Getting around Puerto Rico
In this article we will cover what you need to know before you go, how to best get around in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico is a Paradise! Measuring in at approximately100 miles long by 35 miles wide it is slightly smaller than Hawaii’s big island. Although 100 miles x 35 miles doesn’t sound that big, it takes a lot of time to get around. By car it would take you over 8 hours to circumnavigate the whole island without stopping to take in the breathtaking views or splash in the 80 degree water.
Do you need a car to get around Puerto Rico?
It depends on your plans. If you are staying at a resort or in the San Juan metro area then you do not need to rent a car to get around locally. There is a Metro transit system that includes Busses and a subway that is cheap to use. Additionally taxis and Ubers are plentiful in the Metro area.
If you are staying outside of the San Juan Metro area or planning to explore the island then you will need a car. There is no uber service outside of the Metro Area and taxis can be limited in smaller towns. A taxi ride from San Juan to Fajardo can run you $100.
The one exception is that some excursions from tour operators may offer a shuttle service from certain hotels for a fee.
There is essentially no intercity transit except for Publico’s which are vans that drive city to city. These have not been in operation due to the social distancing restriction brought on by the pandemic.
There are ferries that serve the islands of Culebra and Vieques but they are not terribly reliable and most rental car companies prohibit their rental cars off the main island.
Air travel is also available inter island in Puerto Rico. Airlines like Cape Air, Vieques Air Link, Air Flamenco and JetBlue have service to Culebra and Vieques and other airports on the island.
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Driving in Puerto Rico
To drive a car or ride a scooter in Puerto Rico you will need a drivers licence. Any U.S. issued driver’s licence can be used to rent and drive a car. It is required that you have liability insurance.
The rules of the road are just like on the mainland. Drive on the right. Free right turns, unless posted otherwise. Seatbelts and helmets are to be worn. Slow down for school zones.
Renting a Car in Puerto Rico
Most major U.S. car rental companies can be found on the island. San Juan has the largest number of cars for rent and also the best pricing. There are smaller car rental companies outside San Juan that generally cater to more adventure driving like 4×4’s but also at a higher price.
Pre-pandemic you could generally rent a car from San Juan for about $20 a day before fees, taxes and tolls for under $200 a week. As of the beginning of 2021 those costs are almost 3x that at around $600 a week for an economy car.
This is due to most major car rental companies selling off the bulk of their inventory in 2020 due to the dramatically less demand. As travel is beginning to increase again in 2021 the inventories have not yet caught up and thus the high costs.
What do you need to rent a car in Puerto Rico?
Renting a car in Puerto Rico is pretty easy if you’re a U.S. citizen with a valid Drivers licence. You will need to carry Liability insurance and most major U.S. auto insurance providers cover you in all U.S. states, Territories (like Puerto Rico) as well as Canada and Mexico.
You should verify this with your insurance company ahead of time. You may still need to provide proof of your liability insurance with a copy of your policy and or a letter from your Insurance company stating you are covered to drive and rent a car in Puerto Rico.
The car rental company will offer insurance against damage to the car called Collision damage waiver insurance (CDW), or Loss damage Waiver (LDW), at an additional fee. This is optional and you may already be covered with your own insurance policy or even through the credit card you use to book and pay for the rental. Again, double check this with your Credit card company and you may even need a letter from your credit card company stating it offers CDW coverage. Either way you can expect a deposit of $100 – 500 to be placed on your card as a hold incase of damage to the rental car.
Hot Tips for Car Rentals
- Book online in advance to save cash. I have had good luck with Sixt or book through a cashback website like Rakuteen to get from 1% – 6% cash back.
- Check the hours of operation as they may not be open when your returning and find out how drop offs work.
- Not all rental car companies are at the airport, some like Sixt offer shuttles to their off site location near the airport. Check this ahead of time and plan accordingly. You may have to call for a pickup and it can add an hour to your itinerary.
Recently Puerto Rico has been moving to electronic tolls for the AutoExpresso (toll) routes. All car rentals have to use this electronic system and your rental will have the AutoExpresso pass. To use the toll roads known as Auto Express routes you have to add this to your rental ahead of time. Otherwise you will get a huge and expensive fee for each time you use the express routes.
For our rental with Sixt the price was $10 a day and it covered all toll fees. Fees maxed out at 10 days for $70 if you rent for longer than a week. We highly suggest this if you plan on driving a lot around the island. You cannot use the cash lane on the Express routes if you are in a rental car. You can find the express routes on all but the West side of the Island. You can avoid them but it will add a lot of time to your trip. As an example, it will save an hour from San Juan to Rincon.
Toll Roads in Puerto Rico
- PR-5 – Connects PR-22 with Baymón and has one toll.
- PR-17 – Connects PR-26 with PR-20 and has one toll.
- PR-20 – Connects PR-1 to PR-2 (north) and has one toll.
- PR-22 – Connects San Juan to Hatillo and has six tolls.
- PR-52 – Connects Río Piedras with Ponce and has seven tolls.
- PR-53 – Connects Fajardo to Salinas and has five tolls.
- PR-66 – Connects Carolina to Río Grande and has three tolls.
Roads and Hazards
The roads in Puerto Rico can be a major hazard. Watch for pot holes, bumps, uneven surfaces, dirt roads, missing speed limit signs, busted railings, horses, iguanas, other animals, bicyclists, and randomly stopped cars.
Let me reiterate again the road hazards… The two that get you with a rental car are the potholes and the crazy bumpy dirt roads that lead to all of the really cool beaches. This is what all of the horror stories about renting cars in Puerto rico come from! Major damage to the tires, wheels, and underside is what gets most people to lose their deposits or worse if they don’t have CDW.
I mentioned Horses, Yep riding a horse on the streets is perfectly legal in Puerto Rico except in a few small municipalities. We encountered this several times during our stay mostly on the weekends. Be on alert especially just after sunset as this seemed a popular time for horseback riders to be heading home and often without any safety gear like headlamps or reflective attire.
The speed limit signs are miles per and hour but distance is in kilometers.
Most of the roads including some of the major routes vary between narrow and practically one lane, with or without dividing lines. In the smaller towns One Way Streets are quite common. Look for the “SOLO” sign.
Watch for other cars the Locals drive in a very casual manner generally without using signals and don’t pay attention to speed limits.
Smaller towns do not have a lot of stop signs or stop lights so it is common for traffic to stop and let another car pull out. So be aware of this so you don’t get into an accident.
Parking in Puerto Rico
Parking in Puerto Rico is a pain. There is not a lot of parking in San Juan or Ponce and you seldom find large parking lots like in the states. In the smaller towns or along beaches it may be next to impossible to find a place to park on a weekend.
A lot of businesses may just be on the side of a busy road and you will often see locals parked on sidewalks. Parking along the side of the road is very common and you need to be off of the road so as to not get ticketed.
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