Several well-marked, multilane highways link Puerto Rico's major population centers. Route 26 is the main artery through San Juan, connecting Condado and Old San Juan to Isla Verde and the airport. Route 22, which runs east–west between San Juan and Camuy, and Route 52, which runs north–south between San Juan and Ponce, are toll roads. Route 2, a smaller highway, travels west from San Juan toward Rincón, and Route 3 heads east toward Fajardo. The latter can be mind-numbingly slow, so consider taking Route 66, a toll road that bypasses the worst of the traffic. Note that most toll plazas are cashless, so the EZ-Pass option is a worthwhile convenience—some companies, including Payless, even offer unlimited toll use for a flat daily rate.
Five highways are particularly noteworthy for their scenery and vistas. The island's tourism authorities have even given them special names. The Ruta Panorámica (Panoramic Route) runs east–west through the Cordillera Central. The Ruta Cotorra (Puerto Rican Parrot Route) travels along the north coast. The Ruta Paso Fino (Paso Fino Horse Route, after a horse breed) takes you north–south and west along the south coast. The Ruta Coquí, named for the famous Puerto Rican tree frog, runs along the east coast. And the Ruta Flamboyán, named after the island tree, goes from San Juan through the mountains to the east coast. Note, however, that signposting for all of these highways tends to be poor and inconsistent.
All types of fuel—regular, super premium, and diesel—are available by the liter. Most stations are self-service. Hours vary, but stations generally operate daily from early in the morning until 10 or 11 pm; in metro areas, many are open 24 hours. In the Cordillera Central and other rural areas stations are few and far between, so plan accordingly. In cities you can pay with cash and bank or credit cards; in more remote areas, cash is occasionally your only option. Note, too, that you cannot pay at the pump, even with a debit or credit card; you'll need to go inside the station to pay before pumping.
Puerto Rico has some of the Caribbean's best roads, but potholes, sharp turns, speed bumps, sudden gradient changes, and poor lighting can sometimes make driving difficult, especially outside of the metropolitan area. Be particularly cautious when driving after heavy rains; roads and bridges might be washed out or damaged. Many mountain roads are very narrow and steep, with unmarked curves and cliffs. Locals are familiar with such roads and often drive at high speeds, which can give you quite a scare. When traveling on a narrow, curving road, it's best to honk your horn before you take any sharp turn. Roads—even major ones—are often poorly marked, if at all.
Traffic around cities—particularly San Juan, Ponce, and Mayagüez—is heavy during rush hours (weekdays 7–10 am and 3–7 pm).
In an emergency, dial 911. If your car breaks down, call the rental company for a replacement. Before renting, investigate the company's policy regarding replacement vehicles and repairs out on the island, and ask about surcharges that might be incurred if you break down in a rural area and need a new car.
Rules of the Road
U.S. driving laws apply in Puerto Rico. Street and highway signs are most often in Spanish. They also use international symbols, but brushing up on a few key Spanish terms before your trip will help. The following words and phrases are especially useful: calle sin salida (dead-end street), carril (lane), cruce de peatones (pedestrian crossing), cuidado (caution), desvío (detour), estación de peaje (tollbooth), no entre (do not enter), no estacione (no parking), salida (exit), tránsito (one-way), zona escolar (school zone).
Distances are posted in kilometers (1 mile = 1.6 km), but speed limits are posted in miles per hour. Speeding and drunk-driving penalties are much the same as on the U.S. mainland. Police cars often travel with their lights flashing, so it's difficult to know when they're trying to pull you over. If the siren is on, move to the right lane to get out of the way. If the lights are on, it's best to pull over—but make sure that the vehicle is a marked police car before doing so.