What You Need To Know
Puerto Rico is the largest insular territory of the United States, and it is located in the northeastern Caribbean Sea. It is an archipelago that includes the main island of Puerto Rico and a number of smaller islands such as Mona, Culebra, and Vieques. The capital and most populous city is San Juan. The territory does not observe daylight saving time.
Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island and unincorporated U.S. territory with a landscape of green mountains, waterfalls and the tropical rainforest of El Yunque National Forest. It’s known for its white-sand beaches and coral reefs, popular for snorkeling, diving, surfing and sailing. In San Juan, the capital and largest city, the Isla Verde area is known for its beach bars, nightclubs and casinos.
Area: 3,515 mi²
Population: 3.548 million (2014)
- Currency in Puerto Rico is United States Dollar
- 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. 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.
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.
English, along with Spanish, is an official language of the Government of Puerto Rico. Spanish has been an official language in Puerto Rico since it was colonized in the 15th century. English, on the other hand, was first introduced as an official language when the United States occupied the island during the Spanish–American War. Since then, the Puerto Rican government has declared English an official language on several occasions while removing it from that status on as many occasions. English remains an official language in the Commonwealth.
The culture of Puerto Rico is nearly independent from the 50 states. The culture is identically carribean, but closely related to the culture of Spain with a few African and native influences. When travelling to Puerto Rico, one will get the feeling that they are in another country (most likely Spain). 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.
Tap water is very safe to drink in Puerto Rico and it has even been mentioned as one of the best tap water qualities in the world. When spending the day walking in the hot tropical sun it is important to stay hydrated. You can ask for a glass of water as well as a refill of your bottle at restaurants, bars, hotels.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
Ferries depart from San Juan and Fajardo and the most popular arrivals are Cataño, Vieques Island, Culebra Island. The Mayaguez ferry travels between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.