Puerto Rico is a famous destination for many tourists visiting the Caribbean, and for a good reason. Puerto Rico is nothing short of a paradise, from the pristine beaches to the calm turquoise waters, rich history, vibrant culture, and tropical mountainous regions.
Like other tourist destinations, it has its flaws. Puerto Rico has a long history of drug trafficking, gun crime, and gang activity, potentially compromising your safety.
The island falls victim to earthquakes and hurricanes, the most recent in 2017. Although Puerto Rico has since recovered from its aftermath, you might be wondering if it’s safe to visit.
Here’s a guide showing the safest places to travel in Puerto Rico while providing handy safety tips.
Is Puerto Rico Safe to Visit?
Puerto Rico is safe for travelers. It’s one of the safest islands in the Caribbean. However, it’s essential to keep an eye on factors that could compromise your safety.
Although most drug trafficking and gang-related crimes hardly affect travelers, you must look out for pickpockets and robbers. Most of them are on a hunt for small items like cash, flash jewelry, phones, and cameras, hence the need to stash them away in a safe place.
If going out, dress down, and if using a car, keep valuables away from sight. Otherwise, you may go back to a broken window and valuables missing. Read on to find out how to stay safe in Puerto Rico.
Crime in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has a lower crime rate than most states in the United States, albeit having a tainted reputation for high homicide and gun crime rates. This is mainly due to the thriving tourism scene, social and political changes, and anti-crime efforts.
In 2019, the Puerto Rican and US governments launched a crackdown on human traffickers and drug smugglers to combat violence.
As a result, the homicide rate per capita nearly halved, leaving Puerto Rico with the lowest rate in Latin America. The high poverty rate and inequality between the haves and have-nots make Puerto Rico ripe for crimes.
But tourists don’t have to worry because most murders and gun crimes relate to gang-related activities. In addition, such crime affects specific neighborhoods where gangs and criminals reside.
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods
Puerto Rico is safe for travelers as long as they stay in safe neighborhoods. Natives recommend avoiding Caserios public housing areas because gangs and criminals reside here.
Although the areas were reserved for low-income families, gangs have transformed them into hideouts for drug-related trades. Caserios are noticeable from afar as apartment-like balconies and cement facades characterize them.
Louis Lloren Torres in San Juan is an excellent example of a Caserios as many crimes happen here. Luckily, it’s a far cry from San Juan’s safe and tourist-friendly spots, but some travelers still visit Louis Lloren Torres to buy recreational drugs at a bargain.
Other crime-prone areas include La Perla, Puerta de Tierra, Pinones, some parts of Santruce, and Parque de la Palomas. San Juan has safe neighborhoods, including Miramar, Hato Ray, Isla Verde, Condado, and the Old San Juan.
Other tourist-friendly areas are:
- Cabo Rojo
- Rio Grande
Note that tourists aren’t limited to visiting these parts of the island. The government and locals encourage travelers to step out and explore other parts of Puerto Rico.
Common Crimes That Affect Tourists
Besides pickpocketing and robbery, tourists are susceptible to carjackings. Crime hotspots make great places for this crime, so avoid driving at night. If you must, avoid crime hotspots like those in San Juan. Tourists are also prone to scams like:
- Rental car scams: The rental car industry is the bread and butter for many households, but some drivers have made it a money-minting scheme by charging excessive toll fees. They may also inflate the deposits and include hidden charges under the pretext of cleaning the car.
- Taxi scams: If taking a cab, look out for tricks drivers use to inflate the cost. They may take a longer route, fail to turn on the meter, or claim they don’t have change. Researching the route beforehand goes a long way in determining the local rates.
- False guides: You also want to look out for locals who disguise themselves as guides. They claim to guide you to a particular destination but take you to where they get commissions for bringing clients.
Is It Safe to Explore Puerto Rico at Night?
The nightlife in Puerto Rico rocks! You should consider spending a night or two dancing the night away. Even so, you must be cautious. Here are some tips to help you:
- Stick to tourist-friendly areas. Areas such as Pinones, La Perla, and Parque de las Palomas are safe during the day but can get dangerous at night
- If you must drink, keep an eye on your drinks
- Avoid taking drinks from strangers
- Avoid getting overly drunk
- Don’t stay out too late
Of course, the best way to stay safe is just to use a little common sense.
Is Puerto Rico Safe for Solo Travel?
Solo travel has been all the rage in recent years, and you may wonder whether Puerto Rico is a safe place for such adventure. The truth is Puerto Rico is just as safe as any other place you’d go for solo travel.
Natives are friendly and ready to pitch in by providing directions to your desired destination when exploring the area off the grid. However, you must avoid isolating yourself because you become easy prey for pickpockets.
