How are Puerto Rico's highways for night driving?
November 10, 2015 8:32 AM   Subscribe

My wife and I are heading to Puerto Rico for a few days, and plan to explore the island and see a couple baseball games. One is in Mayaguez, but it's only just occurred to me that means driving back to San Juan at probably a little before 10pm. We live in the middle of nowhere, so I'm used to hours-long drives home late after we do something in the city, but my only experience driving in PR is from San Juan to the rainforest, during the day. Are highway conditions OK for driving at night if I only have tourist Spanish and don't really know where I'm going? I'll have an iPhone, but should I spring for the GPS with the rental car?
posted by aaronetc to Travel & Transportation around Puerto Rico (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
San Juan to Mayaguez can be traveled completely by taking a four-lane (or more) highway (toll-road). The pairs of lanes are nearly always separated by a grassy divider. Unless you are going over the mountains there would be no problem driving at night. Even the mountain roads are reasonable unless it is night plus rain.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:33 AM on November 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

We've found that our (Tom-Tom) GPS is a little more accurate on the PR roads than google maps on our phones. The drive, whether you are taking the northern or southern route (I would take the southern route, personally), will be highway - around the outer edge of the island - the majority of your drive. On the highways the signs are reasonably good so the toughest navigational parts will be beginning and ending city streets. Potholes will be the worst of your worries on the highways.

That said, we have heard stories of car-jackings at stoplights in the San Juan area, and I have more than one friend who only slows before running red lights late at night for that reason. I am not trying to fear-monger, and I don't go out of my way to avoid driving at night, but I certainly lock my doors when driving on the island.

Do make sure that your rental has the EZ Pass for the tolls as that will make the drive easier.

If it were me? I would get a hotel after the game and hit the beach in Cabo Rojo (south) or Rincon (north) and/or grab a bite to eat in Ponce (south) before driving back to San Juan the next day.
posted by zyxwvut at 9:45 AM on November 10, 2015

A friend of mine who grew up in PR and I drove Parguera to San Juan around midnight once and someone threw rocks at our car's windshield. If I had been driving, me being my naive midwestern self, I would have ignorantly stopped but my friend said no, you never stop, it's a known robber thing. We reported it at the next toll plaza but they were extremely unconcerned.

One more factor is that at midnight, we were the only car on the highway.

Which is not to say not to do it, so much as to say watch out for danger. My rule of thumb is that if no one else is doing it, there might be a reason.

Also, I have seen people galloping horses up the on-ramp on that highway.
posted by arabelladragon at 10:36 AM on November 10, 2015

I would second the advice to be careful in San Juan. Outside of the city, I never felt unsafe, but we actually had a pretty freaky incident occur the last afternoon we were there, when we took a wrong turn while checking out a restaurant outside of the typical tourist zone. We found ourselves in a dead end and when we'd turned around to leave, a big group of neighborhood teenagers had dragged a barrier across the road. We sat there and watched them as they asked us to roll down the windows and pay a donation, etc. After we convinced them we weren't going to pay (and I'd made a display of getting my phone out to call 911) they moved the barrier, but if it hadn't been broad daylight a few blocks away from a major street, we might have had a real problem.

There are also a lot of neighborhoods in San Juan where Google doesn't know that only one particular street out of dozens is actually passable, and the rest are blocked off, creating sort of an ad hoc gated community. These tend to close down at night and you can easily find yourself without a clear path forward. You can definitely be safe and overall it's a pretty safe city, but know where you're going and if you get lost, you are better off pulling over in a lot on a major street than just winging it until you find your way. If you're staying in an AirBnb your hosts will probably have lots of advice about this and you should follow it.

Unless you're going somewhere really remote, the road conditions will be fine, although cell coverage is spotty and gas stations can be infrequent in the mountains.
posted by feloniousmonk at 10:41 AM on November 10, 2015

Yeah, I found the roads on the whole to be in as good or better repair than the roads in the US. Everything is paved -- even the smallest roads. We did not encounter 1 dirt road in 7 days of actively attempting to see the entire island. Signage isn't bad either, & if you get lost, more people speak some English than you might imagine. Everyone we encountered was super-helpful. We travelled in a large group, (7 people crammed in a minivan) but I never once felt the least bit unsafe.

We only ventured deep into the city of San Juan during daylight hours, but it's hard to get totally lost when you can clearly see the mountains to the south from wherever you are. We went in search of local food & were very helpfully directed by two gentlemen sitting at an outdoor bar.

The highway from Ponce to San Juan is about as nice as any interstate in the US from what I can recall.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:53 AM on November 10, 2015

As long as you avoid the temptation to try and cut across the middle of the island, you'll be fine - the highway from Ponce to San Juan via Caguas is great, the other roads that on Google Maps look similarly sized....aren't necessarily. The one between Arecibo and Ponce is mostly wet switchbacks with passing traffic that wants to go 80 mph.

I would second zyxwvut and say to take it easy, stay the night in Mayaguez or Ponce, and drive back in the morning, especially since it sounds like you've already spent time on the Eastern part of the island. It's actually a very interesting drive along the southern coast with the windfarms and mountains and pineapple farms.
posted by theweasel at 1:05 PM on November 10, 2015

I believe it is actually legal to treat red lights as yield signs after a certain hour in PR. I don't know whether this is a legitimate safety measure or what, but I would take more care than you typically would in a similar situation in a U.S. state.
posted by wnissen at 1:27 PM on November 10, 2015

Thanks for all the responses. I do have a cancellable hotel in my back pocket, but we have a flight/hotel package in San Juan that we couldn't take a night out of, and our flight home is the day after the Mayaguez game, so my preference is to get back that night. I'm guessing games are more like the speed of minor league than major league games, so if Google Maps is roughly accurate on time we'd be back by midnight.
posted by aaronetc at 4:35 PM on November 11, 2015

I too found the roads (major highways) better than much if the US, and felt safe in San Juan as a woman alone, but perhaps that's just me and using the standard precautions. The one thing I will say is that you're far better off driving in the wee hours than trying to get into San Juan during morning commute hours. Coming from Rincon at 5:30am should have been a 2.5 hour drive, but took me 4 hours and made me feel super "autopista".
posted by phreckles at 9:15 PM on November 12, 2015

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