Are you planning a vacation and wondering what not to do in Puerto Rico? Anytime you travel to a new place, it can be nerve-wracking to plan what you must do and what not to do! This is especially true for a first-time traveler.
If you are excited about an upcoming visit but want to ensure you prepare, I’ve got you covered. I have been traveling to the island since childhood, and it is my favorite place for many reasons! I will share all my experiences regarding what you need to know to make your trip as epic as possible.
This article is all about what not to do in Puerto Rico!
1. Rent a Car & Drive in San Juan
One thing to avoid as a traveler to San Juan is renting a car or attempting to drive to get around the city. Uber is my preferred way to get around the San Juan metro area. You will avoid traffic, stopping for gas, paying for tolls, trying to find parking spots/lots, and paying for parking. Not renting a car or driving in San Juan will save you time and money.
2. Spend Too Much Time in San Juan
want to rent one to get out of the city! There is SO much to see (possibly the best of Puerto Rico) outside of San Juan. So many people make the mistake of staying only in the San Juan Area. While it is close to the airport and what most tourists do, venture out even for a few days and experience everything Puerto Rico has to offer!
3. Worry Too Much About Safety
Puerto Rico is an extremely safe destination; this is one of the reasons I love to travel there so much! You can travel throughout the island without worrying about being a crime victim. I have always felt safe on my trips to Puerto Rico, especially outside of the city. Use common sense, exercise precautions like anywhere else, and be aware of your surroundings!
4. Assume Everyone Speaks English
Many Puerto Ricans are bilingual or have at least a basic understanding of English. But, only expect some people to speak English. Sometimes tourists think that everyone speaks English, or worse, they get angry when they cannot find someone they can communicate with in English.
5. Not Practicing Basic Spanish Before Your Trip
Practice some basic Spanish before your trip, or bring along a book of phrases you may need or want to know during the trip. It is unlikely that you will not find someone who speaks English, but it is respectful to at least attempt to communicate in Spanish, especially if you are traveling outside of tourist areas.
5. Not Preparing for Rainy Days
Depending on when you are traveling to Puerto Rico, you may encounter some rainy days; this is the tropics, after all. If you are traveling during the low season, you may have some days unsuitable for beach days. However, even during the high season, when the weather is favorable, you may have a short afternoon shower. Have a backup plan for some indoor activities if you encounter rainy weather. There are plenty of museums, malls, and other indoor attractions for you to enjoy during your trip!
6. Spend the Whole Time on Your Hotel Property
There are some travel destinations where it is advisable to avoid leaving your hotel property due to safety concerns. Puerto Rico is the opposite. There are virtually no all-inclusive resorts on the island, providing travelers an excellent opportunity to experience Puerto Rican culture. In addition, when you leave your hotel property, you will experience some of the best beaches and restaurants on the island. So do not hesitate to get out there and explore!
7. Eat at American Chains and Fast Food Spots
One huge mistake some tourists make is dining at the same chain and fast food restaurants that they frequent back home. However, because Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, you will come across many familiar places to dine, such as Chili’s, Cheesecake Factory, Chic-fil-a, and so much more! So instead of choosing places with foods you have already tried and are familiar with, try something you can’t get at home!
8. Not Trying Puerto Rican Food
Try new foods and the local cuisine. Puerto Rico has fantastic restaurants; you can find everything from upscale dining to an authentic hole-in-the-wall spot. Don’t miss out on the delicious food Puerto Rico has to offer.
9. Arrive Three Hours Early at the Airport
You can arrive two hours early when you depart for Puerto Rico or on your way back home. Puerto Rico is not an international travel destination and is considered a domestic flight. I suggest adding 15-20 minutes to the usual 2-hour arrival time when you head back home because you will have to pass your bags through a USDA checkpoint before check-in your luggage!
10. Attempt to Buy Drugs Illegally
Most of the crime in Puerto Rico is related to domestic disputes and the drug trade. My best advice is to avoid areas where drugs are sold and avoid attempting to purchase any illegal drugs. You risk becoming an innocent bystander in a shooting unrelated to you, you will most likely be in a sketchy area that you are unfamiliar with, and it is illegal, so you risk arrest. If you find yourself in an unsafe place, here are some tips:
- Do not take photos while there, and be discreet if you need to use your phone for any reason.
