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A gorgeous member of the Caribbean archipelago, Puerto Rico is an island adorned with sandy beaches, lush nature, exotic wildlife, and architectural wonders. For backpackers and digital nomads, it's a budget-friendly destination, offering a plethora of things to do and see.
But is there danger lurking beneath the island's sunny atmosphere? (Okay, maybe I was being a little dramatic there.)
If you've done casual research, you're bound to have some concerns regarding your safety. Puerto Rico is somewhat infamous for gun crimes, drug trafficking, and theft.
But, if you're an avid traveler, you can find potential dangers no matter where you travel. It's all about being aware and taking actions to keep you safe while you're abroad.
I sought out to do some in-depth research, to help you make your own decision.
In this guide, I'll dive into all the possible safety concerns when touring the island. Then, more importantly, I'll ensure that you have information and tips that you need to avoid and reduce danger while visiting Puerto Rico.
I want you to have a memorable trip in all the right ways. So, let's make sure you're all prepared and feeling confident before your flight!
Is Puerto Rico Safe to Travel?
Yes. Like almost anywhere, Puerto Rico is safe enough to visit and enjoy as long as you take adequate precautions to safeguard yourself.
The country does have a reputation for serious crimes like homicides carried out by drug dealers and criminal gangs. But, travelers are unlikely to be affected by them. Unless you're looking to deal drug, which I'm going to be pretty clear, you shouldn't do.
It should be noted these dangers have also decreased significantly over the years, though they remain prevalent. Puerto Rico ranks 19th in the crime rate index at present.
Most of the issues faced by tourists are common risks like theft, pickpocketing, and scams. Another risk is the island's rogue weather patterns.
While all these issues may seem concerning, majority of travelers have a trouble-free experience. All you need to do is take the necessary safety measures as you would in any other country.
Top Safety Concerns
Weather & Natural Disasters
It's good you're asking, "when is Puerto Rican weather a safety threat?" Weather can merely damper a trip, extreme weather will certainly ruin it completely.
Because of its geographic location in the northeastern Caribbean, Puerto Rico is vulnerable to natural disasters like earthquakes, landslides, and hurricanes.
The hurricane season usually lasts from June to November, with August and September being the worst times.
August to October is also the timeframe the island gets the most rain. It's good to keep this in mind knowing that landslides and flooding can also impact Puerto Rico.
Avoiding Weather-Related Problems
I'm not a mentalist, so I can't predict the weather or natural issues that could arise. (I did once bend a spoon a little bit!) However, there are some ways to prepare for the possibility!
To get the obvious out of the way, you should try your best to choose the right time to visit Puerto Rico! Avoid hurricane season and consider planning your trip for the tail-ends of rainy season if you're trying to maximize least tourists and great weather.
Also, make sure to check the weather forecast frequently in the lead up to your trip. That way you can pack according to the trends closer to your trip date.
For instance, if you do decide to go during the wetter months, be sure to pack a rain jacket and maybe pick up a pair of waterproof shoes, like Vessis. A big game changer.
What if you can't avoid it and need to plan during a more risky time?
No need to panic! As I said, it's not the common story for international travelers run into problems.
One option that is growing in popularity is to make sure you're covered against natural disasters by travel insurance. Be alert to weather changes and take weather forecast warnings seriously. You have to be prepared to react promptly in situations of heavy rain or tropical storms.
Petty Crimes in Puerto Rico
When you're touring the island, pickpocketing and robbery should be one of your primary concerns. Thieves usually operate in crowded areas, and tourists can easily be targeted. I find keeping my valuables close in a cross-body pouch, or under clothing, is a good precautionary move.
Avoiding Petty Crimes
It's important to be vigilant about your surroundings and keep your belongings safe.
Avoid wearing jewelry or fancy items that may attract robbers. Also, don't flash your money when you purchase items from stalls off the streets.
If you need to keep your valuables safe, I would definitely consider purchasing a fanny pack before your trip. Not only is it super useful, but it's also become super stylish in recent years! Even if you think, you're not the target age for it, what you may lack in style you'll gain in security.
