There are things that are not told by any tourism board when you are visiting a new country. Even though those things are easy to find online or in travel guides if we just take a look. Writing this does not make me happy. I must admit I am feeling a mixed of ashamed, embarrassed and pissed from listening to all the negative news stories that involve tourists. The first two feelings don’t need that much explanation. For years, Puerto Ricans have been known for being “warm people with huge hearts” unless they are driving a car. Definitely as a Puerto Rican, I feel kinda embarrassed from knowing that we are showing our worst face to our visitors. It is a shame. But, why does this piss me off? Because I believe there are many things that could be avoided by just making a proper Google search.
Here is my contribution to this matter. These are things I believe you need to know if you are visiting Puerto Rico:
1. NOT EVERYONE SPEAKS ENGLISH
No, being part of the States does not make us magically bilingual. This is an island with 400 years of history previous to the U.S. presence. Of course, there are a few people who are totally fluent and will make you feel in a less awkward situation. But please: don’t expect everyone to be fluent and do not get mad if someone doesn’t speak English. One of the differences between a traveler and a tourist is that travelers tend to understand that locals are people just like them, and will make an effort to at least be thankful in the local language of the place they are visiting. Most of the tourists believe locals are there to serve them. Don’t be a tourist in that matter.
2. If there are no locals walking by that area, why would you?
The other day a group of tourists got robbed in Condado. Condado is a widely known tourist area with amazing beaches and hotels, which is located right in the heart of San Juan. Crime these days is becoming more common in that area, and who are they looking for? Visitors, tourists.
How to avoid it? This is more about common sense. Try not to bring your valuables out at any time and try to be aware of your surroundings. It may happen at any time of the day, but it increases at night.
The other one was robbed in Santurce, in an area that you won’t see many locals walking around. If you don’t see locals there that much, try to avoid the area, and even more in nighttime. The area where they were walking is between a popular hostel and Wal-Mart! Try to get your groceries during daytime. If you’re planning to go out, it is better to call a cab.
3. When visiting El Yunque, DON’T GO AWAY FROM THE PATH.
Getting lost in El Yunque seems like some sort of a tourist hobby, but no, it’s not even funny. Some have died, others had better luck.
A week ago, a Swedish couple spent more than 20 hours lost there. They were found and they were fined for using a forbidden path. They even called 911, but did not remain in one place while the authorities were looking for them, which made their rescue harder. Is that using common sense?
A few days ago, that same thing happened with seven tourists. The moral of this story is not by any means that you should not visit El Yunque, but please, read the signs and walk using a path where you see other hikers. It’s not common to hear that a local got lost there, but tourists getting lost is almost becoming a cliché — like getting naked in Machu Pichu.
I will be a little harsh at this point, but keep in mind: You are visiting an island that is suffering its worst economic crisis in history. Rescuing someone definitely costs money to the state and to the people of this country. I suggest you use your gut instincts while going out to hike.
4. Public transportation is basically NON-EXISTENT
Don’t even ask about Uber. You don’t want to go there. Uber is not available here. Getting around the island might be your biggest expense. My three recommendations are:
Rent a car — It will be really expensive, but you’ll have control over where you’re going. The negative side? People on this island drive like crazy, so you must be VERY careful.
Taxi — The prices are ridiculously expensive for short distances, so only use them when needed.
My best advice:
5. Make friends with locals!
This is the best thing you could do to experience the island. Having a local friend will help you with any language barrier, especially during those times when people try to take advantage of you just because you don’t speak Spanish. Your local friend will also be there to show you those hidden gems outside the tourist areas in safer ways. Also, a local friend will help you with transportation issues around the island. Definitely this is your best option to move around the island.
6. This is not the place to hitch hike
As I told you before, if there are no locals walking around, most likely, it is a dangerous area. If you try to hitch hike, probably you will be ignored. People tend to be scared of bringing someone they haven’t previously met in their cars. Back to the previous point: Meet locals online before your trip.
This is not by any mean a “don’t visit Puerto Rico” article. I’m just warning so you will be able to enjoy it responsibly and be conscious of different situations you may encounter while visiting.
I want you to see the best from our island, and definitely to make you feel comfortable while you are experiencing your dream vacation!
If you want to know tips to enjoy your visit to Puerto Rico, check my post for Thrifty Travel.
Follow Brenda Mejia on Twitter: www.twitter.com/traveleira