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Is Puerto Rico Safe to Travel? Tips From a Solo Female Living on the Island

Is Puerto Rico Safe to Travel? Tips From a Solo Female Living on the Island

I was born in Bayamon, Puerto Rico and moved back to the island as an adult. I have lived in Puerto Rico full-time since September 2019, in the town of Humacao. 

I regularly write about Puerto Rico for outlets like AFAR, TripAdvisor, and Travel + Leisure

As a location independent writer and travel content creator, I have the option to live anywhere in the world. Out of all the possible places, I choose to live in Puerto Rico. 

Here’s why. 

Brief History of Puerto Rico

Arrows pointing to different destinations showing distance

For those of you unfamiliar with the island, Puerto Rico is a stretch of land spanning 100 x 35 miles in the North Atlantic Ocean.

It was discovered by Christopher Colombus and throughout the years became a unique blend of African, Taino and European cultures. 

Today, Puerto Rico is a commonwealth and unincorporated territory of the United States.

It has a governor but no representation in Congress and Puerto Ricans do not vote in national elections.

Puerto Ricans are United States citizens by birth. There is no passport required to visit Puerto Rico and your phone works the same as it does in the U.S., no roaming required

The outlets are the same as in the US, so you do not need a converter if you’re coming from the States. The currency is USD.

In terms of natural beauty, Puerto Rico is a tropical paradise and home to the only rainforest in the United States. 

It has bioluminescent bays, thousands of caves, untouched beaches and diverse flora and fauna. 

Hurricanes and Earthquakes

Looking out the window of an old lighthouse

Hurricanes Maria and Irma in the fall of 2017 devastated the island.

Many buildings sustained damage such that it was no longer profitable for the businesses to remain there, having to incur the cost of rebuilding.

Federal relief funds were slow to trickle down to the people, if at all. A large percentage of the island was without power and it was hard to find even the basics like food or gasoline.

The damage was so bad, and the surrounding press so negative, that people equated Puerto Rico with devastation.

5 years later, it is my hope people start equating Puerto Rico with resilience. 

Power has been restored to the island. Many businesses have rebuilt.

While there was an exodus of locals, new people have moved to the island with the goal of reinvigorating industries like agriculture and the arts. 

There has not been another major hurricane since 2017.

If you’re worried about hurricanes, avoid hurricane season which lasts from June to November. This is the cheapest time to visit, and also the hottest. 

Note, I’ve been here throughout the entirety of hurricane season and it’s still sunny and you can do a lot of things. This is only for your personal preference.  

There is 5G WiFi on the island. There is also Starlink now, for anyone considering moving to the island. Your GPS and phone will work here just fine. I recommend using Google Maps over Apple Maps since the latter can be a little wonky. 

COVID-19 restrictions in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico had strict lockdowns during the pandemic, but much of that is gone now. 

US residents do not need proof of a negative COVID or vaccination to enter the island. International travelers do need proof of vaccination, but no test is required. 

There are lingering restrictions throughout the island. Walgreens, for instance, still requires masks. So do certain theaters and performance venues. 

The government has left it up to the businesses so you may still need proof of vaccination or masks to enter certain restaurants or stores. 

For the most part, though, you’re free to move about.

Is Puerto Rico Safe for Female Travelers? 

Walking in front of a mural of the Puerto Rican flag

Are you traveling to Puerto Rico solo? Great! There’s lots to see and do. 

I feel safe traveling in Puerto Rico on my own as a female. 

All students learn English in school and everyone speaks it (unless they’re so old they’ve forgotten or they’re just messing with you).

That said, making an effort to speak Spanish goes a long way. I recommend learning the basic words like thank you, bathroom, and buen provecho, which means bon appetit. It’s courtesy to say to anyone you see eating. 

San Juan, the capital, is just like any other major city in the U.S. — you should keep your wits about you, but it’s fairly easy to traverse on your own.

Unlike big cities in the US, there is much less racial profiling here (many Puerto Ricans have African roots) and there are rarely mass shootings since gun laws are strict. 

Old San Juan is one of the most walkable and safe containers there is, welcoming cruise ships and tourists by the thousands. 

If you’re in the San Juan metropolitan area, which is where most tourists stay, you’ll have all the same amenities as home including Uber Eats, Lyft and a ton of different concerts, events and gyms. These are harder to find elsewhere.

