San Juan, the capital city of Puerto Rico, is an incredibly popular tourist destination. Millions of tourists visit the city each year, which is a huge number for a city of just about 334,000 residents.
The amazing history of San Juan, the oldest European-founded city in North and South America, is one of the primary draws for visitors, who can explore sites that are hundreds of years old such as the Castillo San Felipe del Morro and the Castillo San Cristobal.
San Juan is right on the Caribbean Sea, so you can go swimming at beaches such as Condado Beach and El Escambron. Walk around the colorful streets and mingle with locals at delicious restaurants and amazing bars and night clubs.
San Juan is a popular tourist destination thanks to all of its attractions, but many are still nervous about visiting the city due to its reputation for crime. Is the city really unsafe, or are those just stereotypes?
We put together this travel guide to help you plan your trip with complete peace of mind. Read on to learn about the precautions, if any, you may need to take while visiting San Juan.
Is San Juan Safe to Visit in 2023?
Yes. San Juan is a safe place to visit as long as you take basic, common-sense safety precautions. Millions of people visit the city each year with no problems.
However, remember that it is a real city, not a theme park, and will have the same problems other cities have. Use common sense precautions and avoid certain neighborhoods due to higher crime rates.
Most foreign governments agree that San Juan is fairly safe to visit.
In its travel advisory for Puerto Rico, the Canadian government does not specify any warnings for San Juan. The travel advisory does mention the risk of petty crime, and you can assume that this risk will be present in the island’s most populous city.
Crimes that might occur during your visit include:
- Bag snatching
- Tourist scams
- Drug-related crimes
Most crimes that affect tourists are petty property crimes, and while violent crimes can affect visitors, that doesn’t happen often. The city does have a problem with violent crime, but most incidents are related to drugs and organized crime and are confined to certain neighborhoods.
Since San Juan is the capital of Puerto Rico, it is the site of most demonstrations on the island. Many Puerto Rican residents and San Juan locals are frustrated with the way the island, an unincorporated territory of the United States, is governed.
Although most protests are peaceful, there have been violent incidents in the past. Many locals are frustrated with the police’s aggressive response to peaceful demonstrators.
You don’t want to get caught up in the middle, especially if you don’t understand the local political context, so it’s best to avoid any protests while you are in town. Follow the news to see if there are planned demonstrations.
The biggest danger to locals and visitors alike in San Juan is hurricane season. Although the city doesn’t experience hurricanes every year, they can be devastating when they hit.
It was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, and the island is still recovering in many ways (not helped by what many residents see as an unequal relationship with the United States). Power cuts and shortages still happen.
Hurricane season in San Juan lasts from July to October, according to the Irish government’s travel advisory for Puerto Rico.
Hurricanes are most likely in August and September. It’s best to avoid San Juan during hurricane season. If you are visiting then, follow weather reports and cancel your trip if a hurricane is reported.
Crime in San Juan
Crime is a primary concern for visitors to San Juan. This stereotype is partially based on the truth as San Juan does have an elevated crime rate, including an elevated homicide rate.
However, tourists are rarely affected by crimes. The FBI collects crime data from Puerto Rico, just like it collects it from other parts of the United States.
Although it doesn’t break down the data for San Juan in particular, data for the whole territory can help us estimate what crime is like in San Juan. Puerto Rico has an elevated violent crime rate — that stereotype is true.
In 2016, the territory experienced 679 homicides. It is safe to assume many of these occurred in San Juan since it is Puerto Rico’s biggest city.
Most homicides are related to organized crime, including gang violence. Law enforcement, including the FBI, leads routine takedowns of organized crime in the city.
It’s also important to know that the homicide rate and the rate of other violent crimes have been declining over the past few years. Like in most other places, most crimes that occur in San Juan are property crimes.
In Puerto Rico overall, property crimes make up about 82% of total crimes committed. According to anecdotal evidence, property crimes are also the ones that affect tourists the most, especially petty property crimes such as pickpocketing and bag snatching.
Many San Juan residents are highly concerned about crime. According to Numbeo, which collects survey data from locals and resident ex-pats, San Juan scores a very high value of 81.13 out of 100 on the crime index.
Residents are most concerned about corruption and drug abuse. This shows you that crime is certainly a concern in the city.
However, keep in mind that tourists face less crime than residents, and most of the crimes that residents are most concerned about, such as bribery of local government officials, are not likely to affect you as a short-term visitor.
You should definitely take some precautions to stay safe, but don’t let your fear of crime affect your experience in the city, or even worse, lead you to cancel your trip altogether.
Pickpocketing and Petty Theft
Pickpocketing and petty theft happen in Puerto Rico, just as in many other tourist destinations around the world. Petty theft is actually the first crime that the Canadian government warns about in its travel advisory for the island.
