Car Rental in Puerto Rico is Worth it!
All my life I’ve been a public transportation lover, but as I researched our Puerto Rico trip in the weeks before we went, a theme kept recurring: “Get a rental car!” everyone “in the know” advised.
But why? Why is having a car so essential in Puerto Rico when we’ve traveled just fine to other locations without our own vehicle?
Once Colin, traveling baby, and I arrived on the island and picked up our car rental, however, it became clear why we needed it. Here are the nine reasons you should rent a car in Puerto Rico.
1. Car Rental Gives Freedom.
There is little public transport in Puerto Rico, so if you don’t rent a car, your options are to stay in one small area, to purchase package day tours, or to muddle through the public transport that exists. All of these are possible, but we felt so much more free and empowered in Puerto Rico with our own car.
Our trusty vehicle took us through the shockingly narrow cobblestone streets and famous Puerto Rico forts of Old San Juan to the far west coast, deep into the island’s interior, to the far east coast with zero problems.
2. Puerto Rico Beach Access!
Puerto Rico has phenomenal beaches, and the famous ones as well as the lovely hidden ones are easily accessible by car… and a big pain to get to without one.
3. Renting a Car Enables Adventure.
Many of the most thrilling parts of our Puerto Rico trip came when we decided on a whim to pull off the road into a small town, grabbing a yummy bite to eat or sipping the milk from a freshly chopped coconut by a random beach off the tourist trail.
This was far easier since we had our own wheels. Do not underestimate the quantity of charming hidden spots all around Puerto Rico.
4. A Rental Car Provides Comfort.
Puerto Rico is hot, constantly. How delicious it is to be in control of your own air conditioning in your own car! How nice not to have to load your stuff on and off of a bus, or share your space with a dozen other sweaty folks! Further, the main roads are in good condition, and even the twisty mountain ones in the interior are doable by taking it slow.
5. El Yunque Rainforest is Easiest by Car!
The rainforest in Puerto Rico is a must-see attraction, but did you know you can drive right into and through it, popping out of the car at various outlooks?
We took full advantage of this, since our baby is small, and we were advised that many of the hiking trails would be too slippery to take him on. Thanks to our car, we were still able to get a ton of fun out of El Yunque. (Click this affiliate link for info on our nice hotel near El Yunque.)
6. Puerto Rico is the Perfect Size for Driving.
Puerto Rico is a delicious driving size. It took us just three hours to drive across the whole island the long way, so in the two weeks we had there, we were really able to explore a bunch of nooks and crannies, giving us a satisfying feeling that we were not missing out.
7. Nature is More Accessible by Car.
We adored how lush and natural Puerto Rico was, and most of the best nature is spotted on narrow side roads. Our favorite sights were the shockingly red “Flamboyant Trees,” and the lazy cows (both pictured below).
8. Arecibo Observatory is a Puerto Rico Gem.
2020 update: The Arecibo Observatory has tragically collapsed! I will keep this section in this article in the hopes that it will be rebuilt.
The largest radio telescope in the world is located in Puerto Rico’s interior, down a winding series of country roads, and it is not to be missed.
It was even featured in the movies “Contact” and James Bond’s “Goldeneye!” Nearby are the famous Camuy Caves, but we didn’t get a chance to stop because of a certain baby diaper situation paired with exhaustion.
9. Smartphone GPS Works in Puerto Rico.
Did you know that U.S. smartphones work perfectly in Puerto Rico, with no extra fees? (At least in our experience — Double check with YOUR phone company.)
This means that Americans like us can roam around the island with no maps except for our little electronics, exploring and enjoying hither and yon. It made planning the trip and navigating a joy.
Important Note: Though we loved our Puerto Rico renal car, it’s important to remember that driving in a new place can be tricky, and PR can pose some different challenges than you’re used to. Please use caution while navigating on the island.
Logistics of Puerto Rico Car Rental
Now you’re convinced to get your own wheels, right? Lovely. So what else do you need to know about car rental in Puerto Rico? First, there are a number of rental companies to choose from, all located conveniently in the airport. See the affiliate links below for resources, knowing they provide a small commission at no extra cost to you.
