PUERTO RICO

Puerto Rico Travel Guide

7:00 AM



We are heading back on the plane from Puerto Rico and we have enjoyed a week of beautiful beaches, friendly locals, the pastel-colored streets of Old San Juan, the beauty of El Yunque (The Rainforest), the intimacy of Vieques and Culebrita, and eaten way too many burritos. 

It was our very first trip to Puerto Rico and it did not disappoint. It did come with small pockets of stress and deep pockets of extreme relaxation and I’m going to share with you a travel guide to help you learn from the mistakes we made and to also help you plan your itinerary. 

I’m breaking this Travel Guide down to explain the specifics of transportation, What to pack, Where to Stay, Things to do, and the best restaurants to eat at. My travel style is one with a focus on hitting up the “touristy” spots, eating good food, and allowing plenty of time to enjoy the location for the day. With that in mind, I really planned out our itinerary to hit two, three max spots in a day. 





ABOUT PUERTO RICO
The best part of traveling to Puerto Rico from stateside is that you will still have cellular service. This was essential, especially for when we were driving to places and needed to use Google Maps. You can still text and call as you usually would. 

Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria and although their recovery has been impressive, as you walk the streets or visit certain areas you will see the impacts. All the more reason to visit Puerto Rico and boost its economy through tourism. The people in Puerto Rico are also some of the nicest that we have met. Two times, strangers assisted us. The first time was when we were waiting for our rental car shuttle at the airport and once on Vieques when we were stranded without transportation a local took us in his very own car to the beach we had our eyes on. 

Puerto Rico is an island in itself and then has two other islands that are only accessible by water or air called Vieques and Culebra - both come very highly recommended. 

You can access one end of Puerto Rico and travel to the other end in the span of about 2.5 hours. You will have access to beaches basically anywhere that you go and most people can speak perfect English. If you speak Spanish that is a plus but not really needed! 

Island time is REAL
I would bank on everything taking about 2-3x longer than it normally would for anything you do in Puerto Rico including - ordering food, waiting for a taxi, taking care of logistical items like getting a rental car, etc. Especially when you get to an island like Vieques make sure to call a rental car 45 minutes ahead of schedule so you don’t miss the ferry back to the mainland. 

Is it safe?
The entire time that we were in Puerto Rico, my husband and I never felt threatened. Certain areas look very rough but we noticed very quickly that police were active and on multiple streets. We also stayed in San Juan and walked every night to dinner around 7:30-8 PM and had no issues. 





TRANSPORTATION
The #1 thing you will probably read when researching Puerto Rico is that you should rent a car when you get there. There is no UBER/LYFT service that will take you from the airport to your hotel or Airbnb and taxis are known to be overpriced. 

Once you are in the city, you do have the ability to call an uber but if you plan to visit notable spots like El Yunque and Playa Flamenco (the #1 recommended beach in Puerto Rico) you will be driving at least a minimum of 45 minutes to those destinations. Your Uber bill can get pretty high so just keep that in mind. 

You have two options once you do get to Puerto Rico - rent a car and drive to the destination spots you desire OR book excursions to the destinations but. That can get pretty pricey. Additionally, if you are staying in a location other than San Juan the excursion companies may tack on additional transportation fees so just compare the two when you are planning your trip. We opted to get a car and splurged on one excursion which provided transportation to Culebra. 





*WARNING ON RENTING YOUR CAR* 
When you are renting your car, be wary of the “estimate quote” that you receive. I rented our car from Expedia and from a company called Payless. I had not read up on any reviews on this company and later found they received a F rating from the BBB and had multiple 1-star reviews. Multiple customers had been scammed and charged for absolutely ridiculous things. Eek. We were quoted around $180 for a week of renting the car and left Payless having to pay closer to $300. Over $100 than we expected. Lesson learned, that will never happen again. 

