Lacking in vitamin D and in need of a break from the mounds of Midwestern snow we received last winter, my husband and I decided we needed a budget-friendly, sun-filled getaway.
As we scoured discount travel sites on the Web, we were pleasantly surprised to find deals to several enviable locations. In the end, we decided to go to Puerto Rico for several reasons, not least of which were price and ease.
Puerto Rico is officially part of the United States, so you don’t need a passport to enter the country if you are a U.S. citizen (but of course be sure to bring your passport or state issued ID to get through security or rent a car once you get there). Since Puerto Rico uses the U.S. dollar, there is also no need to change currency or do on the spot price conversions while touring, shopping or grabbing a bite to eat. Nearly all Puerto Ricans speak English, so you don’t have to rely on your rusty high school Spanish to get you through (unless you want to, of course).
Most flights going to Puerto Rico from the continental U.S. leave from either Miami or New York. Getting to these major cities is relatively easy. The in-flight time from New York to San Juan is three and a half hours and Miami to San Juan is only 2 and a half. Because many carriers offer flights to San Juan, prices are typically quite low (in comparison to other warm destinations). We booked our tickets for $350 each in 2009. San Juan’s International airport is located within the San Juan metro area.
If you’re planning to stay in San Juan, a cab ride to your hotel won’t be very expensive (and all of the major hotels have free shuttles). However, if you plan on staying further out (like in the surf haven of Luquillo), you may want to consider renting a car. There are buses that traverse the island, but they don’t run as frequently as some travelers would like.
If you stay out of the touristy areas of San Juan (San Juan, the Condado Strip), accommodations are quite reasonable. We stayed in a boutique hotel in the Condado (a few blocks off of the glitzy casinos that line the beachfront). For $100 per night, we enjoyed a beautiful, clean room, rooftop hot tub and daily continental breakfast. Of course, there are less expensive options the further away you get from the water. There is also a reputable hostel in San Juan (Hosteria Del Mar Hotel San Juan).
There are plenty of opportunities to find great “street food” at food carts in San Juan or roadside stalls once you get out of the city proper. Traditional Puerto Rican cuisine is hearty and inexpensive. One of the best places to go in San Juan is Café del Angel (Ashford Avenue 1106, Condado). The spacious but simple two-room restaurant/bar is a favorite with locals. The servers are used to dealing with “out of towners” and are more than happy to describe in detail any dish on the comprehensive bilingual menu.
A trip to San Juan would not be complete without a stop at El Hamburger (402 Munoz Rivera Avenue, near the La Ocho beach and surf break), a favorite among surfers and locals. El Hamburger serves up affordable, juicy burgers with all the fixin’s. In addition to classic cheeseburgers and bacon cheeseburgers, El Hamburger also offers an impressive Roquefort burger and some of the best fries I’ve ever had. Wash it all down with a Medalla or a Corona with lime. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the bill (we never paid more than $20 for two people).