Puerto Rico (San Juan)

By | 16th January 2018

Do you need a car in San Juan?

Do you need a car in Puerto Rico > Should you rent a car in Puerto Rico Puerto Rico > Puerto Rico ( SJU )
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Puerto Rico Car hire summary

Overall drive rating

Based on a weighted score across all factors, including driving roads, hire and fuel costs, road safety etc. [Full notes - drive rating]


Cheapest rate for one week

Based on cheapest economy car hire deal with no added extras. [full notes - basic costs]



  • Price alone isn't the only factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Puerto Rico but clearly it's an important one. See our "why" section for more figures.
How much should I expect to pay in the peak season? Based on cheapest deal during the summer holiday season. (Unless otherwise noted) [full notes - seasonal variations]




  • During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "whynot" section for more suggestions.
Free parking score Based on the number of hotels which offer free parking.Total 174 - of which 34 have free parking. [full notes - parking]




  • During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "whynot" section for more suggestions.

Puerto Rico public transport quick facts

"Top trumps" train score

Higher scores go to the systems which take you to the most amazing places.



  • [full notes - top trumps trains]
  • A good rail system doesn't mean you shouldn't hire a car, but it often means you have a decent range of options.

Overall public transport score

This is a more practical rating based on bus and rail travel.



  • [full notes - overall transit] buses | trams | metro | local & regional rail | national rail
  • Is public transport in Puerto Rico good value, or is it worth hiring a car just because it is cheaper overall?

Walking and Cycling Overview

Active travel score

This overall rating considers walking and cycling in and around Puerto Rico



Take to the waters!

This is a general rating for all types of water travel, including scheduled ferries, sea / rivers cruises and excursions in Puerto Rico


Need, worth & should!

Whether you have come here asking "do I need a car in Puerto Rico", "is it worth hiring a car in Puerto Rico", or whether or not you "should" hire a car here, these are all slight variations on a similar theme:

Do you need a car in Puerto Rico?

This is essentially based on whether or not public transport and other "non car" options are good enough to get around and beyond the city.

Is it worth hiring a car in Puerto Rico?

Is car hire good value, especially during the peak season? How does this compare with transit fares?

Should you rent a car in Puerto Rico?

Weighing up the above questions, if you are here for the first time AND asking about hiring a car, is it a good idea?

Car hire advice for the city of San Juan and the island of Puerto Rico:

Do you need a car in San Juan? Introduction

When someone asks "Do you need a car in San Juan?", this often breaks down to two key questions:

  1. Can you actually get around using public transport, or is a car all but essential?
  2. Is it worth hiring a car in San Juan? Is it good value for money, compared with non-car options?

Over the next few sections, we wil look at the pros and cons of driving in San Juan as a tourist, and ultimately weigh these up, so we can answer the key question of Should you rent a car in San Juan?

Why? Why not? Ratings Comments

Why should you rent a car in San Juan?

What are the main reasons for hiring a car here? Do you just want to drive locally? Do you want to go further afield, or should you even look at taking a road trip?

In terms of factors like the cost of the hire itself, fuel costs, road tolls and parking charges, is it worth hiring a car in San Juan?

  1. El Yunque — explore this superb forested region on the south of the island, one of the great natural wonders of the Caribbean.
  2. Ponce – if you just visit once town on the island, drive over to wonderfully colourful Ponce!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!

Why not? Visiting San Juan without a car

What is public transport like in San Juan? What about local conditions for walking or cycling? Can you rely on public transport and maybe a few taxis for most or all of your trip? Are there some times of year when it's easier to get by without a car than others? When should you rent a car in San Juan?

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. By Caribbean standards, taxis in San Juan are extremely reasonable.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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


Our slider ratings range from 0 (it isn't even possible to hire a car, e.g. Hong Kong) through to 10 (you really must rent a car here, e.g. Phoenix, Tampa). However, most places are somewhere inbetween these extremes, and this is where it gets more interesting! Further ratings breakdowns, including a much more detailed public transport rating, are currently being added. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

Would you hire a car in San Juan?

Have you driven in San Juan? Do you agree with our advice on whether or not it's worth hiring a car in San Juan?

Do you need a car in San Juan? For some or all of the time? 

Tell us what you think using the comments section below:

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