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Puerto Rico is a haven for beach bums and adrenaline junkies alike. With dozens of hidden gems tucked in its tropical foliage, this island does not lack any luster. In fact, Puerto Rico is one of the top destinations I recommend to budding female solo travelers, especially when it comes to women’s safety. Puerto Rico is safe for women who are looking to venture into the rainforest landscapes of the island or even if they are looking to sunbathe solo on their tropical getaway.
Logistically, solo travel in Puerto Rico is definitely doable even for the newest of solo travelers. Puerto Rico is safe for female solo travelers precisely because its easy to navigate and costs are relatively low (compared to traveling costs in the United States). Women also do not have to worry about body shaming or solo traveler shaming. If you’re looking to embark on your first solo trip, Puerto Rico is a safe destination for women who are looking to explore all the cultural wonders and beauty this island has to offer.
I traveled to Puerto Rico in 2017, before Hurricane Maria. This post will reflect what I experienced during that time but has also been updated the reflect the current climate in Puerto Rico. This article details my own personal experience as a female solo traveler in the country but also includes statistics and more information to educate women travelers about other realities that I may not have experienced.
Do I consider Puerto Rico safe for women?
Overall, I felt safe when adventuring throughout Puerto Rico. During my two-week stay on the island, I wanted to explore every corner of this country, so I rented a car. I spent my first few days in San Juan and then skirted the perimeter of the island on my two-week road trip. I even took a ferry to Vieques off the eastern shores of Puerto Rico to see some of the best beaches and the brightest bioluminescent bay in the world.
During my adventure, I made friends along the way, but for the majority of my road trip, I was traveling solo. Whether I was heading to the beach with new-found friends or walking through the streets of the cultural and historic center of Ponce, I felt safe and unbothered in Puerto Rico, even as a woman.
How safe is San Juan, Puerto Rico for women?
While staying in San Juan, I explored Viejo San Juan (Old San Juan) numerous times. First, by myself and then with new friends I made at a hostel in San Juan.
Walking through the streets of Viejo San Juan, locals greeted me with smiles and genuine hellos and holas. In the touristy areas of San Juan, the shopkeepers were fluent in both English and Spanish. Most were even nice enough to patiently wait for me to fumble replies in Spanish.
Viejo San Juan is situated near the port, so crowds from the cruise ships filter into the historic, cobbled streets. But even without fellow tourists surrounding me, I felt safe in San Juan as I ventured toward some of the hidden gems and off-the-beaten-path activities that I wanted to experience.
In the heart of San Juan, I never dealt with catcalls or being followed as a woman. I was left to wander alone and truly drink in what the city had to order. I ventured around mostly on foot and found that nearly everyone was unperturbed by this inquisitive tourist.
Safety in other popular San Juan neighborhoods
I also stayed in the Condado and the Ocean Park district of San Juan. Condado is considered the upscale resort, beach and shopping area of San Juan. This is the home to Ashford Avenue and Condado Beach. Police officers often patrol this area due to the high number of tourists and traffic.
In these areas, I walked mostly because it was easier than trying to find parking for my rental car. When staying in a hostel in Condado, I was just blocks from the beach. During my morning walk to the sandy shores, many locals would smile and greet me good morning. I definitely wasn’t questioning my safety in these areas and was only worried about the copious amounts of sand in my hair.
Ocean Park is the less ritzy residential area of San Juan. This is where the locals and authentic parts of Puerto Rico emerge. Calle Loiza runs through this neighborhood and is a famous street known for its delicious local cuisine. These streets are packed and loud with bustling traffic. This neighborhood looks intimidating with all the bars on the window and the more rundown residential areas, but I felt safe walking around this neighborhood to venture to the beach and grab groceries.
Safety and nightlife in San Juan
Nearby is also the bustling, nightlife neighborhood of La Placita. La Placita is where the night owls in San Juan flock to drink and dance to Latin music.
La Placita is a section of streets lined with small local bars. Crowds pack into these small nooks and when there isn’t room, dancers and drinkers flow out onto the streets.
Oftentimes, women travelers are told to limit themselves and avoid alcohol while vacationing. This fear-mongering approach isn’t how I like to spend my time when traveling.
