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Getting Around Puerto Rico: Transportation Tips

SmarterTravel

As a U.S. territory, Puerto Rico is easily accessible from mainland North America, with nonstop flights from nearly every major hub east of the Mississippi, and one-stop connections from just about everywhere else. Most flights land in the capital city of San Juan. Because of limited mass transit on the island, getting around Puerto Rico usually involves a rental car, although there are a few other options as well. The outlying islands of Vieques and Culebra can be reached by boat or ferry.

Below are recommendations for the best Puerto Rico transportation options.

Flying to and Around Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s capital city of San Juan is home to the island’s largest gateway: Luis Munoz Marin International Airport. Located in the Isla Verde area, just a few minutes’ drive from several beach resorts (and within an hour or so from many others), it’s an easy place to reach via every major U.S.-based airline, with JetBlue one of the largest players. The recent opening of a new terminal has helped to make the arrival and departure experience a more pleasant experience, with extra space and more comfortable lounges.

If you’re headed to the southern or western part of the island, you may also want to check flights into the island’s two other main airports: Ponce is home to Mercedita International Airport, while Aguadilla receives scheduled flights at Rafael Hernandez International Airport. Generally, flights to these two airports are less frequent and limited to nonstops from New York City and Florida; expect higher fares for those than for San Juan flights.

Options for flying around Puerto Rico are also rather limited, but the island’s relatively small size means that you’ll rarely need to do so (and its natural beauty makes it a pleasure to drive). Flying to the outlying islands of Vieques and Culebra from “mainland” Puerto Rico, however, can make sense and save time.

Both Air Flamenco and Vieques Air Link fly small planes between San Juan (both Luis Munos Marin International Airport and the smaller Isla Grande airport, which is closer to Old San Juan and the Condado district) and the airports serving Ceiba, Culebra and Vieques. Flights are short, and the planes fly low enough that you can enjoy some spectacular water views en route.

Puerto Rico Air Travel Resources:
AA.com
AirFlamenco.net
Delta.com
JetBlue.com
Southwest.com
United.com
ViequesAirLink.com

Renting a Car in Puerto Rico

Every major car rental company maintains a presence in Puerto Rico — especially in San Juan, where several companies have offices both at the airport (or nearby) as well as in tourist-popular neighborhoods like the Condado district. Smaller local companies like Charlie Car Rental may be worth checking out as well, as they sometimes beat the bigger brands’ prices. If you’re planning on spending a lot of time on the beach (or in a walkable neighborhood like Condado), you may want to consider only renting a car for part of your stay; you can rent a car at a city office and then return it at the airport.

Street parking in the San Juan metropolitan area can be scarce, so if you’re staying there, check with your hotel about on-site parking availability and cost. Avis and Charlie Car Rental are among the rental car companies with offices in the Condado district, as well as at the airport.

For U.S. citizens, renting a car is the same in Puerto Rico as anywhere stateside; all you need is a driver’s license and credit card. Driving around the island is a relatively easy experience; roads on major routes are well marked, and the infrastructure is good. If you’re not accustomed to city driving, try to avoid rush hour in the San Juan area, as traffic can get congested — and if you’re planning to visit lesser-known regions, be sure to bring a map or use GPS so the beautifully winding country roads won’t get the best of you.

Puerto Rico Rental Car Resources:
Avis.com
CharlieCars.com
Dollar.com
Hertz.com
Sixt.com

Puerto Rico by Bus

Puerto Rico is not well developed in terms of island-wide bus service, and there are no real long-distance options. In San Juan, the Metropolitan Bus Authority provides service among some neighborhoods popular with tourists, including Isla Verde, Condado and Old San Juan, with service running until 10 p.m. The fare is inexpensive (pay with exact change on the bus), but since service may be limited, it’s a good idea to check schedules — you may find it easier to take a tourist taxi.

To reach other places on the island, it’s best to stick with a rental car. Another option is to hire a private driver from a company like VIP Limo, but that’s not a cheap option; chauffeur services in Puerto Rico tend to be targeted at business travelers traveling with an expense account.

Puerto Rico Bus Resources:
DTOP.gov.pr (Spanish only)
VIPLimoPR.com

Puerto Rico by Train

Long gone are the days when trains linked San Juan with other regions of the island. But a relatively new light rail system, the Tren Urbano, serves a limited route in the San Juan metropolitan area. It’s not of much use to most visitors, but rides are less than a dollar (tickets are sold only at the stations), and the trains run from 5:30 a.m. until 11:30 p.m. daily.

Puerto Rico Train Resources:
DTOP.gov.pr/transporte_urbano/det_content.asp?cn_id=6 (Spanish only)

Puerto Rico by Cruise Ship, Ferry and Sailboat

Boats provide a scenic way to travel around the coastline and to the outlying islands. The largest vessels are cruise ships; the port in San Juan is served by companies including Carnival, Celebrity, Disney and Royal Caribbean, among others. While there are a few other cruise ports in other parts of the island, these are rarely used.

The cruise port in the capital city is within walking distance of the historic streets and architecture of Old San Juan, making it easy for cruise passengers to enjoy a bit of the city and perhaps extend their stays at nearby hotels. An express ferry service from Old San Juan, called AcuaExpreso, takes visitors across the bay to Catano, home of the Bacardi distillery — a popular place for tours.

For local travel on the water, you can take a passenger ferry, run by Puerto Rico’s Department of Transportation and Public Works, from the town of Fajardo, on Puerto Rico’s east coast, to the islands of Culebra and Vieques. The ferry takes about an hour and 15 minutes, but weather-related delays can make the trip more time-consuming — so booking a flight may be a more reliable option.

Sailing tours are a popular way to make the most of the beautiful waters that surround Puerto Rico. A company called Traveler offers catamaran tours from the town of Fajardo, while Sailing Dreams offers private charters as well as public cruises around San Juan.

Puerto Rico Cruise, Ferry and Sailboat Resources:
Carnival.com
CelebrityCruises.com
DisneyCruise.Disney.Go.com
DTOP.gov.pr/transporte_maritimo/index.asp (Spanish only)
RoyalCaribbean.com
SailingDreamsPR.com
TravelerPR.com

Puerto Rico by Bicycle

Puerto Rico’s natural settings offer a variety of attractive places for cycling, and the metropolitan San Juan area can be surprisingly fun to explore on two wheels as well. In 2015, the Puerto Rico Tourism Company opened the first section of Paseo de Puerta de Tierra, a route for pedestrians and cyclists that currently runs between Dos Hermanos Bridge and Third Millenium Park; in 2016, the Paseo is to run all the way from Condado to Old San Juan, making it possible to enjoy the scenery while traveling by foot or two wheels between two of the capital’s most popular tourist neighborhoods.

A company called Rent the Bicycle offers guided cycling tours of Old San Juan and Condado, while Rent a Bike rents out road bikes, mountain bikes and other types of equipment, and delivers to all cities in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Bike Resources:
RentaBikePR.bravesites.com
RenttheBicycle.net

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–written by Mark Chesnut

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