When trying to decide between Puerto Rico versus Hawaii for your next island getaway, there’s a lot to consider.
Both are popular tropical destinations and have many similarities, but the main difference between Puerto Rico and Hawaii is the culture visitors can experience. In Hawaii, you’ll experience a Polynesian culture and a community heavily influenced by Asian immigrants. Meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, you’ll experience a mix of indigenous, Spanish and African cultures. Cost, activities and landscape also play a role in setting these places apart.
Here’s what you need to know to choose the right destination for your next vacation.
The time required to travel to a destination can be an important consideration. Puerto Rico is closer to many contiguous U.S. states than Hawaii is, so it may take much less time to get there.
The exception is much of the West Coast of the U.S. A flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu, Hawaii, takes approximately 5.5 hours, whereas a flight from Los Angeles to San Juan, Puerto Rico, takes closer to 10 hours.
When traveling from New York City, on the other hand, a flight to Honolulu takes about 11 hours, while a flight to San Juan takes about four.
Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, American travelers don’t need a passport to travel to either destination.
Generally speaking, tourist activities in Puerto Rico tend to be on par or less expensive than Hawaii.
For example, when comparing Hawaii versus Puerto Rico hotel prices, a six-night stay at a 3-star hotel in Puerto Rico in October cost roughly $160 nightly, on average. You’ll likely see similar prices in Honolulu, but on Maui, the average for a 3-star hotel is closer to $250 per night.
Both destinations offer stays with most major hotel chains.
When it comes to dining, shopping and groceries — from meals to beer to artisan wares — Puerto Rico is typically less expensive than Hawaii.
Travel costs differ, too. While a flight to Honolulu from Los Angeles is comparable to a flight to San Juan, Puerto Rico, flying to San Juan from New York is often less than half the price of a ticket to Hawaii.
Attractions and activities
The U.S. dollar is the official form of currency in Hawaii and Puerto Rico, so you won’t have to exchange currency for a trip to either location.
Hawaii offers the opportunity to discover the culture and history of the Pacific Islands via heritage sites, traditional luau experiences, history museums and more.
But the Hawaiian islands are also known for their natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities, including diving, hiking, snorkeling, surfing and zip lining. If you’re after elevation, Hawaii will deliver — its highest point is at nearly 14,000′ (compared to Puerto Rico’s 4,390′).
Hawaii is home to two national parks, plus seven other national historic areas, including the Pearl Harbor National Memorial. Puerto Rico offers one national historic site.
Unique options in Puerto Rico include touring the Spanish forts in San Juan or the caves in Arecibo, where local Taínos people met to praise their gods.
And while many of the outdoor activities available are water-based (think snorkeling and diving, kayaking and surfing), there are also rainforests like the El Yunque National Forest to hike.
In general, Hawaii is more developed for tourists and offers a wider variety of activities for its visitors. Puerto Rico offers similar options, but fewer of them.
English is one of two official languages in both destinations. In Puerto Rico, you’ll also see and hear Spanish, and in Hawaii, Hawaiian.
The bottom line
There’s no wrong choice when it comes to deciding between Puerto Rico versus Hawaii. Consider the travel time and cost to get to either destination, not to mention what you can expect to pay on the ground — Puerto Rico is cheaper in this regard.
Both places offer typical island activities like snorkeling and sunbathing, but Hawaii’s higher mountains and national park scene set it apart.
After considering your budget and what landscapes you’re after, determine you’re preferred cultural and historical experience.
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