Antigua might be relatively small, but the temptation to visit all those 365 beaches, without crawling around at the pace of one per day means that a hire car will certainly be useful.
We assume you haven’t got all year, so once you have dealt with the nuisance of having to pay for a local driving licence, you will be able to start exploring.
- Antigua markets itself as having 365 beaches. That’s one for every day of the year. Although some of these are in the neighbouring island of Barbuda, the vast majority are on the island of Antigua.
- You will certainly need a car if you want to move around and enjoy as many of these beaches as possible. This reason alone is the main reason why we suggest getting a hire car, even just for a day. However, Antigua car hire comes with a number of caveats, regardless.
- Fig-tree Drive – is one of those must see picture-postcard locations. A car will let you enjoy it at your pace.
- Fuel costs: Although Antigua car hire costs are expensive, the small size of the island means you are unlikely to spend much on fuel.
- Expense – Antigua car hire is extremely expensive, owing to local regulations and relative lack of competition.
- Roads: The quality of roads in Antigua is generally quite poor. Be prepared for lots of bumps and potholes.
- Transport provided: Most resorts will offer excursions to a range of different beaches.
- Transfers to and from the airport may also be provided with your booking.
- The island is small, and the airport is central both to the capital St Johns and the main resort hotels.
- Getting a few taxis will still be much cheaper than using a hire car.
- Rum: Antigua means plenty of rum – and rum punch does not mix with driving.
- Shirley Heights: Perhaps the most famous weekly event on Antigua is the Sunday party at Shirley Heights, above English Harbour. A car will take you there and back, but then again so will a taxi. So will any number of bus options, provided by the hotel, or flagged down locally. All of these other options are much more lively!
- Bikes: Instead of taking out an expensive hire car, why not rent a bike — many hotels provide this, and cycling in early morning or late afternoon can be extremely refreshing.
- Fly instead: You can hire a car anywhere, but trips to Antigua tend to be that little bit special. Why not fly to one of the neighbouring islands instead? An island hopping trip on a light aircraft is one of the most exciting things to do in the Caribbean. Regular excursion flights operate to the neighbouring island of Barbuda, but you can also take helicopter tours around the volcano in Montserrat and experience the true power of nature.
- No ferry: Unlike St Kitts and Nevis, there are no ferries between Antigua and Barbuda, so a car is only good on the one island.
- Local buses: Although most tourists use their own transport or go on organised tours, local buses on Antigua are an enjoyable way of seeing the island as locals see it. Buses fan out throughout the island from the capital St John’s, and they usually leave when they are full.
- Beach access: Antigua may boast having 365 beaches, but it doesn’t have that many roads. A car doesn’t bring quite as much flexibility as it should.
- Car hire options on the island of Barbuda are even more limited, and not available through the main agencies. See Caribbean online for details.
- Local regulations mean that you will have to fork out US$20 to purchase a temporary local driving licence for your stay on the island. This is an unnecessary extra cost and hassle. It makes it prohibitive to hire a car to drive around the island for just a day or two.
As with anywhere, a hire car will bring flexibility. Antigua has so many stunning beaches that it is better to have one than not. The extortionate cost of Antigua car hire would be a reason for us to advise against renting one, but a holiday (or vacation) in Antigua is an expensive outlay, whether you are flying in from Europe or North America.
So given all these costs, should you hire a car in Antigua? With the price of hotels and flights to Antigua already high, a rental car is one cost which can be cut, but we think it is still better to have one to explore the island, especially if you are visiting on a special once-in-a-lifetime trip.