Puerto Rico offers travellers a wide range of accommodation, from small, family-run guesthouses to plush luxury resorts, though true budget options are few in number. Finding a room is rarely a problem, though even San Juan can fill up during some holiday weekends. Prices vary considerably, but usually increase dramatically at weekends or public holidays. Rates also tend to be higher during the two peak seasons (early Dec to early May, and July & Aug), while rates between September and November are usually the lowest.
Puerto Rican hotels run the gamut from simple guesthouses or bed and breakfasts to standard hotels and mega-resorts. For tax purposes, the government divides accommodation into three classes: hotels with casinos (mostly in San Juan); standard hotels, guesthouses and motels; and small inns or paradores. English is usually spoken by someone at even the smallest hotel, and these days almost every place has air conditioning and TV (though not all have cable with English-language channels). Exceptions tend to be in the mountains, where it’s cool enough to use ceiling fans at night, or at hotels where the lack of TV or modern facilities is seen as a plus – perversely, you’ll usually pay extra for such designer simplicity.
As there are no true hostels in Puerto Rico, budget hotels offer some of the cheapest accommodation on the island, but bargains are hard to find. You’ll rarely get a room for less than $50, with only a handful of older, slightly run-down places in the mountains offering these sorts of rates. You’ll find more choice above $75, but it’s unusual to find good-quality accommodation with all the amenities for less than $100.
Most places describing themselves as guesthouses and bed and breakfasts fall into the mid-range category in Puerto Rico, more akin to the smart US version of the genre than the cheaper European variety, and can cost anything from $80 to $250. Standards vary considerably depending on the location and age of the property – price isn’t always a good indication of quality, so always check the room before agreeing to pay. In general, smaller family-run places offer the best value, although some business hotels in the cities can be affordable, assuming there are no extra charges.
You’ll find huge resorts and a smaller number of posh boutique hotels spread across the island, predominantly on the coast. Prices can range from $150 up to $400 and beyond, depending on room type, resort facilities and season, but you’ll always get the best deals online. Resorts are the biggest culprits when it comes to extra charges, however.
Paradores and hotel programmes
The Paradores Puertorriqueños programme was established in 1973 by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, and while being dubbed a parador (“country inn”) brings a certain amount of cachet to a hotel, the classification has nothing to do with the Spanish system of expensive historic properties. To qualify for official parador status in Puerto Rico, hotels must simply maintain quality standards set by the PRTC: minimum requirements include being located outside Greater San Juan and in an area deemed of historic or cultural importance, having fewer than 75 rooms, and being managed by the owner and their family (who are supposed to live on the property). To add to the confusion, some equally atmospheric guesthouses that are not approved use the word parador anyway. Prices range from $80–120; for the official list visit wwww.discoverpuertorico.com.
The paradores programme is similar to the “small hotels of Puerto Rico” scheme (wpuertoricosmallhotels.com) established by the Puerto Rico Hotel & Tourism Association (t787/758-8001, wwww.prhta.org), which promotes small guesthouses and hotels across the island (some hotels are members of both programmes). If not a member of either programme, hotels and guesthouses can opt to be simply endorsed by the PRTC: in return for passing basic requirements (like having parking, smoke detectors, security chains and maid service for all rooms), these hotels appear in official publications and can promote their PRTC approval. Even then, it’s difficult to make generalizations: while hotels that fall in any of the three categories above will usually offer decent accommodation, standards vary wildly, and hotels that for whatever reason have opted to remain unaffiliated can be just as good.
Increasingly popular on the island, renting apartments and villas is an appealing alternative to staying in hotels, and is becoming relatively easy via reputable broker websites. Properties tend to be in good condition, come with kitchens, living rooms and other facilities, and are often located in highly scenic settings in some of the most attractive parts of Puerto Rico, particularly Vieques and Culebra. Note, however, that you’ll usually need a car to access such properties, and that they tend to be pricey unless you’re willing to stay for at least a week or have a large group. Villas that can sleep six people or more are usually a far better deal for groups than hotels. PR West (t787/420-5227 or t826-6748, wwww.prwest.com) is a good place to start, with listings of hundreds of properties all over the island. Prices vary considerably, but you’ll get great deals at around $1000 per week in most locations – daily rates, where available, tend to be much more expensive ($200/night).
Camping is possible in Puerto Rico, though with much of the island in private hands you’re generally limited to official campgrounds on public beaches and forest reserves (a law was passed in 1995 forbidding camping on public beaches without facilities). The six beach campgrounds are operated by the Compañía de Parques Nacionales (t787/622-5200, wwww.parquesnacionalespr.com), and all come with showers, toilets and barbecue grills. Rates start at $10 per night for a basic pitch. Locations include Playa La Monserrate (Luquillo), Playa Seven Seas (Fajardo), Sun Bay (Vieques), Playa Tres Hermanos (Aguada), Punta Guilarte on the south coast and Playa Cerro Gordo on the north coast. You can just turn up without a reservation at any of these places, but in peak season (especially July & Aug) spaces can fill up fast and it’s best to call in advance.
Campsites within Puerto Rico’s forest reserves are managed by the Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales (DRNA, t787/999-2200, wwww.drna.gobierno.pr), but to stay at any of them you must apply for a permit in advance (15 days ahead for Isla de Mona). You can apply in person, by mail, by fax and online, but the website is in Spanish only. Once you’ve made a reservation online, you still need to pay at the nearest DRNA office within three working days; if all else fails, take a taxi to the office in San Juan (PR-8838 km 6.3, Sector El Cinco, Río Piedras) and apply in person. Rates are very cheap: $5 per person per night, and campgrounds usually come with basic toilets and showers. Note that many of these sites close in the low season.
You can also camp on Playa Flamenco on Culebra, perhaps the most stunning location of all, and within El Yunque. It’s important to note that theft can be a problem in all these locations, and if you leave anything valuable unattended in your tent it’s likely to be stolen, especially on the beaches. You’ll rarely encounter more serious problems, but camping alone when no one else is around is not a good idea.
The Compañía de Parques Nacionales also runs a system of cabañas on the public beaches at Humacao, Boquerón and Añasco, as well as Monte del Estado. Known as Centros Vacacionales, these are far more popular with Puerto Rican families than foreign tourists but a lot more comfortable than camping. Rates range $75–80 for basic cabañas to $125 for larger villas, but accommodation is still basic – modern concrete and wood cabins with one or two bedrooms, minimal furniture and facilities – and usually uninspiring compared to the rustic chalets you might find elsewhere in the Caribbean; the locations, however, steps away from the beach, are unbeatable. You can make reservations by phone or on the website (Spanish only); there is a minimum stay of two nights and a maximum of four weeks (or seven days during the peak season).