San Juan Puerto Rico Transit and Trip Report, December 2001

This year, I was able to go to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a conference. This would be my first trip to the Caribbean, and my second trip off the North American continent.

Although the conference hosts expected us to ride around in taxis everywhere, of course I just had to find out about public transit. There wasn't a lot of information out, but I was able to find out this much:

AMA Buses

No "chicken buses" here! AMA (Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses, or Metropolitan Bus Authority) runs modern equipment (40' TMC RTS II's, and a few Flxibles, exactly like city buses in any large US city) around the more heavily populated sections of San Juan.

The bus service has been recently restructured, and there are now 32 routes. Each route has a number such as #A3, #B21, etc. There is a numbering system:

The good news: The bad news:


Metrobus is a separate company, or at least operates like one. They run new Nova LFS buses on three routes: Fares are also $.25, except for the express which is $.50.

Old San Juan Trolley

Neither AMA or Metrobus go any nearer to Old San Juan than the main bus station (Terminal Covadonga, located at Calle Marina and Calle Gen. Pershing, just east of Old San Juan proper). However, there is a fare-free "trolley" (actually a bus disguised as a San Francisco cable car) that runs on two routes through the narrow San Juan streets. The two routes also serve a couple large parking lots (one near the bus station, the other on the waterfront) and are designed to provide an alternative to parking with in San Juan itself.

Carros Publicos

These are privately owned taxi cabs or 15-passenger vans that run on more or less fixed routes, supplementing the bus service. All Carros Publicos are specially licensed. They mostly run in the heavily-populated central part of San Juan, but can be occasionally seen in more distant suburbs. I didn't use these, so I don't know what the fares are (probably not over $1 for local trips, though).

Carros Publicos also provide intercity service as well, say from San Juan to Ponce (on the south side of the island), Farjardo (on the east coast, for ferries to Vieques and Culebras), Mayaguez (ferry to Dominican Republic) and other cities. (There doesn't seem to be a more formalized, Greyhound-type intercity service in Puerto Rico, or at least I saw no evidence of one)


The Port Authority of Puerto Rico operates three ferry routes: Fares are $.50 per trip. Service is rather frequent during the day (every 30-min or better), and runs until about 10 p.m. or so. The ferries leave Old San Juan from Dock (Muelle) 2.

The ferries are small boats, maybe about 2/3rds the size of the Vancouver Seabus. They are catamarans and are quite fast (the crossing between San Juan-Cataño takes about 15 minutes or less).

Tren Urbano

Under construction and due to open sometime in 2002, this mostly-elevated rail system will run on a "J" shaped route connecting Bayamon (suburb southwest of central San Juan) with Hato Rey (central San Juan); an extension to Santurce (going toward, but no t entering Old San Juan) may open later.

Note: Another good overview of the transit system in San Juan can be found at

The trip report

After a long overnight flight between LAX and Fort Lauderdale, and an hour's layover, I caught my connecting flight to SJU. The flight was uneventful, except the landing seemed to be a little more steep than normal (one passenger told me it was because the pilot was trying to avoid the "Bermuda Triangle" or flying over Cuba). Everybody applauded when we landed.

Not quite sure of the transit options (the AMA web site had not been updated at that time), I paid $8 for a cab to my hotel. (Later I found out that there was pretty good bus Service to the airport, although I would have had to change buses one time to get to the hotel). My ears were still buzzing a bit from the plane ride, so I took a short nap, then got up and walked along Isla Verde Av.

Isla Verde Av is the resort area of San Juan (actually a suburb called Carolina). It has a mixture of high-rise hotels, fast food restaurants, liquor stores, a souvenir shop or two, and a cemetery. Beware, there are not a lot of good places to cross the s treet (i.e. signalized intersections). People just dart across into oncoming traffic...

A little bit later that day, I decided to try the bus system. I had an idea that the #A5 (the route along Isla Verde) eventually ended up in Old San Juan. Of course, I didn't know exactly what route it would take, or how long, but I figured if things got too hairy looking, I could always just ride it back...

