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November 23, 2020
Well, it only took 31 years, but I finally made it to Puerto Rico! I’ve always wanted to visit Puerto Rico because my grandma is from there and she is like my favorite person ever, so I knew I’d love it! Not to mention the fact that I absolutely love latin culture, Puerto Rican food, warm weather, and the beach. Sounds like a match made in heaven right?! Well, it totally was. I’m so excited to finally share my Puerto Rico travel guide!
What to Know
One of the best things about traveling to Puerto Rico is that you don’t need a passport if you’re a US citizen! Since Puerto Rico is a US territory, traveling there from here is super seamless. Did you know that all Puerto Ricans are US citizens–and have been since 1917. It’s not widely known as you’d expect. My grandma always tells me stories about how people would ask her if she had her “papers.” Umm, no papers needed homie!
We all know about the devastation of Hurricane Maria. It’s been about a year and a half since it hit and Puerto Rico is open for business. The most common question I got after my trip was about the destruction. Well, there actually was none that I saw. I know a lot of people are still hurting (we talked to people that didn’t have power for months!), but tourism is a big part of the local economy in Puerto Rico and visiting the island is a great way to contribute to that.
Communicating and Spending
The official language of Puerto Rico is Spanish, but everyone we came in contact with did speak English. That said, we spent most of our time in the capital, San Juan, and El Yunque, which is a tourist destination. I’m sure English is a little less common in the smaller towns and stuff, but the impression I got was that the vast majority of the people in Puerto Rico speak English as well as Spanish. I do know that it is definitely taught in schools!
The currency in Puerto Rico is the US Dollar, making the trip that much easier! Yay for no currency conversions! The prices there are comparable to here in Atlanta, about $5 or so for a beer. I used my card the whole time with no problems at all. You should bring cash for tips, but other than that, you’re good with credit cards.
They do have Uber in Puerto Rico, but you can’t take it from the airport. The good news is, taking a taxi is really super easy. You stand in the taxi line and when it’s your turn, you tell the taxi attendant where you’re going (the name of the hotel should be enough!) and he tells you how much the ride will be. He then gives you a piece of paper you give to your taxi driver. Our total was $27. Oh yeah, we actually did need cash to pay for this, but we suspect that our driver just wanted cash. Our hotel concierge got the cash for us and we were good to go.
If you’re going to El Yunque, you have to either book a tour that includes transportation or rent a car. You can’t get an uber or a taxi to El Yunque – it’s against the law. Not sure why but whatever. We rented a car for $60 and it took us about 45 minutes to get to El Yunque from the airport. Be careful, there was a deal for $40 for a rental and even though it was an “airport” location, we would have had to take a shuttle 10-15 minutes away to get our car. Super inconvenient when you’re heading back to the airport at the end of your trip–and was a dealbreaker for us. In Old San Juan, you can walk everywhere, so no need for an Uber!
I felt safe in Puerto Rico the whole time. Unlike a lot of other latin countries I’ve been to, I didn’t see tons of cops everywhere, but it still felt very safe. Another reason I felt safe is because, like I mentioned, Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the US, so even if anything crazy did happen, I’d be protected by the US government unlike I would be in all the other countries I travel to. I’m familiar with our laws, so there was no worry of accidentally breaking some obscure law.
What to Pack
Puerto Rico is an island, so it is a typical tropical climate. I, of course, shopped specifically for this trip and found the cutest stuff! There were a few things I forgot though. First of all, if you’re going to Old San Juan, you are going to be doing a lot of walking. I didn’t think about this and just worried about how cute my shoes were. Huge mistake. I wish I brought comfy walking shoes!
Another important thing not to forget is hiking clothes!!! That is, if you’re going to El Yunque, of course. I went horseback riding and ziplining and definitely should have brought some athletic wear. I completely forgot to bring anything like that, so I ziplined in jeans and converse and went horseback riding in shorts and sandals. Not ideal.
I also recommend packing plenty of SPF, bug spray, and hats. The sun is strong there, a lot stronger than most places here, so plan accordingly!
