Puerto Rico vs US Virgin Islands: Which Is A Better Vacation Destination? (2024)

Travelers planning a trip to the Caribbean ask: Should we go to Puerto Rico or The United States Virgin Islands?

Both destinations are unincorporated United States territories and offer American travelers similar benefits; not needing a passport, US dollar, the same laws apply as the mainland and people speak English.

I’ve lived in Puerto Rico all my life so I can tell you, your cellular plan will work in Puerto Rico and most places in The U.S. Virgin Islands.

In this article, I will help you decide whether to vacation in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands:

Is Puerto Rico better than the U.S. Virgin Islands?
Is it cheaper to go to the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico?
U.S. Virgin Islands vs. Puerto Rico safety — which is safer?
U.S. Virgin Islands vs. Puerto Rico beaches — which has better beaches?
Which is better for families with kids?
Which has more fun and unique activities?
Frequently Asked Questions


Is Puerto Rico better than the U.S. Virgin Islands?

Puerto Rico is better than the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Allow me to elaborate.

The U.S.V.I. comprise three larger islands, St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St John, and around 50 other minor keys.

The total area of the U.S.V.I. is approximately 1187 square miles.

Puerto Rico is also an archipelago; the main island of Puerto Rico has two smaller islands (Vieques and Culebra), and over one hundred minor islets and keys.

image of Culebra National Wildlife Refuge
Culebra, Puerto Rico, has miles of untouched beaches ready to explore.

The area of Puerto Rico is approximately 5657 square miles.

Puerto Rico is over three times bigger than the U.S.V.I.

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, 87,146 persons live in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

And 3,285,374 in Puerto Rico.

The U.S. Virgin Islands have a rich culture and interesting history.

Several nations colonized The USVI, enriching the islands’ culture, architecture, and cuisine.

St. Thomas USVI is a picturesque tropical paradise in the Caribbean known for its stunning beaches, crystal-clear waters, and vibrant culture.

St. Croix has most of the cultural and historic places of The USVI. Some of the historical and cultural attractions in the U.S.V.I are:

Croix Heritage Trail

The Croix Heritage Trail has some of St. Croix’s most important historical sites, including the Whim Plantation Museum and St. George Village Botanical Gardens. 

St. Croix is the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Croix Heritage Trail also features a former sugar mill, antique churches, and beautiful views.

Estate Whim Museum

The Estate Whim Museum has a well-preserved antique colonial house and a sugar plantation museum.

In the Whim Museum people can see how life was on the plantation.

Fort Frederik

This Fort built by The Danish in the 18th century protected St. Croix from attacks from pirates and invaders. 

image of Fort Frederick and Castillo San Felipe del Morro
Fort Frederick in Saint Croix and Castillo San Felipe del Morro in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has more cultural and historical sites than the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Old San Juan just celebrated 500 years.

The city offers “time travel.” It has historic architecture, brick-paved streets, the second oldest church of the Americas, the San Felipe Del Morro fort, La Fortaleza (the world’s oldest in-use Governor’s House), and other attractions. For more information about Puerto Rico’s history and historical sites, please check our articles here at Puertorico.com.

Puerto Rico also has more museums than the United States Virgin Islands.

Puerto Rico has Spanish, African, and Taino heritage and a more exotic Latin Caribbean feeling.

The U.S.V.I. have AH Rilse, Calico Jack, Cruzan, and Sailor Jerry Rum Brands for those who want to taste Caribbean Rum.

But did you know that according to The Weekly Journal, 70 percent of the rum that Americans drink comes from Puerto Rico?

image of Museo Castillo Serralles
Museo Castillo Serralles is a historic Spanish-style castle located in Ponce, Puerto Rico, that now serves as a museum showcasing the lifestyle of a wealthy family during the early 20th century.

Don Q, Bacardi, Ron Del Barrilito, Ron Alto Grande, and Palo Viejo are just a few of the Puerto Rican rums you can taste.

We have tours in Puerto Rico to see the rum-making process.

Visit Hacienda Dona Ana to see how they make Ron Del Barrilito and Casa Bacardi in Catano to see how they produce Bacardi. If you visit Ponce, visit Castillo Serralles to learn more about Don Q Rum.

For nature lovers, The U.S. Virgin Island of Saint John has the Virgin Islands National Park, established in 1956.

