If you look at the statistics, it's clear that Puerto Rico has a crime problem. As of 2002 the island's murder rate was twice that of New York City but less than Washington DC. The crime rate is lowest in the wealthy suburbs outside major metropolitan areas, such as San Patricio or Guaynabo.
Nearly all crime is concentrated in the big metropolitan cities of San Juan and Ponce, and most of it is connected to the drug trade. However, the tourist areas of both cities are heavily patrolled by police, and violent crime directed against tourists is very rare. The main problem is theft: don't leave your belongings unattended on the beach. Car theft is also an issue, so take care where you leave your car and don't leave valuables inside.
Make sure to stay away from public housing complexes known as caserÃos, which are numerous and widespread throughout the island, and avoid shanty slums as well La Perla in San Juan. These are frequently the location of drug dealers and other illegal activity as well as violent crime. If you must venture into such a location, avoid doing so at night and do not take pictures or film local residents without permission. You should never take pictures of children without permission, as this can be quite rude. Avoid drawing a lot of attention to yourself and be polite at all times.
Fresh water lakes and streams in metropolitan areas are often polluted so avoid going in for a dip. You can, however, find freshwater streams and ponds in the rain forest that are safe to swim in. Generally, if you see Puerto Ricans swimming in it then you are probably okay, especially high in the rain forest. Puerto Rico is a tropical island but is free of most diseases that plague many other tropical countries of the Caribbean and the world. Tap water is safe to drink almost everywhere, and your hosts will let you know if their water is suspect. Bottled water, if necessary, is available, at grocery and drugstores in gallons, and most small stores have bottled water as well.
Medical facilities are easily available all around the Island, and there are many trained physicians and specialists in many medical fields. There are a number of government as well as private hospitals. Health services are fairly expensive. Keep in mind that a visit to the doctor may not be as prompt as one is used to, and it is common to have to wait quite some time to be seen three to four hours would not be exceptional.
Visitors should expect a high level of quality in their medical service - it is comparable to the U.S. mainland. Drug stores are plentiful and very well stocked. Walgreen's is the biggest and most popular pharmacy chain, although Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Costco offer medicines, as do numerous smaller local chains.
Puerto Rico has a very advanced communications network. Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile have native coverage. Verizon roams on their legacy network on the island, now operated by Claro. Other national CDMA carriers roam on Centennial Puerto Rico. (http://www.claropr.com/).
See also: Spanish phrasebook
Both Spanish and English are the official languages of Puerto Rico, but Spanish is without a doubt the dominant language. Fewer than 20 percent of Puerto Ricans speak English fluently, according to the 1990 U.S. Census. Spanish is the mother tongue of all native Puerto Ricans, and any traffic signs and such are written exclusively in Spanish, with the exception of San Juan and Guaynabo. Even in tourist areas of San Juan, employees at fast-food restaurants generally have very limited comprehension of English. However, people working in tourism-related businesses are usually fluent in English, locals in less touristed areas of the island can usually manage basic English, as it's taught as a foreign language in school. Menus in restaurants, even off the beaten track, are almost invariably bilingual this is not always the case. While fast food restaurants wil have the menu board in english, most dining restaurants will have only spanish menus.
That said, as anywhere, it's respectful to try make an effort and try to learn at least the basics of Spanish. Average Puerto Ricans appreciate efforts to learn the most widely spoken language of their territory, and most are more than happy to help you with your pronunciation. If you're already familiar with the language, be aware that Puerto Rican Spanish speakers have a very distinct accent, similar to the Cuban accent, which is full of local jargon and slang unfamiliar to many outside the island. Puerto Ricans also have a tendency to "swallow" consonants that occur in the middle of a word. Puerto Ricans also speak at a relatively faster speed than Central Americans or Mexicans. It is not offensive to ask someone to repeat themselves or speak slower if you have trouble understanding them.
Examples of words that are unique to Puerto Rican Spanish include:
chÃna - orange ordinarily naranja
zafacÃ³n - trash can basurero zafacon comes from zafa in southern spain derived from a arab word zafa meaning trash container.
chavo - penny centavo
menudo - loose change, moneda is coin
frachlai - flashlight linterna
wikÃ©n - weekend fÃn de semana
Guagua - bus autobus guagua is spanish, autobus is an anglicism just like futbol.
Taino influenceWhen the Spanish settlers colonized Puerto Rico in the early 16th century, many thousands of TaÃno people lived on the island. TaÃno words like hamaca meaning âhammockâ and hurakÃ¡n meaning "hurricane" and tobacco came into general Spanish as the two cultures blended. Puerto Ricans still use many TaÃno words that are not part of the international Spanish lexicon. The Taino influence in Puerto Rican Spanish is most evident in geographical names, such as MayagÃ¼ez, Guaynabo, Humacao or Jayuya. You will also find Taino words in different parts of the Caribbean.
The first African slaves were brought to the island in the 16th century. Although 31 different African tribes have been recorded in Puerto Rico, it is the Kongo from Central Africa that is considered to have had the most impact on Puerto Rican Spanish. Many of these words are used today.
Politeness and a simple smile will get you far. For either gender, it is very common to customarily kiss on one cheek when greeting a female. This is never done by a male to another male except between relatives. Puerto Rican society is in general very social, and you will commonly see neighbors out at night chatting with each other.
It is wise in some cases to avoid discussing the island's politics, especially with regards to its political status with the United States. Arguments are often very passionate, and can lead to heated debates. In the same manner it may be wise to neither discuss the political parties, as Puerto Ricans can be very passionate about the party they affiliate with. Puerto Rico has 3 political parties, marked amongst other things by different stances towards the relation to the United States: PNP statehood, PPD commonwealth and PIP independence. PNP and PPD share the majority of the voters, whilst PIP has a relatively small rating.
It is common for attractive women to have cat calls, whistles and loud compliments directed at them. These are usually harmless and it is best to just ignore them.
Puerto Ricans love board games. Some would even say that the national game of Puerto Rico is dominos. It is a very common pastime, especially among older people. In some rural towns, it is common to see old men playing dominos in parks or the town square. Chess is also popular. Either a chess set or a box of dominos makes a great gift.
Homosexuality is a taboo subject in Puerto Rico, owing to their Roman Catholic heritage and a culture that places a lot of emphasis on machÃsmo. Nevertheless, Puerto Rico is more tolerant than many Caribbean nations. Youth are usually more open than the older generation, and there are a few gay-friendly areas in San Juan.