Travel and Leisure — June 3, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Driving on the Islands

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nok6716 / iStock / thinkstock.com

nok6716 / iStock / thinkstock.com

I don’t mean to scare you, because renting a car and exploring the islands has always been one of my great pleasures, but when I retire to the islands, I’m opening an auto body shop in the Caribbean.

Variety of choices
I rented a moped once in Mexico—but then again, I did a lot of stupid things when I was young. You can rent anything from mopeds to Harleys on most of the islands, but after seeing the width of the roads and the way the locals drive them, you may decide to surround yourself in the protection of an automobile. I’ve even seen people drive ATVs down the main streets though I’m not real sure if that’s legal, especially the way they were driving them down the middle of the road.

The Legal Crap
Your driver’s license is good just about anywhere in the Caribbean, though some like Bermuda do not honor foreign licenses. They all do have DUI laws, so you may want to keep that in consideration. I have seen police checkpoints on a couple different islands, though I believe they were checking more for licenses and permits on taxis than anything else. As far as insurance goes you should check with your credit card company on whether you would be covered or not. Some cards carry coverage when you rent with that card, but not all offer international coverage.

The Old Switcheroo
Some islands such as the U.S. and British Virgin Islands drive on the left (or wrong) side of the road. The hard part in the Virgin Islands is the steering wheel is still on the left side of the car. This takes a bit of getting used to, especially on right or left turns and roundabouts. Driving here was one of the few times I appreciated the wife constantly correcting me.

Size Does Matter
If you grew up with and learned to drive on wide streets, lined with gutters and sidewalks you will have some difficulty with island driving. A lot of the roads are barely wide enough for two vehicles and some not at all. Several Caribbean islands are very hilly, providing you with a bone chilling winding up and down ride with blind corners and no room for oncoming cars. Add in pedestrians, donkeys, carts and tourists on mopeds and the fun is just beginning.

Island Time Speeds up When Driving
Everything is so mellow and slow down there. What they call “Island Time,” is part of the allure of the islands. That is, until they climb into a car. Despite the small roads and no shoulders to deal with, the drivers fly down there. Obviously they are more used to the tight spaces than we are, but crazy is a word that comes to mind. You think New York cabbies are scary? Catch a cab in St Thomas sometime for a real thrill and remember, if you rent a vehicle you are sharing the roads with these road warriors.

The Payoff
One of the great things about island driving is it’s pretty hard to get lost; it can happen, but not for very long. You’re eventually going to get back to where you started, so exploring is fun and easy. Taking taxis everywhere gets expensive and is very restrictive on what you can do. Renting a car, even just for a day affords you the freedom and flexibility to discover secret gems like empty beaches, friendly locals and cheap eats.

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