What to Pack for Puerto Rico

Stacey Ebert, Taylor Coil

Sitting on her beach chair on her favorite beach in Puerto Rico, a former colleague of mine books her return visit for the following year. She flies the same airline, books similar dates and always tries to grab a few extra weekends in her special spot throughout the year. A friend’s sister moved there to start her life with her new husband and a former student’s family spent American Thanksgiving there every year. When we visited, I can remember thinking this is one of the most relaxing holidays we’d ever experienced. I searched for shells, spent hours in and out of the water, practiced my Spanish with the locals, and ate exquisite foods.  

Sharing its unique island culture with visitors and locals, Puerto Rico is in an idyllic island locale. An American commonwealth set amidst a backdrop of neighboring islands in the Caribbean, this historic spot has a wealth of natural beauty, a beautiful language, deep history, and excellent cuisine. Visitors might arrive searching for that relaxed outdoor lifestyle, but will leave as a fan of tostones, surfing, and with an overwhelming desire to return.

Have you booked your ticket yet?

Puerto Rico: Know Before You Go

 

The flight time from Miami to Puerto Rico is approximately two and a half hours, and it’s less than four hours from NYC, with lots of direct flights. This means that for anyone on the East Coast of the USA, Puerto Rico is a very viable long weekend getaway. Hop a flight after work on Friday evening, be home by Monday night having spent three full days in the sunshine.

Puerto Rico is Part of the USA 

A self-governing commonwealth, Puerto Rico is part of the USA. US citizens only need a photo ID to travel to and from the US mainland to Puerto Rico. If you’re considering traveling onward from Puerto Rico, bring a passport.

Puerto Rico has a Caribbean Climate

The weather is tropical and beachable 365 days of the year, but be prepared for chilly evenings, rainy interludes and the possibility of hurricanes during the season.

No Currency Conversion Necessary

Puerto Rico uses the US dollar. Credit cards are welcome and ATMs provide US currency. Travelers might consider bringing smaller denominations for use in tipping and for small purchases outside the cities. Puerto Rican holidays are not inexpensive, but food and accommodations outside of the urban hubs are more affordable than those close to the action.

Public Transportation is Limited to Non-Existent

There are several ways to get around Puerto Rico. You could take public busses, but they don’t go everywhere. Hire a car, befriend a local, or go on a local day tour if you want to see more of the island. Transportation between islands is available by boat or small plane.

Communication With Locals

Both Spanish and English are official languages of Puerto Rico. Although many locals in the city will speak English, it’s best to learn some Spanish before you go in order to embrace the culture and communicate with people both in and out of the urban centers.

Legal Drinking Age is 18

Bring identifications with you if you’d like to participate in tasting the craft spirits of the rum capital of the world.

Travel Healthcare

Due to the tropical climate, Puerto Rico is prone to mosquitoes. Check the CDC or WHO websites prior to your journey for up to date medical travel warnings or suggested vaccinations. Typhoid vaccination is recommended. Zika is a risk, and dengue exists. Plan accordingly.

Puerto Rico is More Than Sandy Beaches

Puerto Rico is known for the water sports, outdoor lifestyle and relaxation, but there’s more to see than the beaches. Old San Juan exudes history, El Yunque (National Rainforest) is the only protected rainforest in the US, and the caving system here is one of the largest in the world. Get off the beach chair and the beaten track to explore a little deeper in Puerto Rico.

The Best Time to Travel to Puerto Rico

 

If you’re like me, travel is always on your mind. But, a good time for you to travel, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good time for Mother Nature. Puerto Rico, like many other Caribbean islands sits in the regular path of hurricanes. Although we can’t control the weather, we may be able to control our choice of travel dates.