Looking for the State Department Travel Advisory on Puerto Rico?

You won’t find one, because it’s part of the United States. 

It can be harder to travel alone outside of the metro area, simply because you won’t find the same conveniences. There are no rideshare services or food delivery. 

Public transportation is basically nonexistent. If you’re leaving San Juan, you need to rent a car.

I recommend Charlie Car Rental. They’re a local company that never has a long wait, is upfront about fees and costs, and has reliable vehicles. Book with them directly instead of using a third party like Kayak or Discover Cars. 

There is a culture of machismo on the island, aka male toxicity — I won’t deny this. However, this is slowly changing with icons like Bad Bunny wearing female clothing and kissing men in an attempt to normalize it. 

As a female, my advice would be to drink responsibly, let someone know where you are and share your location on your phone with a family member, and avoid tagging yourself in places until after you’ve left. 

This is advice I would give to solo travelers no matter where you go. 

What is traveling in Puerto Rico like? 

Castle in San Juan overlooking the ocean

Puerto Rico has U.S. street signs, U.S. law enforcement, U.S. hospitals.

The police don’t carry machine guns, something that’s always put me on edge about other countries.

People drive on the right side of the road.

You do not need an international driver’s license, just your regular driver’s license. 

There are direct flights on airlines like American, Spirit, Delta, and Frontier. 

Puerto Rico has 3 airports but the biggest and the one you’re most likely to fly into is SJU, San Juan International Airport. 

Note, when you leave you’ll need to get an agricultural inspection and sticker of your bag before dropping it off with the gate agent — don’t make the mistake of lining up first cause you’ll have to make the line twice. 

RELATED POST: BEST THINGS TO DO IN PONCE, PUERTO RICO

Safe places to stay In Puerto Rico

As far as neighborhoods go, certain spots are easier to navigate as a tourist. 

The most popular spot is Old San Juan. It is walkable, easy to access, and has everything you need. 

Beyond that, there are neighborhoods that are part of the larger metro area like Isla Verde, Condado, and Miramar that are popular. 

For beach towns, consider Luquillo on the east coast and Rincon on the west coast. Rincon has a large expat community, vegan friendly restaurants, and the best sunsets on the island. 

If you’re coming for a family vacation, I recommend Palmas Del Mar in Humacao. This is a luxury resort community with everything you need on the property, from restaurants to boat tour operators. 

For a secluded mountain retreat where you can get back to nature and participate in forest bathing, head inland to Utuado

RELATED POST: INTRODUCING CASA ALTERNAVIDA, PUERTO RICO’S NEWEST WELLNESS RETREAT

What is the most dangerous city in Puerto Rico?

Is it safe to travel to Puerto Rico?

As with any new place, you want to be cautious.

Puerto Rico is safe but it’s not without its problems.

There are frequent carjackings. Honda Civics seem to be the most in demand.

Don’t leave your valuables in plain sight when you park your car. Be careful driving at night (and in general cause people drive like New Yorkers here).

There’s also issues with gangs and drug wars on the island. If you’re staying in San Juan I wouldn’t suggest going to La Perla at night. For the most part though, this won’t involve you.

I also recommend being careful in Santurce at night. There is a large homeless population here and the area is a little rough. 

If you’re going out in La Placita for dancing, keep your wits about you. Loiza is another neighborhood in which I would recommend you exercise caution at night. 

Weed is legal on the island. Tourists can get a tourist prescription valid for 30 days and go to a dispensary.

Unless you’re looking for harder stuff you shouldn’t be in a situation where you’re in the middle of a drug war.

I’ve lived in the U.S. almost all my life and have yet to have an altercation with a heroine or coke dealer, for instance, despite knowing that they’re there. 

Occasionally there are protests on the streets, limited to the metro area. They could be protesting anything from politics to power outages. I would avoid these demonstrations. 

Common scams in Puerto Rico 

While scams are not necessarily common, they do exist. Here are some to be aware of: 

Taxi scam 

When possible, I recommend using rideshare services because you know the price ahead of time. Uber and Lyft can both pick you up from the airport.

Otherwise, when you get in a taxi make sure they turn the meter on. Some of them will try to charge you extra or complain about the distance and say their original quote was wrong. 

