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Puerto Rico on a Budget

We are heading to Puerto Rico for a week at the end of Feb. and would love to just chill in a funky beach town (or two) and do not a whole lot. Walk, wade, eat at the kioskos, a beer in a beach bar, watch the people strolling by. We used to go a lot to Mexico and stay in cheap (and perfectly fine) hotels, riding busses between towns. I am surprised to see the prices for hotels in the PR guide books. Lonely Planer calls "Budget Hotels" "Less than $120," and Fodor's pegs them as "Under $150." Gulp. Will look into AIRBNB. We are of an age (70) where dorm rooms in hostels are not our thing, but a private room in a hostel would be fine. We like a bit of adventure and are not picky. This is our first time to PR, and would appreciate any suggestions from a veteran traveler on where you think might suit us? Thanks.

Posted by
4684 posts

Dan, this is your first post ever on this board, one which doesn't specialize in the Caribbean. How did you choose to post here, please?

Are you from SE Alaska, or more remote? Where will you be flying from?

Posted by
3 posts

Tim: Might be my first post ever on anything, so am not very schooled in the conventions.

I saw that it was a European site, but saw that there were, nonetheless, some posts re Puerto Rico, so I thought I'd give it a shot. And I thought the Rick Steves folks might be more budget-conscious than the target audience of my guide books.
We're from Fairbanks, but we are down in the States now and will be flying our of Seattle to San Juan.

Posted by
2708 posts

Puerto Rico is not Mexico. It's a beautiful place but it's not cheap. Prices are identical to the USA for items like groceries and hotels. Restaurants if anything are higher cost. Getting around without a private car is a challenge. PR has a middle class feel to it, and probably has a higher standard of living than some US states.

I'm not a expert but I don't think the kind of beach experience you describe in Mexico exists here. Stretches of beach are short and not well connected, and most of the island has a rock shore. Surf is a problem on the north side of the island except sheltered beaches east of San Juan.

You could look at the Rincon area or Vieques island for a beach combing vibe but both are a long way from San Juan which is probably where you are flying. I've visited twice and there are pros: US dollar, no passport, domestic destination for bank and credit cards, home auto insurance is fully in effect, English widely spoken, and you can drink the water. It's a short flight almost due south from Boston or New York which is where most of the visitors are from.

It's a good 4 hours to drive from end to end which surprises people. There's a reason West Coasters visit Hawaii and Cabo: it's a haul to the Caribbean from the West Coast.

Posted by
4684 posts

Dan, are you aware that there are serious infrastructure problems in P.R. since the hurricanes a few years ago and even more recently? I'm sure all of the big hotels have backup power, but you don't show an interest (or the budget) for big hotel chains (!). It is relatively uncommon for people to plan a trip to the Caribbean (either plane or hotel bookings ... ) during mainland winter without booking months (repeat, months) in advance. I am sure that tourism to P.R. is way down, and this might be a rare year when you could go there at the last minute as you are now planning.

I have been to the Caribbean many times, and to P.R. twice. But I have not been there in 20 years. It's not like the non-US islands ... countries, I mean. There are plenty of "poor" Caribbean islands, but Puerto Rico has had economic problems for a long time now. Even in luxury resorts, beaches are public, so there is a vendor/t-shirt/annoyance problem on the beach. Our big hotel locked the gates to the beach at dusk, and patrolled the area with a guard. (That was NOT in San Juan, which has long hat a problem with petty crime on the beach at night.)

You are, in fact, proposing a more "Rick Steves" visit, I think, but you could be more explicit. Is it your objective simply to save money, or do you want to live with local people in a smaller town or city? People who wanted to do that in P.R. used to go to a place like Vieques, but with the closing of many American military bases, the local economy of remote places in P.R. has declined even more. I really doubt that there are many un-exploited beaches on the island.

I hope someone with more recent experience can reply to your inquiry. If you have not bought the plane tickets yet, I would suggest you consider a different island. But it is very late in the HIGH SEASON to do so.

Posted by
6752 posts

My DIL is from the south side of the Island and still has a family house there—standing and undamaged. My kids got tired of all the earthquakes, tsunamis threats, and rain last month during the Epiphany holiday, so went on line, and were able to rent a room for the family at a resort on the north coast, not far from San Juan at the very last minute. There was no problem finding a place not far from El Yunque and the kioskos.

We did a lot of land travel by bus from one end of Mexico to the other way back when. PR is Latin America but very different from Mexico. I hate to contradict about safety, but everyone I know has bars over the windows and doors. That said, PR coffee is wonderful. I have it mailed north regularly p, thanks to the US Postal Service.

Posted by
111 posts

Dan,
Good to hear from you. This would be the correct forum as you posted correctly in Beyond Europe. (Anything outside Europe)
Have been to Puerto many times. Stayed most often on the east side.
You will find most of the good beaches are part of a resort development.
Have been to the Luquillo Beach many times, it is a large bay backed by kiosks and palm trees. Sadly there are very few lodgings convenient to that beach. If you went into Luquillo town east of Luquillo Beach, I think you would be able to find an apt. On the beach or very close. I checked Air Bnb Luquillo and found some small Apts and condos for as low as $65 a night very close to the beach.
I was just in San Juan in between earthquakes and it is business as usual there. The earthquakes are in the south west and that is where the damages are centered. Luquillo is even farther than San Juan.
And yes they have bars on a lot of their windows. It is a carryover from Spain. In Puerto Rico, it is a combination of security, hurricane damage protection and ventilation. Give Puerto Rico some love they are needing tourist dollars. If you need some restaurant recommendations PM me.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you all so much for your tips. I was just amazed that anyone answered at all. Of course I am aware of the hurricanes, Tim. And of the recent earthquake. And that in all but a small part of the southwest, the hotels are doing fine. One reason for the trip was that I figured they could use the business, as Lynn says. I’ll likely avoid the beaches in front of luxury hotels, but if not I suspect I’ll be less annoyed by the local guys selling T-shirts than by the hotel’s clientele (who always remind me of beached belugas). Anyway, I poked around on the internet all day and found a few pretty good prices, like the ones Lynn mentioned (despite not getting around to it until the last—repeat last—minute). Only we’ll drive west out of SJU as soon as we land and spend our time along the west coast, on down to La Parguera. I think we picked the right island; it should be fun. Thanks again to all of you. Lynn: what is a PM?

Posted by
111 posts

Dan.
PM means private message.
My parents did a driving trip along the west coast a few years ago. They thoroughly enjoyed it. They stayed in Paradores (a group of inns scattered around the island some cheap some not so much)but I don't know how many of those are in existence at this time. My only hesitation for recommending the west side was the earthquake damage and when looking for reservations, I saw information about lodging for people who lost their homes to the earthquake.
PS In all the times I've been in Puerto Rico, I never have seen t-shirt sellers etc on the beach not the resort beaches nor public beaches. Now we did have some guys try to sell us fresh chicken when we were golfing and ran into the fisherman on the day they open the golf course to fishing, but never any t-shirt vendors.

Posted by
2708 posts

In all the times I've been in Puerto Rico, I never have seen t-shirt sellers etc on the beach not the resort beaches nor public beaches

On my 2 visIts I’ve also never seen these. And the feeling was always complete safety.

La Parguera does not have beaches although there may be pockets. The bioluminescent bay is good but go in a small boat. I ate in one of the worst, filthiest restaurants in my life here, most restaurants close mid afternoon in this town but this one stayed open, just east of the docks and back a street. Restaurante Puerto Parguera was the name. Rotten service, unpalatable food, 2 of us got sick, expensive, toilet so filthy I refused to let my children use it, very uncharacteristic of PR.