Puerto Rico has found itself featured in the news rather prominently for the past couple of years—some of it striking, some of it somber. But what the hurricanes of 2017 highlighted for many Americans was an island-sized revelation—Puerto Rico is formally a part of the United States, not a separate Caribbean entity. Although it’s a quick trip from the mainland, it offers experiences that seem a world away. Which brings us to our main topic: Puerto Rico travel tips.
Planning a visit to this vibrant island community is not only patriotic, it’s also as simple as enjoying a vacation to its tropical shores—approximately 10% of Puerto Rico’s economy is tourism. But, just because travel here is incredibly easy (no passport needed, minimal flight time, no currency exchange), doesn’t mean that you should show up unaware of the cultural complexity of the island. For a richer, more rewarding experience in Puerto Rico, take a moment to understand just how it fits into the American landscape.
Before invoking the irritation of every local citizen by asking “why isn’t Puerto Rico a state?” take a moment to understand how the territory came to be. In 1898, Puerto Rico was a newly-independent territory of Spain—and due to some fearmongering journalism, America declared war on Spain. Puerto Rico was promised by General Nelson Miles in a decree manifesto that the U.S. would “[protect] the life, liberty, and happiness of Puerto Ricans, and their property.” However, after the war (and much to Puerto Ricans’ dismay), their newly democratically-elected parliament was ignored so that America could create a colonial system.
Adding insult to injury, a series of notorious legal opinions in 1901 known as “the Insular Cases” ultimately barred Puerto Rico from the rights of the U.S. Constitution and left it adrift without a path towards statehood. While the population eventually gained partial citizens’ rights in 1917, in the century since Congress has done nothing to facilitate the island’s representation in the federal government—hence why asking Puerto Ricans the status of their statehood is such a sore spot!
Puerto Rico’s culture has grown from a bevy of American, Spanish and Afro-Caribbean roots and influences over the years. Some of it you’ll witness as soon as you arrive (don’t be surprised when much of your planes’ passengers clap upon landing); others you’ll be wise to seek out while you’re on the island—like a parranda filled with jovial locals.
Of the American experiences with a distinct Puerto Rican flavor, baseball sits squarely at the top of the to-do list. America’s pastime is even bigger here, with a storied history of producing multiple big-name hall-of-famers. Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda may be legends of sport, but they’re hometown heroes that inspired generations of talented players. Nothing demonstrates it better than catching a game at Hiram Bithorn Stadium: the stadium may only sit 18,000, but the atmosphere is far more lively than American counterparts. Beer is served even after the seventh inning, so spectating a game is part-show, part-fiesta.
The island’s lively vibes aren’t limited to the island itself—much of Puerto Rico’s popular culture has been exported to mainland U.S. over the years. Taking the time to acknowledge the flourishing of world-class musicians and artists (beyond the music video for Despacito) will undoubtedly earn you some unofficial brownie points while visiting. An outing to the many galleries of Calle Cerra will introduce you to the up-and-coming local artists, while setting the soundtrack of your vacation to the likes of Nicky Jam and Pirulo y la Tribu will help foster the proper oasis-mindset.
As with most of the world, making the attempt to speak the local language goes a long way. While a large part of the island will speak English fluently, Spanish is still the most common language on the island. Peppering in some Boricua to your Spanish will lend to much more personal connections throughout your travels.
While this is a tropical island, the entire island is not a beach town. Puerto Rican cities are just that—cities. You wouldn’t walk around New York establishments in a swimsuit or beach cover-up; San Juan is no different. Make sure to pack some formal attire.
Finally, tips and transportation. You should plan to tip here as you would on mainland America—your 15% to 20% is how those working in the service industry make a living. For transportation, you’re going to want to rent a car or take a taxi. Public transportation is mythically scarce, and experiencing all of the flavors and nuances of Puerto Rico is going to require traveling distances you wouldn’t walk.
Feel like you’re ready to make the most of these Puerto Rico travel tips with a trip to America’s lesser-known-paradise? Speak with one of our travel agents to get started. Their in-depth knowledge and expertise can spark itineraries filled with life-changing experiences, while their professional relationships with all the leading names in travel—such as Celebrity Cruises—can also provide you with exclusive perks and amenities. Think of it as just a few more reasons why a vacation to Puerto Rico is so rewarding.