How Much It Costs to Explore Puerto Rico: Independently vs. With a Guide

by  Lena Katz | Jul 19, 2018
San Juan, Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico / SeanPavonePhoto/iStock

If you've decided to support Puerto Rico's hurricane recovery by planning a visit, now's a great time to go boost local business. With beautiful beaches, majestic nature sights, and incredible bars and restaurants—most of which are back up and running—you won't have to try very hard to spend money on activities. 

Fortunately, many of the island's attractions are easy to reach and affordable—if you're up for it, Puerto Rico can be a great place to strike out on your own (especially for the budget-conscious). However, guided tours—while more expensive—offer the luxury of logistics planned for you. While there are some experiences you just can't get without a guide (the area around the El Yunque National Forest still has limited access; if you want to venture off the main roads, a licensed small-group outfitter is your best bet), in most cases, whether you explore independently or with a guide comes down to your preference and budget.

Here's a breakdown of the best activities in Puerto Rico, and what they'll cost to do on your own or with a tour.

If You Want to Hit The Beach...

Condado Beach, Puerto Rico / dennisvdw/iStock

Independent: Most of Puerto Rico's beaches are accessible by car and are free to enjoy. From Domes Beach in the tourist town of Rincón to The Wall, a surfing hotspot in Luquillo, to Combate on the southwest side, the shoreline is clean and ready for vacationers. If you're staying in the city of San Juan, you can easily spend a day at the beach without renting a car. Condado is walkable from downtown, or—for the city's finest stretch of sand—take a quick cab ride to Isla Verde.

Guided: If you prefer a beach with amenities built in—like on-site dining, lounge chairs, bar service, and family-friendly options—a day pass to one of the hotels' private beaches costs around $60 to $80 in San Juan and around the island. After dark, Puerto Rico’s bioluminescent bays have always been among its most spectacular adventures. Thankfully the luminescence was not quenched by the hurricane, although the route to the bay through the mangrove forest has been altered. You will have to go with a tour group to kayak or boat in a bio bay after dark—whether on Vieques or the main island. Tours start at $48 per person.

If You Want To Do Water Sports...

Surfing in Puerto Rico / AvatarKnowmad/iStock

Independent: It’s inexpensive (about $20 per hour) and easy to rent boogie boards, stand-up paddleboards, and surfboards in San Juan and at the main surfing beaches in Rincón, Aguadilla, and Luquillo. You can also rent or buy snorkeling gear from many of the dive and surf shops, although (if you can) we recommend bringing it from the mainland.  

Guided: Surf lessons have always been popular in Puerto Rico, but in recent years stand-up paddleboarding (also known as SUP) lessons and tours are gaining popularity. For an instructed outing, prices jump to around $75 per hour, but it can be worth it if you have no experience and want to learn the sport (plus, it's a great workout). Kayaking and snorkeling tours are less about the technical instruction and more for the access to see, and learn about, aquatic attractions, including the sea turtle hangouts and vivid coral reefs of La Parguera Nature Reserve. Prices range from $45-$70 for multi-hour group tour.

If You Want To Go Island Hopping...

Culebra, Puerto Rico / arenacreative/iStock

Independent: Puerto Rico’s smaller islands—Culebra, Caja de Muertos, and the cays off Guánica (including Cayo Aurora, nicknamed Gilligan’s Island)—offer the quintessential Caribbean experience: bath-warm waters, white sand, and a laid-back, remote atmosphere. To get to one cheaply, drive to the town on the main island that's closest to your destination, and board a passenger ferry ($2-$10 per person). You'll need to pack sunscreen, water, and food for the day. However, be prepared for a bumpy ride: The Culebra ferry is lovingly nicknamed “The Vomit Comet.”

Guided: While it’s up to 10 times more expensive, a luxe sailboat charter or a small-group snorkel boat is preferable to many people who can afford the $75-$99+ per-person price. For this, you'll be treated to extra amenities and refreshments, plus the ocean journey becomes part of the fun, rather than a jarringly uncomfortable means to an end.

Note: The ferry to Caja de Muertos, also a bumpy ride, was demolished by Hurricane Maria, and the operator has since replaced the boat with a newer, more comfortable catamaran.

If You Want To Sample Locally Made Food and Drinks

San Juan street food / alexandra oquendo/iStock

Independent: The Luquillo Kiosks, or kioskos, are a ramshackle, multitudinous sprawl of food stalls, restaurants, and hole-in-the-wall eateries. The kiosks are a one-stop tour of Puerto Rican food: $5 plates piled high with rice, beans, and pork; $2 fried snacks; and even fresh lobster dinners for a reasonable $100 per person. People who first behold the humble exterior often wonder why it’s worth the 50-minute drive from San Juan. However, on evenings with live music, while indulging in cheap mojitos and delicious, authentic eats, the question becomes: Why eat anywhere else?

Guided: San Juan has a diverse and energetic restaurant scene, but the tourist marketing machine is in full force—especially in Old San Juan. If you have limited time and want a culture lesson, good rum, and a few authentic Puerto Rican bites, small-group tour companies like Spoon Food Tours and Flavors of San Juan serve all this for around $80 to $100 per person. 

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