The experience was terrible only in the beginning, this particular rental company was one that was not located within the airport which was the reason for their “lower” rates. We had to call for the shuttle and ended up waiting over 45 minutes at the airport for the shuttle to come. In the end, it never actually came. An employee from another rental company actually came over and took lead for us and called Payless multiple times for us with absolutely no answer on their end. Finally, he was able to flag down a car from another company called “Dollar” that was apparently their sister company and told them to drop us off. If that man hadn’t been their that night I have NO idea how long we would have been waiting at the airport. 





Once we got to Payless, we found about the hidden fees that had not been included in the original estimate. The things you need to account when renting a car in Puerto Rico are the following: 
  • $5/day toll fee (you have to pay for each day you have the car even the day you pick up and drop off)
  • You may be obligated to pay for insurance even if you have your own car insurance 
  • Car / tire fees 
  • Shuttle Pick-Up fees 

The employee that took care of us that night was helpful. I went in wanting to add collision damage and the bill came out to $400 so he let us use our own insurance to bring that cost down. I was still extremely disappointed by the additional charges and in the end, I’m sure we paid just as much as we would have if we rented at the airport, especially with all of the obligatory hidden fees. 

I would highly suggest you go with a reputable company that is located at the airport for easy pick-up and drop-off. Even if their rates are a bit higher at least you will be guaranteed to have the prices you were quoted and you won’t have to worry about being scammed when you drop off the car. Our return was pretty smooth but I read horrible reviews about come customers getting charged for a “nick” that had already been there that had apparently gotten bigger and also the rental companies giving out cars that had been patched up and customers having to shell out hundreds to replace the tire. All of these are absolutely terrible and I wouldn’t wish that experience on anybody so just go with a reputable company, I cannot emphasize this enough. 





WHERE TO STAY / WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed at a cozy one-bedroom Airbnb in San Juan that was the perfect location from the beach and from restaurants. 
It was important to me that we could have the ability to cook (I didn’t want to eat out for every meal) and I wanted the Airbnb to have the following: 
  • A proper working shower with working hot water
  • A/C 
  • Walking distance from restaurants and the beach 
  • A pool 
  • Fridge / Stovetop 
  • Had wifi 
This one fit all the boxes. Additionally, the interior was modern and renovated and I could tell we wouldn’t be in a unit that was run-down. I would also read up on reviews if you plan to stay in an Airbnb and make sure the unit has working A/C and hot water. 

I have also heard wonderful things about The Dreamcatcher if you are not an Airbnb person.

I have extremely high expectations and we walked along multiple beaches and saw many beachfront hotels with pitiful areas that opened out to the beach. Don’t believe the pictures that you see on the internet and make sure to do your research if you do decide to shell out the money for a beach-front hotel :) 





WHAT TO PACK / COST EXPECTATIONS
The essentials that you need at Puerto Rico are the following: 
  • SPF 30-50+ Waterproof 
  • Aloe 
  • Wet wipes 
  • Bug Spray 
  • Tripod (for pictures)
  • Cash - Joe and I brought a total of $300 in cash and only really dug into about $200 of it. Many restaurants take card and even when you are in places like Vieques and Culebra they will probably be able to take card (with a minimum of about $5). You don’t have to convert your money which is awesome! There are ATMS around if you do need cash, just make sure you have an idea of the fees that you’ll be charged for withdrawing. 

For restaurants, you have a wide range of meals that can cost anywhere from $10 total to $100. You have the flexibility to choose the restaurants you want to go to. I would suggest splurging on one or two meals and then finding local restaurants that are known for their good food and are cheap (LIKE PINKYS!) 