Where to Stay
When I was planning my trip to Puerto Rico, every single person I talked to about it told me I just had to stay in Old San Juan. Boy were they wrong! Yes, it’s nice to be able to walk around and go to a ton of places, but I found the best hotel in Puerto Rico: The Dreamcatcher. I’m so obsessed, I’ve already written two blog posts about it (here and here!), but basically, it’s the only place you should stay! It’s located in Ocean Park, so it’s about a block away from the beach. It’s about a 10 minute Uber to Old San Juan and 10 minutes from the airport. The neighborhood is gated, so it’s super safe and quiet. There are a few restaurants within walking distance, plus the restaurant at the hotel is actually the best place we ate during the entire trip. Speaking of…
Where to Eat & Drink
The Dreamcatcher Hotel also has an amazing restaurant right on the grounds. They’re only open for certain meals and are completely vegetarian, and mostly vegan. I am a vegetarian, but DEFINITELY not vegan and I seriously loved my meals there, even the vegan cheese! I’ve tried vegan cheese lots of times, but never once have I actually liked it. Until The Dreamcatcher!
When you’re in Puerto Rico, you have to get arroz con gandules. It is my favorite food and when it’s made right, it’s absolutely delicious. I grew up eating it at my grandma’s house and my great grandma’s house and it always reminds me of my childhood. I get it without meat, so if you don’t eat meat, you can always ask for it without pork. Sadly, I didn’t have any when I was there, but I knew I still had to include it in my Puerto Rico travel guide!
What to Do
Old San Juan
Old San Juan was what I heard about most when asking around for recs. Everyone says to do it, especially since it’s right by the airport. The city is perfect for walking and there’s a ton to do and see there. My top recommendation is Casa Melaza. It’s a rum bar where you can do rum tastings. Puerto Rico is famous for rum, so obviously I had to taste some rum there! It’s a boutique rum bar, so it feels very intimate and it’s an awesome experience.
The highlight of Old San Juan is El Morro. Its full name is actually Castillo San Felipe del Morro. It’s a castle and a fort, designed to guard the entrance to the San Juan Bay, and defend the Spanish colonial port city of San Juan from seaborne enemies. There’s a huge field in front of El Morro where everyone flies kites, which I loved! It’s such a special part of the culture there. We actually happened to be there on a holiday, so everyone had the day off from work. There were tons of families enjoying the beautiful day at El Morro. It was a nice sight to see.
For a fun, chill beer spot, check out La Taberna de Lupo. They have a huge beer selection, tasty snacks (we got the chips and dip, obvi), and a cool atmosphere. It’s very laid-back and a great place to grab a drink after a long day of walking Old San Juan. One thing we missed while there was strolling Fortaleza Street. This is where the famous umbrellas cover the street. I’m so sad we missed it! I heard there’s a lot of cool stuff there too in addition to the umbrellas, so add it to your list!
Finally, when it’s time for dinner in Old San Juan, you have to go to La Verguenza! It’s an awesome bar and restaurant in a prime location and with an amazing rooftop. But the best part is that at night, they play music and everyone dances in the street. For a true Puerto Rican fiesta experience, this is your spot!
And of course, no Puerto Rico travel guide is complete without mentioning El Yunque! You just can’t go to Puerto Rico without going to El Yunque! El Yunque is a tropical rainforest located on the eastern side of the island. It took us about 45 minutes to get there from the San Juan airport via rental car. It’s such a gorgeous natural wonder, you can’t miss it.
There are a few fun ways to see the rainforest, two of which I thoroughly enjoyed. The first is ziplining. Ziplining has been on my bucket list for years, but I knew I wanted to do it in a super special place. El Yunque totally fit the bill! If you’re going ziplining in El Yunque, you have to do it with Junglequi. Not only was it an amazing experience with the best ziplines, but the guides are awesome and you actually get a full rainforest tour before the ziplining begins! I wrote a whole post about it here if you want to know more, but I can’t recommend it enough!
Another cool way to see the rainforest is by horse. Yep, that’s right, you can ride a horse through the rainforest! I’ve been hooked on riding horses since my Lake Tahoe girls trip and I’m so glad I was able to do it in Puerto Rico. Horseback riding is fun and exhilarating, but also laidback and relaxing at the same time. You have enough time to take in your surroundings and since you’re not in a car, you really feel connected to nature. I loved it, and I totally recommend Carabalí!
Although we didn’t have time to stop there, the town right outside of El Yunque is super cute! There are tons of colorful buildings, local restaurants and so much pretty natural light! In a dream world, we would have stopped, but we were exhausted!!
Another thing we didn’t have time to do was a beach island trip to Culebra or Vieques. Everyone highly recommends this and if we were there even one more day, it would have been the most important thing on our list. Sadly, we weren’t able to make it there, but if you are there for more than two days, you gotta go!
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Have you ever been to Puerto Rico? What would you add to this Puerto Rico travel guide?
Photos by Ryan Carpenter.