Pickpockets and bag snatchers operate around crowded areas of San Juan as well as popular tourist destinations. Be careful around popular tourist destinations such as Old San Juan, as many thieves use the crowds as cover.
Although most thieves in San Juan don’t target tourists per se, they know that tourists are more likely to have expensive valuables on them than locals.
Basic street smarts can help you avoid being the victim of theft. For example, never, ever leave your things unattended.
This applies to the beaches as well. Thieves often go through people’s bags as they are swimming since they know they are unattended, so never leave valuables in your bag.
Don’t leave your valuables in plain sight where someone can easily steal them, such as the table on a restaurant terrace, your back pocket, or an easily stolen tote bag.
This applies to rental cars as well since theft from vehicles is a common crime. If you have a car with you, never leave items in visible places. Store your things in the trunk and glove compartment instead.
Make sure that you are using your street smarts and common sense to protect yourself against scams. Since the San Juan economy is so dominated by tourism, it makes sense that some people will turn to scams.
Taxi drivers are common scammers, so make sure you only take authorized taxis and that your driver turns on the meter.
Other common scams include hidden fees when renting a car or people posing as tour guides luring you into overpriced, poor-quality shops. Always research companies before booking anything with them and read the fine print.
Although violent crime in San Juan primarily affects locals, not tourists, there have been some incidents of violent crimes affecting tourists before. Robberies are the most common crimes affecting tourists.
While criminals are not likely to target tourists for homicides or violent disputes, they are likely to rob visitors since they know tourists are more lucrative targets than locals.
The good news is that robberies tend to happen just in certain neighborhoods and mostly at night. As long as you avoid bad areas of San Juan (more on those later), you can avoid your risk of getting robbed.
Popular tourist areas such as Old San Juan experience virtually no robberies. Most robberies occur at night, so be very careful with your movements after dark.
Only stick to areas that you know are safe and that you know will have plenty of people around. Being drunk makes you more likely to get robbed because robbers take advantage of people’s slower reactions, so try to limit your drinking.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Since crime in San Juan is so stratified by neighborhood, avoiding bad areas is the most important thing you can do to stay safe.
The city’s poorer neighborhoods are usually projects called caserios. You can recognize these public housing areas by their tall apartment buildings made of cement. These areas tend to have higher crime rates.
Dangerous caserios include:
- Louis Lloren Torres
- La Perla
- Puerta de Tierra (only certain parts)
These neighborhoods are far away from the city center, and the only tourists who tend to venture there are reckless vacationers meeting up with drug dealers.
Other neighborhoods are safe during the day but get sketchy at night, such as:
- Parque de las Palomas
Things to Consider
Here are a few additional safety tips for visiting San Juan:
- Don’t drink alcohol on the streets of Old San Juan. Outdoor public alcohol consumption is illegal in the historic area, and authorities will write you a heavy fine.
- Prepare for the weather. The tropical hot weather of San Juan can cause health complications if you are not used to it. Make sure you drink plenty of water and stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day.
- Be respectful of the locals. Many San Juan residents are frustrated with the tourism in their city as it is driving up prices, and many tourists are not respectful of local customs. Respect people’s privacy (don’t take photos without permission), don’t make noise late at night or be too inebriated in public, and try to follow local laws.
- Don’t do illegal drugs. Penalties are severe in Puerto Rico, and you don’t want to get involved with drug dealers, who are responsible for much of the violent crime in San Juan.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are a few common questions you might also want the answers to before visiting San Juan:
Is San Juan safe right now?
Yes, San Juan is safe for visitors right now. The crime rate is decreasing, and the infrastructure has been rebuilt, making it a great time to visit as tourists.
What to avoid in San Juan?
Avoid things that might expose you to unnecessary danger, such as visiting dangerous neighborhoods at night or buying street drugs. Avoid scams such as unmetered taxis and tour guides who approach you on the street.
Is Puerto Rico a safe place for tourists?
Puerto Rico is generally a safe place for tourists. Although it has some problems with crime, its crime rate is lower than that of many mainland U.S. states.
Is San Juan a safe place to visit?
Yes, San Juan is a safe place to visit. As long as you don’t flash your valuables or go wandering in neighborhoods you don’t know at night, you should have a good time.
Is it safe to walk in San Juan at night?
Only certain parts of San Juan are safe at night. Stick to areas such as Old San Juan, which have a strong police presence after dark, and avoid unfamiliar or unsafe areas.
So Is San Juan Safe to Visit?
San Juan is a safe city to visit as long as you don’t leave your common sense at home. Take precautions to protect your valuables from thieves and avoid unsafe areas, and you should have a very safe time there.
So, with so much to see and do, what are you waiting for — book your trip today and experience for yourself all that San Juan has to offer. Happy travels!