Driving in Puerto Rico is one of the most memorable parts of my trip, unfortunately, that it is not necessarily a good thing. Without a rental car in Puerto Rico, you will have a harder time exploring the beautiful island or have to spend a lot of money on tours. But there are things you should know before you make the decision to rent a car, which I do still recommend.
To give you a little context to this post, I learned how to drive in Southern California and many of my friends, especially my ex-boyfriend, would describe as an aggressive LA driver. I’m not nervous at high speeds or people veering in and out of lanes. But in Puerto Rico, my craziest adventure was not snorkeling or the bio-luminescent bay but instead it was driving.
I rented a car for five days and while it was worth it for the freedom to explore, especially at only $90 including gas (click here for some travel sites to find good deals), it was a very stressful experience. Puerto Rican drivers take a more European approach to driving, there might be rules but really as long as you don’t hit anyone they can be ignored.
The roads are also much steeper in many areas than I am used to, and yes I drive in San Francisco regularly. Plus, the roads aren’t in great shape. What I would think was just a little pothole often turn out to be much deeper and significant. So we will start with a story and then have some reasons on why you should still get a rental car and some tips to make it easier.
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I Ripped the Bumper Off the Rental Car
During the trip, I got to a point where I was feeling anxious every time I knew I was going to have to drive. I finally felt like I was getting the hang of it when we went to dinner in Fajardo, actually, the best place we ate on the trip (El Estacion – find it on my to-do list). The place was very popular and the parking lot was full. People were parking along the side of the road where there were just trees and bushes. I thought we might as well follow along and thought I found a space that had room, but it turned out there wasn’t. Unfortunately, what I couldn’t see was a cable running right where we backed into. As I pulled away I heard a bit of a crack and pop, and as I drove onto the road and heard a huge dragging noise. At first, I thought it was a flat tire but it turned out I ripped half the bumper off.
It was a huge adrenaline rush in which I tried not to freak out. I didn’t get the extra insurance and although mine covered it, I knew it would be a huge hassle and definitely increase the cost of our trip. In the pitch black on a small Puerto Rican road, with the bumper just dangling there, we pulled and struggled until eventually, we got the bumper to hook back into place. Thankfully, now there was a spot in front of the restaurant and I was able to quickly get a Pina Colada in my hand to calm me down. In hindsight, I wish I had taken photos of this moment so I could go back and laugh but at the time it was the furthest thing from my mind.
Recommendation & Tips for driving in Puerto Rico
With all of this I wouldn’t try to deter you from renting a car in Puerto Rico. I would actually recommend it. You can get some great deals and this allows you to explore much more of the island, like my favorite nature adventures. Without a car, we would have either been stuck in San Juan or would have spent a lot more money on tours. What you do need to know is be prepared. Here are just a few suggestions:
- If you’re heading off the beaten path, especially around the rain forest, get a bigger car. Our little Ford Fiesta didn’t do so well when we took an indirect route to our hotel just outside of El Yunque. It was questionable if we were going to make it up some of those hills. You might not need four wheel drive, but you definitely need more than four cylinders.
- Get the E-Pass. It only cost us 95 cents a day from our rental company and it allows you to use the toll roads at a cheaper fare and without having to wait in a long line to pay the fee. Anything you’d call a freeway in the U.S. is a toll road. The highways are more like main streets and take much longer to get around. It was well worth it.
- Potholes are often much bigger and deeper than they look. You’ll understand once you back into one, but I’d recommend avoiding them more than you normally do.
- On local roads, people will disregard the lanes and drive in the center of the road. Make sure to be careful as you go around turns and corners.
- If there is any room for someone to pass or squeeze through they will try and make it. And surprisingly even when I thought there was no way they could they did.
- Just because everyone else is driving crazy doesn’t mean you should. Make sure to drive how you are comfortable and don’t worry about everyone else.
Don’t Be Scared and Make Sure to Get Out to Explore
If you’re heading to Puerto Rico do not be intimidated by this post and don’t hesitate to rent a car. What is most important is being able to get out and explore everything the island has to offer. If you’re still looking for thing to do, don’t miss my to-do list.
Traveling to Puerto Rico Soon?
Do you have any crazy driving experience from your travels? Where and how did they turn out? Leave a comment below.