We are back from our first trip to Puerto Rico. It was a great time with a few surprises. Although our work schedules would only permit us to take a week-long trip, we set out to learn as much as we could about the island and its viability as an early retirement location in the short time we had. And so we did all the normal stuff we do: we looked at real estate, food costs, infrastructure, climate, and more. Some things surprised us and some things were as we expected.
Below is a list of my first impressions of Puerto Rico:
Puerto Rico first impressions #1: Hawaii-like beauty
This was my very first impression of Puerto Rico. Having checked in to our hotel in Isla Verde (a self-proclaimed tourist capital of Puerto Rico), I looked out onto the beach from the terrace and it looked and felt like Hawaii. I’m not kidding; it looked exactly like Waikiki on Oahu. It was surreal and beautiful. It truly was. The island as a whole was amazing. The Atlantic beaches were incredible and the Caribbean beaches even better – WOW!!!! It was worth seeing them, even if we don’t end up settling there.
Puerto Rico first impressions #2: Familiarity to mainland
I could not believe how familiar Puerto Rico seemed. Yes, I know it’s a territory but I really didn’t expect it to be so much like the rest of U.S.A., Tim commented at some point: “This is just like Miami 20 years ago” and I have to agree with him. It felt very much like a Latin U.S. – which I suppose it is. We saw the same brands in the stores, the same chain restaurants and pharmacies, the same just about everything with a Latin flare. It’s really quite nice to be able to walk into a familiar Walgreen’s to get some itch relief after being eaten alive by the mosquitoes at the Bio Bay or grab a cheap Burger King breakfast after paying crazy amounts of money in the tourist areas.
Puerto Rico first impressions #3: Costs / Prices
For the most part, the prices for things were very similar to U.S. mainland. I’m talking restaurants, gas, even groceries (to some extent). Things were really expensive in the heavy tourist areas (just like in Vegas) but much cheaper outside of them. Smaller town prices were also much cheaper than San Juan. San Juan had everything you could possibly want but of course, it was not cheap. I suppose this is something I expected, so no big surprise there. Foods that were most expensive were those that were imported from the mainland and were perishable, like milk, eggs, etc. Local stuff was much cheaper; for example, mangoes were only $.79 but milk was $6.50/gallon!
Puerto Rico first impressions #4: Cleanliness
One of the first things I noticed about Puerto Rico was that it was much, much cleaner than other Latin American countries we’ve visited. One could still see some trash but not nearly as much as I expected. For example, Bocas del Toro islands in Panama were totally littered by plastic and trash but the pretty beaches in Puerto Rico were nearly pristine. Even outside of the city, driving around the country side, everything seemed much cleaner and better maintained. I loved it!
Puerto Rico first impressions #5: Cars everywhere
I was really surprised to learn that nearly everyone in Puerto Rico owns a car. It may not be a nice car but everyone has one. Puerto Ricans drive everywhere and they get a car at an early age. A few take buses but it’s not a common mode of transportation. This surprised me given the fact that a huge number Puerto Rico’s population supposedly lives under U.S. poverty level. I mean, cars are expensive as is gas, so I thought there would be fewer cars and more buses but that was not the case.
My overall impression of Puerto Rico:
I loved it. It was familiar, clean, and friendly but the prices and need for a car will need consideration. In the next few weeks, I will write more on the topic of getting around, real estate prices and cost of living. So, stay tuned.