Puerto Rico: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go

There is nothing like the rush of stepping off a plane into an unknown country. It’s a little scary and a lot of fun but more than anything, it can be addicting. International travel by U.S. citizens reached a record high in 2015 as more and more people are choosing to spend their money on experiences rather than stuff. In honor of this shift, we’re providing you with an inside look at some of the world’s top destinations. Our Travel Series provides you with a go-to guide of where to stay, what to eat, what to do, and any helpful insider tips that will help make your trip that much better.

Why you should go to Puerto Rico

Coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico

Coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico | Source: San Juan, Puerto Rico via Facebook

When all you need is a beach vacation and Florida seems too close and Barbados too far and too expensive, pack your bags for Puerto Rico. The island often gets overlooked for more exotic sounding destinations, but life on the U.S. territory is just as good, if not better than what you’ll find on similar tropical islands. For starters, Puerto Rico is close to the U.S. and riddled with inexpensive flights (some as low as $135). Once you’re there, you can sit back and kick it or take advantage of the country’s surf, hiking, history, and snorkeling.

Where to stay

san juan

La Terraza De San Juan | Source: La Terraza De San Juan

The capital of San Juan is as cosmopolitan as it gets. The city is full of restaurants and salsa dancing, but still has beaches and a historical district full of colorful Spanish Colonial buildings. While in the capital, stay in Old San Juan, the historic heart of the city. La Terraza De San Juan is affordable yet enchanting with their large old-world rooms and rooftop terrace with views of the bay. If you’re looking for a beach and surf vacation with a party, ex-pat vibe head west to Rincón. The Villa Cofresi Hotel gets you a beachside spot with a pool and restaurant.

What to eat

mofongo

Mofongo with veggies | Source: Café Puerto Rico

Don’t leave Puerto Rico without trying the country’s traditional dish of mofongo. Mofongo is a mash of fried green plantains, garlic, and chicharrones (deep-fried pork skin) stuffed with a protein. A buttery, garlic, tomato Creole sauce is typically poured generously on top. In Old San Juan, try the Puerto Rican staple at El Jibarito or Café Puerto Rico on Plaza de Colón. Wherever your travels take you, keep an eye out for tostones. The Puerto Rican version of french fries are made from a plantain that is sliced, smashed, and fried. Dip them in the lemony, garlicky sauce that often accompanies the chips and pair it with a Medalla Light.

What to do

Beaches in Puerto Rico

Beaches in Puerto Rico | Source: See Puerto Rico

You can get your fill of culture in San Juan and surf in Rincón, but for the best beaches make the trip to the tiny island of Culebra. You can fly direct from San Juan ($105, return), but for a more adventurous route get a taxi or rent a car for the 90 minute drive from San Juan to Fajardo, the eastern port town that offers round-trip ferries to Culebra for $4.50. On the island rent a jeep or scooter so you can do more than spend the day at the popular Flamenco Beach. Snorkel to you heart’s content, keep an eye out for turtles, and book a night tour that allows you to kayak through the bioluminescent organisms found in Culebra’s waters. On the to or from Fajardo, swing by El Yunque rainforest where you can spend the afternoon lounging by cool river pools and hiking the parks’ trails.

Insider tips

  • You can use U.S. dollars in Puerto Rico, and like eating out at home, tipping 15 to 20% is considered standard.
  • You can hop públicos, or public buses, but it will be much easier to rent a car or take taxis. The cost of a taxi from the San Juan airport to the port of Fajardo is currently $80 for up to five passengers.
  • Travel between mid-December and mid-April will be significantly more expensive. If you have a flexible schedule shoot for spring or fall, when the tourists are few but the weather is perfect.
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