There are so many reasons to visit Puerto Rico: its proximity to the US, its manageable size, the ease of travel and prevalence of English-speakers. Tourists can experience stunning beaches, verdant rainforests, colonial towns and electric nightlife, all on an island the size of Connecticut.
There is a catch however: a confluence of economic factors has driven up the costs of everything on the island from food to taxi rides. If you are visiting during the high season, you can expect sky-high prices. Not all is lost though and there are a few steps you can take to get the best of Puerto Rico on a budget.
The opulent resorts and luxury hotels that line the beaches of Puerto Rico can be quite pricey. There are great deals to be had though, mainly during the off-season, which is May through November. The weather is less predictable during these months, but the savings can be dramatic. Some of these hotel deals even include hundreds of dollars in food credit.
Alternatively, consider a hotel that isn’t directly on the beach. There are several great options in some fun areas that may just surprise you!
Much of the food in Puerto Rico is imported, which means that restaurant costs can be staggering. Avoid fancy sit-down establishments as well as the American chain-restaurants that are now found all over the island.
For a budget meal you need to find where the locals eat. Keep an eye out for beach stands serving up fresh seafood for a fraction of the price in a restaurant. Small hole-in-the wall restaurants, street carts and even supermarkets are a good bet for low-cost, authentic Puerto Rican food. Look for kioskos: small food booths that serve local Puerto Rican delicacies like fresh fish, fried plantains and roasted chicken.
For an island so small, Puerto Rico is sadly deficient in public transportation options. Rental cars are generally the most convenient and efficient way to get around the island. Fuel prices here are actually cheaper than in mainland USA.
An even cheaper, although less reliable, alternative is the privately run publico system. Publicos are shared taxis that run all over the island. The cars run Monday-Friday and are distinguished by the word PUBLICO printed at the top of their license plates. To take a publico you have two options: you can show up at a designated publico terminal, or you can have your hotel phone a service and arrange for them to pick you up at a designated time.
It’s easy to drain your budget with expensive tours and activities like zip lining. Skip those and instead concentrate on the many free attractions available to visitors looking to do Puerto Rico on a budget.
If you are in San Juan, head to the beautiful Old San Juan district. This easily walkable neighborhood is an attraction unto itself, and there are often free music performances in the squares. The nearby Spanish fort, El Morro, is a can’t-miss historical site that is also free to visit.
El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s tropical rainforest is also something that should be high on your travel itinerary. As part of the US National Forest System, it’s also free to visitors. There are easy hiking trails with lots of waterfalls and pools for cooling off.
The biggest free attraction on Puerto Rico is of course, the hundreds of beautiful beaches that surround the island. In San Juan, Isla Verde is nice. To the west of the capital, Crash Boat, Rincon both have great beaches, and so does the eastern island of Vieques. Arrive early to stake out a prime spot and enjoy the calmer waters. What are your best tips for a budget-friendly stay on Puerto Rico?