Read my original nature poems right here!

Read my original nature poems right here!

Our Puerto Rico Trip Cost: 2 Weeks in Paradise

Our two week Puerto Rico trip cost (for two people) came out to $9427.25. We had planned on spending about $7,200 (and definitely could have spent that–or less), but we got a little carried away with some experiences, and lots of food.

Here’s a quick breakdown of our biggest costs…

  1. Flights: $1,682.60
  2. Car rentals: $1,212.28
  3. Lodging (all Airbnbs): $2,590.70
  4. Food: $2,501.50 😱
  5. Experiences: $625.98
  6. Souvenirs: $551.33
  7. Miscellaneous (Ubers, sunscreen, detergent, etc): $262.86

That right there is how we spent our money in Puerto Rico. But you can avoid many of those costs by planning a different style trip. For example, we first flew to Vieques (an island off Puerto Rico’s east coast) with a layover in San Juan. This added a short flight in a small plane over to the island, which nearly doubled the cost of our flights.

Experiences You Shouldn’t Skip

There were a few things you shouldn’t miss experiencing while in Puerto Rico (you can read a big list of them right here). There are delicious restaurants and exotic drinks, ecosystems unlike anywhere else on Earth, and people worth going out of your way to meet. Don’t skip these experiences when visiting:

  1. Snorkeling (duh). But you don’t have to spend the extra money to get to Vieques for great snorkeling. Don’t miss your chance to see sea turtles, octopus, stingrays and numerous colorful fish like we did. Even if you’re not a great swimmer, there are plenty of snorkeling opportunities.
  2. Visit El Yunque. El Yunque is the only tropical rainforest in America’s National Forest system. It’s a very biodiverse jungle with hiking, views, and swimming holes fed by waterfalls. You can read about our El Yunque experience (and get some tips for visiting) right here.
  3. Visit old churches. Spending time in old buildings like churches is one of my favorite activities while traveling. Beautiful cathedrals are abundant in Puerto Rico, and most are free–or just ask for a small donation.

Our Lady of the Candelaria Cathedral, Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, 6/11/23

Saint John the Baptist Cathedral, the oldest cathedral in the United States, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, 6/4/23

  1. Old San Juan is a well-preserved, historic district reaching into the Atlantic Ocean from greater San Juan. It has great food (including a famous gelato shop), beautiful architecture (old, old churches), and lots of history to explore.

Save Money and Visit Puerto Rico for less than $5,000

Based on our experience, you can have an amazing trip to Puerto Rico at a much lower price tag than the almost $9,500 we spent. You can also go much higher. I’m going to lay out a few ways to visit Puerto Rico without spending more than you need to. Let’s start with flights…

1. Save Money on Puerto Rico Flights

First of all, if you’re planning a trip, always turn on Google’s flight tracker. That’s how I stay up to date on less expensive flights to destinations I’m researching. To avoid expensive plane tickets, book your flight for Puerto Rico’s off-season (or at least outside the busiest times of year). The weather in Puerto Rico is consistently nice, but hurricane season is September through November. While it’s uncommon for massive hurricanes to hit Puerto Rico, it might be more rainy this time of year. Plan accordingly!

Spring is popular for visiting Puerto Rico, and flight prices will reflect that. It’s warm and sunny this time of year, but the temperature can turn sweltering in the summer.

When we flew to Puerto Rico, we flew in May and were told the big touristy season was winding down. We only paid $1,682.60 for round-trip airfare (including baggage fees), but we nearly doubled our cost by choosing to fly to Vieques, only stopping in San Juan for a layover.

Here’s where you can save some money: you might skip Vieques (or take the ferry there later) and save ~$750 just on flights. Vieques is a pricey, layback island, so those savings will pile up when we account for daily expenses.

2. Vieques Jeep Rental & Puerto Rico Car Rental

If we’d skipped Vieques (and after going there, we certainly would NOT skip Vieques), we’d have saved another $524.49 just on renting a Jeep there for 5 days. You can also rent overland golf carts (or nothing at all) because Vieques is a pretty small island. If you’re staying on the south side in Esperanza, there are beaches, snorkeling, bio bay tours, and awesome restaurants within walking distance. Same deal if you stay on the north side of the island, though Esperanza felt much more walkable.

