller islands (the two most popular ones are Vieques and Culebra). To get to these islands, you’ll have to go to the island’s nearest terminal and take a ferry from there.

๐Ÿš˜ Option 5: Golf Cart

On Puerto Rico’s smaller islands like Vieques, you’ll see that rental cars are not very common. Instead, you’ll see many locals and tourists using golf carts.

During peak travel season, golf carts can be booked out, so make sure to book them early.

๐Ÿ€ How I Got Around Puerto Rico

Since I wanted to be independent while exploring different areas of Puerto Rico, I rented a car during my trip.

When I went to Vieques, I left the car parked at the Ceiba Ferry Terminal and took a ferry to the island. On the island, I relied on taxis and tour transportation to get around.

A sunset hovering above the ocean.
Sunset at the ferry terminal on Vieques Island.

7. How To Stay Safe in Puerto Rico

Here are safety tips to keep in mind when traveling to Puerto Rico.

โš ๏ธ Is Puerto Rico Safe to Visit?

Like many other Caribbean islands, Puerto Rico is considered to be a safe place to visit as long as you stay in tourist-friendly areas.

The most common crimes against tourists in Puerto Rico are petty theft such as pickpocketing. Violence against tourists is rare.

๐Ÿš• Common Scams in Puerto Rico

Here are common scams to watch out for in Puerto Rico:

  • The unofficial guide scam involves a scammer pretending to be a tourist guide when in reality they’re being paid to take you to specific businesses. Make sure to book tours through verified sources such as Viator to avoid this scam.
  • The taxi scam involves a driver charging the incorrect amount by not turning on the meter, insisting they gave you the correct change when they didn’t, or overcharging you. Make sure to hail only licensed taxis to avoid issues with taxi drivers.
  • The rental car scam involves a company charging you for existing damages. Make sure to get recommendations for rental companies from a trusted source and thoroughly inspect a rental before driving it.

๐Ÿ’ง Is Tap Water Safe To Drink in Puerto Rico?

Tap water in Puerto Rico is safe to drink per the CDC and WHO. Puerto Rico follows the same water cleanliness standards as the United States.

However, you’ll notice that locals have mixed feelings about their tap water, so if you’re worried, check the most up-to-date news on tap water safety in Puerto Rico.

๐ŸฆŸ Does Puerto Rico Have Mosquitoes?

Puerto Rico has a tropical climate, so mosquitoes are prevalent year-round, but are less common during the dry season. The country has disease-carrying mosquitos, so protect yourself as best as you can.

๐Ÿ€ My Safety Tips for Puerto Rico

I traveled with three other women and we had no issues with theft, scams, or violence in Puerto Rico. Based on my experience, I recommend these safety tips:

  • Itโ€™s a good idea to pack insect repellent. I tend to get bitten and I find that the lotion works better than the spray alternative (per the CDC: โ€œDEET offers the best protection against mosquito bites.”). This was especially helpful when visiting El Yunque rainforest.
  • Stay vigilant as pickpocketing still occurs and people take advantage of unprepared tourists.
A lush rainforest with palm trees.
Lush El Yunque rainforest with mosquitoes.

8. Language Barrier in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has two official languages: English and Spanish.

๐Ÿ—ฃ๏ธ Is English Common in Puerto Rico?

Even though English is also an official language, Spanish is the dominant national language with 95% of Puerto Ricans speaking it fluently.

In comparison, only about 50% of the population speaks English fluently. However, you will find that English is widely spoken in tourist destinations.

The primary language of communication on the island is Spanish. Here are some common Spanish words and phrases to know:

Common Word or PhraseEnglish Translation
GraciasThank you
ยฟHabla Inglรฉs?Do you speak English?
ยฟCuรกnto cuesta?How much does it cost?
English Translation for Common Spanish Phrases

๐Ÿ€ Traveling Puerto Rico With Just English

Puerto Rico receives millions of tourists every year, so I had no issues getting around the island with just English. If you visit more local areas, you might face more of a language barrier, so knowing some Spanish will help in those situations.

9. Puerto Rican Food To Try

Puerto Rican cuisine is known for its use of spices and bold flavors. While you can find many restaurants that serve familiar American foods in Puerto Rico, don’t forget to try some traditional dishes as well.

Here are some amazing foods to try in Puerto Rico:

  • Mofongo is a Puerto Rican dish that’s made with smashed plantains. It can be served with different proteins, and it was easily one of the best things I ate on the island.
A plate of food with smashed plaintain.
Mafongo in Luquillo, Puerto Rico.
  • Arroz con gandules is a rice dish that has pigeon peas and pork. This is considered one of Puerto Rico’s national dishes.
  • Lechรณn asado is a slow-roasted, marinated pork that’s often cooked in a box over an open flame. It’s characterized by tender meat with crispy skin.
  • Piรฑa colada, a drink with coconut cream, pineapple juice, and white rum, is one of Puerto Rico’s most famous culinary inventions. Make sure that they’re using real coconut when you’re ordering one.

Bacardi is one of the most famous distilleries in Puerto Rico. If you’re into cocktails with rums, they offer highly-rated mixology classes.

๐Ÿ€ My Experience With Puerto Rico’s Cuisine

As someone who loves bean and rice dishes, I thoroughly enjoyed almost all Puerto Rican traditional dishes that I tried.

I traveled with two vegetarians during my trip and noticed that food options were limited for them. If you’re a vegetarian, be prepared to eat a lot of carbs and beans, or be flexible with eating fish.

10. Cultural Differences in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s culture has been influenced by various countries over the past century. Although the culture of the indigenous Taino people remains, Puerto Rican culture has also been influenced by Africa, Spain, Cuba, America as well as several other places.

๐Ÿ‘‹๐Ÿป Cultural Norms in Puerto Rico

Given the above, you should not expect Puerto Rican culture to be the same as American culture. Here are some proper etiquette to know when visiting:

  • Puerto Rico runs on “island time“. While punctuality can be expected for some tours, it’s not the most valued thing on the island.
  • Although you may not experience this as a tourist, you will see that Puerto Ricans have a warm greeting style where people typically hug and kiss each other’s cheek.
  • Puerto Ricans take pride in their hospitality and ensure their guests feel welcome. This sentiment can extend to settings like restaurants and hotels, so you may feel that locals are warmer or that they may take more time with customers.
  • Appearances matter, especially in more metro areas, and can be seen as indications of social standings. When going out, try to dress accordingly.

๐Ÿ€ My Experience With Puerto Rico’s Culture

The most noticeable cultural difference I noticed as an American when visiting Puerto Rico was the lack of concern for time.

Many of my restaurant meals easily went past an hour, and waiting time estimates were rarely accurate. At one delicious restaurant in Vieques, my dinner lasted two hours and the waiters didn’t seem rushed despite having several customers waiting in line.

11. Puerto Rico Itinerary

If it’s your first time visiting Puerto Rico, make sure to plan a trip that’s longer than four days or more. Four days is the minimum amount of time you’ll need to see the island’s best places and attractions.

This four-day Puerto Rico itinerary shows how to efficiently plan a trip that includes all the best places: Old San Juan, El Yunque, and Vieques.

Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment below.

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