Backpacking Puerto Rico – Essential Pre-departure Tips

Puerto Rico beach under a cloudy sky.

There are many ways how you can explore the magnificent island of Puerto Rico. Sure, you can book a 5-star hotel trip, but where’s the outdoorsy adventure in that? If you are an outdoorsy type of traveler on a budget, may we suggest backpacking Puerto Rico instead? Have we managed to grab your attention? If we have, you’ll be thrilled to know that this article will be packed with all the essential pre-departure tips on backpacking Puerto Rico.

If you choose backpacking Puerto Rico instead of booking luxury hotels, you can get more bang for your bucks. Get yourself a comfortable backpack, toss in some summer clothes, a sunscreen lotion, and a mosquito repellent, and you are all set for breathtaking trails and amazing waterfalls. If you are a US citizen, you don’t even need a passport.

Stay tuned for more detailed tips on what exactly you should pack for backpacking Puerto Rico, as well as which top Puerto Rico backpacking trails you should visit.

What to pack for backpacking in Puerto Rico?

Packing for backpacking Puerto Rico doesn’t have to be a headache. With the help of our following list of backpacking essentials, you can rest assured that your backpacking in Puerto Rico will run smoothly. For more useful tips on backpacking in general, check out our blog. There you can learn how to add compression straps to a backpack or if you need a multi-tool for backpacking.

#1 A backpack

Before you start packing anything else, you need to make sure that you have a comfortable and practical backpack that can fit everything you might need for your Puerto Rico trip. Choose the backpack that meets the standards for carry-on luggage on an airplane. Osprey backpacks may be just a thing for you and we’ve even written a piece on how to pack Osprey Aether 70.

#2 Summer clothes

Puerto Rico features hot weather all year round, even during the winter. That being said, you won’t really need to pack any of your winter clothes for backpacking Puerto Rico. However, you can’t just pack flip-flops and swimwear either. Here’s a list of clothing that you should pack:

  • T-shirts
  • Denim shorts
  • Bathing suits
  • Beach cover-up
  • Flip-flops
  • Hiking boots or sandals
  • Light hiking pants
  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Hat
  • Light rain jacket
  • Water shoes

Certain items on this list, such as water shoes or a rain jacket might surprise you, so we would like to elaborate on them more. Puerto Rico boasts beautiful beaches, as well as spectacular waterfalls. To get there, you are well-advised to wear water shoes.

Water shoes that dry quickly and have a rubber sole with arch support can go a long way. They can protect your feet and take you both to the beach and to the end of hiking trails where a lot of magnificent waterfalls are located.

The weather in Puerto Rico is generally sunny, but it does feature frequent rain. This is especially true if you visit Puerto Rico between April and November when it’s the rainy season. That is why it’s a good idea to toss a light rain jacket into your backpack.

#3 Mosquito repellent

Puerto Rico is a tropical island, or more precisely speaking, an archipelago that consists of several islands. There are a lot of mosquitoes everywhere and we strongly encourage you to pack a mosquito repellent. Mosquito bites can be really unpleasant and they can transmit illnesses such as Dengue or Zika, so make sure you always protect yourself against these pests.

#4 Power bank

Bring a lightweight power bank or portable charger with you. Keep in mind that it’s not uncommon to experience power shortages and blackouts in Puerto Rico, especially after Hurricane Maria in 2017. To make sure that all your electronics are charged, always bring a portable charger with you.

#5 Travel documents

If you are a US citizen, you can safely leave your passport at home and enter Puerto Rico with just an ID. Otherwise, you should do your research and check the visa and passport requirements for traveling to Puerto Rico that are the same as for entering the US mainland.

#6 Water filter

You should know that it is safe to drink tap water in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico follows the same EPA Safe Water Act as the USA. However, while backpacking Puerto Rico, you won’t always have access to tap water. By the same token, carrying bottled water around is heavy, so the most sensible thing to do is to bring a water filter or water filtration bottle. You can find more tips on how to filter water in our blog.