The bus pulled up, and I, along with a few other people at the stop, boarded. It was late afternoon, around 5 p.m. on a Friday, and the bus was moderately crowded with locals and a few tourists. We traveled along the tourist area of Isla Verde, then took a left turn into a rougher-looking neighborhood.

We passed through a huge housing project (Llorrens Torres), full of yellow and blue buildings with bars on the windows. The bus got really full here, and also along Calle Loiza (a street which sort of reminded me of the South Side of Chicago for some reason). We then drove along the somewhat more upscale Avenida de Diego and Calle Ponce de Leon, and then the "Carril Exclusivo" (a special bus- and taxi only street). The bus route ended at a large bus terminal just outside of Old San Juan. I got off, walked around for about an hour, taking in the sights (it was fully dark then), then got back on the #A5 and rode back to the hotel. It took about 45 minutes or so each way.

The next day (Saturday, December 1), I rode the #A5 to Old San Juan again. The trip was about the same as the day before, only it was daytime and I could see more of what I passed through. Also, near old San Juan, there was a big traffic jam around the cruise ship area just before we got to the bus terminal.

I walked around the narrow streets of Old San Juan, and visited the fort (El Castillo San Felipe del Morro). The historic fort costs $2 to enter, and is fun to walk around for an hour or two.

By the time I left the fort, (about 1 p.m.) it had started raining a little, and fifteen minutes later it was a downpour, with thunder and lightning, before I got back to the waterfront.

I caught an AcuaExpreso ferry (50-cents) and rode it across the bay to Cataño. These boats, as one of my program hosts later told me, are simply basic transportation for the people living across the bay. Indeed, the hard seats and floors, (as well as all the kids chattering) gave the boat a real schoolbus feel.

Cataño consisted of a few houses, a bar where guys watched a plugged-in TV set outside in the rain(!), and a promising looking restaurant. There was a small (and full) parking lot by the ferry terminal, further emphasizing the "commuter" function of these boats. The crowd outside the ferry terminal slowly dispersed as they went to their cars, got picked up, or simply walked home in the rain.

(By the way, the Barcardi distillery is not too far away and can be accessed by bus, carro publico or taxi from the ferry terminal)

My original plan was to take the #A3 bus to Hato Rey, then catch the #A6 to Iturregui, and finish up with the #A5 back to Isla Verde. But I wasn't able to locate the #A3 stop, just the one for the #C37 to Levittown. (The #A3 stop probably wasn't all that far away, but I wasn't quite up to looking for it in all that rain. So I just took the next ferry back to San Juan. On arrival, there was an enormous crowd waiting for the ferry to Cataño.

I walked over to the bus station and boarded an #A5. It took forever to get through the traffic-choked area near the cruise ships. Also the bus filled to standing-room only by the time we got on the bus lanes; people were boarding via the back doors along Calle Loiza. Most of this ridership got off in or around the Llorrens Torres housing project.

This was basically the end of my explorations, as an all-day meeting (and lots of rain) made Monday a day spent inside the hotel for the most part.

On Tuesday we took cabs to the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus for presentations and a campus tour. The campus reminded me a little bit of the USC Health Sciences campus, located in East LA near the County Hospital. (The Tren Urbano, when completed, will have a stop near the south end of campus. Also, the AMA offices, and probably the bus yard, are not too far away, but I didn't get a chance to go near any of those facilities). The cab from the Medical Sciences Campus to the airport cost $20-again, if I had had more bus information, I would have been able to get there by catching bus #B4 or #B52 to Rio Piedras, then #B40 to the airport. (Probably faster too, as the #B40 uses a toll bridge across the Laguna San Jose that the cabbies avoid).

Anyway, I got to the airport two hours early, as recommended, but I probably could have gotten away with getting there about an hour before flight time. The flight segment between San Juan and Miami had about 12 people on it, and the MIA-LAX segment was slightly more crowded (anyone who really wanted it could have their own row of seats). I made back to LAX around 10 p.m, and back home (via Van Nuys Flyaway bus) around 11:30.

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