Golf carts were significantly cheaper, but you won’t be able to visit the remote beaches on Vieques or explore the National Wildlife Refuge with anything other than a Jeep, or another large 4X4. Alternatively, you could skip the car rental and request a ride to and from the small airport to your lodging.

Finally, we rented a car for the 9 or 10 days we drove around Puerto Rico. We visited lots of cool places, but you know what? There are countless experiences within driving distance of San Juan. You can book tours so you won’t need a car, rent a car for just a day instead of your whole trip, and Uber everywhere else.

If you make San Juan the home base for your trip, I highly recommend staying in beautiful Old San Juan. Trust me, some of the resorts and hotels just east of the preserved, old city are suffocated by concrete and cars. Just a nature lover’s two cents.

3. Skip Private Tours and Book With a Group

For snorkeling on Vieques and waterfall exploring at Charco El Hippie, we took private tours. Salty Spirit on Vieques offers group and private snorkel experiences, and we opted for a private tour for two. This tour was $130 per person, with a group was $70 per person. So we could have saved $120 on this tour.

Similarly, we paid a local to show us to the top of Charco El Hippie, a beautiful waterfall system south of El Yunque. For $100, he took the two of us waaay up high above the tourust area on private land he was allowed to access. With some planning (and we did not plan on this experience), we might have invited another person or couple to come along, splitting the cost.

In short, you can save a few hundred dollars by opting for group experiences rather than private tours.

4. Take Advantage of Free Experiences

You do not need to pay for snorkeling, waterfall exploring, hiking, or walking around beautiful cities and towns in Puerto Rico. There are many beaches with excellent snorkeling right off the shore, just ask locals or poke around online. If you’re visiting El Yunque, skip the tours altogether and explore the park yourself, with a map. Finally, skip guided city walks and explore yourself. Locals and the internet are resources enough to get the most out of beautiful Puerto Rican cities and towns.

5. Don’t Stay on the Water

In addition to staying in San Juan, you’ll save some lodging expense by not staying right on the water. In Cabo Rojo, we stayed at the Red Door Beach House, a popular Airbnb a stone’s throw from Playa Buye, one of the nicest (and most crowded) beaches in Puerto Rico. This beautiful Airbnb (our favorite of the whole trip) cost $859.94 (for 2 nights), 33% of all money spent on lodging. There were some places a two minute drive from Playa Buye that were much less expensive. Always check prices away from the water.

Similarly, on the island of Vieques we stayed on the water above a beach bar. It was an amazing location, but it came with a bigger price tag ($617.70 for 4 nights) than some of the others in the area.

But remember, sometimes that last night right on the water will be your favorite. Splurge where you can, and save money where you need to.

6. Skip Alcohol

We drank some wine and a few cocktails…but duh! Don’t succumb to alcohol culture. There is so much natural beauty to Puerto Rico that doesn’t require a buzz. Alcohol is expensive and unhealthy. If you drink, I do recommend a piña colada and a glass of wine here and there, but don’t overdo it and you’ll save plenty of dough.

Don’t buy into the hype. Puerto Rico is more rainforest, snorkeling, and waterfalls than tiki drinks and partying.

If you don’t drink alcohol, save that money for your next trip!

7. You Don’t Owe Anyone Souvenirs

Does that idea sound crazy to you? It shouldn’t. Spend your hard-earned money on amazing trips and politely encourage your friends and family to make good financial decisions that will allow them to take amazing trips. Show some pictures, talk about what you loved, and never say things like “you should go!” or “I wish you could have come!”

Of course they should go, and of course you’d love for them to be there.

But that’s not reasonable for everyone. Maybe they’re not financially ready, or maybe they have other aspirations for their money.

That doesn’t mean you need to purchase a bunch of…crap…to let them know you care. Most souvenirs are indeed crap. If it’s made of plastic, comes in a plastic package, or is alcohol, I promise your loved one can go without. You should never buy a souvenir in an expensive, touristy part of town.

Let them know you care while propping up what matters in a relationship. Say things like “I thought of you when we explored waterfalls. Check out how beautiful these pictures are!” or “We enjoyed a bottle of that wine you love. I thought of you as soon as I saw it!” or “I want to cook you this amazing meal we had!”

