DESTINATIONS puerto rico car-travel-19


Car Travel

Several well-marked, multilane highways link population centers. Route 26 is the main artery through San Juan, connecting Condado and Old San Juan to Isla Verde and the airport. Route 22, which runs east–west between San Juan and Camuy, and Route 52, which runs north–south between San Juan and Ponce, are toll roads. Route 2, a smaller highway, travels west from San Juan toward Rincón, and Route 3 traverses east toward Fajardo. Route 3 can be mind-numbingly slow, so consider taking Route 66, a toll road that bypasses the worst of the traffic. Note that most tolls are cashless, so opting-in to a rental car company's EZ-Pass option is usually convenient; some companies, including Payless, even offer unlimited toll use for a flat daily rate.

Five highways are particularly noteworthy for their scenery and vistas. The island's tourism authorities have even given them special names. Ruta Panorámica (Panoramic Route) runs east–west through the central mountains. Ruta Cotorra (Puerto Rican Parrot Route) travels along the north coast. Ruta Paso Fino (Paso Fino Horse Route, after a horse breed) takes you north–south and west along the south coast. Ruta Coquí, named for the famous Puerto Rican tree frog, runs along the east coast. Ruta Flamboyán, named after the island tree, goes from San Juan through the mountains to the east coast. Note, however, that signage for all of these highways tends to be poor and inconsistent.


All types of fuel—regular, super-premium, and diesel—are available by the liter. Most stations are self-service. Hours vary, but stations generally operate daily from early in the morning until 10 or 11 pm; in metro areas many are open 24 hours. Stations are few and far between in the Cordillera Central and other rural areas, so plan accordingly. In cities you can pay with cash and bank or credit cards; in more remote areas, cash is occasionally your only option. Note, too, that you cannot pay at the pump, even with a debit or credit card; you'll need to go inside the station to pay before pumping.

Road Conditions

Puerto Rico has some of the Caribbean's best roads, but potholes, sharp turns, speed bumps, sudden gradient changes, and poor lighting can sometimes make driving difficult, especially outside of the metropolitan area. Be particularly cautious when driving after heavy rains or hurricanes; roads and bridges might be washed out or damaged. Many mountain roads are very narrow and steep, with unmarked curves and cliffs. Locals are familiar with such roads and often drive at high speeds, which can give you quite a scare. When traveling on a narrow, curving road, it's best to honk your horn before you take any sharp turn. Roads–even major ones–are often poorly marked, if at all.

Traffic around cities—particularly San Juan, Ponce, and Mayagüez—is heavy during rush hours (weekdays from 7 am to 10 am and 3 pm to 7 pm).

Roadside Emergencies

In an emergency, dial 911. If your car breaks down, call the rental company for a replacement. Before renting, make sure you investigate the company's policy regarding replacement vehicles and repairs out on the island, and ask about surcharges that might be incurred if you break down in a rural area and need a new car.

Rules of the Road

U.S. driving laws apply in Puerto Rico. Street and highway signs are most often in Spanish but use international symbols; brushing up on a few key Spanish terms before your trip will help. The following words and phrases are especially useful: calle sin salida (dead-end street), carril (lane), cruce de peatones (pedestrian crossing), cuidado (caution), desvío (detour), estación de peaje (tollbooth), no entre (do not enter), no estacione (no parking), salida (exit), tránsito (one-way), zona escolar (school zone).

Distances are posted in kilometers (1 mile to 1.6 km), but speed limits are posted in miles per hour. Speeding and drunk-driving penalties are much the same as on the U. S. mainland. Police cars often travel with their lights flashing, so it's difficult to know when they're trying to pull you over. If the siren is on, move to the right lane to get out of the way. If the lights are on, it's best to pull over—but make sure that the vehicle is a marked police car before doing so.


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