Take the following into consideration when you plan your trip to Puerto Rico:

  • Hurricane season falls from the middle of July through the middle to end of November (be sure to purchase travel insurance if visiting then)
  • Peak/high season in Puerto Rico is between December – April
  • Consider visiting during shoulder season (late spring/early fall) for fabulous weather, better pricing and fewer crowds
  • Check cruise schedules before visiting (areas around the ports are busiest and most crowded during high/peak seasons)
  • Make an alternate plan if you have to reroute your holiday plans due to weather
  • Ideal travel time between March and early July

Puerto Rico Post Hurricane

 

We originally wrote this packing list in September of 2017, mere days before Hurricane Maria devastated the island and killed nearly 3,000 people. We haven’t published it until now, because it didn’t feel right to publish a packing list for a place that had so recently seen such massive destruction.

But fast forward to today, more than a year after the storm, and parts of Puerto Rico are ready for visitors again. Not just aid workers, but travelers.

In fact, I traveled to Rincon, a surfing town on the west side of the island, in November of 2018 to celebrate a friend’s 30 birthday. After that trip, our editor asked me to write a little bit about traveling to Puerto Rico after the hurricane. I can only speak with experience about San Juan, Rincon, and the roads in between. I didn’t visit the east side of the island (including Vieques and Culebra) on this trip, which reportedly suffered the worst of the storm.

Overall, I found urban areas on the North and West sides of Puerto Rico to be largely functional, from a tourism perspective. There were still plenty of tarps to be seen and the occasional still-blown-over tree, or street sign, or entire building. But roads were drivable, intact Airbnbs plentiful, and water was drinkable.

There were three moments from our trip where we felt impact of the hurricane:

One: Attempting to Find the Arrivals Section at the San Juan Airport

A little context is needed for this anecdote. My trip consisted of a group of six girlfriends who all flew into San Juan from different parts of the country. Five of us landed around the same time and picked up the rental car together after an overpriced and truly terrible meal in the terminal. Our sixth gal pal landed about an hour later, so we drove our rental car (a mini van, come at me) to the arrivals section to pick her up.

Or, we would have, if the airport signs had existed in a legible state.

“Salida” was clearly marked. But the rest of the signs were in a half-blown-off state, causing us to circle through two different (incorrect) areas and make a wrong turn onto the highway before finally figuring out where to go. 

The good news is that we finally found Nicole, we had a good laugh about it, and went on our merry way with bags of leftover Halloween candy to keep us going.

Two: Surprise Power Outages

Puerto Rico’s post-Maria power grid is a constant source of discussion in the media, so we came prepared with backup batteries galore. And I’m glad I packed my Anker to charge my phone, because I definitely needed it.

According to our beachfront yoga instructor, power outages are now a rarity for Rincon (and San Juan). However I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that of our five nights in Puerto Rico, three were spent without power. Rare they might be, but I certainly experienced them.

Three: Misadventures on Back Roads That Aren’t Actually Roads

Okay, I’m prefacing this with an important note: the highways were completely fine. Main roads were completely fine. Even rural roads to places frequented by tourists (like the Gozalandia Waterfalls) were completely fine.

However, Google had a fun little habit of giving us directions to places and taking us down “shortcuts” that were maybe roads once upon a time… but today were muddy hillsides masquerading as roads.

It happened with such frequency that we stopped allowing Google Maps to calculate a route for us and instead did the old-school method of looking at the map (albeit a digital one) and navigating for ourselves until we got to a main road. Honestly: it was refreshing. And we learned the area better than we would have otherwise.

What to Pack for Puerto Rico’s Post-Hurricane State:

  • A backup battery
  • A quick-dry towel, a lifesaver if the terry towels you hung to dry last night are still damp
  • Cash, because power outages mean nonfunctioning credit card machines and ATMs
  • Your navigation skills
  • A healthy roll-with-the-punches attitude

What to Pack for Puerto Rico

 

The excitement and anticipation of travel begins long before setting foot aboard the aircraft or cruise ship. What you pack will vary depending on your activities. Are you hiking in El Yunque? Does your itinerary include a kayak through Mosquito Bay or endless spa days? Are you cruising after your Puerto Rican stay, or is the entire time designed around catching sun rays on the outlying islands? Of course, those personal items that are always with you will be coming along for the ride no matter what. When planning your packing list, think daily needs, special activities, medical what ifs, and how you’ll pay for those yummy tostones; the rest will fall into place. If it doesn’t fall into one of those categories… ditch it!