I find if I'm staying at a hotel, it's best to leave your valuables and personal documents in a locker or safe.
Try to blend in with the local crowd as much as possible. You can dress like a local, throw in a Spanish phrase or two, and act like you know your way around. At the very least perhaps leave your clearly identifying hometown gear in the closest at home.
Learning some common Spanish phrases can also help you communicate with vendors and locals better!
What to Do if You're Robbed
I hate to even talk about it but you have to prepare yourself for the worst-case scenarios, too. If you are mugged, don't resist, although it could be your first instinct. Hand over whatever you have and leave fast. It's really not worth turning a petty crime into a more serious one.
Losing your travel documents is more serious than losing money. If this happens, file a complaint with the police and contact your embassy as soon as possible. I would recommend keeping travel documents as secure as possible, and I even designate a family member or friend to hold on to copies of important documents back home just in case they could be beneficial.
Drinking Tap Water
Generally, you can safely drink tap water in Puerto Rico. The island follows the same U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards as the mainland United States, which means the water quality is usually pretty good.
However, just like any other place, the quality of tap water can vary depending on where you are and the local infrastructure.
One thing that's important to remember... After natural disasters, like the infamous Hurricane Maria in 2017, water quality can be temporarily affected. Damaged water systems and contamination can make it dangerous to drink tap water!
Avoiding Sickness From Bad Water
I get pretty nervous about this, I'm not going to lie to you. Yes, you can drink most tap water in Puerto Rico safely. But if you're like me you also don't want to take the chance of getting sick!
If you're a traveler with a sensitive stomach or you're just not sure about the tap water quality in a specific area, it can be a good idea to play it safe and stick to bottled water. Normally, bottled water is something I avoid, so if I am forced to pick up a plastic bottle, I try to find a hotel or other area that might have filtered water available to refill it. Reuse those bottles!
It's also smart to use bottled or purified water for brushing your teeth and making ice, just to be on the safe side.
If nothing else, I've been saved by bringing along water purification tablets just in case. These may be helpful if you're in a pinch, and can save you from adding to the damage caused by plastic waste.
Finally, if you arrive after natural disasters, keep in mind that tap water can be more questionable. It's crucial to keep an eye on local water quality advisories and take the necessary precautions to protect yourself.
This one's for my overly trusting travelers. Make sure you know what you're getting into before you grab a taxi.
As with any popular tourist destination, there's a potential for taxi scams in Puerto Rico, although they're not widespread.
Taxi drivers can overcharge you by quoting an inflated fare, use a tampered meter, or add extra charges for luggage or other services. Other drivers will even refuse to use the meter altogether. I wouldn't start any journey that you aren't clear of how you are being charged.
They can get away with these things if you're not aware of the local standards.
Watch out for unlicensed or "gypsy" taxis as they're more likely to overcharge you or take unnecessarily long routes to increase your fare. Waiting is always better than being scammed.
Avoiding Being Scammed
Let me share a few tips I've picked up to help you avoid taxi scams in Puerto Rico:
Use licensed taxis: Always choose a licensed taxi with visible identification, such as a taxi sign on the roof or an official taxi sticker. Avoid unlicensed or "gypsy" taxis. Alternatively, you can use Uber or Lyft if available. If you're aren't sure, just wave them on and grab another option.
Know the fare system: Familiarize yourself with the local fare system, which might include set rates for specific zones or metered fares. This will also help you communicate to the driver that you aren't ripe to be scammed.
In San Juan, for example, there are set rates for different zones, and taxis should have a rate sheet displayed inside. If you're unsure about the fare, ask the driver to explain the charges before you begin your journey. I would also wait to close any doors until you are satisfied with the situation.
Agree on the price beforehand: If the taxi does not have a meter or if it is not in use, negotiate and agree on a fare with the driver before starting your trip. This can help you avoid unexpected charges or misunderstandings. Again, keep a door open, or discuss through the window to ensure you can always walk away.