The park also includes waters surrounding St. John and most of Hassel Island in the harbor of Charlotte Amelie. It covers a total area of 23 square miles of land and water. The park was designated a UNESCO World Network Biosphere Reserve in 1983.

Puerto Rico has more natural reserves than the U.S. Virgin Islands.

image of a view over El Yunque
El Yunque is a tropical rainforest located in northeastern Puerto Rico and is known for its diverse flora and fauna, picturesque hiking trails, and breathtaking waterfalls.

El Yunque National Forest is the only Tropical Rain Forest under the United States jurisdiction.

 With an area of 43.75 square miles, El Yunque is almost twice as big as U.S. Virgin Islands National Park.

Puerto Rico also has Guanica’s Dry Forest, Bosque Estatal Toro Negro, Isla de Mona Natural Reserve, Cabo Rojo Wildlife Refuge, Las Cabezas de San Juan Natual Reserve, and many other places for nature lovers.

Puerto Rico is better than the U.S. Virgin Islands regarding natural reserves and forests.

Check out our 15 Best Outdoor Activities In Puerto Rico for more information.


Is it cheaper to go to the U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico?

The distance between San Juan International Airport and Saint Thomas (Cyril E. King Airport) is 68 miles or 109 kilometers.

But going on vacation to the U.S. Virgin Islands is more expensive than going on vacation in Puerto Rico. 

image of an airplane wing
Traveling to Puerto Rico is less expensive than traveling to U.S. Virgin Islands

You will pay from 50 to 70 percent more for food, transportation, and lodging in The USVI than what you will pay for the same services in Puerto Rico. 

While researching this article, I looked at three air travel booking sites.

Flights from major US cities to U.S. Virgin Islands were almost 40 percent more expensive than flights to Puerto Rico.

If you want to learn more, read our guide to How Much Does It Cost To Travel To Puerto Rico?


Us Virgin Islands vs. Puerto Rico safety, which is safer?

Regarding safety, you can be on a family vacation, traveling in a group, or be a solo traveler and be safe in both destinations.

The U.S. Virgin Islands Police Department is the law enforcer of the U.S. territory.

The USVIPD has qualified and trained officers to keep people safe.

But in the safety department, Puerto Rico wins.

Policia de Puerto Rico is the Puerto Rico State Police Department.

image of police car
Puerto Rico is considered a generally safe destination for travelers with a relatively low crime rate and a strong police presence in tourist areas.

Over 10,000 police officers serve in The PRPD.

Puerto Rico has a low crime rate and is one of the safest Caribbean islands, even safer than The U.S. Virgin Islands.

The well-trained and equipped State Police Force will keep you safe.

Also, each Puerto Rico municipality has its own Municipal Police Force, and many hotels, bars, and other places have private security. 

However, taking basic safety precautions to protect yourself from petty crimes like theft and pickpocketing would be best.

Puerto Rico wins in the safety department.

For more information about safety in Puerto Rico, please check out our article Is Puerto Rico Safe?


U.S. Virgin Islands vs. Puerto Rico beaches — which has better beaches? 

You will find world-class beaches in Puerto Rico and The U.S. Virgin Islands.

Both destinations offer beautiful white sandy beaches and turquoise-blue waters. 

image of Crash Boat Beach
Crash Boat Beach in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

The U.S. Virgin Islands have close to 117 miles of coastline. 

The three main islands, St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix, have unique vibes and diverse beaches.

There is Magens Bay Beach in Saint Thomas, Trunk Bay Beach and Salt Pond Beach in Saint John, and Sandy Point Beach and Turtle Beach in Saint Croix, to name a few.

Puerto Rico has about 270 miles of coastline and nearly 300 beaches. 

The three main islands, Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra, also have unique and diverse beaches.

Keys like Cayo Aurora (Gilligan’s Island), Caja de Muerto, and Palomino have paradisiac beaches too.

image of Palomino Island
Palomino Island is a secluded and stunningly beautiful private island off the coast of Puerto Rico, known for its pristine beaches, crystal-clear waters, and a wide variety of water sports and activities.

The U.S. Virgin Islands don’t have significant branch hotels, making their beaches less crowded and more “virgin,” as its name implies.

But Puerto Rico has secluded beaches too, and you can also enjoy a wide variety of water sports on Puerto Rico’s beaches.