You must also be aware of your surroundings and those around you and avoid taking moonlit strolls along the beach at night alone.
How Do You Get Around Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico is one of the cheapest places to get around. There are many transportation channels, including taxis, trains, and buses. The public transport is pretty safe for tourists, but you could get lost when navigating the local services.
If not using private transfers, it’s best to use an inter-city train service like Tren Urbano, which commutes between San Juan, Bayamon, and Guaynabo.
You may also opt for taxis, which offer a better view of the island, and with Uber having entered the scene, you’ve lots of options to choose from. Just remember to watch out for extra fees and scammers, like we mentioned above.
The Weather and Natural Disasters
Another concern for travelers visiting Puerto Rico is the weather. Puerto Rico is prone to hurricanes, and there’s no telling when they will happen. There’s an annual hurricane season from June to November, with September experiencing disastrous storms.
This doesn’t mean that a hurricane will hit the country, but planning a vacation outside of this season takes loads off your back. Mid-April to June and December to March are the best months to visit Puerto Rico.
In addition, hurricanes take an entire week to hit the island, providing adequate time to adjust your travel arrangements.
You also want to take out travel insurance beforehand in the event of flight delays. Earthquakes are also a common phenomenon in Puerto Rico, just like hurricanes.
The country experienced a series of earthquakes in January 2020, but the infrastructure held up pretty well compared to the last hurricane. What’s more, the island has been experiencing telluric movements, but they often go unnoticed.
Things to Consider
You want to keep a few nitty-gritties in mind when visiting Puerto Rico:
- Buy a local sim card. If traveling from a non-US state, always buy a local sim card before going off the grid.
- Avoid wearing pricey jewelry and clothing that can attract pickpockets.
- Develop friendships with other travelers, especially if on a solo trip. Solo trips can get lonely, but your stay in Puerto Rico becomes more enjoyable with a few drinking buddies. Avoid telling them too much about your plans.
- The population in rural areas largely speaks Spanish. Knowing a few Spanish words goes a long way in communicating with the locals. You can download a translator app or memorize some phrases.
- Do your research before visiting Puerto Rico. Find out the best neighborhoods to visit with kids, friends, or alone, and those to avoid. Check travel review sites to understand their experience here.
- Be careful when visiting tropical areas and carry a map. Inform friends and family where you’re going and wear shoes with great traction.
- Prepare to navigate the roads without traffic lights. Some roads on the islands don’t have traffic signs; it’s up to you to navigate them. Also, you must be ready to navigate the numerous potholes in both urban and rural areas.
- Stash your valuables in the in-room safe at the hotel when going out. And since credit cards are readily accepted, you don’t have to bring too much money when exploring Puerto Rico.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it safe to swim on Puerto Rico beaches?
It’s safe to swim on the beaches, but you must look out for riptides, or rip currents. For example, beaches along Playa Jobos and Playa Pena have numerous drowning accidents because people are oblivious to the hazard. It’s best to inquire from the locals about the safest areas to swim if visiting beaches with riptides.
Is Puerto Rico Safe for women traveling solo?
Puerto Rico is generally safe for women traveling solo and in groups, but they must follow the highlighted safety tips. San Juan is exceptionally safe for women traveling alone.
What is the legal drinking age in Puerto Rico?
Unlike the United States, where the legal drinking age is 21, adults as young as 18 years can drink in Puerto Rico. However, drinking is restricted to private areas, and if buying liquor from bars and restaurants, you must provide a valid ID. Drunk driving is also an offense that leads to imprisonment and financial penalties.
Is Puerto Rico friendly to LGBTQ+ travelers?
Puerto Rico is one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly destinations in the Caribbean. San Juan, in particular, has a lively gay scene around Condado Beach and Santurce. Moreover, tourists are subject to the US federal hate crime laws even in Puerto Rico. As such, crimes based on one’s sex or gender are punishable.
How hot is Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico is hot almost all year , with temperatures regularly as high as 80 degrees. The country also gets pretty humid, increasing the overall heat sensation. It’s best to keep hydrated during your stay here.
So, Is Puerto Rico Safe?
Overall, Puerto Rico is a safe place to visit. It all depends on when and where you want to go. Look out for the safe neighborhoods, and if you must go to Caserios, visit during the day. Also, avoid isolating yourself even when traveling solo.
Pickpockets single out visitors walking alone easily and rob them of valuables. Also, if renting a vehicle, don’t leave any valuables inside.
Carry them with you or stash them away from sight. Finally (and most imortantly), schedule your visit between December and June. These months have the best weather, and you hardly need to worry about hurricanes.