Most travel guides to Puerto Rico focus on the immediate San Juan area. And for good reason. San Juan is huge and has a lot to offer from the Morro in Old San Juan to the Bacardi Rum factory and El Yunque rainforest is just down the road. However, anyone who plans to make the west coast of Puerto Rico part of their journey might need a few tips. Since we have recently been renting out our cabana to guests, more and more questions have arisen. I thought I would take the opportunity to answer some of them here.
1) How should I get to Rincon?
Air tickets. When you check the airfare, you will almost undoubtedly find that flights to San Juan are the cheapest and most plentiful. But how are you going to get from San Juan to the west coast? There are a couple of options. You can get a rental car in San Juan and drive the distance. Or you could hire a shuttle or taxi ($$). The trip could take anywhere from an 1 1/2 to 3 hour drive plus toll roads and some gnarly traffic.
Or you could skip San Juan and just come to west coast directly. If that is your plan there are basically two options. BQN (Aguadilla airport) or MAZ Mayaguez. BQN is about $100 more per ticket and you usually fly straight from the states in. The biggest drawback to BQN is that nearly all of the flights are horrible red eyes landing and leaving somewhere between mid-night and 3am. Our preferred arrangement and the one I always recommend is Cape Air that lands and leaves from the tiny airport in Mayaguez. You will first arrive in San Juan and then take this little puddle jumper small (8 seater) plane to Mayaguez. Not only is it about the same price ($100 round trip) you will arrive at a reasonable time of day. And the added bonus is that you will fly low to the island and see some amazing views!
2) How do I get around in Puerto Rico?
Getting around. All of Puerto Rico is sorely lacking in public transportation, but it is even more so on the west coast. There are basically no trolleys, trains or buses at all. Sure there are taxi services and Uber has even been branching out, but anywhere outside of San Juan is euphemistically called “la isla” by locals for a reason. That means it is just much more rural and with fewer amenities than the big city. Therefore, it is HIGHLY recommended that you have some form of transportation while here. There are a lot of fabulous things to see on this island with decent distances between, so a rental car would be the best option. Walking of course is always an option, and hitch-hiking is not unheard of, but it is much more limiting. So get a rental car if at all possible!
3) Will I get lost?
You may get lost when driving in Puerto Rico. There are many unmarked roads and not everything is found on the Tom Tom/Google Maps systems. Many houses have the same address as their neighbors (ours included), so you will have to go old school and often use visual landmarks as clues. Many time directions will include old things that locals will know about (the old cockfighting rink) but don’t exist anymore, especially after Maria took down some huge trees and even buildings. They will also almost always be given in Spanish unless you luck out with a bilingual person. Also keep in mind, that kilometer markers are often used to give directions. For example, Km 4.8 on the 413 is the EcoMaxx gas station.
4) Where should I stay?
Places to stay.
There are many places to stay from mid and high-end hotels like Rincon Beach Resort, Rincon of the Seas or even the elegant Horned Dorset. There are also very low-budget options including sleeping in a hammock at the beach (no, really!). Most people want something in-between and there are lots of options available on Craigslist, HomeAway, VRBO and AirBnB. I would suggest looking for one of these types of places if you want to have a local perspective and a “homey” feel. If you want a more hands off approach and a lot more amenities like room service, check out the wide variety in hotels and professional guesthouses.
Remember that power and water outages still affect all locations due to the ripple effects of Maria, aging infrastructure and lack of funds. Most of the time they are resolved in a day or so, but if this is a big concern, check with the establishment to see what kind of back up services they have (generators, water cisterns, etc).
5) What should I do while I am there?
Things to do.
Puerto Rico is a jewel of wonderful things to do and the west coast is brimming with them. Many people are beach connoisseurs and love the spectacular beaches of the area. There are beaches for all kinds of beach-y people as well. Beachcomber beaches (for sea glass, shells and other treasures), social beaches, private deserted beaches, white sand beaches, golden sand beaches, hidden beaches, rocky cove beaches, snorkeling beaches, surfing beaches, walking/jogging beaches, beaches near restaurants/bars/shops, etc.
But there is so much else to do on the west side of Puerto Rico including visiting amazing waterfalls, rivers and lakes, caves, museums, lighthouses, uninhabited tiny islands/mangroves and agrotouring coffee and other types of tropical farms. You can read about some of our many adventures to various places throughout this blog. Nearly all of the sites in Puerto Rico are back up and running after the hurricane.
Festival de las mascaras in Hatillo
Weekly/ seasonal events.