In general, the best tip for enjoying nightlife safely while abroad is to not accept drinks from strangers. Unless the drink was poured or open by a bartender in front of me, I won’t take a free drink from anyone. That rule is something I abide by worldwide. Before I go out the experience nightlife, I always check in with someone. Whether that’s the person at the front desk of my hostel or with a newly acquainted friend I made in my hostel room, I always ensure that someone is waiting for me, especially if I want to indulge in a drink or two.
If I’m not close enough to walk back to my accommodation, or want to opt for a ride home, I always make sure my phone is charged so I can call for an Uber or cab. Uber is widely available throughout San Juan, Puerto Rico.
In the open streets of La Placita, the music carried me through the night. I was spun and dipped as friendly locals took my hand and taught me the beginner steps to bachata and salsa. When was visiting Puerto Rico when the reggaetón song “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi featuring Daddy Yankee became a chart-topping hit. You can imagine the infectious hype that surrounded this song. The locals were not only proud the song was written by local Luis Fonsi, but also that worldwide people were starting to appreciate their culture and music.
After a few hours of dancing away the humid Caribbean night, I ventured back to my hostel. I felt safe enough to walk back to my hostel which less than a five minute walk.
Is Puerto Rico safe for women?
For the rest of my trip, I spent my time driving to rural areas of Puerto Rico, which I highly recommend to experience authentic Puerto Rico. I also felt safe when venturing into the more unnamed hidden-gem destinations. Regardless of my proximity to the country’s capitol and tourist hot spot, the locals in all corners of the island were accommodating and exude hospitality. There were numerous occasions where locals invited me to their homes for an authentic Puerto Rican feast. I regret not taking them up on it!
The only time that I was questioned about why I travel solo was in rural areas. Most of the locals were curious about what brought me to their beautiful island and why I decided to tag it solo. However, I was never met with animosity or shame for my decision.
Crime statistics: is Puerto Rico safe for women?
During the pandemic, Puerto Ricans have endured a surge in tourism and aggressive behavior from tourists. In one instance, tourists assaulted a woman in a wheelchair after being asked to wear a mask. Furthermore, cases of sexual assault have also increased. A number of these cases have been connected to Americans. (More information about sexual assault rates in the following section.)
As always, be mindful of the impact that you have when you travel. Especially to places that are more remote and you falling ill will take away resources from locals who need them most. Mask up and treat locals with the utmost respect!
While I was in San Juan, none of my possessions were stolen nor did I feel uneasy leaving my things unattended at the beach. I did not worry daily about pickpocketers or whether someone was following me. Even according to statistics, San Juan and the rest of Puerto Rico is relatively safe due to a low crime rate.
Sexual assault and harassment in Puerto Rico
#MeToo finally got the public to listen to women. It was a movement that brought the issue of sexual assault and harassment front and center. As travelers, we owe it to each other to share the positives and negatives from our travels.
While most of my interactions in Puerto Rico were lovely, I did endure sexual harassment while in Vieques. My taxi driver was crude. He flirted with me endlessly during my cab ride with him. He stared and hit on a group of topless girls on the beach. Unlucky for me, he was also staying at the accommodation and came knocking on my door at 2 a.m.
However, during the rest of my Puerto Rico trip, I never heard any sexual comments and innuendos from strangers. I felt safe and that I wasn’t hounded or leered at by strangers. I won’t let my taxi driver ruin my outlook on Puerto Rico.
It’s important to note that sexual assault is more prevalent in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria. In recent years, there was a drastic increase in violence against women. These numbers are not meant to deter travelers from journeying to Puerto Rico. Instead, these harsh statistics paint a realistic picture for travelers and make them well aware of the reality for many locals. Being aware of the current political climate and situation in Puerto Rico will help female solo travelers stay safe.
Is driving solo in Puerto Rico safe?
The number one rule on staying safe during road trips is making sure you don’t appear flashy. Keep track of your belongings and leave the unnecessary expensive gadgets or jewelry at home. Also, be persistent and aware of your surroundings. Part of the reason I remained safe in Puerto Rico was the tips and tricks I followed. Be alert in areas you are unfamiliar with, but unlike other media sources, I’m not going to use this fear-mongering tactic to deter you. Definitely take the plunge and road trip solo, but always be aware of situations that compromise your safety.
The best way to experience Puerto Rico off the beaten path is to road trip. Driving in Puerto Rico is not as hectic and dangerous that it’s made out to be. Be fully aware of the cars around you. Often times drivers do not use their blinkers to indicate them changing lanes and Puerto Rican drivers like to speed. If you maintain the proper speed limit and make sure to check your blind spots, you’ll be safe.
