Car hire advice for the city of San Juan and the island of Puerto Rico:
- El Yunque — explore this superb forested region on the south of the island, one of the great natural wonders of the Caribbean.
- Ponce – if you just visit once town on the island, drive over to wonderfully colourful Ponce!
- Arecibo Observatory — when it comes to hulking great mega structures in exotic tropical locations, few places can rival the enormous Arecibo Observatory, which has been given global exposure in the film Contact, and subsequently as the location for the finale of the James Bond film Goldeneye. The dish is a little bit grubbier than the films make it out to be, but it is still a truly gargantuan site that is like no other, as even though there is no drainable lake (as per goldeneye), the structure is still built into the undulating volcanic landscape. Forget about trying to get remotely close to this extra terrestrial location in public transport, the only way to get here is in a hire car.
- Explore the island — just as we would say anywhere, a hire car is going to give you a lot more flexibility than any other means of getting around, and Puerto Rico can take several hours to cross from east to west.
- Limited public transport — there is no regional or intercity railway on Puerto Rico, and buses around the island are also fairly limited. In Europe, we would say that a public transport oriented city will enable you to start your visit with a train ride into town from the airport, but in the Caribbean, a city is doing well if it even has a bus to and from the airport. I last visited Puerto Rico in 2007, and wasn’t aware of any such bus then, although you can now at least take a bus into downtown San Juan. The city does also now have a metro, although its range is very poor compared to other European or even North American cities with urban rail systems.
- Rum – (Bacardi) – visit the largest rum distillery in the world at Catano. Only problem is, you have to drive to visit the drinks distillery! Needless to say, don’t sample too much of the product!
[whynot city=”San Juan”]
- Dangerous driving — I’ve never driven in Sicily or any other South American countries which are reputed to have extremely dangerous roads, but Puerto Rico is certainly the worst place I have ever actually driven in. It feels like a combination of the worst elements of American sprawling highway planning combined with that Latino temperament. Within seconds after joining the main highway out of Lewis Munoz Marin airport I was involved in the very near collision with another car, and of course I’m going to say it wouldn’t have been my fault — I had just arrived from continental America, so I was already perfectly used to driving on the right and driving automatics! If you are going to hire a car in San Juan, be prepared to do battle!
- First resort — most of the major resort hotels serving the San Juan area are along a strip of beach which is very close to the airport itself. Some hotels will lay on a shuttle bus, whereas to get to other hotels, you shouldn’t have to spend more than a few minutes in a taxi.
- By Caribbean standards, taxis in San Juan are extremely reasonable.
- Old town San Juan — you might have to fight your way through sprawl to get out of the airport, but once in the city of San Juan itself, you will find a delightfully historic UNESCO protected old town. You shouldn’t have any problem finding a parking garage, but this area is definitely one just to walk around.
- Metro — San Juan does a least now have a sparkling new Metro system (Tren Urbano), the first urban mass transit on any Caribbean island. However, it is just one single line, and in many places it follows the American run down the middle of a highway model, so it is neither particularly pleasant to use, nor all that useful as a means of getting around. However, plenty of municipal buses are available within the San Juan metropolitan area. Outside greater San Juan, you will find a taxi hub in each main town, and shared taxis operate within the larger towns and from one town to the next.
- Bioluminescant Bay — even more fascinating, visit Vieques Island for its superb luminous bay – an effect created when the micro organisms in the water get disturbed. A whole range of conditions are needed to create this effect, so there are only a handful of such places in the world. To get here, you will need to take a ferry from Fajardo on mainland Puerto Rico or fly from Luis Munoz airport, so a hire car is of little benefit! Corcho Beach is also consistently rated as one of the best in the world.
- Cruise connections — many people passing through San Juan are joining or leading cruise ships, so if you are considering whether or not to get a hire car for just a few hours or even a day or two, it is probably best not to get one.
Do you need a car in San Juan? Conclusion — getting a hire car in San Juan will obviously give you more flexibility to explore the island, just as it would anywhere else. On the other hand, given the huge hassles involved with driving in Puerto Rico, and the fact that public transport here, whilst poor by European or coastal North American standards, is light years ahead of any other Caribbean island. For this reason, we suggest thinking twice before getting a hire car in San Juan.
Verdict — no