They may also claim they don’t have change if you’re paying in cash. In general, I would avoid taxis unless absolutely necessary. I live about an hour from San Juan so if I do need to get to the airport, I would arrange an airport transfer.

There are private cars available, as well as the GO Puerto Rico Shuttle

“Gringo” prices

The term “gringo” refers to Caucasian people.

In general, the biggest scam on the island is that prices are one rate for locals, and another for tourists.

If you look white and speak English, there’s a high chance you’ll be overcharged on everything from food to rentals. 

To avoid this, research prices ahead of time and make arrangements wherever possible over email or online versus face to face. If you have someone that can translate your communications to Spanish, even better. 

I’ll also note that you might see “Gringo go home” graffiti all over the metro area. This is an anti-tourist sentiment stirred by resentment over tax incentives and influx of foreign residents. Not everyone is hostile and feels this way, but many do and it can be uncomfortable. 

Pickpocket scam 

If someone asks to take your picture, help you carry something, or give you directions, be weary of your pockets. Petty theft is common here so don’t get too close to strangers. 

It doesn’t hurt to have a cross body bag or take precautions to avoid losing your belongings. Do not carry too much cash and leave your jewelry and important documents in a safe. 

Tour operator scam

There are people who will act like they’re tour operators, but really they’re getting a commission for taking you somewhere else.

This is why you should reserve your tours and activities ahead of time, versus on the ground.

If you do reserve on the ground, make sure you’re going through the hotel or an official site like Airbnb Experiences where you have recourse should anything go wrong. 

What is it like to travel around the island? 

Window cave overlooking a field

People are surprised when they come to the island at how welcoming and easy it is to visit here. 

Tour providers and hotels treat tourists like VIPs because they value your businesses. 

The road have massive potholes so you need to be vigilant while you’re driving. If you’re going outside the metro area, the highways are not well lit up at night. 

You can cross the entire island in 3 hours. While the coastline is all shores and beaches, the middle is filled with mountains so you could be going through changes in elevation and windy roads if you go that route.

For that reason, it’s usually quicker to drive around the perimeter of the island.

RELATED POST: FUN ROAD TRIP IDEAS FROM SAN JUAN

Is Puerto Rico safe to travel alone?

Woman sitting by pink lakes

I am constantly traveling the island on my own as a young female and have never felt unsafe. I recommend making use of daylight hours as it’s simply easier to travel.

It’s daylight from 6am to 6pm approximately, every single day, due to our proximity to the equator. 

You might lose phone service if you go into the mountains so make sure you have directions or are connected to an offline GPS. 

You can travel anywhere on the island on your own without a tour or guide and will save a ton of money doing so. For instance, the Bacardi Factory is $15 to tour and comes with a free drink.

I’ve seen tour operators charge $50 or more for the same package.

Word of advice that if you are going to be drinking, I recommend Don Q rum over Bacardi to avoid a headache in the morning. 

You can take yourself to sites and attractions easily and many are cheap or free to enter. 

It’s safe to stop at food tents or trucks along the side of the road.

Depending on the route you’re driving you’ll see these makeshift kiosks by the side of the road.

People stop, purchase (cash only so make sure you have some on you) and then go on their way. It’s a quick interaction and there’s nothing to be nervous about. The food is delicious!

If you’re going to the beach, hide your valuables.

If you have a friend to watch your stuff then great but if not just make sure you bury anything you do have under a bunch of non-valuable stuff, like clothing, water bottles or other trash. 

RELATED POST: FINDING PINK LAKES IN PUERTO RICO

Can you drink the tap water in Puerto Rico?

The water is safe to drink and the food is safe to eat. I order tap water all the time without issue. 

Again, since it’s part of the U.S., this is strictly regulated. 

You can order bottled water but I wouldn’t advise it, it’s terrible for the environment. Many places have done any with plastic straws. 

You’ll also have a hard time finding plastic bags. Walgreens does everything with brown bags, for instance. 

Is it safe to travel to Puerto Rico in 2022?

Sunset view at the beach

If you’re worried about being stuck without electricity in the middle of a shoot-out between two Pablo Escobar-style Puerto Ricans, I can tell you that unless you lead a singular and Bravo TV-worthy life, this will not be your reality.