Clothing and Accessories

Your Puerto Rican adventure is all your own. Are you ‘beaching it’, staying active, participating in extreme sports, or grabbing a day ahead of a Caribbean cruise? For most of us, clothing choices will be straightforward – but there might be some additional needs if you’re headed to hike in El Yunque, spend a week in the UNESCO site of Old San Juan, or celebrating a bachelorette party on the beaches of Culebra. But let’s start with the basics and what to pack it all in.

Start by choosing the right bag for your trip. 

Setout Backpack ($199)

The Setout travel backpack packs like a suitcase and carries like a backpack. A maximum sized carry on bag for most major airlines, you’ll have plenty of room to bring everything you need for your trip to Puerto Rico.

Setout Duo ($249)

For some travelers, a two-bag solution is the ideal way to pack.

Pack your in-flight essentials, laptop, chargers, and a change of clothes in the Laptop Backpack. Pack everything else you need for your trip in the Duffle Bag.

When used together, they’re a luggage system ideal for trips less than a week.

Clothing Packing List for Puerto Rico:

 

 

If you’re going to the mountain regions of Puerto Rico consider a light jacket or an extra sweatshirt, it’s a must for chilly evenings.

 

Personal Item Packing List for Puerto Rico

 

Your personal item should be a daypack or small duffle that fits entirely underneath the seat in front of you on an airplane. That personal item will be smaller than that main carry on bag (consider checking with your individual airline for their specific regulations). A personal item might do double duty as your day bag for outings to the beach, a ziplining adventure, a San Juan shopping day, or even a hike through the forest.

 

Inside your personal item, you should pack everything you’ll need for your flight and everything you absolutely cannot afford to have out of reach.

 

  • Wallet & ID (and any other necessary cards)
  • Passport
  • Travel documents (including onward travel details if necessary)
  • Change of clothes (especially if you’re checking luggage)
  • Medications (daily, necessary, allergy)
  • Headphones
  • Gum or mints/chapstick
  • Sunglasses, prescription glasses, or contacts (solution is harder to come by in PR)
  • Hair ties & headband
  • Antibacterial wipes/tissues
  • Fuzzy socks (if your feet tend to get cold on planes) or flip flops (stash them in the water bottle pocket on the side of your bag)
  • Scarf, pashmina, or travel blanket/sarong for chilly flights
  • Make up 
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush
  • Smartphone & charger
  • Portable battery pack & connectors
  • Camera gear (if you travel with it)

 

Toiletries

 

If you’re flying to Puerto Rico, the 3-1-1 rule still applies. Each traveler gets to bring one quart sized plastic zip top bag. Fill your bag with any liquids or gels in sizes under 3.4 oz/100 ml and you’re on your way. Things like Epi-pens, medications and baby formula do not need to be fit into this bag.

 

It’s worth noting that virtually everything you need can be purchased in Puerto Rico, in the brands that you’re used to on the mainland.

 

Toiletries you might pack along with you:

 

  • Sunscreen don’t skip this one (if you have sensitive skin, consider bringing the brand that works for you – if not, purchase what you need in Puerto Rico)
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Toothpaste and toothbrush
  • Medications (know the generic names – many are available at local ‘farmacias’)
  • Deoderant
  • Razor and shaving needs
  • Bug spray and anti-itch cream (especially if you’re sensitive to bites)
  • Hair bands and makeup
  • Contacts (extra pair if necessary)
  • Travel size contact solution (if necessary)
  • Travel size bug spray (Zika and dengue are a thing)
  • Cortisone, Benadryl, or anti-itch cream
  • Eye drops (allergy or saline)

 

Travel First Aid Kit

 

When travel planning, those ‘what if’ scenarios often dance through our minds. We purchase travel insurance for those ‘just in case’ times but don’t want to have to run to a clinic for a cut, scrape or twisted ankle. There’s no way to cover all of those possible ‘oh my goodness’ moments, but bringing along a small first aid kit is a good way to cover your bases.