In Rincon there are two main weekly events: Art Walk every Thursday night from about 6-10 (then the party extends to the local bars afterward) in the plaza and the Sunday Farmer’s Market also in the plaza. Seasonally there are many festivals including the Festival de los Bueyes in Rincon in December as well as the Fiestas Patronales in September normally held in the Plaza Amistad. There are many other festivals all around celebrating various things like the bees in Lares, the Chinas (oranges) in Las Marias, the coffee in Maricao, the pineapple in La Parguera and many others. Ask around if there is a festival going on while you’re visiting.
6) What’s there to eat? Where should I eat?
Where/what to eat.
There are so many great places to eat in Puerto Rico, especially in Rincon. I personally love eating at places that have some sort of ambiance/view and this would be extra special when just visiting for a short time. Some of my favorites include Casa Islena, Tamboo, Calypso, Pepe’s Pizza in Stella, Harbor, Villa Cofresi, Picoteo (Anasco), Olajas (Aguada). Drive up into the steep hills and you can have a meal overlooking the entire peninsula such as at the English Rose. A good money-saving technique is to eat/get some of your food at the grocery store as well. It’s kind of fun to visit grocery stores of different parts of the world too.
While you’re in Puerto Rico, to get a taste of authentic Puerto Rican food you should definitely try locations that offer “Comida Criolla”. This simply means traditional cuisine. Try mofongo relleno de camarones, empanadillas, pasteles, arroz con gandules o habichuelas, cuajito, pinchos also try limbers (like an icee) and Malta (a non-alcoholic drink). For alcohol, chichaito is a favorite shot (anise flavored rum), rum is the favorite liquor, and Medalla is the beer of Puerto Rico. Pitorro (ron de cana) (moonshine) is also much beloved a favorite and everyone will have a way to make it/get it.
Where to drink.
Let’s face it, travelling to the tropics is often better with a cold drink in your hand. Puerto Rico is well-known for the little hole-in-the-wall bars called chinchorros or barritas. You will often find a pool table, a jukebox (bellonera) and sometimes even live music. You will nearly always find cold beer and basic tragos but probably not a full bar to make you a mojito or pina colada. For those, you’ll need to go to a larger restaurant/bar. Also, drinking straight from your cooler (neverita) is a welcome passtime at the beach or just in the parking lot. Just don’t get caught bringing in an outside drink from your car into a bar; finish it before you enter.
7) How do I prepare for Puerto Rico?
This is probably the most important thing when preparing for Puerto Rico! Traveling in general takes an adventurous mindset. This includes traveling to Puerto Rico. There are very few all-inclusive resorts in Puerto Rico, and for me, that was part of the appeal. You can really start to feel a part of the culture and the vibe of the island right away when you aren’t sequestered away behind a concierge desk, security guards and all your meals and drinks at a hotel. Puerto Rico has a pretty laid-back mindset and that means that, especially when traveling for the first couple of times, you should just go with the flow and keep your mind open and interested in the differences instead of judgmental. Out in the west coast on “la isla” (the countryside) there is an even more distinct feel than San Juan.
That is why traveling is so important and fun! You get to see how diverse the planet and the people who inhabit it really is! Be ready for things that will be uncomfortable and even a little scary. There are bugs including cockroaches and spiders, loud noises especially speaker trucks and reggaeton music, people speaking quickly and slurredly in Spanish, power and water outages and foods you may not enjoy at first. Go with it! Laugh at the absurdity of the situation and take a look at yourself. You will not only learn something from this place, but also about you and how you handle stress. I think the best advice I ever received was that before you make a commitment to be with another person (like getting married), travel with them first. You will get to see their true essence.
8) What’s the weather like?
Well, this is a tropical island! The weather is almost always nice and sunny. You certainly won’t need a winter coat, though a jacket might be good in some ultra air conditioned places. When outside please wear sunscreen or stay in the shade. I have seen so many tourists come here and become red lobsters after their first day of sun bathing. The UV index is often in the 9-11 range midday which means YOU WILL BURN! Be careful.
There are “seasons” of dry and rain, and there are even microclimates on the island from the dryland forest of Guanica near Cabo Rojo to the rainier areas in the mountains to the in-between of the Rincon peninsula. Make sure that you have some back-up plans in case of aguaceros (downpours) like maybe seeing a movie or going to a museum. And of course, there are occasionally hurricanes and tropical storms. Prices generally go down during the hurricane season/summer months but just keep this in mind.
Well, that’s a lot of information in just a few tips, and there is always more. I hope it helps! Feel free to ask questions to make this guide even more useful! Bienvenidos a Puerto Rico, enjoy your time!