The worst part about driving in Puerto Rico is the potholes and the windy mountain roads. In the mountains, the roads turn into dirt lanes where it’s normal to see a horse or chicken standing in the middle of the road around a dangerous, tight bend. Take your time and do not be afraid to use your honk when rounding turns. These roads, though considered two-ways, are often too narrow to be considered a one-way. Drive slow and pull over when it’s safe to let speedier drivers pass you.
I emphasize this again — DRIVE SLOW! You’ll avoid a majority of the potholes this way and won’t wear out your car’s brakes. Driving slow will also ensure that you won’t hit any wildlife that might meander into the road, which is a common occurrence, especially iguanas.
Is Puerto Rico considered body positive for women?
When it comes to celebrating all shapes and sizes, Puerto Rico beaches put on the best display. Puerto Rico’s culture boasts body positivity and celebrates beauty in all forms. Puerto Rico reminded me of my captivating uniqueness and taught me how to rejoice in that!
Due to Puerto Rico’s body-positive environment, travelers can wear whatever they please. There is no pressure to cover up in this Caribbean paradise.
In fact, it’s encouraged for travelers to wear bright colors and show some skin if they so choose. Travelers can don shorts and sundresses exposing their shoulders and knees when walking around town. For the majority of my trip, I wore shorts and tank tops in vibrant prints. Also, rock that bikini!
Accessibility throughout Puerto Rico
Most travelers make the mistake of only explore San Juan during their Puerto Rican vacation. Due to the horror stories about Puerto Rican driving and the myths that the rest of the island is inaccessible, many travelers opt to soak on the beach in San Juan. I highly encourage travelers to rent a car and road trip around the island. The island is diverse and you would regret not trekking to see the island’s hidden gems.
During my road trip, I used Google Maps to direct me. Overall, Google Maps was accurate except in the mountainous region. I would credit Google Maps for being why I spent hours lost in the mountains, but in reality, I think it was my spontaneous nature and ill regard for reading road signs.
I downloaded the maps to view offline, just in case I lost cell reception. I’m from the United States, so my phone plan also worked in Puerto Rico.
If your phone plan doesn’t extend to Puerto Rico, Wifi is not sparse. Wifi was available in most accommodations that I stayed in. Although, it might become a problem when you are in more remote areas of the island. When I stayed in the mountains, my cellphone reception was spotty at best.
Within San Juan, English is widely spoken. For the most part, travelers can cope with only English. As you migrate outside of San Juan’s city limits English becomes a minority. Spanish is the main language used in remote areas of Puerto Rico.
I was able to cope with my rudimentary Spanish skills. I only became flustered while parking my car at Crash Boat Beach.
Ability to meet other travelers in Puerto Rico
Puerto Ricans are sociable and extroverted. They love to express themselves and greet all strangers with warmth and kindness. I was often invited into their homes to share a meal or learn more about the island. Unfortunately, I was shy and declined the offer most times.
Though a solo road trip may sound lonely, I was never truly alone on my travels.
In San Juan, I stayed at hostels and quickly made friends with other travelers. We ventured to the beach together and danced the night away in La Placita. It was also nice to explore Viejo San Juan (Old San Juan) as a group. It was as if I had my own personal Instagram photographer.
What would I do differently?
Looking back, my Puerto Rican road trip was a dream. There are times I wish I had planned a little better or, on the other hand, was a little more flexible. But I hold that same sentiment for nearly all my travels. Travel is unpredictable and we have to do our best to roll with the punches.
Ultimately, what made my Caribbean escape so exhilarating was the fact that I was exploring uncharted areas. When I first decided to travel to Puerto Rico, there was a major lack of resources to plan my upcoming trip. Many of the activities that I embarked on were from locals’ recommendations. The spontaneity and excitement I woke up with every day, is one of the many reasons Puerto Rico still remains to be one of my favorite tourist destinations for female solo travelers.
I’m so proud that I trusted my intuition and dove into solo travel. Before adventuring to Puerto Rico, I felt trapped that my travel plans hinged upon others’ schedules. I was constantly conferring with others about their availability and trying to fit my travels around that. Solo travel gave me the freedom to explore the world freely. No longer was I committed to a 9-to-5 job or to others’ travel plans. I found the courage to strive after my own dreams.