Do I need to rent a car in Barbados? Many people compare Barbados with Antigua, but whereas I would recommend getting a hire car in the latter, I don’t think it is such a good idea in Barbados. Why not?
Do I need a car in Barbados? Introduction
Why rent a car in Barbados?
- “Cheap” local driving licence — unlike destinations such as Antigua, St Lucia or St Kitts, you don’t need to worry about getting an expensive local driving licence before you can hire a car. On the other islands, this can set you back upto US$50. On Barbados, you still need a local licence, but it will only cost you US$5 for two months.
- Explore the island at your own pace — as we would say with a destination, a hire car will give you flexibility that other options cannot.
- Beaches — there are plenty of excellent beaches near all of the popular resort hotels, but some beaches are even more spectacular than others. You may also want to do a particular activity that is much better one beach than another. For example, Crane Beach has a reputation as one of the Caribbean’s best surfing beaches. If you are going to be travelling to and from a beach like this each day, then you might well be better off with a hire car.
- Scenery — we need not make the obvious point that Barbados is a beautiful island to explore, but if you just stick to the main resorts and packaged attractions listed below, then you will not get to experience the island at its best. The St Andrews District, Bathsheba Rock, the Botanical Gardens, and Crane Beach are all top personal recommendations, and I would recommend at least two days to appreciate them completely, although you can certainly do a mini island tour in one day.
- Reasonable roads — if you have tried hiring a car in St Lucia, then you will find that the quality of roads in Barbados is vastly superior, and even though the island still has plenty of rugged terrain, it is relatively easy to drive around, although pot holes can still be a problem on the more rural roads.
- Barbados car hire options include hiring directly from Grantley Adams International Airport (BGI), together with many Barbados car hire facilities being available in all the major resort areas.
Why not? Visiting Barbados without a car
- Cost — in our car hire comparison list, the price of a week’s car hire in Barbados was around five times more than the equivalent hire car in Malaga. Although some of the other Caribbean islands were even more expensive, they don’t have the same level of alternative options that Barbados has, so getting a hire car here is extremely poor value.
- Proximity — unlike some other Caribbean islands, most of the main resorts and attractions are relatively well connected to each other, as they span a short stretch between the airport and the capital Bridgetown. This includes the famous St Lawrence Gap resort area. You can easily travel between these places by bus, taxi or the local “maxitaxi” hybrid — having a car is just not necessary. Even outside these more popular areas, the whole island is only 21 miles long and 14miles across at its widest, and there are only so many roads you can fit into such a small area!
- Just for one day – You might well just want to rent a car for the day to explore the island, and this can easily be done locally. However, you might well get much better value by booking even short-term car hire in advance. Either way, we still don’t think it is worth getting a hire car for your whole stay in Barbados, unless you are staying in a villa, or doing an activity which makes you dependent on a car.
- Rum — we don’t want to state the obvious, but Barbados is one of those destinations that has a strong association with having a good time, and drinks are extremely cheap, especially when compare to the other Caribbean islands! Many of the most popular attractions, including boat tours, rum tours and the legendary Harbour lights experience, also include unlimited free drinks. This simply does not mix with driving, especially not if you’re picking up a car after drinking the night before. This is a stupid idea at home, and it is even more stupid on holiday! If you are going to get a hire car in Barbados, then either severely limit your drinking the night before, or have a designated driver who does not drink at all.
- Tours — plenty of options are available for going on organised tours of the island. This sort of excursion might not be to everyone’s taste, but you will certainly see most of the island, and the tour guides are usually highly entertaining. Some people go for a tour on one day and then hire a car for another day after being given an introduction for the island.
- Oistins — one of the most popular excursions is a Friday evening fish market at Oistins. This is easily accessible without needing a car, as it is situated between the airport and St Lawrence Gap.
- Offshore excursions — even if you don’t want to go on one of the “booze cruises”, there are still numerous options for going on boat trips and also for going diving, and in most of these cases, transport will be provided to and from your hotel.
Absolutely, it might make a lot of sense to hire a car for the day, but it makes little sense to have one for all the time you are here. Car-rental on on the island is expensive, and you really don’t need a car in Barbados just for getting around, since it’s much easier to go by taxi/minibus.
Even though you will have to pay (US) $5 for the local licence regardless, this is a small part of the total rental cost.
You’ll also find that it’s easy enough to find taxi drivers who are very willing to show you around the island and to offer you a 1/2 or full day tour, yet you also might prefer to have at least one day where you are exploring on your own terms.
