Is Puerto Rico Safe? Tips for the Traveler

Beautiful Puerto Rico is one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean for those seeking sun-soaked adventure and culture. Here are our tips for a safe and fun time.

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Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States of America. Millions of travelers visit Puerto Rico each year, with the majority having a trouble-free experience but, as you would anywhere, use your common sense.

Is Puerto Rico Safe to Visit?

Yes, the country is safe to visit and has largely recovered from the impact of Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in December 2017. The Puerto Rican government is putting a lot of resources into tourism initiatives to encourage travelers to visit the island nation. This work assists in recovering the country's economy, as tourism is the number one source of employment for locals.

Crime in Puerto Rico

There are 3.3 million people living in Puerto Rico, and most of the population live in the capital city, San Juan, and other larger towns, which are made up of different cultures and social classes. Wherever inequality and high population density occur, crime generally follows. That said, Puerto Rico has a lower crime rate than many major US cities.

Travelers will be most affected by petty crime, such as pickpocketing or robbery. Don't leave your valuables or belongings unattended and only take what you need out with you. If you plan to have a night out, always walk with someone else, in a group or grab a licensed taxi (white taxis with the lit up roof sign). Avoid wandering alone at night in particular near the beach areas where there is an increased risk of being robbed.

The local beaches are pretty safe during the day, just keep an eye on your belongings and don't bring anything you're not prepared to have stolen while having a swim.

Puerto Rico has a high homicide rate however this usually affects those involved in gang activity, the drug trade or both.

Tip: It's a good idea to know some basic Spanish to make your trip just that bit easier, especially when you aren't in the urban centers. Even if you butcher the language, making an effort will still go a long way. If you become a victim of crime, being able to communicate to the police is important. Police outside of major tourist areas might not speak English, and while many locals are bilingual, Spanish is still the dominant language.

That said, if you do happen to be stopped by local police, don't attempt to bribe them. Always carry your valid personal ID with you.

Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods

Many travelers advise avoiding public housing areas, known in Puerto Rico as caserio, identifiable by their cement facades and apartment-like balconies. Gangs are a problem in these areas, and activities linked to the drug trade often take place.

Louis Lloren Torres, a caserio in San Juan is where a lot of the city's crime takes place. It's away from the safe, popular spots in San Juan, so travelers may get more than they bargain for if they end up there at night looking for recreational drugs. However, locals report if you are there during daylight hours, you're generally safe. Pinones, Parque de la Palomas and Santruce are also safe to visit during the day.

Other spots to avoid at night are the neighborhoods of La Perla (next to Old City) and parts of Puerta de Tierra. Stick to the neighborhoods of Old San Juan, Isla Verde, Miramar and Condado at night, where there are regular police patrols. Should you have an emergency, call 911 as you would in the US.

Car Theft

Car theft is a significant issue in Puerto Rico, so take any valuables out of your car, leaving it as empty as possible. If thieves see your vehicle empty of potential treasures, they will likely move on. Always park your car in a well-lit location at night. 

Carjackings can sometimes occur, so avoid driving at night where possible, particularly through known crime hotspots. Keep your car door locked and valuables out of sight while traveling.

Women's Safety

Puerto Rico is pretty safe for women travelers if you exercise some simple safety precautions and use your common sense as you would back home such as not leaving your valuables unattended and not wandering around poorly lit areas at night.

Some may experience verbal harassment, while it may be mostly harmless, it’s best to ignore it.

LGBTQ Safety

Puerto Rico is considered to be one of the most LGBTQ friendly destinations in the Caribbean, with the capital San Juan having an established and lively gay scene, particularly around Santurce and Condado Beach. However, it’s important to be respectful and discreet as the country is still conservative due to the influence of the Catholic Church. LGBTQ Puerto Ricans have the same legal protections as heterosexual locals and same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015.

Laws in Puerto Rico

As Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, that status does provide the country with local autonomy and the ability to fly its own flag. However, when it comes to criminal matters and the legal system, it’s the same as the US mainland.

Drinking Laws

The legal drinking age in Puerto Rico is 18, whereas in the United States it’s 21; making the country a popular destination for college students from the US on spring break. You will need a valid ID to purchase alcohol from bars, restaurants, stores etc. and it’s an offense to have open alcoholic beverages in public. Drink driving is also a major offense in Puerto Rico which can result in financial penalties and potentially jail time. The blood alcohol limit in Puerto Rico is 0.08 however it's best to walk or grab a taxi if you plan to have a few drinks.

Photography

Drone laws in Puerto Rico are the same as in the United States, and there are a few rules to know before you fly such as registering your drone with the FAA and not flying close to people, crowded areas and events.

Avoid taking photos in high crime locations (ask the locals where not to go!) and always ask before taking a photo of someone to avoid potential offense.

