If you’re a fellow and are getting, let’s say – less than luxurious compensation, but still want to travel – Puerto Rico can be an excellent budget value. Beautiful beaches, warm ocean, delectable food, an interesting culture and just a 4 hour flight from Washington, DC make this Caribbean island an attractive place to visit. But you still can mess up your trip if you don’t consider some details.
Here they are:
- Tickets to Puerto Rico (at least from the East Coast) are quite cheap – you can find a round-trip flight for from 150 – 200 dollars (of course, if you book it in advance). You don’t need a visa (Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory), but you’ll need to plan your accommodations well if you want to visit this place on the cheap (and still be safe). If you want to use Airbnb (which usually is cheaper than hotels), pay special attention to location. There are some places that seem nice on first look – not expensive and fairly close to the ocean, but in reality – all neighborhoods aren’t made equal and believe me you do not want to spend your vacation sleeping in the wrong barrio. I booked my room in a small townhouse on Calle del Parque in San Juan and really regretted it. It was dark, scary and noisy – loud music filled the building all night long (despite of the curfew from 10 pm because of COVID). When I later asked locals about that area, they told me that even the police preferred not to go there. So I recommend spending a little bit more money but find a really good neighborhood, for example, in Condado or Old City.
- Puerto Rico is a territory of the US, but not all people there are so happy about it. Puerto Rico became an American territory after the Spanish-American war in the 19th century. The US received the island as a “gift” from Spain following the war. Since then there have been several independence movements for but none have gained widespread traction. Now, Puerto Rico is considered an unincorporated territory of the U.S. People born there have American citizenship, but the territory itself have no elected voting representation in either chamber of congress having only one non-voting congressional representative to lobby on their behalf. To vote Puerto Ricans should move to the mainland. Bearing that in mind, you can imagine that locals aren’t quite receptive when someone call them “Americans” ( “Puerto Ricans” will be taken much better) or start to compare their island with another states. Be prepared for the fact that Puerto Rico is a Spanish-speaking territory. Obviously, the influence of the United States has facilitated good levels of English-language acquisition but you may meet people who don’t know English at all.
- In 2017, a large hurricane named “Maria” decimated the island. The consequences of the hurricane were wide-reaching, the most prominent being the lack of electricity on large swaths of the island for about a year. Some districts also struggled with phone service reception. Since then, things have markedly improved but there are still some places without lights even in the center of Sun Juan. Considering the fact that sunset in Puerto Rico is much earlier than in DC (around 6 pm), it is not recommended, in my view, to wander the streets alone after 7 pm – especially if you are a woman. I definitely recommend you to go there with friends – you will have much more fun and feel safer.
- Public transportation in Puerto Rico is almost nonexistent. There are 2 buses for all of San Juan and one Metro line with a fairly poor schedule. That is why almost everyone on the island has a car and can drive since the age of 16. So, be ready to use UBER pretty much all the time or walk a lot. Fortunately, the walkways near the oceans are extremely picturesque.
- Make a game plan for what you want to visit in advance. Besides amazing beaches, there are many historical sites and nature parks that you definitely need to see. Old City, with its beautiful architecture and atmosphere, El Yonkey National Forest, with its tropical plants and waterfalls, and “El Museo de las Americas”, where you can learn a lot about the history of slavery and colonization in the American continent. And of course, don’t forget that Puerto Rico is the motherland of many popular Latino musicians. Salsa, bachata and reggaeton are just some of the unique flavors of Latin American music and dance that fill almost in every bar.