If you are going to get souvenirs, don’t plan it out. Don’t ever have a list of people you need to buy souvenirs for. If you see something that reminds you of someone (and isn’t touristy crap), make the purchase. It’ll be much more meaningful that way.

My advice? Skip souvenirs. You have much more to offer your friends and family than money spent on throwaway goods.

Souvenirs I Like

Here are a few souvenirs my wife and I have bought friends and family that I see them use and cherish to this day. Try to purchase things that fit this mold of durability and beauty…

  1. Pottery from a artisan in Acámbaro, Mexico. We found the artist at a small market and she met us at her shop to see everything she had for sale. She didn’t offer shipping, didn’t accept credit cards, and had quite a few cats and dogs around the workshop. Each piece was marked with the location and artistically represented Mexico.
  2. Larimar rings from Puerto Rico. Larimar is a rare stone only found in the Caribbean. Throughout Puerto Rico you’ll find pretty jewelry made with the beautiful blue stone. Rings are my preferred jewelry souvenir because they’re the least likely to be damaged (necklaces and earrings seem more fragile).
  3. Books for myself (or other bookworms). I like to visit bookstores and try to find something with a local vibe to read. Poetry is my book of choice for souvenirs, but you might find something noteworthy in old bookstores abroad. For example, I found a tattered book of Spanish poems at El Coquí Bookstore in Rincon, Puerto Rico. Art Museums are also excellent places to find your artsy friend or family member a coffee table book they’ll flip through for years to come.

Can I Visit Puerto Rico for Less than $5,000?

Yes! Based on the above points, here’s where we could have saved $4,500 on our trip.

  • Skip Vieques (save $2,500): The mainland of Puerto Rico is full of amazing beaches, great restaurants, and natural curiosities (like fantastic beaches, snorkeling, and cliffs). You don’t need to visit the islands of Culebra or Vieques to make the most of your trip. Instead of a two week trip, we might have skipped Vieques and spent just 10 days in Puerto Rico. This would have saved us $1,800 on flights, Jeep rental, and lodging. If our average daily food cost was $178.67, we could have saved $700 on food. Let’s leave it at that for skipping Vieques: $2,500 spent just on visiting this little island.
  • Don’t eat out 3 times per day (save $1,500). We could have easily reduced our average daily cost of food from $178.67 to well under $100 for two, and still have enjoyed ourselves tremendously. 10 days of food at $100 per day (rather than 14 days at $178.67) is only $1,000, saving us another $1,500.
  • Choose free experiences or book with a group (save $500). I think paid experiences hold their value, but with some shopping around or reading advice on the internet (like this article), you can find lots of things to enjoy for less. Booking with a group, we could have saved $120 on snorkeling. Or, with some research, you might find the best spots to snorkel for free. Our guide took us wading off a popular beach, and we saw stingrays, turtles, and an octopus. A guide will always elevate the experience (and make something like snorkeling much safer), but there is the option to explore reefs on your own for free. By choosing free or less expensive experiences, we could have saved $500.

Look at that, we didn’t even touch souvenirs!

As you can see, we had quite a bit of flexibility in where we could have saved money. At the end of the trip, though, we were glad to spend our trip the way we did. We had amazing experiences, delicious food (plenty of vegan options), and came home with memories, photos, and souvenirs that will last a lifetime (and inspire us to return to Puerto Rico, I’m sure).

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of ways to save money while traveling to Puerto Rico. Make a budget and stick to it. We drastically overspent on food and souvenirs, and could have saved a couple hundred dollars on experiences.

Remember, the more money you save on those small things (and bigger items like flights and rental cars), the more trips you’ll be able to take later. Spending and consuming less will always lead to greater satisfaction, even if it’s a little uncomfortable or inconvenient in the moment.

A lovely purple flower from El Yunque Trail, 6/7/23

The view from the top of Mt. Britton Tower, 6/7/23

Puerto Rico Experiences

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George Callahan is the creator of Pine Tree Poet. He is an author of fantasy stories and an adventure poet. He prefers mountains and pine trees to most other things, and usually takes his dog Cowboy along for the ride.

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