- Be respectful of the community, people, and surroundings.
- Leave if you feel your physical safety is compromised.
11. Forget to Pack Essentials
Pack essentials, especially toiletries. In tourist areas, especially, you may find that prices are marked up, and things are way more expensive than at home. So if you forget anything, your best bet is to head to the nearest Walmart. San Juan’s Walmart in Santurce is a quick Uber ride away from most hotels and is well-stocked with anything you may need for your trip. Outside of San Juan, there are many Walmarts throughout the island if you need to pick up anything you forgot.
Puerto Ricans take a lot of pride in their island and take littering seriously. Littering is a social taboo, especially at beaches and public spaces. Be mindful of your trash, and pick up what you leave behind!
13. Not Support Small Locally Owned Businesses
Many small businesses offer lodging, dining, tours, and more when you visit Puerto Rico. Make the conscious decision to support the local economy when you travel anywhere!
14. Use a Big Name Car Rental Company
Local companies like Aqui Coqui offer affordable and dependable cars you can rent from local Puerto Ricans. I have had excellent car-sharing experiences and always save money this way! I suggest reading reviews and terms of service before renting a car from anyone.
15. Only Visit Beaches
Puerto Rico has rivers, waterfalls, and lakes to explore. Some may require a small hike to reach, but the beauty of Puerto Rico will be worth it. Some favorites include El Hippie, El Charco Azul, and Gozalandia.
16. Not Visiting the Central Mountain Region
The Central Mountain region has some of the most beautiful views and landscapes. I recommend everyone stay at least a night to experience the magic of the interior area and allow the coquis to sing you to sleep. This region is also home to some of the best food on the island!
17. Overplan Your Days
On my last trip to the island, I made it a priority to make loose plans and only add 1-2 things to my itinerary each day. Even though I am a detailed planner at heart, this allowed me to spend more time and be more in the moment!
18. Not Packing a Mask
Masks are still mandatory in pharmacies (including CVS and Walgreens) and medical settings. Therefore, you will want to have a mask on hand if you need to enter one of these places during your trip.
19. Visit during Hurricane Season
While you may not have your trip ruined by a hurricane if you visit between August and October, be ready to experience lots of humidity and rain. The best time to visit and avoid crowds is May, June, and November.
20. Not Visit the West Side of the Island
The western part of Puerto Rico is my favorite part of the island. It may take more time to get to and be more remote, but it is worth the trek. You will find the most beautiful beaches and experience authentic culture away from tourists.
21. Bring Your Passport
Puerto Rico is domestic travel, and you do not need a passport to get there! You can treat it like any other domestic travel destination!
22. Drink and Drive
Not only is it illegal, but if you are out of San Juan, many roads are curvy and require extra caution even when sober. So be careful and do not drive while intoxicated.
23. Be Unaware that Puerto Rico Uses the Metric System
Tourists are shocked to see gas prices because they seem super cheap, but that is because the price is per liter, not gallon!
24. Not Checking on Business Hours Before You Go
Google only sometimes has updated information. On the island, hours can vary from what is listed. Always check the business Facebook page or call before you go!
25. Not Snorkeling
Puerto Rico has some fantastic spots to snorkel, even in the San Juan area. Pack or rent snorkel gear to see diverse sea life. If you want to visit some of the best snorkeling in Puerto Rico, head to Vieques!
26. Not Visiting El Monstruo
El Monstruo is the longest zipline in America and can be found at Toro Verde Adventure Park in Orocovis. If you are a thrill seeker, you will want to experience this attraction!
27. Not Visiting a Bio-Bay
There are only 5 Bioluminescent bays worldwide, and Puerto Rico is home to 3 of them! The one in La Parguera allows swimming which is you to experience the glowing water close up.
28. Not Carrying Cash at All Times
While most businesses will accept your debit and credit cards, in my experience, some places will tell you their card reader is broken (sometimes, even after you’ve ordered or eaten). Having cash will be helpful in case you run into this situation.