We recommend doing this later on, and possibly after you’ve done other things on the island where you have been taken around by a local driver, and you have well and truly got your bearings sorted. You’ll also have a much better idea of what the local roads and driving conditions are like.
Is it worth renting a car in Barbados even for backpackers, students and other travellers who are on an extremely tight budget?
Almost certainly not – the Caribbean is largely off-limits to budget travellers, not just because there are very few backpacker type hostels, but also simply because it’s very difficult to travel around the region without paying a fortune in airfares.
Since we already think it’s not really worth hiring a car in Barbados anyway, there is little reason why it would make sense for a budget traveller, unless there really are one or two particular places you want to get to, and for some reason you either don’t want to go there by taxi, or you don’t want the hassle of having to arrange a driver to come back and pick you up later.
Just because there is no rail system of any kind on Barbados, there are plenty of options for getting around by bus and shared taxi, so there’s really little need for a car if you are on a budget.
You could also rent a bicycle for the day, and this is usually easy enough to do from within any resort.
No. Most visitors to Barbados will stay in resort areas such as St Lawrence Gap, or in self-contained hotels, rather than in the capital Bridgetown, but there are still a number of hotels here.
The only real difference at staying in Bridgetown would make is that this is where the main bus station is, and most buses running around the island will start and finish their journeys in Bridgetown.
It’s also perfectly easy to hire a car here, especially since this is where the cruise terminal is.
- Princess Alice Bus Terminal, to the west of the city centre, serves destinatons in the norther part of Barbados.
- Fairchild Street Bus Terminal, on the eastern edge of the city centre, serves all points to the east and south.
- River Terminal – for Christ Church and parts of St Michael.
- Cheapside Terminal – for Saint James and parts of Saint Michael and Saint Thomas.
No, if you generally dislike driving, there’s no need to hire a car in Barbados, since you can simply get around using taxi and minibus services. Even if you are more used to rail and more formal bus services, you’ll still find it easy enough to get around Barbados without a car.
No, but there’s nothing of interest for the rail enthusiast anywhere in Barbados or in any of the nearby Caribbean islands.
I like driving if I can – so should I hire a car in Barbados?
Yes, if you usually like driving and you want to enjoy the experience of seeing the island, then of course you absolutely should hire a car in Barbados. However, this still doesn’t mean that it’s worth hiring a car for all the time you are here, since you might well find that this is an unnecessary expense.
We still wouldn’t rate Barbados as being a particular amazing place to simply enjoy driving for the sake of it – the roads are generally quite narrow, but there aren’t any particularly spectacular feats of engineering as such. Instead, you simply might want to have a car to drive to some of the coastal landscapes, which are truly stunning, but which you really will want to appreciate by getting out of the car anyway, so it won’t make that much difference how you actually got there.
Generally, there are very few restrictions on parking in Barbados, but it can still be a problem in the centre of Bridgetown. Your hotel will probably provide free parking, but they might not necessarily advertise it.
I am mainly interested in architecture and urban/cultural attractions – should I still hire a car in Barbados?
There are few buildings of particular architectural note in Barbados, and it’s easy enough to get to any points of interest using local buses and taxis anyway.
The one “structure” you’ll probably still want to visit is the retired Concorde which will find at the airport. Needless to say, it’s easy enough to get to the airport by local bus or taxi, especially as the main island road goes right past the terminal anyway.
For many people, this is a good thing to do before catching their flight home, but if you want to make an excursion to visit, just bear in mind that the airport is the one place where you will have to pay for parking. At BD$2 per hour, this is still not going to break the bank!
Yes, having a hire car could be quite useful because it will allow you to appreciate some of the interior of the island as well as some of the truly amazing beaches that it has to offer. It’s also worth having a car so that you can call in on the Andromeda Botanical Gardens. Since nowhere on the island is actually that far from anywhere else, you can still see a lot of these places by using local buses and taxis. The gardens are on the edge of Bathsheba, which can be reached by hourly scheduled buses from Bridgetown.
You don’t really need any set number of people to make it worth hiring a car in Barbados, because your main option for comparison is going to be either getting around the island by bus / maxitaxi (always cheap anyway), or by negotiating with a driver to take you around the island for the day, in which case you are likely to be paying the same amount, whether you are travelling solo or with a large family.
In fact, if anything, you should hire a car in Barbados if there are just two of you travelling together, because that way you will be able to make the most from an economy or a compact car, if you can find one available. If you are part of a larger group, then going by taxi might actually work out as better value, because they can accommodate more people, and because having to either rent two separate cars or rent a large people mover is going to end up costing you a great deal more.
