If you look at the Crime in the United States reports published online by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it's clear that Puerto Rico has a crime problem. As of 2013 the island's murder rate of 24.4 per 100,000 residents was substantially higher than murder rates in the New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago metro areas for that year 3.5, 4.5, and 6.4. 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. Carjacking and car theft are also depressingly common, so take care where you leave your car and don't leave valuables inside. If you are driving late at night, running red lights after slowing or stopping to check for cross-traffic is generally tolerated by the police because of the risk of carjacking, as long as you don't do it in a dangerous fashion i.e., racing continuously through multiple red lights at high speed with no apparent concern for cross-traffic.
If you are concerned about the risk of being mugged while walking around at night, or while walking on beaches or shorelines at dawn or dusk a serious problem in San Juan and Ponce, then simply stay at a gated luxury resort in the countryside and visit the cities during daylight hours. Secure resorts can be found in Dorado, Rio Grande, Fajardo, and Humacao.
Make sure to stay away from public housing projects known as caseríos, 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 is considered quite rude. Avoid drawing a lot of attention to yourself and be polite at all times.
Like anywhere in the world, you will encounter beggars on the streets of San Juan and Ponce. Avoid eye contact and resist the temptation to give them money, as most are drug abusers or scam artists. If you feel a beggar is harassing you, a loud "No" will suffice in most cases.
Tap water is very safe to drink in Puerto Rico and it has even been mentioned as one of the best tap water qualities in the world. When spending the day walking in the hot tropical sun it is important to stay hydrated. You can ask for a glass of water as well as a refill of your bottle at restaurants, bars, hotels.
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.
Dengue fever, a disease transmitted by mosquitoes, is sometimes a problem mostly in metropolitan areas. Although not too many people are affected by this, if you're prone to bug bites it would be good to use bug repellent when staying near some suburbs.
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 Congo from Central Africa that is considered to have had the most impact on Puerto Rican Spanish. Many of these words are used today.
When the Spanish settlers colonized Puerto Rico in the early 16th century, many thousands of Taíno people lived on the island. Taíno words like hamaca "hammock", hurakán "hurricane", and tobacco came into general Spanish as the two cultures blended. Puerto Ricans still use many Taíno 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 Mayagüez, Guaynabo, Humacao or Jayuya. You will also find Taino words in different parts of the Caribbean.
Public access internet penetration is not as good as in the Mainland U.S. or Europe yet. Internet cafes exist but are not very common, although some cafes, such as Starbucks, and restaurants, such as Subway, provide free Wi-Fi. Some of the major metro areas provide free WiFi zones, such as along Paseo de la Princesa in Old San Juan, but these tend to be slow and unreliable. There is no free Wi-Fi at the primary airport, Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport SJU. Most hotels provide wired or wireless or both internet for guests, either for free or a fee, however many motels do not.
Puerto Rico has continually strived to improve Internet access across the island.
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.
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:
china – orange ordinarily naranja
zafacón – trashcan basurero Zafacon comes from zafa from southern Spain, which is derived from the Arab word zafa "trash container"
chavo – penny centavo
menudo – loose change moneda is "coin", a menudo is "often"
flachlai – flashlight linterna
wikén – weekend fín de semana
guagua – bus autobús
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 women to have cat calls, whistles and loud compliments directed at them. These are usually harmless and it is best to just ignore them.
If you plan to mingle with locals and/or go off the beaten path where few tourists venture, it helps to dress like the locals. Puerto Rican adults do not wear shorts in public except at the beach, pool or gym. In Puerto Rico, shorts are for children and tourists. T-shirts with slogans or logos are also not worn by locals. Shorts and T-shirts will give you away as a tourist, if worn at night in the tourist areas. Stick with light khakis or blue jeans, and polo shirts or plain T-shirts with no logos or slogans.
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.
Although English is also a official language, it's generally perfered to express yourself in Spanish. As as mentioned above, most Puerto Ricans speak spanish and many Puerto Ricans aren't billingual. Puerto Ricans see that speaking spanish is a sign or respect for their cultural identity.
Puerto Rico is generally much more LGBT-friendly than other Caribbean nations. Homosexual acts are legal, LGBT people are protected by law from discrimination, and there are many gay-friendly areas in San Juan and Ponce. As in the United States, youth are much more accepting of LGBT people than the older generation.
Nevertheless, attitudes towards homosexuality in Puerto Rico are still at least as conservative as those found in the American Bible Belt, due to the island's Roman Catholic heritage and a culture that places a lot of emphasis on machismo. Open hostility is rare, especially toward foreigners, but be prepared for stares or criticism.
Puerto Rico has a modern cell phone network. With one major exception, all the major US carriers are represented and offer domestic non-roaming service for US subscribers with nationwide plans. As of 2014, AT&T has the best coverage on the island, while T-Mobile runs a close second. Sprint works in some areas, but is not as reliable. Verizon phones work, displaying "Extended" without incurring roaming charges you may have to enable data roaming to use 3G. Other CDMA carriers will also roam on Claro or Sprint. For non-US travelers, AT&T and T-Mobile are the GSM carriers; Sprint and Claro are CDMA and are probably not compatible with your phone.
All of the major metro areas have solid coverage with all carriers. For rural areas and the islands Culebra and Vieques, coverage is pretty good but can be spottier than in the states and you may find poor or no coverage at the beaches. AT&T is generally regarded to have the best voice coverage, followed by Sprint and T-Mobile, and then Claro Verizon.
T-Mobile has 3G and 4G data in the major metro areas, averaging over 1,500 kbps, but they only have 2G outside those areas. Personal hot spots work well for streaming and other uses in the 3G and 4G areas. T-Mobile's data network has been updated in many metropolitan areas with HSPA+ and most recently LTE service providing for faster speeds.
AT&T has the most consistent and by far the fastest data coverage on the island, with solid 4G LTE/HSPA+ and 3G coverage in the metro areas and 3G or 2G in the rural areas. Data rates average around 500 kbps on 3G and speeds on the 4G LTE network can be up to 10 times fast than 3G. Personal hot spots work well for streaming and other uses in the 3G and 4G areas.
Sprint has coverage similar to AT&T, but their data rates average around 200 kbps and are bursty with a lot of latency. Personal hot spots don't work well for streaming but are okay for basic data.