Everything you need to know about visiting Puerto Rico right now
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Editor’s note: This story was updated on Jan. 7, 2021, with new information. It was first published on July 13, 2020.
It’s 2021, but the coronavirus pandemic is raging stronger than ever throughout the United States. In response, multiple island territories in the U.S. have implemented strict lockdown protocols, including Hawaii and Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico’s new governor, Pedro Pierluisi, announced Tuesday, Jan. 6, that the island would no longer encourage nonessential travel beginning Jan. 8, despite the island’s desperate need for economic stability. However, Pierluisi’s executive order offered more flexibility for local residents and small business owners, who have been heavily affected by the pandemic.
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As of January 2021, here’s everything you need to know about traveling to Puerto Rico.
The U.S. island territory is located off the southeast coast of eastern Florida. The population of 3.2 million has seen more than 125,000 cases and more than 1,200 confirmed deaths from COVID since the beginning of the pandemic, with a Level 4: Very High Level of COVID-19 advisory from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After closing its borders at the beginning of the pandemic, Puerto Rico’s reopening got off to a rocky start in summer 2020, when original July reopening plans had to be rolled back due to a spike in coronavirus cases. The island has struggled since to maintain a healthy balance between keeping locals and tourists safe from the threat of COVID-19, and restarting its tourism industry, which is a crucial part of the local economy.
Before traveling to Puerto Rico
As of Jan. 8, all nonessential travel to Puerto Rico is discouraged, according to Discover Puerto Rico, the government tourism website. However, its borders are not officially closed.
The Discover Puerto Rico site defines essential travel as “travel for emergencies and humanitarian actions, including emergency medical flights and medical evacuation.” This definition includes essential personnel, including emergency responders and providers of public health technical support, critical personnel in the transport sectors such as seafarers and diplomatic officers, and repatriation to a home country. Additional CDC considerations can be found here.
Travelers who cannot postpone or cancel their travel must present a negative PCR COVID-19 test result taken no more than 72 hours before their arrival on the island. They must also complete an online form to travel the island without the mandatory 14-day quarantine.
All travelers entering the island must prepare to show proof of clean health as well as compliance with local wellness initiatives:
- In order to exit the arrival airport, travelers must complete an online travel declaration form from the Puerto Rico Health Department. Visitors ideally complete the form before arriving, but can also do so at the kiosks set up in the airport.
- All visitors age 2 or older must also produce a negative molecular COVID-19 test result, taken no more than 72 hours prior to travel departure time. Testing sites on the mainland U.S. can be found here. Given limited local resources, visitors are highly recommended to get tested prior to arriving in Puerto Rico.
- Travelers who do not have qualifying test results available at the time of arrival must enter mandatory quarantine for 14 days, or until satisfactory test results have been approved by local health officials, whichever happens first.
- Travelers will automatically receive an airport exit confirmation number and QR code when uploading their molecular test results to the Puerto Rico Health Department’s online portal.
Here’s what happens if travelers encounter issues with compliance:
- Travelers who cannot get PCR test results before traveling to Puerto Rico will be subject to on-site testing and 14 days of mandatory quarantine while awaiting results. If the test comes back positive, travelers must enter isolated quarantine and pay for medical treatment at their own expense.
- Travelers who refuse to take a COVID-19 test will be required to self-quarantine on the island for 14 days at their own expense before proceeding elsewhere.
- Travelers who display symptoms on arrival must undergo a rapid COVID-19 test and are required to self-quarantine, even if the result is negative. The quarantine will be lifted once a negative molecular COVID-19 test result is presented to the health department. If the rapid test comes out positive, the visitor will be required to take a second molecular test, and seek medical treatment in isolation at their own expense.
The Puerto Rico National Guard is assisting with enhanced health screenings at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (SJU), where all incoming passengers must currently enter. All entering travelers will be prescreened for fever or elevated temperatures via thermographic cameras, and enhanced protocols will take place at baggage claim before exiting the airport.