Let's talk about health-related concerns when it comes to nasty insects, ie. mosquitos.
For all the cute animals in Puerto Rico there are some some pesky little critters.
Mosquitoes can be a nuisance in Puerto Rico, especially during the wet season from April to October. While their bites are usually just itchy and annoying, mosquitoes can also transmit diseases like dengue fever and the Zika virus.
To protect yourself from mosquito bites, remember to pack some insect repellent with a high concentration of DEET or another EPA-approved ingredient.
Wearing long sleeves and pants can also help, especially during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
As Puerto Rico is one of the US territories, you can read about the safety guidelines outlined by the CDC. You also have to submit a travel declaration form via the local government's website.
What Is Dengue Fever?
Dengue fever is a viral illness transmitted by the Aedes mosquito. Although it's not common for tourists to contract dengue fever in Puerto Rico, it's always best to be prepared and know the symptoms.
If you experience a sudden high fever, severe headache, joint and muscle pain, or a rash, it's essential to seek medical attention right away. The good news is that dengue fever is usually not life-threatening, and with proper medical care, most people make a full recovery.
What Is Zika Virus?
You probably remember the big scene the Zika virus made a few years ago. Most people were worried about it due to its potential to cause birth defects in pregnant women.
It's also transmitted by the Aedes mosquito. And while the number of Zika cases has decreased significantly, it's still essential for pregnant women or those planning to become pregnant to take precautions.
If this is you, I recommend you consult with a healthcare professional before traveling to the beautiful beaches and landscapes of Puerto Rico.
If you're not pregnant, don't worry too much! The Zika virus typically causes mild symptoms like fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes, and most people recover without any issues.
Safest Areas & Neighborhoods in Puerto Rico
Okay, you feel prepared and are ready to explore the depths of Puerto Rico now? Let's go one step further! I've got you covered with a list of the safest cities where you can chill, have fun, and soak up the good vibes without worrying about your safety!
San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital, is the place to be! With hip neighborhoods like Old San Juan, Santurce, Isla Verde, Miramar, and Condado, you're guaranteed a great time. Police patrol these areas day and night, so you can feel safe while you party.
Just remember to skip places like Piñones, Santurce, Parque de las Palomas, and Puerta de Tierra after dark, and avoid Louis Lloren Torres public housing complex.
San Juan is one of the most popular tourist spots, but if you're looking to be extra adventurous, there are lots of beautiful, and safe, locations elsewhere on the island...
Calling all nature lovers—this one's for you!
Rio Grande, on the northeastern coast, is your gateway to El Yunque National Forest. This tourist-friendly city offers amazing beaches, lush landscapes, and tons of outdoor activities to get your adrenaline pumping!
Remember to make time for a tour of El Yunque.
Want to do some island hopping while in Puerto Rico? Let me tell you about Vieques, just off Puerto Rico's eastern coast. This place is a dream come true!
This safe and serene destination boasts beautiful beaches, crystal-clear waters, and one of my absolute favorites the mesmerizing bioluminescent Mosquito Bay. Sit back, relax, and let the island vibes work their magic!
If you're looking for more relaxing, beautiful beaches, pick Luquillo, a charming and safe coastal town on the northeastern coast.
With its stunning beaches, especially the popular Luquillo Beach, you'll be all smiles in this warm and welcoming paradise.
Fancy a bit of luxury? Dorado, on the northern coast, is your go-to spot for swanky resorts, gorgeous beaches, and golf courses. Chill out in this super-safe city and enjoy the good life!
What About COVID-19 Safety Concerns?
As I update this article, the world has mostly returned to a "new normal" post-COVID. But, some countries have lingering safety precautions in place in relation to COVID.
Is there anything you need to know about COVID-19 restrictions and local public health measures in Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico does require any international traveler arriving by air that is not a U.S. citizen to be vaccinated against COVID-19. As Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory, it makes sense that it has similar requirements to the U.S.
That being said, there are no testing or quarantine requirements when you enter Puerto Rico.