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13 Comments

  • ffjsb said

    I have been to PR many times, I have relatives there, and my daughter did a 3 month internship in Old San Juan.
    I have NO problems going anywhere in PR, any more than I have in any big city in the mainland, unless it's Chicago or Detroit. I wouldn't be caught dead in a city like those two, but I feel perfectly safe in PR.
    La Perla is only a couple of blocks long, with a few crappy bars and run down houses, so there's no real reason to stroll down there, but I wouldn't even worry about that in the daytime. I have walked every street in Old San Juan, and much of the city from Old San Juan to Condado, with zero problems. Been in Ponce, many small towns, and the rural areas with not a problem. There are a few sketchy homeless people and alcoholics like in any big city.
    Obviously there are places where you shouldn't be by yourself after dark. But I have been in many of the places frequented by locals and never even had a dirty look thrown my way. I'll be going back in July, and I anticipate another great time. The worst thing that's happened to me in PR is slow service in a restaurant and the traffic.
    Some of the dumb comments... Bars on the windows... Well, PR is warm, and many people leave their windows open for circulation. Duh...
    Why are a lot of people leaving?? Jobs. With the poor economy in PR, as US citizens, they can relocate to get a good job. Why do you think people left Detroit??
    Use common sense and you will absolutely love PR.

  • Nick said

    Seriously, I'm so glad I didn't read any of this nonsense before I moved here a few months ago. I moved to Ocean Park between San Juan and Condado. My wife read a lot of this junk and was worried sick. We have had absolutely no problems. I leave my Jeep in some pretty quiet places while I surf before dawn 4-5 days a week. In California my vehicle was broken into twice in a two week period and my house robbed. If you're coming here on vacation there is no reason to worry. Isla Verde, Condado, Old San Juan are all safe areas in my opinion. There really isn't a reason to be out in the inner city at night. Travel around during the day and see everything you want to see. If you're doing it right you'll be exhausted by dark and ready to head back to your hotel anyways and won't have to worry about the shit that goes on at night in the inner city.

  • Borinqueno said

    I recently moved to Puerto Rico on Jan 1st, 2017, and overall the experience has been awesome. Just about everyone you will get to know and trust is really down to earth and friendly. My advice is to never completely trust anyone or let your guard down. Today i was walking a block away from my home when a white van with two guys speaking spanish pulled up and signal me to get in. Yes this can happen anywhere but the truth is you do need to always be careful. I recommend carrying some kind of self defense object. Dont live in fear, just be aware and vigilant. I lived in NY my entire life and have experienced danger there, even in front of my own house as well. Crime is a characteristic of all humans all over the world.

    The economy is poor because people are creating that reality. Chances of finding a job are better in the tourist areas. But the island itself is pure heaven. The beaches, the rainforests, nature will definitely not disappoint you

  • Christine Acord said

    We are currently in Ocean Park in San Juan. We are in a residential neighborhood. I think what everyone is forgetting is that common sense plays an important role in your safety. There is crime everywhere. One of our favorite places back home is St Louis. High crime rate yet I've never experienced any danger. Throughout our trip we have only encountered one bad person and he was a white guy from Ohio who likes to treat people like crap. All the locals we have met have been very friendly.
    Practice common sense anywhere you go.

  • Nicolas said

    I lived in Guayama years back. With the first few days I was warned to avoid a sections that was crime-infested.

  • Frank said

    I'm from Chicago and to look at Puerto Rico's crime rate, I'd say I feel right at home there. The populations of the Island and of my hometown are about the same and there's a roughly equal number of murders. If you wouldn't visit Chicago because of the crime than don't go to Puerto Rico. But, just like in Chicago, most of the crimes will occur in low-rent areas that are pretty easy to avoid if you aren't trying to document island poverty.

  • Adfian said

    I respect everyones opinion im Puerto Rican, and until 2014 I hadn't been in my island for 13 years, I loved it I was suppose to only be there for 3 weeks and ended up staying for 7 months a lot of people say don't spend money here and all kinds of crazy shyt but truth is there's no safe place to visit in the world nowadays and you'd be robbing yourself if you decide not to visit, I stay in San Lorenzo Puerto Rico when I go and there's a place called "El Gravero" its a place to go and enjoy yourself on Sundays if you have a 4x4 jeep or atv , basically anything fun with wheel in this place is freaking fun, and then there's "El Cerro de Nandy" this is a place you can only make it up if you have a jeep and also they have a army truck that an bring you up with your family and has the craziest high altitude views, I'm still struck about how beautiful the view is and on certain parts of the year they have a helicopter ride up there and all year long there is a Mexican restaurant up there that cooks great. The view is breathtaking if you have a person you love and want them to see something beautiful by your side this is the place to do it once I get the chance god willing I'm taking my family I really want them to see this I think my wife is going to cry cause I won't stop talking about this place and when she sees it she will also know what I mean and so will you if you go,

  • Steve said

    I went to PR 3 years ago and it was fine and never felt like I was in danger. I was in Old San Juan, San Juan and the north east part of the island. La Perla of course just seemed like any other city area where you dont go. Like use your head people. Don't not visit the island, I had a blast and am going back in 3 weeks but more so to the west side of the island like Rincon etc. I mean every city in the world has dangerous areas but to say not to visit b/c of one or two bad areas good lord. Use your head people, if a place looks shady and you have a bad feeling leave and dont wear flashy things.