KAYAK has quality car deals, as does Travelocity, and Expedia.
We ended up using CarRentals.co.uk and had a good experience, though Colin was mightily disappointed that I wouldn’t allow him to blow our vacation budget on a red Mustang sports car. Our snazzy silver non-Mustang served us just fine, though, thank you very much.
Vieques and Culebra with a Rental Car
Second, remember that you CANNOT take a rental car from the main island on the ferry to Vieques or Culebra — you have to either rent another car on those islands or just use taxis and other forms of transport. (Click for Vieques car rental deals.) This fact totally changed our plans when we realized it at the last minute, so heed it well!
In Short: DO Rent a Car for Puerto Rico!
In the end, all those people who told us to rent a car in Puerto Rico were right. I can’t imagine how much tougher our trip would have been without a car, schlepping the baby and all our stuff on various buses, but I do know that I would have missed out on a whole lot of chilled coconuts that we sipped along oceanfronts the whole island long, not to mention all the other goodies listed above!
Where to Stay in Puerto Rico:
- We liked (affiliates here) this lovely San Juan hotel (click for info)
- We also enjoyed the Luquillo Sunrise Inn, just 15 minutes from El Yunque rainforest.
- For a ranking of the best hotels in Puerto Rico, click here.
- Another great option is to get a vacation rental in Puerto Rico (click for my favorite site for this).
Puerto Rico Tours and Guidebooks:
- Check out this awesome search engine for Puerto Rico tours of all kinds!
- Browse Puerto Rico travel guidebooks on Amazon.
Want more travel advice? Here are all the rest of my Puerto Rico articles. Buen viaje!
We were provided with our car by CarRentals.co.uk, but all opinions and cow rump photos are my own. Some links here are affiliates, providing a commission at no extra cost to you. Gracias!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!
Monday 19th of April 2021
That's a great location! You should visit it once travel gets going again!
Wednesday 30th of October 2019
Going to Puerto Rico on the 5th of November, I haven't been there in 40 yrs. When I was 4yrs old in 1954 I lived on the west coast of the island for 13 yrs. Don't ask me why I'm going there it's something I've got to do. I've rented a car and a hotel room in Boqueron p.r. hope to see you there.
Thursday 31st of October 2019
What a wonderful to revisit a place that has been important to you! Have a WONDERFUL trip!!!
Tuesday 4th of July 2017
Thanks for the article. I know it is a few years old, but maybe you still monitor it. We are planning a trip to PR this summer and the only part of the trip for which I have not reserved a rental car is our 2-day stay in San Juan upon arrival. Is a rental car necessary to get around in San Juan or are the attractions walkable? Our hotel is in city center if that means anything. Thanks!
Tuesday 4th of July 2017
Hi Janet, Thanks for your question! I think you could be fine in San Juan without a car. Even if you're not right at the attractions, there are taxis and there's public transport. Further, life is a little easier in San Juan without a car, because even though there are parking lots, some of the streets of Old San Juan are narrow, steep, and generally a challenge to navigate. In short: Either way should work. Hope this helps, and have a great trip!
Wednesday 19th of April 2017
I am planning a trip with my family and trying to figure out where is the best place to stay. I see so many hotels in San Juan, then Isla Verde I'm overwhelmed. We want a nice beach, with ocean views from the hotel, water activities nearby, shopping and site seeing with and a good price. Do you have any suggestions?
Wednesday 19th of April 2017
Hi Lexter, We had a nice experience at this hotel: https://www.aroundtheworldl.com/2014/09/15/san-juan-kids-hotel/ but there are many great options!
Sunday 25th of December 2016
Hi - What are your views on the safety and traffic situation in PR? Is it safe to travel around in the rental car? What are the places and times of day to avoid from a safety standpoint? Anything to watch out for on the traffic and roads side? Thanks much!
Wednesday 28th of December 2016
Hi Sushar, I've repeatedly heard that it's best to drive during daylight hours. We traveled during daytime and felt safe, but each experience varies. Good luck finding more current and specific information, and have a great trip!