#7 Snorkeling gear

If you are into snorkeling, you should pack your snorkeling gear as well, as there are plenty of beautiful beaches where you can go snorkeling. You can also rent snorkeling gear at certain places, but keep in mind that it is more expensive than simply bringing your own gear.

#8 Waterproof bag and waterproof phone case

There are many water adventures that you can enjoy in Puerto Rico. You will want to take pictures to remember them all. Make sure that you protect your phone by putting it in a waterproof phone case. In the same vein, protect your personal belongings by placing them in a waterproof and resistant dry bag. This is vitally important when you are visiting beaches, rivers, and waterfalls.

#9 First aid kit

You should make it a habit to bring a first aid kit with you on all of your backpacking trips. It should be at hand in case of any emergency. Choose a small and compact one that you can easily throw in your backpack, without adding unnecessary weight.

#10 Sunscreen lotion

While you enjoy hiking, sunbathing, and snorkeling in Puerto Rico, don’t forget to protect your skin against harsh weather conditions. Our recommendation is an SPF 50 sunscreen lotion, ideally, one that is safe for the environment and doesn’t contain chemicals that are harmful to marine life.

Tourists in Old San Juan in Puerto Rico.

Top Puerto Rico backpacking trails

Backpacking and hiking trails are abundant in Puerto Rico. In this part of our article, we aim to present you with the top three Puerto Rico backpacking trails. If you are hungry for inspiration for your next hiking trip, you may also want to check out our guide on the best hikes in Canada.

El Toro Trail in El Yunque National Forest

El Toro Trail is one of the most difficult trails that you can find in El Yunque National Forest, which is the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system. This is a challenging trail due to the muddy terrain and a climb that can take from 3 to 5 hours to complete. The best way to reach El Yunque, from San Juan is to rent a car.

El Yunque has plenty of waterfalls and we suggest that you wear swimwear underneath your clothes so you can take a dip in one of the many waterfalls. The diversity of flora and fauna on the El Toro Trail will astound you. This trail goes through three different types of forest. We suggest that you wear long hiking pants and hiking shoes or boots that you don’t mind getting really muddy.

Mt Britton Trail in El Yunque National Forest

If you are pressed for time, you can take Mt Britton Trail, which is a 45-minute climb through the sierra palm forest and the cloud forest to Mt Britton Tower. The tower is constructed of stone and on a clear day, it offers spectacular views of the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean. Mt Britton trail is steep, but only for about a mile and the views from the top are worth all the trouble.

Los Morrillos Lighthouse in Cabo Rojo

Los Morrillos Lighthouse is one of the most famous landmarks in the municipality of Cabo Rojo. It is an easy 1.5-mile trail that is suitable for any type of hiker or backpacker. This lighthouse is located on an isolated cliff, surrounded by lagoons and marshes. It was restored and reopened to the public in 2007. Los Morrillos Lighthouse is fully automated and it helps ships navigate safely through the Mona Passage.

Final tips on backpacking Puerto Rico

We hope that we’ve compiled a multitude of useful tips on backpacking Puerto Rico. To prepare you even better for your adventure in Puerto Rico, we have a few more final tips that we would like to share with you:

  • Leave Old San Juan whenever you can – while Old San Juan is perfect for weekend getaways, you will want to explore Puerto Rico beyond this city.
  • Rent a car – there is public transportation in Puerto Rico, but we strongly suggest that you rent a car to go out of San Juan.
  • Tipping is customary – when you are in restaurants, hotels, or bars, you are expected to tip 15% of the check. You can also tip taxi drivers, bartenders, and bellhops.
  • Puerto Rico’s currency is the US dollar – if you are traveling from the USA, this means that you don’t have to worry about currency exchange.
  • Learn some basic Spanish phrases – both Spanish and English are official languages in Puerto Rico. English is spoken mainly within tourist areas and learning a few basic Spanish phrases will definitely help you get around.

After reading all of our tips from what to pack to what trails to visit, you are all set for departing for Puerto Rico. Once you’ve finished your backpacking trip to Puerto Rico, you may also find useful our 10 awesome cleaning tips on how to clean a hiking backpack.

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