  • David Aviles said

    Puerto Rico is as safe and unsafe as any other state in the Union, true areas to avoid are there, however, overall it is an extremely safe destination. Purchased a condo two years ago in the heart of Old San Juan, and have to say it is an extremely safe place, though must say, have never seen so many Anglo Americans roaming the streets as con artist, pretending to have missed their flights or boats and are in need of assistance, don't believe them!!!

    The Perla, which I grew up avoiding, has actually been improving, drove thru it with my mother and we were treated very well, now been hearing that a new restaurant opened and have also been seeing tourist venturing down its winding streets. Puerta de tierrra is becoming an extremely expensive neighborhood, with few restaurants opening up. For those who are not aware, Old San Juan is an Island and one can see Puerto Rico from its southern shore.

    As to Puerto Rico, have walked from Old San Juan to the tip of Isla Verde and never felt unsafe and the walk for an architectural buff is quiet interesting in which the American vs Spanish architecture mix. Museums, shopping, clubs, bars, restaurants, CVS, Walgreens, fast food, one tends to forget they are in the Caribbean. The Island is highly developed, though the roads have pot holes, many street lights are still in the dark since hurricane Maria, overall, it's pretty cleaned up and normalish.

    The West coast of the Island is just outright beautiful and safe, Aguadilla, Isabela, Aguada, Anasco all offer great beaches, however, Rincon with surfing beaches is a cute town, with fun things to do and overall extremely safe.

    Enjoy your stay

  • Matt said

    I’m in Puerto Rico right now with family (wife and kids). We’ve been walking, driving and dining in San Juan and around the Island, anywhere we feel like ( I’m obviously not going to the caserios, but why on earth would I do that???) and not once have felt unsafe. I’m of course vigilant of my surroundings when in unknown areas. That’s just basic common sense. My whole family loved this place and we are looking forward to coming back many more times.

  • Paul Fishman said

    February 2019 is my first visit to Puerto Rico. Aguadilla seems to have the poorest areas in some neighborhoods. Mayaguez is fairly modern with many good stores. Ponce is a great delight with the south suburbs excellent for retirees. It has a little appearance of Tucson and Green Valley AZ with delightful neighborhoods. Its downtown is very nice like Albuquerque NM with a subhumid climate similiar to parts of Eastern Brasil. Go up the hill to see the Cross and the Castle. Dont miss the tropical forest of El Yunque with its pools of water and high views. Old San Juan especially in the daytime is VERY colorful, Very Clean to the extreme. Their art culture is EXTREMELY Excellent world quality like Santa Fe NM in its beautiful tropical way.

  • Jasmrs said

    @ffjsb and anyone putting any faith in ffjsb’s opinion. If you don’t know how to navigate a wonderful city like Chicago and make a comment like you did your opinion on basically anything is useless.

  • D.D said

    Hello everyone,
    I lived im Puerto Rico fot almost five years, because I decided to study at the University of Puerto Rico...to get a degree and learn Spanish at the same time.
    I am a native Chicagoan and it was quite an adventure and challenge at the same time. I am a tough person and know how to take care of myself along with my street starts from Chicago.
    The ironic thing is that I have never experienced theft or danger in Chicago as I have in other parts of the world... I've felt more fear living in Europe.
    Now back to Puerto Rico, lovely people, weather, beaches, but I totally agree with the author of the article -- you need to be careful about where you go and what you do! Just think of it this way; "It's a different ball.park with different rules." So be cautious and respect those rules and watch your back. With that said, you can have a wonderful time in Puerto Rico, enjoy Old San Juan, El Morro, Condado, take guided tours around the island and swim in the beautiful Atlantic ocean!
    Btw, this message is for "ffjsb" whoade tge first comment on this thread. It is not nice to try to say something about one place bu putting down other places like Chicago or Detroit....was you said is not nice, Chicago is a great city...yes it can be dangerous just like Puerto Rico or any other city or county if your in the wrong place at the wrong time or your not using common sense or pay attention to advice and rules. There was no need to make negative comments about Chicago or Detroit...the last being a struggling city whose trying to make it in today's trying time.
    So to everyone, travel to where you may but never go astray and have a great day!

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