Driving in Puerto Rico is a special experience. Puerto Rico boasts some very well maintained (and not so great) roads and highways, approximately 14,400 kilometers (8,900 mi) total. The Departmento de Transportacion y Obras Publicas (DTOP) is responsible for maintaining those roads. The three main interstates circle the island – Pri-1, PRI-2 and PRI-3 – making traveling quick and easy when there isn’t traffic.
If you are new to driving in Puerto Rico, you will see some unfamiliar sites on the roads and highways. While Puerto Rico’s traffic is on the right side of the road and follows the same basic driving rules as any US state, driving here is challenging.
Crazy drivers rule the roads in Puerto Rico and illegal driving habits abound. Follow these 3 simple rules and you will (most likely) make it through just fine:
- Stay alert
- Expect the unexpected
- Drive defensively
30 (Sometimes Crazy) Things You Will See Driving in Puerto Rico
Often unexpected on a tropical island; the amount of traffic you will encounter in Puerto Rico can be staggering. Watch out when driving near city centers during rush hour, when there is an event or near holidays and weekends.
Slow drivers on the left
You can pretty much throw out the idea of the left highway lane used for passing. Expect to see people driving as slow as they please – or as fast – in any lane they damn choose to.
Following speed limits can seem like an option in Puerto Rico. You will see people speeding way over the limit (sometimes in packs) and also driving well under the speed limit, particularly in the left lane (see above).
Motorcyclist behaving badly
If you think driving in Puerto Rico is suicidal, what until you see the motorcyclists! They generally pass in between cars, riding on the line at very fast speeds. Safety gear is rarely worn and t-shirts are the norm. Keep a look out so you don’t become the one fulfilling their death wish.
Red lights, yellow lights and stop signs
Apparently, yellow lights mean go faster in Puerto Rico, not slow to a stop. Red lights and stop signs are also negotiable. Be wary and always look both ways at an intersection before pressing the gas pedal when you get a green light. Be particularly careful driving through intersections in the early morning hours. At this time, stopping is optional.
On curvy mountain 2-way roads, local drivers who are familiar with the roads drive in the middle. It’s customary to give your horn a few quick toots before coming up on a turn to warn oncoming rivers. Stay well in your lane and drive slowly, despite the people tailgating you. To be extra cautious, keep your window open so you can hear other drivers coming your way.
Depending on which part of the island you are on, iguanas can be EVERYWHERE. We see them often lying in the road or squished on the highway. They are slow to move out of the way, which makes them unfortunate roadkill. Iguanas are actually a pest in Puerto Rico. They are an invasive species and numerous.
Speed bumps are great for getting people to slow down in neighborhoods, but in some areas, Puerto Rico went a little speed-bump crazy. You’ll find getting through very bumpy — every few feet — and it’s not fun. Oh, and let’s not forget to mention the tricky practice of not painting the speed bumps. If you don’t know what’s coming, you are in for a very jarring experience.
Missed your turn?
Don’t be surprised if you see someone in front of you stop and start backing up for no apparent reason…even on highways or exit ramps. Instead of going the long way, it’s just easier to back up in Puerto Rico if you missed your turn.
Talking on the phone & texting
While most states in the US have cracked down on this dangerous habit, it’s commonplace in Puerto Rico to drive while talking on the phone or texting. People do other things while driving too. From typing on their laptop, putting on makeup or eating a sandwich, you’ll see just about everything being done while driving.
Making a right turn from a left lane across traffic (or vice versa)
Don’t make the mistake of assuming someone will turn from the closest lane. It’s not unusual to see a left turn made across traffic from the right lane or a right turn made from the left-most lane. Bonus points if the turn is made at a red light.
Using your horn
In Puerto Rico, people communicate with their horn. Usually it’s to tell you to hurry up when you haven’t stepped on the gas pedal fast enough at a green light. Sometimes it’s just to vent anger when traffic isn’t moving at all. Sometimes, on mountain roads, it’s to warn people they are coming around the bend in the middle of the road. In any case, expect some aggressiveness on the road in the form of noise and beware of road rage.
U-Turns on red
Red light? Need to make a quick U-Turn? Why not—it’s only a red light and people are stopped already.