29. Try to Bring Home Prohibited Items
While it may be tempting to bring home delicious tropical fruits or other foods, there is a list of prohibited things that cannot be brought back into the states even though Puerto Rico is part of the United States. Likewise, it may be tempting to try to sneak something, but you must pass all luggage and carry-on bags through a USDA scanner before you board your flight!
30. Tip Service Workers
The minimum wage in Puerto Rico is only $8.50, and many people depend on tips to make a living wage. Tip your service workers! In my experience, many wait staff will go out of their way to tell you that tips are not required or optional when you pay- ignore them, and tip anyway!
31. Skip Local Craft Rum Distilleries
Many tourists head directly to the Bacardí distillery because it is a more known brand. However, while they offer terrific tours and experiences, I love to visit the Ron de Barrilito Distillery in Bayamon. It is smaller, but the grounds are beautiful, the rum is top-notch, and they offer a less expensive tour that includes a free drink!
32. Skipping a Trip to Vieques & Culebra
Vieques and Culebra are small islands off the east coast of Puerto Rico. They are home to some of the best beaches in Puerto Rico and have their unique charm. Flamenco Beach in Culebra has been named one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and Vieques is known for the wild horses that roam the beaches there. The islands used to be challenging to reach, but the new ferry booking system makes them much easier to visit.
33. Expect a Relaxing Beach Day- On The Weekends
Puerto Ricans head to the beaches on the weekends, and they tend to get packed. Therefore, you will want to arrive early to snag parking and a good spot for the day. Also, expect a party vibe at many beaches on the weekends- music, drinking, and an overall good time!!
34. Not Taking a Guided Tour
If you plan on exploring caves, rivers, waterfalls, or hiking, it is always best to use a guide. Unfortunately, even in the Yunque, people have gone missing on longer hikes. Therefore, going with a local expert when exploring a new place, especially outdoor or adventure activities, is always wise.
35. Thinking You Need to be 21 to Drink
The drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18, which means that although the drinking age in the states is 21, anyone older than 18 can drink and purchase alcohol in Puerto Rico!
36. Not Budgeting Accordingly
Many Caribbean and tropical beach destinations are budget-friendly, but Puerto Rico is only sometimes a cheap travel destination. Prices for hotels, food, and tours are comparable to prices in most big cities in the states, especially in San Juan. Therefore, if you are on a budget, you will want to plan accordingly or venture out of the city to find less expensive accommodations and experiences.
37. Expect to Stay at an All-Inclusive
All-inclusive resorts are nonexistent on the island. Instead, check with your hotel for on-site restaurants. It would help if you planned to leave your resort/hotel to experience a variety of food and drink, or you will get stuck at the hotel restaurant for your entire stay.
38. Go to San Juan For Calm Caribbean Beaches
San Juan beaches are rough, and rip tide warnings are regularly issued. Do not go to San Juan expecting calm, Caribbean waters. If you want to experience postcard-like, tranquil beaches, you should head to the southwest area of the island.
39. Expecting to See Everything During a Cruise Stop
It is only possible to see some of Puerto Rico in one week or during a cruise stop that lasts a few hours. Even though Puerto Rico is a small island, there is much to see and do! If you are leaving on a cruise from the island, plan to spend a few extra days sightseeing.
40. Expect Power 24/7
Puerto Rico has been facing more and more challenges with its power system and electricity outrages. If you stay in a smaller hotel or Airbnb, you may experience a power outage. However, most larger hotels will have powerful generators. If this is a concern, you can inquire about your accommodations but keep in mind and consider that this is something Puerto Ricans have to live with every day.
41. Not Planning Ahead
Do your research because there is so much to experience and do on this island. You will want to make the most of your time in Puerto Rico, so plan your trip so that you can see and do all the things that interest you.
Conclusion: What Not to Do in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a fabulous travel destination, and I know you will fall in love with its charm, just as I have. While there is so much to do on the island, this list shares what not to do in Puerto Rico and possible tourist traps. I hope it helps you plan an epic trip full of memories!