You also might find that you can see a great deal of the island if you just hire a bicycle instead, and even if a group of you were to hire a bicycle each, this is still going to work out cheaper than renting a car.
Possibly, but this is going to depend entirely on your own preferences. Some people always prefer to trust local taxis and minibus drivers, whereas other people prefer to drive themselves.
Road safety standards in Barbados are reasonable by Caribbean standards, and high by global standards, although you are still around twice as likely to have an accident here as you are in Canada.
Maxi-taxi (ZR) minibus drivers are private owner-operators, who will have a natural tendency to over-fill their vans, and also to compete with each other to get ahead and pick up more passengers.
Generally, Barbados isn’t the sort of country where you are going to be driving around and using roadside facilities – the island is simply too small for any kind of service station as such, other than small local petrol stations. There are no motorways (freeways) in Barbados.
The safest and most accessible way to travel around Barbados would be to use a regular scheduled bus. These are operated by professional drivers and modern buses often have low floor access.
Is it worth hiring a car if I am transferring through Barbados and I have time to spare?
If you happen to be passing through Barbados in transit, and you have a full day between your flights, then it might well be worth hiring a car from Barbados airport and spending your time travelling around the island. However, you could just as easily jump in a taxi and transfer to any of the fantastic local beaches which are within a short driving distance from the airport.
Is it worth hiring a car in Barbados if I am here for the day as a cruise passenger?
Possibly, but you could just as easily negotiate with a taxi driver to take you around the island.
Furthermore, if you can make your way past all the different drivers offering their services, then you could also pop in to one of the local bus stations in Bridgetown (see above for details). This way you might actually have a much more authentic experience of the island, doing something that very few tourists do, and travelling around like the locals.
Barbados is much too small for any kind of touring, since you can very easily drive around the whole island in a day with plenty of time for intermediate stops.
There’s also no way to do any kind of multi-island “road trip” from Barbados, since there just aren’t any kind of car ferry services operating in this region. If you want to see the island in detail, your best bet is simply to go hiking, and there are many excellent paths doing this, especially around the coast. However, you don’t need any kind of car just to get to the start or finish of any walking trails, as you can just as easily do this by bus/taxi.
Touring the Caribbean by air
The only way you could really consider any kind of onward touring from Barbados would be if you look at some of the short hop interisland air services, for example to get to a nearby island like Saint Lucia. However, this is going to add substantially to the cost of any trip to Barbados, especially as many visitors here come on packages which will include a flight and hotel.
Interisland flights in the Caribbean don’t tend to operate at very high frequencies, so you it’s tricky (but not impossible) to just pop over to another island for the day, rent a car to drive around it and then pop back later in the same day.
Either way, local flights tend to be operated using small turboprop aircraft, with hefty departure taxes added on top, so it’s very expensive to go even a short distance.
Tourism on Barbados does create a number of problems, and this includes those which are related to traffic. However, road traffic is nothing like the kind of problem that it is in many other places, and in the absence of any kind of rail network, you will still need some kind of motorised transport.
If you are going to hire a car, then you can significantly reduce your impact by travelling in a small group, so you fill the car. If you feel that you don’t need a car in Barbados for the rest of the time that you are here, then you can certainly reduce your impact by taking buses and maxi-taxis rather than your own individual taxis.
You could also hire a bicycle and see the island that way instead of hiring a car.
This isn’t really likely to be something worth considering in Barbados, unless you wanted to simply hire a car at the airport, drive around the island for a day, and then drop the car off in a resort location once you are finished (or vice versa).
In reality, this probably is going to be unnecessary, since most of the car-rental companies in Barbados are based between the capital Bridgetown and the airport. If they don’t offer any kind of pickup/drop-off service, then you would simply need to arrange your own transport to and from the rental office, something that’s easy enough to do anyway.
You can’t hire a car in Barbados and then drop it off in any other island, simply because there aren’t any car ferries which would enable you to do this, and even if there were, then it would be rare that any car hire company would allow you to drop off their cars in another country.
Do I need to rent a car in Barbados? Barbados is certainly one of those places where the whole appeal lies in relaxing and taking it easy. There is more than enough to do in Barbados without a car, and there is little point in having one for your whole stay if you are in one of the main resort areas. However, renting a car to tour the island for the day is well worth looking into, and it is worth looking at car hire booking options for arranging this ahead of time to get the best rates..