The easiest way to get to Puerto Rico is to fly, though the island is also connected to the Dominican Republic and Virgin Islands by ferry. The island’s international gateway is the Aeropuerto Internacional Luis Muñoz Marín in San Juan, with numerous connections to the US and all over the Caribbean, while regional airports at Aguadilla and Ponce are increasingly accepting direct flights from the US mainland and nearby islands.
Visitors from outside North America usually have to fly via the US. To a certain extent, the vast number of Puerto Ricans travelling between the island and the US throughout the year, in addition to a steady stream of business traffic, means that airfares remain fairly consistent, though weekend flights always carry a premium. Fares do tend to rise slightly during the peak holiday season between November and April, and soar during Easter – the biggest holiday of the year for most Puerto Ricans – Christmas and New Year. For US flights it’s especially important to book well ahead if you want to benefit from lower prices.
Numerous daily nonstop flights connect Puerto Rico with cities all over the US, but the cheapest and most frequent depart from “gateway” cities in the south and east, most commonly Miami and New York (JFK and Newark). San Juan is the Caribbean hub for American Airlines, so it’s no surprise that this airline operates the most flights to the island and usually has the most competitively priced fares, though all the major US carriers offer services, including Continental and Spirit Airlines, and US Airways. The lowest return tickets to San Juan in high season (excluding holidays), typically average $300 from New York and Miami, $400–500 from Houston/Dallas and $450 from Chicago. If you’re prepared to change planes a couple of times, flights from Los Angeles can be as low as $450, but American Airlines flies direct for around $700. Flights to Aguadilla and Ponce are similarly priced. If you’re flying off-peak, it’s also worth checking out budget airline JetBlue, which flies nonstop from Orlando and New York’s JFK to San Juan, Aguadilla and Ponce – book online and flights can go for as little as $160 return. Flying times are relatively short: around 3hr 45min from New York, 2hr 30min from Miami, 4hr 30min from Chicago, and just over 4hr from Dallas and Houston.
There are few direct flights from Canada, with Air Canada flying the only nonstop service from Toronto (4hr 35min; Can$1250). Your options increase (and prices fall) greatly if you fly through the US: fares from Montréal and Toronto via US carriers start at around Can$480.
One of the principal reasons that Puerto Rico attracts just one to two percent of European tourists to the Caribbean is the dearth of charter and direct flights between Europe and the island. Things look set to change with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic now operating seasonal direct flights to San Juan via Antigua for around £700–800 (10.5hr). Otherwise, coming from the UK or Ireland you’ll need to change planes at least once for cheaper flights, usually in the US. From London the cheapest option is usually to fly with American Airlines via New York, but travel websites will also come up with various combinations of British Airways and American carriers via Miami and Washington DC. Prices for return flights in peak season usually start at £550, depending on the strength of the pound. Iberia offers the only nonstop flight to San Juan from Europe, a thrice-weekly service from Madrid: from London you can get return tickets on this route from around £520 in peak season.
From Dublin, you might save a few euros flying the same routes via London; otherwise it’s faster and cheaper to fly with US Airways or Delta via New York – flights cost around €650.
Getting from Australia, New Zealand or South Africa to Puerto Rico means changing planes at least once somewhere in the US. From Sydney flights in high season will set you back at least Aus$1600, usually via Delta with two layovers. The cheapest flights from other Australian cities route through Sydney too. From Auckland, Air New Zealand and Qantas fly via Los Angeles to connect with the American Airlines flight for around NZ$3000. Note that all these flights can entail long layovers in the US.
From South Africa, various combinations of airlines will get you to San Juan via layovers in the US or Spain (via Iberia) from R7500 to R12,000.
San Juan is one of the largest regional hubs in the Caribbean, making it an easy fit into a larger tour of the Antilles, or an excellent base for further exploration. The most frequent flights link San Juan with the US and British Virgin Islands (typically for $200 return), but there are also direct services from Antigua, St Vincent and Dominica on LIAT, plus several charter airlines fly from the Dominican Republic. Jet Blue also has flights direct to Santo Domingo. American Eagle uses San Juan as a hub and flies all over the Caribbean, while Copa Airlines flies from Panama City. Smaller airlines also link Vieques with St Croix.
American Cruise Ferries (t787/832-4800 or t787/622-4800, wwww.acferries.com) operates a twice-weekly ferry service between Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and Mayagüez on the west coast of Puerto Rico (Tues & Thurs), a journey that usually takes around twelve hours. Rates start at $169 one-way, plus $96–216 for a cabin. The same ferry runs between Santo Domingo and San Juan on Sundays (13hr). Prices start at $189 one-way, with the additional $96–216 for a cabin berth.
At the time of writing you could also travel between St Thomas and St John in the US Virgin Islands and Fajardo on the east coast of Puerto Rico: boats depart St Thomas at 4pm on Saturdays only. One-way is $70, return is just $90.