Another advantage Puerto Rico offers is that it is easier to travel by car and reach its beaches.

Puerto Rico also has plenty of surfing beaches, mainly on the west coast.

image of a guy surfing in Aguadilla
Surfing is a popular activity during the winter months on Puerto Rico’s west coast.

For additional information about beaches, please check out our articles 30 Best Beaches In Puerto Rico, and 10 Best Surfing Spots In Puerto Rico.

Both destinations have great snorkeling and scuba diving spots.

St. Thomas has Coki Point Beach, St. Croix has Buck Island, and St John has Leinster Bay.

But Puerto Rico has dozens of snorkeling and scuba diving on its islands.

For more information about snorkeling in Puerto Rico, please check our article 25 Best Snorkel Spots In Puerto Rico.

And one thing that Puerto Rico won over the U.S. Virgin Islands is bioluminescent bays.

image of the bioluminescent bay in PR
Puerto Rico is home to the world’s brightest bio bay.

The U.S. Virgin Islands has Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Altona Lagoon, where you can experience the bioluminescence phenomenon. 

Puerto Rico has three bioluminescent bays La Parguera in Lajas, Mosquito Bay in Vieques, and Laguna Grande in Fajardo.

The Bioluminescent bays in Puerto Rico are brighter (Guinness World Records awarded Mosquito Bay in Vieques the record for the brightest bio bay in the world in 2006) and more accessible than the ones in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Puerto Rico Bio Bay tours are 40 to 55 percent less expensive.

For more information, please visit our article Bioluminescent Bays Puerto Rico – All You Need To Know by Brittany Ashford.


Which is better for families with kids?

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are excellent family vacation destinations. 

The U.S. Virgin Islands are family-friendly due to their laid-back vibes, calm surroundings, and great beaches.

But Puerto Rico also offers more to families than the U.S. Virgin Islands.

image of family of three
Puerto Rico is better than the US Virgin Islands for family vacations.

You will find more family-oriented resorts, kids’ parks, museums, and activities for the whole family in Puerto Rico.

Suppose you and your family love adventure and want to pursue outdoor activities. 

Camping, kayaking, fishing, hiking, ziplining, mountain biking, cave exploring, and Many other activities are available in Puerto Rico. 

For those reasons, Puerto Rico is a better alternative than the U.S. virgin islands for families.

You can read more in our guide to the best 17 Things To Do With Kids In Puerto Rico.


Which has more fun and unique activities?

Puerto Rico has more fun and unique activities than the U.S. Virgin Islands.

image of couple on the wooden bridge
Puerto Rico has more fun and unique activities than the US Virgin Islands.

Miguel Concepcion wrote about unique and fun activities in the article 45 Best Things To Do In Puerto Rico, feel free to check it out.


FAQ section

Which is easier to get to from the United States?

There are two major airports in the Virgin Islands, and most flights make connections in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has three airports that receive travelers from the U.S. Mainland. Luis Munoz Marin in Carolina (SJU), Rafael Hernandez in Aguadilla (BQN) and Mercedita in Ponce (PSE), it is easier to get to Puerto Rico.

Which is easier to get around?

Both destinations are part of the US and will allow you to drive with you valid US driver’s license. But driving is the U.S. Virgin Islands is more difficult than driving in Puerto Rico. They drive on the opposite side, so be careful. Puerto Rico has better roads and is easier to get around, and remember that if you are going outside the San Juan Area, you must rent a car.


Final thoughts

Puerto Rico and the U.S.V.I.  have some similarities.

They offer great vacations for U.S. citizens, but Puerto Rico is less expensive, has more cultural and historical places, more outdoor activities, and is safer and more accessible than the U.S.V.I.

To see how Puerto Rico compares to Costa Rica, please check our article about it.

Puerto Rico vs US Virgin Islands: Which Is A Better Vacation Destination? (2024)
Article by

Carlos Cubero

Writer at PuertoRico.com. I was born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. I’m passionate about Puerto Rican history and culture. I live on the west coast of Puerto Rico, and host an Airbnb for tourists. I also coordinate tours and concierge services for tourists. I authored “Eat Like A Local, Puerto Rico”, and have contributed to blogs and magazines with articles about discovering and enjoying what Puerto Rico has to offer.

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