Pristine beaches, tropical mountain scenery, and vibrant Spanish-American culture, the island nation of Puerto Rico is an exotic vacation mecca with adventure at every turn. But is it all paradise?
Puerto Rica is an attractive option for American holidaymakers with cheap flights, unhindered cell service, and an excellent return for their dollars. But the island has a turbulent history of gun crime, drug trafficking, and gang activity and is still recovering from the impact of Hurricane Maria. So is Puerto Rico safe?
Most visitors face no issues, but there are a few things you should be aware of when traveling to the “Island of Enchantment.” From the exotic animals that call it home to the threat of petty crime on tourists, this guide looks at all the risks of traveling to Puerto Rico in 2022. Let’s get started.
Is Puerto Rico safe to visit?
The unincorporated US territory is actually an archipelago with a diverse landscape comprised of waterfalls, mountains, and the El Yunque rainforest. It’s a place where the old world is mashed up with the new, and the shores are lapped by both the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Although Puerto Ricans cannot vote in the US Presidential elections, Americans can leave their passports at home, making it a convenient holiday destination and gateway into South America for US citizens.
Despite Puerto Rico’s tainted reputation for gun crime and high homicide rates, the island is relatively safe to visit and boasts a much lower crimes rate than other US cities. Anti-crime efforts, social and political change, and successful tourism initiatives have led to a decrease in violent crime in recent years.
The US government and San Juan police launched a crackdown on drug smuggling and human trafficking in 2019 to combat the crisis of violence. Puerto Rico’s homicide rate per capita is now more than half of that in Jamaica, Venezuela, and Honduras, and among the lowest rates in Latin America. But poverty and inequality still threaten the safety of Puerto Rico, with trafficking, interpersonal violence, and domestic disputes remaining high.
Luckily for tourists, most violent gun crime and murder rates relate directly to gang activities, with 80 percent of homicides being drug-related. This tends not to affect travelers making Puerto Rica a safe place to visit. Visitors can be affected by petty crime, and pickpocketing does happen in touristy areas. But remaining alert and choosing the right Puerto Rican neighborhood will keep you and your money safe.
Natural hazards pose a massive threat to Puerto Rico, and some argue that the weather should be more of a concern to visitors than the crime. There’s a yearly hurricane season from June to November, with September being the most active for tropical storms. But there’s no way to predict when a hurricane will hit and with what severity.
The weather shouldn’t deter you from visiting Puerto Rico. In fact, tourists are encouraged to visit outside of September and October to help them recover from the devastating impacts of previous storms.
Still, you should be especially careful to protect yourself with travel insurance in the case of disrupted flights, even if visiting from within the United States. Tourists should also be extra conscious of mosquitos during the wet season. Tropical conditions can make certain areas prone to high numbers of these blood-sucking insects.
Learn more about the mosquito season in Puerto Rico in our guide.
Is Puerto Rico safe for solo travelers?
Solo travel can be the best way to uncover adventure and explore at your own pace. We’re big advocates for traveling alone, but does this apply to Puerto Rico?
The main risk of traveling alone in Puerto Rico is petty crime or isolating yourself in the case of a natural disaster. There’s the threat of human trafficking on the extreme end, but this is just as much of a worry in US mainland cities. If you keep your wits about you, there’s no need to worry.
Puerto Rico’s laws and safety advice are mainly similar to the rest of America. Even as a female, traveling alone is not unusual or ill-advised on the island. You will stick out more than locals as a solo foreigner. Women might need to navigate harassment and unequal treatment, but this usually takes verbal form and won’t materialize into a threat.
Puerto Ricans are warm, welcoming, and accepting. They’re likely to offer advice, directions, and even shelter if you’re exploring off the grid. The island is excellent for backpacking, and there are friendly hostels perfect for lone travelers all over. Men can be over-friendly to females and have outdated attitudes in terms of social dynamics. Still, you can often shut this down by being firm but polite when declining advances.
Both males and females traveling alone are more at risk of petty theft, so be extra aware of your surroundings if you lack strength in numbers. Puerto Rico isn’t dangerous for solo travelers, and if your safety and security remain a priority, you’re unlikely to face any issues exploring alone.
Is public transport safe in Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico is cheap to get around, and renting a car is considered the best way to get around. Taxi, and now Uber too, is an option, and you’ll get to see more of the island if you can travel freely at your own pace. While intercity train services don’t operate on the island, the Tren Urbano is a heavy-rail commuter service between the cities of Bayamón, Guaynabo, and San Juan travelers.
Most cities also have bus services too, frequented by locals and commuters. The Tren Urbano and intercity bus routes are cheap, but these services are inefficient, time-consuming, and unattractive to tourists. The busses get jam-packed and uncomfortable. While public transport is primarily safe in Puerto Rico, you’ll need to be extra careful of your belongings. Pickpocketing can be high on buses and trains, especially as tourists will stand out like sore thumbs in the hoards of locals.
Public transport is poorly connected across the island, and you could lose money or get lost if you attempt to navigate the local services instead of seeking private transfers.
Is Puerto Rico Safe at Night?
The Caribbean has some truly AWESOME nightlife, and Puerto Rico is no exception! No matter where on the island you find yourself, there is plenty going on at night and we don’t blame you for wanting to stay out all evening dancing the night away! However, as always there are some precautions you should take to keep yourself safe.
