Taking a Publico is…

-an affordable way to travel anywhere in Puerto Rico

– safer than hitchhiking (you’ll tell your mother)

– cheaper than a taxi or rental car

-a cool way to meet locals

-easy

Here’s the gist:  any van with the letters ‘P’ or ‘PD’ at the end of the license plate is a registered publico.  They are usually white 15 passenger vans that travel between cities and frequented destinations across the entire island.  You can flag one down, like you would a taxi, and if empty, he’ll negotiate to take you anywhere you’d like.  But do negotiate.  When they see tourists, they assume money and won’t start lower than $20.  But they will negotiate.  Some publicos have designated stops and if you flag one down, they may have a nearly full load of people heading to Fajardo, for instance.  If you want to go that way, you can usually hop in for no more than $3.  In every city, locals will tell you the easiest place to find one.  On our first full day in Puerto Rico, we turned off of Diego St. onto Viajallo St. to find the bus terminal where we were told publicos would start lining up around 7am.  Sure enough, several white vans were circling the block waiting for us to flag them down.  We had our bags loaded in a matter of seconds and were cruising straight to El Yunque National Forest, some 45 minutes east of San Juan for less than a quarter of the cost of a taxi.

Another benefit of using publicos is that you can get the driver’s cell phone number and call him in advance to set up a ride.  Or if they’re nearby and not busy when you call, they may even come get you on a moment’s notice.  When Rafi dropped us off at the base of El Yunque, he also gave us his wife, Mercedes’, number.  He told us to call her at the end of the week to set up a ride from the east side of the island back to Old San Juan.  Mercedes ended up playing a crucial role in our travels (see upcoming Day 4 to read how).

Don’t assume publicos are somehow inferior to taxis or renting your own car.  Sure, there may be once or twice that you share a van with four or six other people, but those are the times you appreciate having found a ride for only a buck and a half.  Most other times, it’s just you and your own personal driver, and sometimes a companion of his riding shotgun.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Adam on April 14, 2010 at 2:21 am

    My new calling on life is to drive a publico. I’ve been practicing with the Odyssey for years, now I need to get paid for it. I’ll move out there so whenever you come back and need a ride, call me. I’ll give you a discount.

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