Once you arrive in Puerto Rico, you can expect a lot of places to have dropped local health measures in relation to COVID—meaning masks, distancing, quarantines etc. But, you could run into some places that still require proof or wearing masks!
Other Frequently Asked Safety Questions
Hmm, I still haven't covered what you're looking for? No worries, my aim is to help everyone! I'm also including some of the most common questions that travelers have before their trip to Puerto Rico to hopefully cover it all for everyone.
Is Puerto Rico Safe to Travel Alone for Female Travelers?
Puerto Rico is generally safe for female solo travelers, but it's always better to buddy up!
If you're traveling alone, it's important to take every precaution possible. Keep someone or multiple people updated about your whereabouts, and make sure you have all the necessary emergency contact numbers with you. It's almost like a digital buddy system.
Avoid staying outside late at night and walking on dimly lit or deserted pathways. You should also be wary of locals claiming to guide you because they can charge you exorbitant rates.
Are There Any Areas to Avoid?
So, I've talked about where you should go if you want to feel safe and secure.
Unfortunately, every place has areas you want to avoid!
Some areas in Puerto Rico can be less secure, particularly in larger cities or less touristy regions. Here's my short list of some places that some people consider less secure:
- La Perla, San Juan
- Public Housing Projects (Residenciales)
- Certain neighborhoods in Ponce
- Barrio Obrero, Santurce
- Barrio Cantera, Santurce
- Rio Piedras, San Juan
It's a good idea to do some research before venturing off the beaten path and ask locals or hotel staff for recommendations. They'll often have great tips on the best places to visit and areas to avoid.
How Safe Is It to Drive?
It is safe to rent a car and drive around, but you should exercise a lot of caution. You will notice a lot of reckless driving on the road, and the best you can do is follow the rules and drive as carefully as possible.
Always park the car in a safe, designated parking area. Make sure you don't leave any of your valuables in the car. Car theft is also a common issue here.
Overall, if you feel confident driving in any conditions you'll be fine in Puerto Rico. Just be honest with yourself!
Is Public Transportation Safe?
Public transportation in Puerto Rico is generally safe for visitors. Buses and the Tren Urbano in San Juan are usually reliable and secure. That being said, it's always a good idea to keep an eye on your belongings and be aware of your surroundings. I often use public transit at home and while traveling as it can be a great way to explore and save a little money.
If you prefer a more comfortable option, consider using taxis or ride-sharing services like Uber. Just remember our previous chat about avoiding taxi scams!
How Safe Are Its Beaches?
Puerto Rico's beaches are stunning and generally safe, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
Always pay attention to posted signs and flags indicating water conditions, currents, and potential hazards. Avoid swimming alone, especially in remote areas or during rough sea conditions.
And don't forget to apply plenty of sunscreen and stay hydrated, because sunburns and heatstroke are safety concerns too!
Is It Safe to Visit the Island's Rainforests?
Adventurer? You've gotta put the rainforests on your itinerary. Like I insist that you do!
I want to note there are definitely some safety concerns you need to be aware of, such as sudden weather changes, the risk of getting lost, potential wildlife encounters, and dehydration.
To combat these risks, it's essential to check the local weather forecast before your visit, stick to well-marked trails, carry a map or GPS, and be cautious of wildlife.
Additionally, make sure to stay hydrated and take breaks as needed, especially in hot and humid conditions. By being mindful of these concerns and taking appropriate precautions, you can enjoy an epic rainforest adventure.
Remember to take pics as while the experience will be unforgettable, you also want it to be sharable!
Plan your Puerto Rico trip with Pilot!
Confident and ready to head to Puerto Rico? Then, it's time to start thinking about the best places to stay in Puerto Rico and put your travel arrangements in one place!
We have an amazing travel planner that will make your trip fun and hassle-free. Pilot is the app that helps your entire travel party keep everything in one place. Make an itinerary with all your accommodations, flights, and activities. Create checklist and packing lists to make sure you are beyond prepared. And discover and vote on the things that will make your trip unforgettable! It's free, available to try right now, and you can feel safe knowing you're making the most of every trip.