The Caribbean has an extensive network of airlines serving even the smallest islands.
Feature: Three Flying Recommendations
Our writers learned from experience three things you should remember:
- Try not to arrive on a regional flight in the afternoon when most of the North American and European flights arrive, swamping immigration and customs.
- Keep anything essential you might need for a few days with you. Luggage often somehow misses your flight – even if you see it waiting next to the plane as you board. It may take days – if ever – to catch up with you.
- Check in early. Bring a book and snack and hang out. We saw people with confirmed seats repeatedly bumped after flights checked in full and their alternative was days later. A two-hour wait is not bad if you’re prepared for it. In many airports you can check in early and then go someplace else like the incredibly fun beach bars near the Sint Maarten airport runway.
The popularity of cycling in the Caribbean depends on where you go. Several islands are prohibitively hilly, with narrow roads that make cycling difficult. On others, such as Cuba, cycling is a great way to get around. Many of the islands have bicycles for rent. Bike shops are becoming more common. Most ferries will let you bring bikes on board at no extra charge; regional airlines will likely charge a fee.
Getting around the islands by yacht is a fantasy for many. Charters are generally quite easy.
Ferries link some islands within the Caribbean, including the following:
- Anguilla, Saba, St-Martin/Sint Maarten and St-Barthélemy
- British Virgin Islands and US Virgin Islands
- Dominica, Guadeloupe, Martinique and St Lucia
- Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico
Inexpensive bus service is available on most islands, although the word ‘bus’ has different meanings in different places. Some islands have full-size buses, while on others a ‘bus’ is simply a pickup truck with wooden benches in the back.
Whatever the vehicle, buses are a good environmental choice compared to rental cars and are an excellent way to meet locals. People are generally quite friendly and happy to talk to you about their island. Buses are also a good way to hear the most popular local music tracks, often at an amazingly loud volume.
Buses are often the primary means of commuting to work or school and thus are most frequent in the early mornings and from mid- to late afternoon. There’s generally a good bus service on Saturday mornings, but Sunday service is often nonexistent.
Car & Motorcycle
Driving in the Caribbean islands can rock your world, rattle your brains and fray your nerves. At first. Soon, you’ll get used to the often-poor road conditions, slow speeds and relaxed adherence to road rules and using your horn to punctuate any maneuver or passing thought on the road conditions.
Offer a lift It’s common courtesy on many islands to slow down and offer pedestrians a lift (and is considered obligatory on some).
Beware of goats! Keep an eye out for stray dogs, iguanas, wild horses, chickens and goats, all of which meander aimlessly on the island roads.
Cede the right-of-way Drivers often stop to let others turn or pedestrians to cross even when you don't think its necessary.
You’ll need your driver’s license in order to rent a car, and frequently need to be over 21. On some of the former British islands, you may need to purchase a visitor's driver’s license from your car-rental agent.
Car rentals are available on nearly all of the islands, with a few exceptions (usually because they lack roads). On most islands there are affiliates of the international chains, but local rental agencies may have better rates. Advance booking almost always attracts cheaper rates.
Road rules vary by island. In general, note that driving conditions may be more relaxed than you are used to.
Many Caribbean countries drive on the left, but what side of the road to drive on depends on the island: this can be confusing if you’re island-hopping and renting cars on each island. Adding to the confusion, some cars have steering columns on the opposite side of where you'd expect.
Hitchhiking is an essential mode of travel on most islands, though the practice among foreign visitors is uncommon. Hitching is never entirely safe, and we don’t recommend it. Travellers who hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk.
If you’re driving a rental car, giving locals a lift can be a great form of cultural interaction and much appreciated by those trudging along the side of the road while – comparatively – affluent foreigners whiz past.