 

For those with allergies, be sure to write down a list of foods, medicines and things to which you’re allergic.

 

For those with specific medical needs, its often helpful to know the generic names of the medications you take in case you need to refill a prescription. Carry a copy of the prescription with you.

 

If you forget something, don’t worry; it’s Puerto Rico, you can always pick up any first aid needs at a local farmacia.

 

Include in your first aid kit:

 

  • Pain reliever (Tylenol, Paracetamol, Ibuprofen)
  • Allergy meds (Benadryl, Claritin, Loratadine, other antihistamine)
  • Anti-itch cream (cortisone/benadryl)
  • After-sun gel
  • Immodium/Loperamide
  • Neosporin or antiseptic cream
  • Epi Pen if necessary
  • Bandaids, athletic tape & gauze
  • Tums, Pepto Bismol, or antacid tablets
  • Safety pins and tweezers
  • Ace bandage (especially if your vacation includes much hiking/walking)

 

Electronics

 

Puerto Rico runs on standard American outlets with the standard voltage and WiFi is readily available. If you’re coming from the States or have electronics that work with a US converter – you’ll be fine. If traveling from overseas, include a travel adapter.

 

  • Phone & chargers
  • Laptop & chargers
  • Adapters (if necessary)
  • Portable charger or battery pack
  • E-reader or tablet
  • Camera/chargers/memory cards… or just use your phone camera

 

Puerto Rico Packing List “Extras”

 

Individual adventurers have individual needs. If you’ve got a little spare room, feel free to tuck in a few little extras. But remember – if you can manage to leave those things at home, you’ll have more room for those souvenirs you might pick up that remind you of your wonderful time in Puerto Rico.

 

Daypack Adventures

 

You’re definitely going to want to pack a daypack for Puerto Rico. Ideally, your daypack does double duty as your personal item on travel days. Perfect for the beach, hiking, or shopping around town, your daypack will allow you to travel light while maximizing adventure.

 

Be sure to include:

 

  • Sunscreen and bug spray
  • Aftersun or aloe gel
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Water bottle
  • Sarong or cover up for when you need less sun
  • Packable rain jacket or small umbrella
  • Dry change of clothes
  • Swimsuit 
  • Extra zip top bag for any trash you create on your journey
  • Packable Towel

Places to Visit in Puerto Rico

 

Puerto Rico is more than sun, sand, sea and surf. Although thousands flock to Rincon to find that surfing sweet spot, there’s far more to learn and experience on this island paradise. Taste the flavor of Puerto Rico in tostones or mofongo. Take a walk through time in the UNESCO heritage site of Old San Juan – the heart of this historical city. Exuding Latin culture, Spanish colonial history and natural beauty, Puerto Rico has something for everyone.

Here are some suggestions for places to visit:

TL; DR

Although it’s associated with the United States, Puerto Rico has its own beautiful culture. Spending time with the people, sampling the flavorful cuisine, learning the heritage and experiencing the island lifestyle entices thousands of visitors annually. Close in proximity to the mainland of the USA, yet a world away, Puerto Rico makes a perfect getaway.

  • Hurricane recovery is well under way; Puerto Rico is ready for visitors
  • Pack light
  • Explore beyond the beaches
  • Remember that you can get almost everything you need at your destination
  • Puerto Rico is warm, but pack a layer for cool evenings and rain

Want more like this?

Get weekly gear reviews, travel hacks, and packing tips sent straight to your inbox. As an added bonus, we’ll send you a carry on packing list right away.