Traveling to a new place can be scary. Especially if it's to a region of the world you have never visited. Coming to Puerto Rico is no different. Since Hurricane's Maria and Irma things have changed just a little bit, not much, but you need to be prepared for your visit! The following is a quick list of things you need to know before you visit Puerto Rico.
There is a misconception that because Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States the main language is English. This could be further from the truth. The language that is spoken in Puerto Rico is Spanish. The majority of the people will speak to you in Spanish. If you are in a situation where you don’t speak Spanish, just ask if the person if they speak English. The answer will either be yes or no. If the answer is no, they will most likely find someone that does.
Public transportation is very limited outside of San Juan. If you decide to come to Puerto Rico you will most likely need to rent a car. There is a lot to do and see outside of the capital city, renting a car will give you the freedom to explore what this amazing island has to offer. Puerto Rico does offer Uber. Unfortunately, in some of the more rural areas this service isn’t offered, or is very limited. If you need to catch a ferry in Fajardo to go to the islands, finding a ride will be difficult. Taxis are also available but they tend to be a bit expensive, and less flexible than renting a car. Renting a car is in my opinion the best way to do and see more!
The island is only 100 miles long and 35 miles wide. When planning a road trip make sure you double the time it will take you to get there. Traffic and road conditions are not the best, roads are unfinished, potholes line the streets and interstates. In smaller towns street lights are still out in places, be aware of what others are doing because people make up their own rules of the road here in Puerto Rico.
The US Dollar is the currency of the island. Since Hurricane Maria 6 months ago there is still frequent power outages, limited ATM’s, and banking hours have changed. If you are paying with card be aware that some places may not be taking them, ask before you buy or order if they accept cards. My advice is to arrive with a bit of cash and when you see an ATM go ahead and withdraw money. You never know when you will come across another one.
El Yunque is the only rainforest in the US National Park system. Here you will find bird species unique to the island, along with thousands of plant, and tree species. The rainforest was torn apart during the hurricane but as nature does, it bounces back. The rainforest is no different. With the help of workers, El Yunque is now partly open to visitors. The Angelito Trail is open. It’s a 15-20 minute walk down to the swimming hole, but be careful the bridge is out half way. It’s easy to cross if you have on the correct foot wear and balance.
Puerto Rico has all the marine life you could ever want. The island is surrounded by coral reefs that house many species of fish and different types of colorful coral. You will also find the endangered Leatherback turtles that nest on the beaches between March and April. With in the reef you can swim with turtles, seahorses, and numerous species of fish. March is also the migration season for humpback whales, they pass by the island and this spectacular scene can be witnessed near Rincon. Don’t be surprised if you see dolphins swimming next to your boat when you are out in the water. Not only is the island surrounded by a coral reef; it is lined with mangroves. This is a place for the slow moving cows of the sea, manatees. If marine life is your thing, come here and witness it for yourself.
It’s funny how many US citizens don’t realize they don’t need a passport to come down. All you need is a legal ID. It’s like flying from Atlanta to Denver. But instead you will be coming to the beautiful Caribbean! Also if you are Canadian you are welcome to come down for up to 6 months.
There are grocery stores in every town, along with Walmart, Walgreens, CVS and fast food chains. But what is hard to find is vegetarian/vegan meals. Pork is king here and so is seafood. Finding meat free/dairy free options is very difficult but can be done. When going out to eat do your research before hand. Google is amazing at finding a restaurant that fits your needs. If you don’t have any restrictions you will find some AMAZING local food where ever you are.
The stray animals are a bit of a problem in Puerto Rico. People don’t take care of their animals as they do in other places. Once an animal is not wanted they are just left to the streets. There are organizations in place that are trying to help these animals but it needs to be mentioned that you will see animals that look sad and sick.
Things to do
This island offers so much more than just well known places such as San Juan and Rincon. There are a lot of small towns with amazing charm such as the surf town of Luquillo or the sea side town of Naguabo where the sea food is fresh and local. Or head south to Guanica. Here you will find clear blue waters, caves, sunflower fields, and an amazing desert on the sea. Get out of the tourist traps and explore the island. Puerto Rico has so much to offer!