- Chloe Chapdelaine
1st Time Puerto Rico Guide, Things I Wish I Knew
Around a year ago as I sat in the cold (hating the fact I was sitting in the cold), I decided, “Yup, it’s time for another vacation.” Little did I realize that last-minute decisions to book flights to tropical countries would be something I would take for granted. Since March 2020 I have been staying in Canada (and exploring the stunning province of Alberta that I am proud to call home), but every now and then I feel a twinge of guilt as the desire to pack my bags and catch a flight crosses my mind, which is why I've decided to reminisce on an amazing trip I took to Puerto Rico from February, 2020.
Let me start off by saying I love Canada. I am extremely proud to be Canadian and love everything from the culture, to the people, to the landscapes, to the food. However, as much as I love Canada, I have to admit I’m not a winter person. I grew up in the middle of the prairies where pursuing winter sports wasn’t much of an option, and spent nearly all of my days indoors drinking hot chocolate. Even after leaving my home town, this attitude never really seemed to lift (despite a valiant effort at spending more time outdoors in the cold) and so I can confidently call myself a summer person.
Despite our summers being stunning, unfortunately they seem to last as long as a glass of wine on a Friday evening. So that leaves me, well, cold.
With the dropping temperatures also follows my attitude, tolerance for things, and motivation to go out and do things, so naturally I would always book a few hot escapes to keep me sane (and yes- I have been diagnosed with seasonal affective depressive disorder, so technically this is right what the doctor ordered... so yeah, this year is definitely taking its toll on me).
After realizing halfway through January that yeah, I was probably going to need a vacation soon, I booked the cheapest hot-destination I could find: Puerto Rico!
Here’s some things you may want to note for your first time travel that I learned from experience:
1. If you fly into the states (or live there already) before Puerto Rico, it’s considered a domestic flight and you don’t need to present your passport or any ID before entering. For example, I flew from Calgary to New York where I needed to go through customs. However, my connecting flight from New York to San Juan didn’t require any new security stops, and they didn’t even ask me to present any ID or my passport to board the flight, only my boarding pass!! Crazy, eh?? Side note: because this is connected with the states, expect to use American money.
2. When renting a car, take a close look at the policies on your credit card and see if it helps with rental car insurance. When renting a car, you can be completely caught off guard with unexpected insurance fees, but a lesser known fact is some credit cards actually include this as a service so you can avoid them in the long run. For example, my credit card with TD covers collision, loss, and theft insurance for rental cars up to the price of the car, so by denying the policies offered at the rental car company I was actually saving myself a LOT of money!
3. When renting a car, expect a charge for “electronic tolls.” It costs about a $15 activation fee and $10 a day, but means you can drive anywhere in the island and bypass an e-roll station. If you don’t register your car and pay the daily fee, you will get a $50 USD penalty charge per toll you drove through. Google maps didn’t indicate to us where these were, so it was handy to pay for beforehand because they would have added up really fast. Also, although speeds are measured in miles per hour, distances are measured in kilometers.
4. Puerto Rico has a wide selection of STUNNING AirBNBs. If you’re feeling adventurous and like trying something different than a traditional hotel, check the AirBNB app to see romantic and unusual locations like treehouses, villas with infinity pools, and glamping experiences. The best part is that a lot of them are affordable and comparable to the cost of a hotel, you just need to be brave and dare to try something new (personally, the AirBNBs we stayed at were some of my trip highlights- and I liked them much better than the hotels).
5. The main language in Puerto Rico is Spanish, but as an English speaker, I found a lot of locations and services cater to speak English if you're sticking to more "touristy areas." However, I absolutely recommend still learning Spanish basics, especially if you're going more inland or away from tourist spots. When we went inland to check out some more remote areas, no one spoke English and I was really glad I had been using the the DuoLingo app for a month prior to going on the trip.
6. Bring a raincoat! They call it a rain forest for a reason, and I am so glad I had a raincoat with me for the trip. Although the rain often didn't last for long (and it wasn't cold like Canadian Rain), it still sprinkled for short bouts nearly every day, and it was handy to have something to throw on when this happened.
7. Be aware of manholes. One second you're driving and the next it feels like you've just hit a person and blown out a tire. Unlike in Canada, where these are flush in the ground and you don't notice them, in Puerto Rico most of them stuck out of the road and would be quite the jolt if you hit it. Just be sure to practice your swerving reflexes!
8. I highly recommend the giant avocados. I don't know why I thought avocados only came in the small size that fits in your palm from grocery stores, but boy, I was wrong. At the fruit stands on the side road (which are an affordable way to get delicious fruit), we noticed these giant avocados (like, literally the size of my head) and I still dream of these every day.
9. Just because a police car has its lights on doesn't mean it's pulling you over. The first time I saw a cop behind me flashing (I believe the lights were green, not blue and red) I nearly had a heart attack. Then, I realized that all the cops drive around with their lights on all the time. I asked a local why they did this and he responded something like, "Well how else would we know where they are?"
10. Just because a beach is known for being a popular spot doesn't mean the lesser-known beaches are less beautiful. Some of the prettiest beaches we explored had no-one there! Take time to do your own research on where you want to explore (coast/ rain forest/ city/ etc.) and enjoy it!
And that's a super condensed version of little things I wish I knew that I couldn't find online when going to Puerto Rico! This trip was amazing, and the culture and people in Puerto Rico were so wonderful and kind that I can't wait for borders to open up so I can go back. Happy & safe travels!