I would highly suggest making a trip to the supermarket once you arrive to get bottled water. The sink water in Puerto Rico tastes like dirt and you really don’t want to be drinking it. I’d get a combination of gallon water and bottled water. When you are traveling to destinations like Vieques and Culebra you should definitely take this water with you. For a cost comparison, you can get a pack of bottled water for $4 at the supermarket. A bottle of water on the ferry is $4. I’ll let you do the math :) 

When you are planning a trip and trying to keep a budget I would just budget for the items like: 
  • Transportation costs 
  • Room and Board 
  • Food 
  • Excursions 
  • Park / Destination Entrance Fees 
  • Flexiblity for unexpected costs (extra sunscreen, added tolls, etc) 


WHAT TO DO IN PUERTO RICO
Puerto Rico is great for those wanting to just relax and those who want an adventure. I’m going to share our itinerary with you and also the items that came highly recommended that we never got around to doing. I actually had a pretty packed itinerary and ended up having to compromise with Joe to adjust it and allow for more relaxation. No worries, I will still include our original plans that we didn’t have the chance to do at the end as well! For this post, I’ll outline the recommended items and then include additional posts for further details for the type A people who are like me and need ALL the details when planning a trip :) 




  • Old San Juan: pastel colored streets bustling with shopping and restaurants. Make sure to check out El Morro, your $7 admission gives you access to El Morro and San Cristobal for 24 hours. While you’re there, check out the streets with the pink umbrellas for a great photo opp. If you are interested, go on the Bacardi Rum Tour.
  • Vieques: An island accessible by ferry or air. Relax all day on Sun Bay beach. Check out the Black Sand Beach (Playa Negrita). Book a bioluminescent bay tour or ride horses on the shores. *I'll have a more detailed post on Vieques coming*

  • Bioluminescent Bay: There are multiple bioluminescent bays that you can access either in Fajardo or Vieques. Take your pick depending on where you plan to stay the night. 
  • Culebra: Also only accessible by ferry or air from Ceiba Ferry Terminal. Go to Playa Flamenco, the #1 recommended beach in Puerto Rico. Check out Tamarindo for turtles. Go to Playa Zone for a secluded experience. 
  • El Yunque: Check out the rainforest and take an adventurous hike to the very top or check out the multiple waterfalls. *I'll have a more detailed post on El Yunque coming* 
  • Cuevo del Indio: take a day trip to hike this beautiful spot and check out the Arecibo Observatory on the way 
  • Lago Dos Bocas - check out the Seralles Castle and the Cabo Rojo lighthouse. 
  • Guanica Dry Forest - known for being dry, we didn’t get the chance to check it out but it came highly recommended 
  • Ponce 



BEST RESTAURANTS IN PUERTO RICO
*restaurants we actually tried and LOVED 

You can also check out the Instagram @PuertoRicoEats for any inspiration 

San Juan 
  • *Pinky’s for breakfast 
  • Kasalta for breakfast (comes recommended on Lonely Planet and Obama came here. I was personally not impressed it seemed a bit too commercial for me and I really wanted a local experience but they have a wide range of pastries here if you are craving something sweet!)
  • *Acapulco Taqueria Mexicana - we literally ate here 4 times because we loved it so much. Get the Burrito Maria and the corn! 
  • Cafe San Felipe 
  • Annie’s Place
  • *Casita del Miramar - incredibly fresh, beautiful, authentic Puerto Rican dishes. We had an incredible experience and it was recommended by a local. 
  • 1919
  • Jose Enrique 

Old San Juan 
  • *Stuffed Avocado - it’s not Puerto Rican food but delicious bowls with an entire avocado on the bottom 
  • *The Mezzanine - at happy hour certain drinks and apps are $5 each! 
  • Verde Mesa 
  • *Punto de Vista - a rooftop restaurant, I was not impressed by my meal but it is a rooftop! 
  • *Senor Paleta - definitely grab a popsicle here while you are exploring the streets of Old San Juan!

El Yunque 
  • *El Yunque Treehouse - pricey even for lunch but it was wonderful and everything we had was delicious 

La Placita 
  • Santaella 

Condado 
  • Seraina 
  • Mario Pagan 
  • Olive Boutique Hotel 

Vieques / Culebra 
  • El Quenepo 
  • Zaco Taco 
  • Mamacita’s 
  • El Panino (food truck) 






Whew, that was a LONG post! I hope that it gave you the information that you needed to plan a trip to Puerto Rico! We really enjoyed our time and I would definitely visit again to see the spots that we missed out on this time around. 

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