June 1999 was my fifth trip to Puerto Rico and the first time writing about it. Why do I keep going back? Well, compared to the rest of the Caribbean it’s affordable, you meet the island people easily, I love the many beaches and also Old San Juan, and it’s an easy place to fly out to other islands for more rustic travel.
Puerto Rico is a mid-sized island that has modern highways, hospitals, and other services. San Juan is the capitol. The San Juan community is divided up into Old San Juan (the old Spaniard community and now a National Park), Condado (the tourist hotels) and Ocean Park (guest houses and urban suburbs). There are nice hotels in all three communities but guest houses are more affordable and personable.
Travel out on the island can be by rental car, or community bus-vans. These go to all communities. Many visitors go to the different government inns (paradors) for about $75 a night. See a Puerto Rico web site (by using a search engine such as Yahoo) for locations and reservations.
Travel to Vieques or Culebra by ferry and have the time of your life. I stayed in a guest house for a week on the island of Culebra for $35 a night. It was right on the water had a kitchen in the room, etc. If I was going to Puerto Rico for the first time I would spend two nights in Old San Juan and then go to Culebra for five days. No luxurious hotels here. Just great eating and beautiful sights and beaches.
Places to Stay
The summer is much cheaper in the hotels. Where the mainline hotels would be $120 in the winter you can find rooms for $75 a night in the summer and guest houses at $45 a night.
Hunt around for guest houses in Ocean Park and get a week’s stay for $240-$300. Ocean Walk Guest House on Atlantic Ave in Ocean Park (near the airport) is my favorite (in summer only). In Condado, the main tourist section, I have stayed in the El Carnario guest houses and hotels.
In Old San Juan, El Covento is an expensive but very beautiful large remodeled convent. Don’t get stuck in the beach hotels in Condado. You may as well stay in California or go to Hawaii.
Other Places to Go
Other Islands to Visit
Get a 7, 14 or 21 day pass on LIAT Airlines out of Puerto Rico. Then you can fly all over the Caribbean for $250-$500 with a limited number of stops.
Right now it would be great to go to the Dominican Republic. Tour the capital city and then take a air conditioned bus to Sousa for the great beaches. Or go to La Samana and see the whales breed and jump out of the water. Or, fly on LIAT to the Grenadines and take a combination of mail boats and LIAT all the way to South America. Stop on the way
at Bequay, Carricou, and Barbados (About 10 days).
Getting to Puerto Rico can be expensive or cheap. When I travel to the Caribbean I always go on a Frequent Flyer Award. Otherwise, for cheapest fares from the US, take any airline that leaves from Miami or New York.
These fares ought to be around US$200-400, most expensive at Christmas and other holidays. Right now, U.S. Puerto Rico fares are around $500, way too much.
From the airport take any taxi for $15-$20 for most hotels and guest houses within San Juan. Many hotels and guest houses will pick you up for free.
Currency & Costs
Puerto Rico can be done on US$50 a day if you are careful in getting cheap rooms. Puerto Rico uses US currency.
I am a Baptist minister at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Seattle. I am an author of several books and a frequent traveler.