La Isla del Encanto. One of my favorite places in the world. The destination I’ve already planned to go back and see. Puerto Rico.
This trip was emotional for me. I needed a Hail Mary after some rough experiences abroad. It was my first trip after I returned from Peace Corps under some difficult circumstances, and it’s the most important one I’ve taken. Why? Because my last time getting on a plane was under a lot of emotional duress. I was drained. To be completely honest, I wasn’t even that excited about this trip in the couple of days leading up to our flight. Not like I normally would be, at least. That change in me was scary, and I didn’t like it at all. I needed this trip to make me fall in love with travel again. Luckily for me, Puerto Rico more than delivered. I feel exhilarated, rejuvenated, and ready to get back out there. If you’re planning a trip to this lovely island, here are my tips for getting around, where to stay, and what to see!
airport transfer + island transportation
I planned on taking Uber everywhere, but when we landed, the app wasn’t working for the airport. It was night time already, so we just got in the official taxi line and paid way too much ($22) for a ten minute ride. For my next trip, I’ll be doing more research about airport transfer from SJU to the city. If you have tips, please let me know!
Island transportation, on the other hand, is much more affordable. If you’re in San Juan, you can use the local bus system, a train system, Uber, or taxis. You can also use Uber or taxis to get around the island, but many blogs recommend renting a car. After our two week trip, I agree that renting a car is the most cost-effective option for getting around the whole island. One of my favorite ways to estimate how much Uber will cost is to look up my route on Google Maps and then pretend I’m taking a taxi. The approximate prices for taxis and ride share apps will show at the bottom.
If you’re heading to Vieques or Culebra, the ferry is a great price. And when I say great price, I mean just $2 per way! You can purchase tickets in advance here, but they’ll charge a processing fee that’s more than the tickets themselves! We did that for our ferry to Vieques, but I don’t recommend it. Trying to show your digital tickets can be a circus; it’s way easier to show them printed tickets from the official ticket booth. In the event that a ferry fills up, they’ll prioritize locals, then visitors that bought online tickets, and then everybody else. Just plan to wait a while in case of inclement weather or other delays. On our way back to Ceiba from Vieques, I had to wait in line for two hours to get our tickets after some choppy waters resulted in ferry cancellations. That’s a quick way for your short travel day to turn into 6+ hours!
where to stay
My go-to is Airbnb, but I was with my grandma for this trip. What Grandma says, goes. She’s loyal to the Hilton, so we stayed in Hilton brand hotels for most of the trip. The rest of the time, we stayed in local hotels. We had great experiences at the locally-owned, small boutique hotels. For our first three nights in San Juan, we stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton San Juan. We then moved to the Casablanca in Old San Juan, a colonial hotel that is beautiful. In Vieques, we were at El Blok. This place has such cool architecture, and I’d stay again in a heartbeat. We planned to move to a Hilton resort on the beach for our last week, but the place we picked in Dorado was a tad too isolated for our taste. It felt like they were trying to give tourists a vacation in Puerto Rico…without having to see any Puerto Ricans. We decided to cut our stay there short and move back to San Juan. You can read my reviews of the Hilton properties we stayed at here, the Casablanca here, and El Blok’s here.
where to go
I highly recommend spending 5 days in San Juan, minimum. There’s so much to see and do in the city, it’s beautiful, there are beaches, and you just can’t go wrong. After you’ve spent some time there, I also recommend going to one (or both!) of the islands off the main one: Vieques and Culebra. We opted for Vieques this time, and I fully plan to not only spend more time there our next trip, but to also visit Culebra. Another place I want to visit next time is El Yunque. I’m so sad our plans to get there this trip didn’t work out. Finally, I also think everyone would benefit from seeing the smaller, more quaint, hole-in-the-wall beaches and towns along the coast. Our Uber drivers gave great recommendations, so I’ll be heading to those next time for sure!
what to see
In Old San Juan especially, there are tons of museums and colonial sites to see. We went to El Morro and the Museum of the Americas. Both were worth every penny. The Old San Juan Free Walking Tour is a great place to start if you want to learn a lot about the city and its origins. There are other beautiful sites as well, which I give info on in a sightseeing guide.
what to eat
When it comes to food, I have three words. Mofongo, Mofongo, MOFONGO. It is so, so good. I ate it three or four times while I was there. I could have eaten it every day. One of my favorite things about this dish is that you’ll never have the same mofongo twice. If I went to one restaurant and ordered veggie mofongo, and ordered the same thing at another, I would get two different interpretations of the dish. I can guarantee that they’ll both be delicious, though! I go into detail about the specific restaurants we visited in a food guide.
what to do
I’m not much of a tour gal. I like winging it for the most part, aside from having a thing or two booked before I’m wheels up. For Puerto Rico, I knew I had to book a tour of the Bioluminescent Bay in Vieques. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I will most definitely be doing it again! It’s one of those things that’ll never get old. It can be overwhelming trying to find the best operator for your budget, so I gave ours an in-depth review along with planning tips here.
I hope you enjoyed this general travel guide to Puerto Rico! It’s the first of many posts I’ll be writing about my time there, from planning, safety, budget, tours, food, sightseeing, lodging, transport, and more. If you’ve hesitated in booking tickets to this wonderful place, wait no longer. Paradise awaits you!