More than likely, you’ll be laying on a warm strip of sand with a pina colada and fried pastry in hand, reapplying sunblock generously because the sun is deceptive and burns even when it’s cloudy or you’re hiking in the middle of the rainforest (you’ve been warned!).

Your most dangerous interaction will be with a spider or frog. They’re everywhere.

If the frog you encounter is singing something that sounds like “co-qui,” that’s our official animal!

Say hello and enjoy the sound, you won’t hear it anywhere else.

Aside from that, prepare yourself for the deadly combination that is a mofongo right before an afternoon sun shower — you will not be able to get up from whatever hammock you land on. The same applies if you’re looking to move and live here. 

Is Puerto Rico safe? Yes, yes, 1,000x yes. Please set aside whatever image the media has painted in your mind and come see for yourself. 

RELATED POST: RIDE ONE OF THE LONGEST ZIPLINES IN THE WORLD IN PUERTO RICO

Till next time, safe travels!

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Wondering if it's safe to travel to Puerto Rico? I moved to Puerto Rico from New York and here are my top tips. #ispuertoricosafe #puertorico #puertoricotravel #visitpuertorico Wondering if it's safe to travel to Puerto Rico? I moved to Puerto Rico from New York and here are my top tips. #ispuertoricosafe #puertorico #puertoricotravel #visitpuertorico

Arnold Green

Saturday 16th of October 2021

Great blog,I was stationed at Roosevelt Roads in 1958 while in the USNavy. Got a great map of P.R from AAA that shows every town in PR. Really interested in going back after reading your comments. Put me on email list. Don’t stop writing and thank you

james lee

Saturday 25th of September 2021

remember, all the ads on the internet about traveling has to make money. these poor areas of the world do not charge hugh fees. sure there are 3 and 5 star hotels that charge $100 per nite. they want you to spend your cash at these places but wait: there are a ton of places where you can stay cheap, i know i have traveled half the world. just wait till you get there, search and you will find cheap motels or lodges. Eat where the locals eat and you will eat well and "cheap." once you find a place near the beach you will not move, correct? at least that is me. I will spend the months of nov, dec, jan, and feb on the island of PR. i will find a place that is $400 or less for each month. i will be able to walk to the beach daily and sit in the sun, read, and swim. without the sun there would be no life on this earth. If you are going to worship anything, make it the "SUN!" of course i take shade, i have a Phd. in sunshine, alcohol consumption, sweeping and starting fires. i have done a ton of all i list. My point is don't pay much attention to advertisements on the internet. They are far from the actual truth. They advertise the expensive places, not the less expensive places where there is many. james sept. 25, 2021.

Liz

Thursday 23rd of September 2021

Hello- I loved this post! We would love to visit PR this winter but one of my kids has special needs. He's 4 now and just cannot tolerate wearing masks due his challenges, and is not developed enough that he can even really be bribed to do it. I have seen many posts that masks are taken seriously in PR. If the rest of the family wears masks, do you think it would be a problem for my 4 year old who cannot to be outside? Are people understanding of special needs? Thanks for any local insight you can offer.

Jen on a Jet Plane

Sunday 26th of September 2021

Hi Liz, it's hard to say. I do think your best bet would be outside of the tourists areas where there is the most policing. Also masks are generally not required while outside here. Hope this helps!

mateo

Tuesday 27th of July 2021

i live in the high desert of new mexico, so PR is a big change..............anyhow, thanks for your information. I do not drink/party, and wondering i you have any thoughts about the quiet life in R? . be in wellness, m

Jen on a Jet Plane

Wednesday 28th of July 2021

There is a growing wellness community here in Puerto Rico. Rincon has a lot of resources available. I also recommend you read my post about Casa Alternavida.

JMCL

Friday 23rd of July 2021

Just returned home from Puerto Rico. Our first stop was Rincon. OMG…..absolutely in love and so sorry we had plans to leave and stay in Luquillo. Don’t get me wrong…Luquillo was totally beautifully but a trash pit. The locals literally throw trash everywhere….including the ocean. I’ve never seen anything in my life like this. I was turned off….so turned off I would not swim in the Public beach. Stepping over trash to get to the ocean and then having to push trash around in the water. GROSS!! So sad because it’s naturally so beautiful.