There are certain areas in Puerto Rico that you will want to steer clear from once the sun sets. These are Piñones, Santurce, Parque de las Palomas, Puerta de Tierra, and La Perla. It may be tempting to head there at night since these places are safe during daylight hours, but we don’t recommend it.
Some general advice to always follow is to use your common sense, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to be rude and leave. Your safety should always come first and you should follow your instincts. It’s safe to walk around the touristy areas of San Juan at night, but you should never walk alone, and avoid unlit paths and alleys.
Keep an eye on your drinks and don’t accept drinks from strangers that you didn’t see being made. We also advise against getting super drunk (sorry) and staying out too late (jeeez, MOM), as most incidents, like anywhere, happen when it’s late and everyone is just a little too drunk.
Is it tap water safe in Puerto Rico?
As a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico supposedly upholds the same food and drink standards as mainland America. It is considered safe to drink tap water in Puerto Rica as it is filtered and treated at the source, but things can be hit-and-miss outside the cities.
Many locals in rural areas prefer bottled water, and this can be a good rule of thumb to follow if you’re traveling the country. It’s also best to avoid getting ice in your drink in areas that are off the grid, like the remote islands and ramshackle beach bars you might find yourself at.
You can stick to tap water in the cities and reduce your plastic consumption by using refillable bottles and refrigerating water from the tap yourself. This also means market food and restaurants salads are likely to be clean and safe, too, although it is always best to rinse fresh produce again when you get home.
Is it safe to travel to San Juan?
San Juan is Puerto Rica’s capital and largest city, known for its nightlife, colonial architecture, and cobblestoned old quarter. It is the oldest city under US jurisdiction and a major cruise ship destination. San Juan is generally safe, but tourists should avoid some neighborhoods.
Visitors, especially those traveling alone, are advised to avoid La Perla, El Parque de las Paloma, and Puerta de Tierra and exercise extra caution at night like in any US city. The large housing complex or “Caserio,” Luis Llorens Torres, is also an epicenter for crime, and visitors are advised to find accommodation elsewhere.
Puerto Rico is an exotic country with diverse wildlife, but it is not known for its predators. Learn more about the potential threat of Puerto Rico’s animals here.
7 Safety Tips for Puerto Rico
Separate your personal belongings – Keeping all your money and most precious belongings in one wallet or bag means, if that goes missing, everything does. The highest crime risk for tourists in Puerto Rice is petty theft. Spread your money around your person, don’t rely on cash, and consider carrying a money belt.
Travel with a sim card – Adventures happen off the beaten track, but you don’t want to get lost in Puerto Rico. If you’re traveling from the states, you’re in luck! Your US cell phone should work just fine. However, if you’re coming from anywhere else, investing in a cheap local sim will help you with everything from maps, reading reviews on the go, and keeping up with family. Get a sim before you go off the grid and also tell family and friends where you’re going and with who.
Make friends with other travelers – The best way to be the solo travel blues is to meet like-minded travel buddies to keep you company. Staying in sociable accommodation and chatting to people in bars and restaurants could give you a few new drinking buddies. But use your judgment before opening up, and don’t over-share when it comes to your plans and situation.
Try to blend in – Taking a look around at what the locals are wearing and doing can be a great way to feel more comfortable, especially as a solo traveler. This makes you less of a target for petty theft and can curb unwanted attention. Learning a little Spanish can also help. Most locals speak English, but you won’t seem like such an unsuspecting tourist if you can get by in the native tongue.
Stick to your limits – Like anywhere, getting over-intoxication can cloud your judgment and affect your senses. You don’t want the struggle of not finding your way home or making yourself appear vulnerable. Know your limits, don’t accept drinks from strangers, steer clear of all drugs, and don’t leave beverages unattended. In Old San Juan, the ‘Blue Laws’ also state that you can’t drink in the streets. Be aware of where you are, and don’t break the law!
Do your research – If you’re reading this article, you’re already making a great start. But before you visit Puerto Rico, whether alone, in a group, or with kids, do your research about which neighborhoods to avoid and pay extra attention to reviews written by travelers like you.
Ask locals for advice – Most Puerto Ricans are warm and accommodating. Known for their friendly and energetic demeanors, asking locals where to go, what to eat, and where to stay will find you the best spots in Puerto Rico. They know the island better than anyone, and they’ll also be willing to help if you’re ever in distress.
Is Puerto Rico poor?
In Puerto Rice, 45 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, making it the poorer US state or country equivalent. The government is notorious for overspending and failing to prioritize the people, which hasn’t helped the poverty crisis. However, Puerto Rico has the highest GDP per capita compared to other Latin American countries, and employment rates are on the rise.
Is Puerto Rico safe at night?
Puerto Rica is a safe place to visit, but you should exercise caution at night, especially around remote and residential areas or when drinking alcohol. Keep an eye on your belongings at all times, and don’t go for midnight beach strolls as it’s easy to make yourself a target to crime.
When is the best time to visit Puerto Rico?
Puerto Rico benefits from a warm climate year-round, but the summer sees hurricane risks soar, and travel is not advised in September and October. Mid-April to June is a great time to visit when winter sun-seekers have dissipated, but the scorching summer months and tropical storms are not yet around the corner. December to March sees some of the best weather, with clear blue skies and calm seas, but a massive influx in tourists means prices are at their highest, and crowds of tourists can disturb Puerto Rica’s charm.