Getting Around Puerto Rico
If you plan to venture beyond San Juan, even for just a few days, renting a car is an enriching way to explore Puerto Rico. At just over 160km (100 miles) long and (56km) 35 miles wide, you can experience a range of topography within a few hours. Despite the odd peril—reckless driving, single-lane mountain roads and potholes—it’s the most convenient way to access the island’s main attractions and travel on your own time. In the Metro area, expect heavy traffic jams; Puerto Rico has the dubious distinction of having more cars per square mile than any other place on the planet.
All the familiar international car rental companies operate in Puerto Rico. A reputable local firm (with offices in San Juan and Aguadilla), Charlie Car Rental offers competitive rates and reliable service. If you plan to stay just in the Metro area, a car is unnecessary—the city is congested and parking is very hard to come by. If you are looking to rent a car or golf cart on the island of Culebra, Carlos Jeep Rental and Jerry’s Jeep Rental receive mixed reviews from travelers; call well ahead of your trip for information/reservations.
Rates for economy sized cars with unlimited mileage are competitive, starting at $40 per day or $450 for seven days—once you add on the super high taxes and fees. Expect much higher rates during peak holiday periods )and if you rent a car outside of the Metro area). Always book well in advance; even before the pandemic, rental cars in Puerto Rico were over-subscribed.
You can rent a car with any valid U.S. or international driver’s license in Puerto Rico. Digital nomads and other long-stay travelers should be mindful that if their trip exceeds 90 days, they’ll need to apply for a Puerto Rican license.
Note that many car rental agencies at the airport are not open 24 hours. If you have a late/early flight home, be prepared to drop off your car early. Gas stations generally close at 7pm (later off the main highways) and are often closed on Sundays in rural areas. Gas stations aren’t as plentiful as on the mainland, be mindful that the next station is often a long distance away.
Uber is the only rideshare option that made its way to the Island and survived the pandemic. Users from the mainland will find the mobile app equally as effective as at home and is very popular with locals for its competitive rates (when compared to local taxis) and reliability. Note that Uber in Puerto Rico is still subject to ever evolving regulations.
Within San Juan, taxis are frequent, clean, reliable and comfortable; look for white cabs labelled Taxi Turístico. Designated taxi stands are located at key tourist points in San Juan (including cruise ship piers, major hotels, Plaza de Armas and Plaza Colón). Taxis operate a fixed rate system according to specified zones and can be pricey. Once you leave the Metro area, it becomes increasingly expensive to travel between towns.
Known by locals as guaguas, Puerto Rico’s public buses are rarely used by short-stay travelers. However, they are an inexpensive ($0.75-$1.50) way to mix with the locals and explore beyond the main tourist epicenters. In San Juan, handy routes to know are the B21, which plies the route between Old San Juan, Condado and Plaza Las Américas Mall and the A5, from Old San Juan to Isla Verde. As the bus schedules change often and bus routes often get suspended, we recommend travelers use other forms of transportation.
The “Tren Urbano,” or light rail, connects 16 stations through the Metro area (mostly elevated, but some underground). Trains operate daily from 5:50am–11:30pm, with trains every eight minutes during peak travel periods. The standard fare is $1.50. The service is integrated with the Metropolitan Bus Authority Routes; transfers are permitted within a two-hour window. Green initiatives include a Park and Ride option, available at eight stations, and a Bici-Tren pass which allows riders to take their bikes on board the train.
Check out this map provided by the official Tren Urbano website to locate the 16 train stations throughout the metro area.
A público is a private shuttle service that operates islandwide. They leave from the local bus station (Terminal de Carros Públicos) and tend to be Ford minibuses with license plates marked “Público.” For long-stay travelers, with time on their hands, it’s a budget-friendly means of discovering off-the-beaten-path towns and connecting with locals. There’s a distinct etiquette to the público experience—they only operate on set routes, they only leave when the car is full, most drivers only speak Spanish, and you’ll constantly be dropping people off along the route. Rates are generally inexpensive; San Juan to Ponce is around $15.
Puerto Rico has a reputable, inexpensive and efficient ferry service. From Old San Juan, La Lancha de Cataño is a small commuter ferry (less than 10 min.) that crosses the bay from Old San Juan to the ferry terminal in Cataño–a smooth ride to get to the Bacardí distillery. Locals will generally take the new high-speed ferries to Vieques and Culebra ($2 each way, 30–45 min.) from Ceiba (a two-hour drive from San Juan). Note that ferries are very busy on long weekends and holidays and service can be erratic. If you are short on time, private boat operators offer tours via high-speed catamarans and charters to offshore islands.
Due to its small size, Puerto Rico’s domestic air transportation system is basic and rarely utilized, apart from island-hops to Vieques and Culebra. Daily flights operated by Cape Air connect San Juan with Mayagüez and Ponce on the mainland (from $80 one way), though fares vary according to date and time.
Several airlines, including Flamenco Air and Vieques Airlink operate daily flights from San Juan (Isla Grande domestic airport) or Fajardo to the islands of Culebra and Vieques (around $120 return). Planes are eight or 10-seaters, they fill up fast and require advance booking, especially during peak holiday periods. Jetblue, Cape Air, and Seaborn fly direct to the islands from the international airport, but connections are generally more expensive (from $180 return).
With a general lack of awareness of cyclists’ needs, few cycling lanes and often questionable local driving habits, we don’t recommend you embark on a cycling tour of Puerto Rico. Never cycle after dark or along the scenic Ruta Panorámica. For exploring the quieter coastal enclaves, as well as beaches and parks in the Metro area, bike rentals are available in Condado.