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15 Perfect Puerto Rico Travel Tips for First-Timers

15 Perfect Puerto Rico Travel Tips for First-Timers

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Are you planning a trip to Puerto Rico for the first time and don’t know what to expect? Keep scrolling to check out my top Puerto Rico travel tips!
This list of Puerto Rico travel tips was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and contains affiliate links which means if you purchase something from one of my affiliate links, I may earn a small commission that goes back into maintaining this blog.

I just got back from my first trip to Puerto Rico and there are SO many things that I wish I had known before visiting Puerto Rico.

Of course, I’m a total planner and did some research before I left, but I had a hard time finding the info that would have helped the most.

So, that’s where this blog post comes in. Keep scrolling to find out what you need to know before your Puerto Rico trip!

Don’t have time to read a bunch of Puerto Rico blog posts and reviews? Here are some of our top picks for visiting Puerto Rico.

Popular Puerto Rico Tours/Activities

Where to Stay in Puerto Rico

Top Puerto Rico Travel Tips for First-Timers

Planning Your Puerto Rico Visit

Any Puerto Rico travel guide will tell you that the top things to see and do on the island are the beaches, sailing to islands, kayaking the bioluminescent bays, and visiting the El Yunque National Forest.

Image of a woman in a red swimsuit on a boat at Icacos Cay in Puerto Rico
I highly recommend an Icacos boat tour. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

If you love snorkeling, I highly recommend booking a catamaran trip to Icacos. This is some of the best snorkeling in the San Juan area. We did THIS ONE and it’s kid-friendly and the crew was super friendly.

Another popular Puerto Rico activity is kayaking the bioluminescent bays. It’s one of the best things to do in Puerto Rico at night.

The easiest one to get to is Fajardo Bioluminescent Bay. It’s about an hour from San Juan. Or you can do La Parguera, which is about 2 hours from San Juan. We did THIS TOUR and the guides were really helpful and it was a blast.

There’s also Mosquito Bay in Vieques (which requires an overnight stay).

Image of a pink building in Old San Juan Puerto Rico
Old San Juan is one of the cutest places I’ve ever visited. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Even if you’re not really a “city” person, I suggest setting aside at least one day to explore Old San Juan. There are lots of historical places like El Morro Fort and Catedral de San Juan Bautista. Plus, you’ll want to see the adorable colorful streets.

How Many Days in Puerto Rico?

We spent 8 days in Puerto Rico (6 on the main island and 2 on Culebra).

However, I’d say you could easily do 3-4 days if you’re coming from the east coast and don’t plan to island hop. That being said, you can still see plenty even with just one day in San Juan.

The flights from the west coast are quite a bit longer and I’d suggest at least 5 days to make the trip worth the travel time.

Where to Stay in Puerto Rico

It honestly depends on what’s on your Puerto Rico itinerary.

Image of a woman taking a selfie on the deck of her room at the Caribe Hilton overlooking the beach
This is the view from my room at the Caribe Hilton. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

We stayed about 10 minutes from Old San Juan at the Caribe Hilton and it was easy to get to/from the airport and Old San Juan. However, it took us at least an hour to get to the east side of the island to do our catamaran tour, Bio Bay kayaking trip, and catch our flight to Vieques.

We saw a lot of nice resorts (like the Fairmont El San Juan and the Royal Sonesta) that are located much closer to outdoor adventures.

So, if you’re thinking you’d like to do a lot of tours/activities, I suggest mapping it out and seeing where it makes the most sense to stay. The answer might be a split stay between San Juan and somewhere else.

Puerto Rico Island Hopping

When I was planning my trip to Puerto Rico, I realized that there are several different islands in Puerto Rico that are great for day trips or even a few nights.

Image of 4 ladies with a I Heart Vieques sign in Puerto Rico
My friends and I “had” to get a photo with this cute sign!

Vieques and Culebra are the most popular islands to visit. It’s easy to visit them via ferry or you can take a 9-passenger scenic flight.

There are also several snorkeling boat tours that visit smaller islands, such as Icacos and Culebrita.

We ended up visiting 5 islands in one week. Check out my full guide to island hopping in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rican Culture and History

If you’re like me, you might not have learned much about Puerto Rico in school. But, knowing a bit about the rich history will help you understand present-day Puerto Rico.

The island was first inhabited by the indigenous Taíno people who left behind fascinating petroglyphs that you can find in various locations like Caguana Ceremonial Park.