The San Juan International Airport has implemented the following protocols for preventing COVID-19:
- All workers and passengers must wear face coverings within the airport
- Only passengers are allowed to enter the terminals
- All screens throughout the airport emphasize COVID-19 prevention guidelines
- Approximately 100 hand sanitizer stations have been installed
- A fog-spray disinfectant allows local workers to sanitize the airport more thoroughly in less time
- A double and high-efficiency air conditioning filter system in compliance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Touchless hand dryers have been installed in bathrooms
- Bathroom cleanings are performed every 30 to 60 minutes, depending on usage
- Installation of acrylic barriers at airline check-in counters
- Increasing the frequency of cleaning boarding pass printing and registration kiosks, in addition to promoting online registration to minimize contact
What to expect in Puerto Rico
While Pierluisi has ordered nonessential travel to be put on hold, his executive order simultaneously offered more flexibility for local residents as well as support for small business owners, who have been heavily affected by the pandemic.
Beginning Jan. 8, Puerto Rico will enforce a 30-day curfew island-wide, where all residents and visitors must stay home between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. each night. (The current curfew begins at 9 p.m. and extends through 5 a.m.)
The current Sunday lockdown will also be suspended beginning Jan. 8 so that people can go about their business, provided they follow masking and social distancing guidelines.
- Beaches, natural attractions, marinas and pools can remain open as long as all visitors maintain a 6-foot social distance and follow mask wearing guidelines.
- People from different households are not permitted to gather together unless each household maintains a distance of 10 feet or more.
- People are not allowed to consume alcohol outside of their homes or restaurants.
- Supermarkets, pharmacies and gas stations are open, with supermarket delivery services available through midnight, according to the Discover Puerto Rico website.
- Museums, restaurants, casinos, gyms and theaters are operating at 30% capacity. Reservations are highly recommended.
- Pools at hotels and other establishments are open at 30% capacity. Common areas in hotels are subject to the island-wide curfew of 9 p.m. through 5 a.m. until Jan. 8, when they will close between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
- Bars and discos remain closed. Alcohol can be purchased between 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. until Jan. 8, when it can be purchased through 10 p.m.
- Taxis are accessible from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. until Jan. 8, when curfew hours extend until 11 p.m. Airport transportation services are the exception and run continually around the clock.
- The Puerto Rico Metropolitan Bus Authority and Tren Urbano subway system are operating.
- Ferries to Culebra are operating. Ferry service to Vieques remains available to residents only.
How to get there
For essential travelers, low rates to Puerto Rico are a silver lining right now. The cheapest nonstop rates between the island and Fort Lauderdale, Philadelphia, Newark and more U.S. mainland cities start at $113 round-trip through the first few months of 2021, or a few dollars cheaper on budget airlines.
Philadelphia (PHL) to San Juan (SJU) nonstop for $113 round-trip on JetBlue:
Newark (EWR) to San Juan (SJU) nonstop for $96 round-trip on Frontier:
Hotels are also plentiful, with more than 580 hotels available throughout the island as of January 2021.
The Fairmont El San Juan Hotel begins at $183 per night before taxes and fees in late January:
Marriott has 12 hotels on the island, from the Category 3 Four Points by Sheraton Caguas Real Hotel & Casino from 15,000 Bonvoy points or $139 per night, up to the Category 8 St. Regis Bahia Beach Resort, Puerto Rico, from 60,000 Bonvoy points or $624 per night — a steal right now, given that Marriott Bonvoy points are worth 0.6 cents apiece, equaling a room rate of approximately $360 per night with no additional taxes to account for.
The lowest rates at the San Juan Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino begin at $201 per night in cash, or 35,000 Bonvoy points per night.
Hilton offers seven hotels for Hilton Honors loyalty program members to choose from, including the Condado Plaza Hilton in Old San Juan from 38,000 Hilton Honors points, or $158 per night.
Additional reporting by Ariana Arghandewal.
Featured photo by Maremagnum/Getty Images.
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