Your GPS will send you strange places
GPS is a mystery in Puerto Rico, mostly because it won’t understand the street names. It also likes to send you on the dreaded “Calle Marginal” instead of sticking to the highway. Businesses are often listed in places that don’t exist. We find it best to always check an address through several sources before heading off into unknown territory. Or even better, see our Tips on using GPS in Puerto Rico.
Streets can be very narrow, and it can be very tricky getting by, even on a 2-way road. In some instances you may have to pull in your car mirrors just to keep from scraping them off on the car next to you.
Big animals in small pickup trucks
Most of the ones you’ll see actually have some kind of gate to hold the critters in, but you WILL see the occasional horse, pig or llama freely riding in a light duty truck.
Just stop in the middle of the road
See a good mango at a fruit stand on the side of the highway? Need to text someone? See an old friend you REALLY need to talk to? It’s cool, just stop in your lane and do what you need to do. Never mind all the traffic behind you.
Turn signals? What are those for?
Most people don’t use turn signals or blinkers when changing lanes. In fact, using them may make it HARDER for you to change lanes because it warns other drivers that you intend on getting in front of them, at which point, they will speed up in order to block you from entering their lane.
On the flipside, if you see someone’s turn signal flashing, don’t necessarily believe it because it could be broken, or they mistakenly hit the turn signal while reaching for their Medalla beer.
That can guy…
The holy grail of road-spottings (in our house) is the can guy. He stacks an incredible amount of cans for recycling in very neat bags to impossible heights. Bravo!
Need to get somewhere in bumper to bumper traffic? That’s what the breakdown lane is for
There is a “no passing on the right” driving rule in Puerto Rico, but people generally ignore that and will drive wherever their car will fit. This includes using the shoulder, the breakdown lanes and even the grass.
Unfortunately, Puerto Rico’s streets are home to a multitude of stray dogs. You will see them on the highways, country roads and downtown areas.
Horses roaming freely on the side of the road
Grazing next to highways, tied along the road, and even herded and ridden through busy intersections: horses are very often free-roaming in Puerto Rico.
School buses with bling
We were surprised to see how much chrome and blinking lights cover the school buses in Puerto Rico. It turns out these privately-owned buses do double-duty on weekends as party buses, which makes more sense than doing it for the kids.
Decked out jeeps
Jeep “clubs” are a thing in PR. You will see groups of tricked out jeeps on weekends and holidays throughout the island. Bonus if they include one with ginormous speakers blasting reggaeton.
That guy with the overloaded truck
Whether he is moving, transporting coconuts or recycling, you will see overloaded trucks, big and small on the roads of Puerto Rico. Take notice and appreciate the complex stacking because it’s an art form on the island.
Pig (lechon) rules the plate in Puerto Rico, and much of the pork is raised on the island. Don’t be surprised to see large livestock trucks full of pigs – or even a few in the pickup in front of you – particularly around the holidays.
Roads are a little treacherous to your car’s alignment in Puerto Rico. Keep alert, even on highways, for big potholes that can damage your car. You can predict one coming your way if you see the cars in front of you swerving to the side at fast speeds for no apparent reason.
You will get cut off
Driving in Puerto Rico is an exercise in patience. You WILL be cut off and people will block intersections trying to get where they want to go. Expect this to happen (often) and it will save you a lot of energy screaming at other drivers. It’s really not a big deal here and people won’t care if you make a big fuss.
Really loud music
For some reason, Puerto Ricans equate really loud music with a party, even if it’s coming out of blown-out speakers on the sidewalk in front of Wal-Mart. Stores, car dealerships and moving vehicles (packed with speakers) like to blast your eardrums in the hope you will drop everything and follow like a child in the Pied Piper.
Police cars and ambulances
You will see police cars and ambulances driving around with their lights on A LOT. Don’t panic. They aren’t pulling you over or asking you to move over (though it’s best to move out of their way). In Puerto Rico, you only take them seriously when they use their sirens.
It could be the stunning lushness of the rain forest, winding mountain roads or a beautiful beach steps from your car door. Puerto Rico offers some of the most beautiful driving in the world. Get in your car and explore all this island has to offer!
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