Image of a woman in front of a totem pole in Old San Juan Puerto Rico
Totem Telurico was created to “celebrate” the 500th anniversary of Spain conquering Puerto Rico. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

The arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1493 marked a new chapter as the island became a Spanish colony. Its strategic location made it a valued possession, evident in the magnificent fortresses like El Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal in San Juan.

In 1898, after the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory, adding another cultural layer to its narrative.

This diverse historical influence reflects in the local architecture, food, and overall lifestyle. It’s this fusion that makes this island truly unique.

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Public Transportation in Puerto Rico

Known as ‘guaguas’, buses operate mainly within the San Juan metropolitan area. While cost-effective, their routes can be somewhat confusing and often experience delays.

Not the most reliable form of transport, but they are an affordable option if you’re not in a rush. We didn’t personally go this route.

Publicos are taxis or minibuses that are an interesting way to get around. They run set routes (usually between towns), are more affordable than taxis, and can be flagged down anywhere along their route.

But, they usually only leave when full, and operate mostly during daylight hours.

To visit the enchanting islands of Vieques and Culebra, or to cross San Juan Bay, ferries are an excellent option. Remember to arrive early, as the tickets can sell out fast, especially during the peak season.

Taxis, Ubers, and Rental Cars

Taxis are available in most parts of the island, especially in San Juan. Look for the white cars with the “Taxi Turístico” logo.

Taxis operate on a zone-based flat fare within San Juan, but outside the city, metered rates apply. Always confirm the fare before starting your journey.

Uber is also widely available in San Juan and surrounding areas. That’s what we chose to do because they charge Caribbean rates, which makes it extremely affordable. Most of our rides were between $4-$12.

If you plan on doing lots of adventures, it might make the most sense to rent a car in Puerto Rico. That way, you won’t have to pay the tour company for transportation, especially if you’re coming from San Juan.

Money in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, so the official currency used there is the U.S. dollar (USD). This makes it easy for tourists from the United States, as they won’t need to exchange any currency.

You can use U.S. dollars in Puerto Rico.

Tourists from other countries should exchange their money for USD before or upon arrival. You can do this at your local bank, at an airport currency exchange counter, or even once you arrive in Puerto Rico.

Keep in mind that airport exchanges often have less favorable rates, so planning ahead can be beneficial.

Credit and debit cards are widely accepted in most places in Puerto Rico, especially in larger cities and more touristy areas, so you may not need to carry a lot of cash.

However, it’s always a good idea to have some cash on hand for smaller businesses, street vendors, or in case of a place that doesn’t accept cards.

Dining in Puerto Rico Tips

It’s helpful to know about Puerto Rican history because it’s reflected in the food. Puerto Rico offers a vibrant culinary scene with a blend of Spanish, African, Taino, and American influences.

Image of two fish tacos on a plate in Vieques Puerto Rico
This was a tasty fish taco in Vieques. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

Don’t miss out on traditional Puerto Rican dishes like mofongo (mashed plantains often stuffed with meat or seafood), lechón asado (roast pork), and beans. My top meals included fresh ceviche, chicken mofongo, and fish tacos.

One of my top Puerto Rico travel tips is to do a little research on restaurants before you go. The good ones are stellar, but it’s easy to have a bum meal somewhere.

One of my top Puerto Rico travel tips is to book a food tour. That's where we tried passion fruit ceviche.
We tried passion fruit ceviche on a food tour in Old San Juan. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

If you’re a foodie, I highly recommend booking a food tour so you can try lots of things. We did the Spoon food tour in Old San Juan and I’m still dreaming about the yuca mofongo.

Puerto Rico is also known for its excellent coffee. Make sure to stop at a local café and enjoy a freshly brewed cup. We loved the rum-infused coffee at 787 Coffee.

Drinking Age in Puerto Rico

Something that surprised me is that the legal drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18 years old.

This applies to the consumption of both alcohol in private settings and in public places, such as bars and restaurants.

This law is strictly enforced, and you may be asked for identification to verify your age, especially in bars, restaurants, and stores when purchasing alcohol.

As with any place, please don’t drink and drive.

Try a Piña Colada

Now that you know the Puerto Rico drinking age, let’s talk about what to drink.

The Piña Colada is a sweet cocktail made with rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice, often served either blended or shaken with ice.

Image of a pina colada at Hotel Caribe in San Juan Puerto Rico
Of course, I had to try the famous Pina Colada at Caribe Hotel. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

It has been popular worldwide, especially in tropical climates, since the mid-20th century. The connection between Puerto Rico and the Piña Colada comes from the claim that the drink was invented there. It’s one of my favorite facts about Puerto Rico!

