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As coronavirus cases continue to increase throughout the mainland U.S., Puerto Rico is encouraging only essential travel to the island, walking back their initial warm welcome to tourists that began just days ago.
According to Puerto Rico’s official tourism website, Discover Puerto Rico, the island has postponed its official tourism reopening to safeguard residents and visitors. The island will conduct a continuous assessment of Puerto Rico as well as the mainland U.S. to determine when it is safe for tourists to return.
While you still have the option to travel there, your trip will look much different than your typical vacation. Here’s what you need to know.
What to expect traveling to Puerto Rico
If you do choose to travel to Puerto Rico, expect to see a variety of health and safety precautions in action, as well as limited activities and services throughout the island.
Public beaches and natural reserves are only open for solo sport or exercise from 5:00 am – 7:00 pm. Attractions, tours, theaters, casinos, bars, clubs and gyms are all closed on the island. And restaurants and museums will be operating at 50% capacity with temperature checks upon entering, according to Discover Puerto Rico.
Also, shopping malls, hair salons and private spas will be open via appointment only.
Lastly, all businesses on the island (besides pharmacies, grocery stores and gas stations) will be closed on Sundays. Restaurants will be open only for pickup or delivery on Sundays, and alcohol cannot be purchased anywhere on Sundays.
While Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and traveling here during the pandemic may be less of a hassle than going abroad, there are still risks associated with it. If you do contract the coronavirus while there, you won’t have to worry about being stuck on the other side of the world far from home, and health insurance coverage, like Medicare and Medicaid, are active and accepted in Puerto Rico. But, you won’t be close to familiar doctors and will have to quarantine for at least 14 days, paying for the expenses out of pocket.
Note: The CDC still advises against all leisure travel due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. If you do choose to travel, make sure you adhere to all U.S. travel guidelines, including wearing a face covering at all times and practicing social distancing. Traveling in any way puts you at a higher risk of contracting the virus.
Before arrival & at the airport
To make your trip to Puerto Rico the most stress-free and least complicated as possible, you’ll need to get a molecular COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours before your travel and provide proof of a negative result when you arrive at the airport. You will also need to bring with you a complete travel declaration form and an airport exit confirmation number and QR code to show at the airport. If a traveler has completed all of these items, they can proceed with their trip.
If you have all of these items but are still waiting on the results of a molecular COVID-19 test you got at home, you must self-quarantine until you can provide proof of a negative test result. Once a negative test result is in, the quarantine will be lifted.
If you have not gotten a molecular COVID-19 test before arriving in Puerto Rico, you will be issued a testing authorization voucher at the airport. This voucher will allow you access to one of Puerto Rico’s testing centers to get a test. You must self-quarantine (except for visiting the testing center) until a negative result comes back. Refusal to take a test will result in a mandatory 14-day quarantine, at the traveler’s expense.
If any test is positive (taken on or off the island), travelers are required to quarantine for 14 days before they’re permitted to travel anywhere or leave the island.
If you arrive at the airport and appear to be exhibiting symptoms of the coronavirus, you will be administered a rapid COVID-19 test (consisting of a finger prick) at the airport. If this comes back negative, you are still required to quarantine until you visit a testing center and provide proof of a negative molecular test. If it comes back positive, you’ll be administered a molecular test at the airport and required to quarantine for 14 days. Refusal of the rapid or molecular test requires a 14-day quarantine.
Additionally, all air travel will be directed into one airport, Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, to ensure all arrivals to the island are following necessary procedures. Other airports on the island will open at a later date.
Face masks are mandatory while in the airport, and thermal cameras are in place to monitor temperatures of arrivals. Additionally, you must practice social distancing while in all public areas.
Taxis, ride-shares & hotels
Upon leaving the airport, certified transportation carriers are available to take you to your lodging destination. These vehicles are promised to be disinfected regularly and have hand sanitizer available. All drivers and passengers are required to wear face masks at all times while in the car, and the driver will wear gloves when handling your luggage.
Ride-sharing services (like Uber) are also available at the airport. These companies have released their own health and safety guidelines, which involve mandatory face coverings for everyone in the vehicle and no front-seat passengers.
Hotels and other lodging properties are being reviewed by the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, too. Those deemed safe will be given island-specific health certification seals. These certified lodging destinations will: give guests health and safety guides upon arrival, conduct temperature checks, require face coverings, keep pools, gyms and spas on property closed and sanitize their properties continuously.
Similar restrictions are in place for short term rental units (like Airbnbs). These properties will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected and will provide guests with ample cleaning and safety products during their stays.
It’s also recommended that guests check-in prior to arrival to ensure they meet any other requirements.
How to get to Puerto Rico on points and miles
Because recreation is currently limited and leisure travel is discouraged, you might not be thinking of traveling to Puerto Rico soon. But, if your travel is essential or you are planning a future trip, and you’re wondering how to make the trip on points and miles instead of cash, we’ve got you covered.
Booking with miles is always a worthwhile option. For example, a round-trip flight from New York to San Juan in early January 2021 is 17,500 miles and $5.60 each way — or 35,000 miles and $11.20 total — on United airlines. This is a great deal to take advantage of before prices start rising as the date gets closer!
You can earn 60,000 miles (enough to cover that trip and then some), just by opening up the United℠ Explorer Card and spending $3,000 on qualifying purchases within the first three months of account opening. Plus, you’ll get perks like a free checked bag just for being a cardholder.
Other airlines are also being pretty generous with their miles rewards, like Delta, where you can fly from Los Angeles to San Juan for just 35,000 miles and $12 each way during the same time frame.
You can easily rack-up enough miles for that just by earning the welcome bonus on a Delta credit card and using your card for everyday purchases until it’s time to book that trip.
As for lodging, you can redeem hotel points for incredible value on reward nights in Puerto Rico. Hilton Hotels boasts seven locations throughout Puerto Rico, with six of them being in San Juan. Depending on how luxurious you’d like your stay to be is how many points you’re willing to spend, you’ve got options.
By opening a Hilton credit card, you could earn enough points to get a few complimentary nights. With the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, for example, you can earn 150,000 points for spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
With any of these card options, you’ll make out like a bandit with hotel points and be able to stay in San Juan for a lot cheaper than if you paid with cash.
Puerto Rico is an island with an economy fueled by tourism, and while they are eager to welcome back visitors, their main priority is keeping its residents and visitors safe. The island needs to take extreme precautions to combat the pandemic — especially with an economy and infrastructure that are still recovering from the recent hurricane — so only essential travel from the mainland U.S. is recommended right now.
If you do travel to the island, expect to see lots of health and safety procedures in place and extreme limitations on what you can actually do.
So, maybe add the island to your travel wish list for the future instead of going right now. That way, you can start planning to get there on points and miles in the meantime!
Featured image by ESB Professional/Shutterstock.