What you need to know about driving in Puerto Rico:
I heard plenty of stories about the crazy drivers in Puerto Rico before we went; in fact, anywhere you go in Latin America there are plenty of those types of stories. So, as always, we were taking it all in stride and with a grain of salt.
Fully aware that we may be in a bit of difficulty, we braved it anyway and rented a car for part of our trip because we really wanted to explore the island. So, now having been there and having seen it for ourselves, let me tell you about our experience of driving in Puerto Rico.
In this post you will find:
- Road conditions in Puerto Rico
- Driving habits of Puerto Ricans
- Weird road rules and behaviors
First, let me say that there are a lot of cars in Puerto Rico. In fact, we talked to some locals and they told us that just about every Puerto Rican gets a car at an early age. This is likely due to less than optimal busing system between the cities but that’s a topic for another post. Suffice it to say, that there can be a lot of cars on the road, especially in the San Juan area where rush-hour traffic can be crazy.
Driving in Puerto Rico: Road conditions
The highway systems in Puerto Rico is relatively new and the roads are quite nice (from our point of view). This is true for both San Juan area and city-connecting highways. The pavement is usually fairly smooth and the system is not complicated. We were amazed at how nice the highways were comparing to our pothole-infested highways here in Michigan.
We happened to mention this to a driver that picked us up for an excursion to Bio Bay and he was shocked. He said that all the locals complain about the road conditions – HA!
That’s not to say that all roads are great. If you go off the beaten path, you will find a few dirt roads that may require a 4-wheel drive, but generally in the cities and larger towns, it’s all fine.
Road signs are universal and the same as in the mainland but of course, in Spanish and you can expect to find several toll roads in Puerto Rico. Some of them do not accept cash and you have to have a MovilCash card, so you may want to rent one with a car.
Don’t expect Google maps to be always correct on directions and distances either, so figure where you’re going in advance.
Driving in Puerto Rico: Driving habits
In Puerto Rico, as in many other countries we’ve visited, drivers tend to be aggressive. If you linger at a four-way stop, you will stay there for a while. You have to be willing to be aggressive as well, or otherwise you are… well…screwed.
I observed an interesting phenomenon: it seemed that whoever stuck there car nose out the farthest at 4-way stops seemed to get the right of way, so you can’t be afraid to put yourself out there and push through the traffic. If you’re scared to do that, you will sit at the crossing for a long time and be the brunt of many horns. In fact, you may as well get used to hearing horns, everyone toots at each other. Funny thing is, I don’t think they mean it in a rude way; it is just sort of accepted.
Oh and you might as well forget blinkers, few people use them in Puerto Rico, so usually you have no warning when someone cuts you off on a highway. This is the norm.
Driving in Puerto Rico: Weird road rules and behaviours
You should know about some interesting rules of the road in Puerto Rico, both official and non-official:
- After midnight, all red intersection lights essentially become stop signs. So, you stop and look and go on a red light but only after midnight.
- At a red stop light, if there is no opposite traffic, everyone waits for the first brave soul to run the red light and then they all go as a hoard!
- You better stay alert because changing lanes and cutting off other drives is perfectly accepted – and remember, no blinkers.
- Miles and kilometers are mixed. Highway road signs are in kilometers but speed limits are in miles and so are car speedometers. If you ask for directions you will get the distance in time, as in “it’s 20 minutes down that way”. Gasoline is sold in liters.
- Police drive around with blue lights on all the time, so don’t panic or pull over unless you hear the siren.
- If they miss a turn, drivers may suddenly stop and back up; this is quite common as is making a turn from the wrong lane.
All in all, driving in Puerto Rico is not as bad as some said but not as easy as in most parts of the the mainland states. I would say that I prefer it to driving in Costa Rica, where I thought all drivers were insane.
However, one does have to stay very alert and always aware of other drivers. Tim spent a year in Korea while he was in the military and so he’s no stranger to very aggressive driving. He drove in Puerto Rico and adjusted very quickly, it didn’t seem like a big deal to him but I, on the other hand, was a little freaked out and quite happy to let him drive.