The Caribe Hilton Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, asserts that their bartender, Ramón “Monchito” Marrero, invented the Piña Colada in 1954 after being tasked to create a new signature mixed drink.

After experimenting with several mixtures for three months, Marrero finally decided on the Piña Colada. His creation was supposedly so well-liked that it was not only served at the hotel but also became popular throughout the city and eventually the world.

In 1978, the governor of Puerto Rico declared the Piña Colada the official drink of Puerto Rico.

Whether you believe this origin story or not, there’s no denying that this cocktail has become deeply associated with Puerto Rican culture.

So when you visit, make sure to enjoy a Piña Colada while taking in the beautiful scenery!

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    Pack Your Swimsuits

    I’m not much of a water person and even I was glad to have added two swimsuits to my Puerto Rico packing list!

    Image of a woman taking a selfie with a small water taxi at Culebrita in Puerto Rico
    I wore a swimsuit every single day. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

    Between resort pools, beautiful beaches, and snorkeling excursions, you’ll probably end up in a swimsuit at least once per day.

    Puerto Rico Hurricane Season

    Hurricane season in Puerto Rico typically lasts from June 1 to November 30, with the peak period from August to October.

    During this time, the island can be at risk from tropical storms and hurricanes originating in the Atlantic Ocean.

    One of the most devastating hurricanes in Puerto Rico’s history was Hurricane Maria, which hit the island in September 2017.

    Maria was a Category 4 hurricane at landfall and brought catastrophic damage and a major humanitarian crisis to Puerto Rico. Many Puerto Ricans were without clean water and power.

    The aftermath of Maria exposed vulnerabilities in the island’s infrastructure, emergency preparedness, and response mechanisms.

    If you’re planning to travel to Puerto Rico during hurricane season, it’s essential to stay informed about the weather forecast and have a plan in case of a hurricane.

    Make sure you’re aware of evacuation procedures, have travel insurance that covers natural disasters, and know the location of the nearest hurricane shelter.

    Remember, safety should always be your top priority.

    Learn a Few Spanish Words

    Knowing some basic Spanish phrases and words can enhance your travel experience in Puerto Rico.

    Even though most Puerto Ricans speak English (it’s one of the two official languages), locals always appreciate it when visitors make an effort to use the local language.

    Here are some Spanish words and phrases that might be useful:

    • Hola (OH-lah) – Hello
    • Adiós (ah-DEE-ohs) – Goodbye
    • Por favor (por fah-VOR) – Please
    • Gracias (GRAH-see-as) – Thank you
    • De nada (deh NAH-dah) – You’re welcome
    • (see) – Yes
    • No (no) – No
    • Excuse me / Sorry – Perdón (pehr-DON)
    • Dónde está…? (DOHN-deh es-TAH…?) – Where is…?
    • Cuánto cuesta? (KWAN-toh KWES-tah?) – How much does it cost?
    • Habla inglés? (AH-blah een-GLES?) – Do you speak English?
    • No entiendo (no en-tee-EN-doh) – I don’t understand
    • Baño (BAH-nyoh) – Bathroom
    • Ayuda (ah-YOO-dah) – Help
    • Comida (ko-MEE-dah) – Food
    • Agua (AH-gwah) – Water
    • Cerveza (ser-VEH-sah) – Beer
    • Vino (VEE-no) – Wine
    • Entrada (en-TRAH-dah) – Entrance
    • Salida (sa-LEE-dah) – Exit

    Safety and Awareness in Puerto Rico

    While Puerto Rico is generally safe for tourists, it’s important to stay aware and take some standard safety precautions, just as you would when visiting any other location.

    Petty crimes like pickpocketing or bag snatching can happen, especially in crowded tourist areas or on public transportation. Keep an eye on your belongings at all times.

    Image of a bunch of colorful houses in La Perla District in Old San Juan Puerto Rico
    The La Perla District in Old San Juan can get a little sketch at night. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

    I suggest traveling in groups when possible, especially at night. Try to stick to well-lit, populated areas, and avoid walking alone whenever possible.

    When exploring Puerto Rico, pay attention to your surroundings. This is especially true in San Juan, where neighborhoods can change dramatically within just a few blocks.

    You can also avoid tourist traps such as overpriced souvenir shops, fraudulent tour guides, and taxis without meters.

    You should also stay alert when doing Puerto Rican adventures.

    If you are hiking in the rainforest or swimming in the ocean, be aware of natural hazards. Follow trail guidelines and swim only in designated areas. Also, be cautious of the strong undertows and rip currents in the ocean.

    Image of a woman in front of the Puerto Rico flag in Old San Juan
    I had to take a selfie with the Puerto Rico flag! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

    Travel Tips for Puerto Rico FAQs

    Is Puerto Rico a good place to vacation?

    If you’re looking for a tropical island in the Caribbean with exciting outdoor adventure, amazing food, and beautiful beaches, Puerto Rico is one of the top destinations. It’s great for families, couples, or even solo travelers.

    Where is the best place to vacation in Puerto Rico?

    Choosing the best place to vacation in Puerto Rico depends on your interests as a traveler. The capital city of San Juan is a bustling hub of activity, filled with history, culture, shopping, and food.

    For those seeking tranquility, Vieques, an island off the east coast of Puerto Rico, is known for its pristine beaches and the famous Mosquito Bay, which is the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world.

    On the west coast, Rincón is a paradise for surfers, with beaches that cater to both beginners and experienced wave riders.

    Another island municipality of Puerto Rico, Culebra is perfect for beach lovers and snorkelers. Flamenco Beach is often ranked as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.

    Do you need a passport to visit Puerto Rico from the U.S.?

    No, US citizens do not need a passport to visit Puerto Rico from the U.S. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, so you can travel there with a valid driver’s license or another form of government-issued ID.

    However, if you are planning on traveling to any other country from Puerto Rico, you will need a passport. And it’s helpful on the off-chance you have to make an emergency landing on another island in the Caribbean.

    What should I wear in Puerto Rico?

    Puerto Rico is a humid, tropical island. I wore lightweight dresses or T-shirts and shorts most of the time. If you plan on doing a lot of water activities, you’ll want waterproof sandals or Crocs. If you go ATVing, you’ll need closed-toe shoes and long pants. You’ll also want at least 2 swimsuits. I suggest packing a foldable rain jacket, too.

    What are the best places to stay in Puerto Rico?

    There are many great places to stay in Puerto Rico, depending on your interests and budget.

    Old San Juan is a historic district that is home to cobblestone streets, colorful buildings, and a number of popular tourist attractions.

    Condado is a beachfront neighborhood known for its luxury hotels, restaurants, and bars.

    Isla Verde is a resort area located on the northeast coast of Puerto Rico and is home to a number of hotels, condos, and restaurants.

    When is the best time to visit Puerto Rico?

    Mid-April to June is considered one of the best times to visit. The winter crowds have thinned, the spring weather is pleasant, and rates for flights and hotels are more affordable. This period also sees less rainfall than the later summer months, although we still had rain in May.

    December to April is the island’s peak tourist season when the weather is warm and dry. It’s an ideal escape for those looking to avoid cold winter climates. However, prices are typically highest during this time, and popular attractions may be crowded.

    July to November marks the official hurricane season, with September and October having the highest risk. Although this period is often less crowded and you might find great deals on accommodation and flights, the weather can be unpredictable.

    Do you need to tip in Puerto Rico?

    Tipping in Puerto Rico is not mandatory, but it is customary. The standard tip rate is 15-20% of the bill.

    Do you need cash in Puerto Rico?

    While credit cards are widely accepted in Puerto Rico, it is still a good idea to bring some cash with you, especially if you are planning on visiting smaller towns or going to markets. You may also want to have cash on hand for tips.

    Will my cell phone work in Puerto Rico?

    Yes, your cell phone will work in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States, so it uses the same cellular networks as the U.S. This means that you can use your cell phone in Puerto Rico just like you would in the U.S.

    How to Visit Puerto Rico Wrap Up

    Your tropical vacation to the beautiful Caribbean island of Puerto Rico can be an adventure filled with sunny beaches, verdant rainforests, a rich historical legacy, and an exquisite taste of Puerto Rican cuisine.

    Visiting Puerto Rico is more than just a trip; it’s an experience that marries the vibrant, welcoming culture with a breathtaking natural environment.

    Even better, with a bit of careful planning, it can be an affordable trip that offers great value for money, providing a wealth of experiences that cater to all types of travelers.

    So, pack your bags, bring your appetite, and prepare yourself for the unforgettable journey that awaits you in Puerto Rico.

    Remember, every trip is a new opportunity for an adventure, so savor each moment, try something new, and most importantly, enjoy all the wonders that this charming Caribbean destination has to offer.

    Looking for more Puerto Rico travel resources? Check out my guide to Puerto Rico with kids, how to book a Puerto Rico photographer, kid-friendly Puerto Rico resorts, Hawaii vs Puerto Rico, and how to island hop in Puerto Rico!

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