Looking to get out of your resort and discover more of the island? Then hiring a car in Antigua is the perfect option.
During our week in paradise, we rented our own wheels for a few days so that we could discover Antigua's best beaches, spend some time in its capital, and try to uncover a little bit more of what makes the island so special; we highly recommend you do the same on your holiday.
After all, what goes on in a resort is not representative of day-to-day life in Antigua.
However, there are a few things we think you definitely need to know before you book your car rental in Antigua and head out on the road.
Car rental in antigua can work out pretty pricey
First things first: car rental in Antigua is not cheap.
With dreams of cruising along the coast, windows down in a red jeep, our lofty fantasies had to be somewhat reassessed upon realising how much this would cost us.
No, instead we ended up in a tiny, seen better days, compact Japanese contraption that didn't speak our language (literally - we still don't know what it said to us every time we turned the engine on or off).
That little car cost us $50 USD a day; the jeep was at least double.
... so consider renting from the airport
Part of the reason our rental car was so expensive was because we rented last minute at our hotel out of practical necessity. It was convenient, but there are better ways to do it on the island.
Were we to visit Antigua again, we would rent in advance online and pick up the car from Antigua airport once our flight has touched down. Much more competition here amongst rental firms means significantly cheaper rates can be secured - booking in advance is however essential. We use AutoEurope for booking all our international car rentals, as they show the available hire (local and international) companies for the best prices and offer a secure, reliable online booking platform. Click here to check availability for your stay.
Having your own vehicle readily accessible throughout your stay, rather than just for a couple of days, also means that you can spend your time on your own terms. It is easy to be sucked into the resort way of life and never ever leave, but with your own car you can choose to laze at the beach all morning, and then go explore somewhere else on the island in the afternoon. It also saves on expensive taxi fees.
Renting a car for longer (at least 7 days) in Antigua works out much cheaper on the overall rental cost, with most places offering discounts for rentals of a week or longer. So, if you’re staying for one week, we'd recommend renting a car for the duration of your stay (or at least 50% of it if you’re here for two weeks) and spacing out the sigh-seeing. If you really only want a car for a few days? Then pick it up from the airport when you arrive on vacation, then drop it back mid-way through your holiday and make your own way back to the hotel.
You'll need a local driving licence
Yep, irrespective of whether you hold a foreign and an international driver's licence, you'll still need to buy a temporary permit to drive in Antigua. The good news is that they're not expensive ($20 USD) and it's valid for three months.
Your car rental company will be able to provide you with the permit upon seeing your original licence, and make sure you keep both with you in the car at all times in case it's requested by police.
The other paperwork you'll require for renting a car in Antigua is a valid credit card and potentially your passport.
Stick to the left
That's pretty much all we need to say; but it's important to know that should you come from somewhere that drives on the wrong (or, ironically, the right) side of the road for us Brits!
Overall, drivers in Antigua were respectful and friendly - with the occasional horn beep to let you know it was safe to pass, rather than done in anger - and it wasn't too stressful at all (especially in comparison to roads trips we've done in Morocco and Italy in the last year or two).
Know the Local Speed Limits
When the lady in the car rental office informed us of the local speed limits, we balked. But, nope, she wasn't being over cautious - the speed limits really are terribly low here at just 20 mph in cities, and 40 mph in the countryside.
There are no speed cameras on the island, but police officers have been known to use speed guns and the limits are obviously there for a reason.
Look out for Donkeys (and other hazards)
As we mentioned in our 'Things to Do in Antigua' post (still to be published!), donkeys are everywhere here. Great for donkey-lovers, not so great for those who tend to go too fast and pay little attention to what's on the side of the road.
These four-legged lovies do have a tendency to wander, so be aware of them when you drive! Bizarrely, more than a few mongoose scurried out in front of our wheels too.
Lastly, look out for potholes. Generally speaking, the roads in Antigua are pretty good, but there were certain stretches that had more than a handful of big 'uns. If you're sticking to the speed limits they should cause you little concern but definitely something to look out for if you happen to be driving in the dark (and don't want a blow out on your rental car).
p.s. we recommend keeping your time driving in the dark in Antigua to a minimum.
Parking in Antigua
Outside of the St John's, the capital, parking is pretty easy and breezy with almost all beaches we visited having at least small carparks within which you can park for free - just avoid parking anywhere where there are yellow lines at the road edge and double white lines in the middle.
Should you choose to visit St John's (and you really should, even if just for a few hours), parking is a little trickier, and it's often not immediately clear where it is and isn't allowed. Whilst after 5 p.m. street parking is allowed, we'd recommend during the day that you seek out an official parking lot. We used the one next to the supermarket down by the cruise ship terminal (open until 6.30 p.m.), which was free. Most resorts on the island should have guest parking, but it's a good idea to check the situation with yours in advance of renting a car.
Wherever you're parking in Antigua, don't leave any valuables in the vehicle. And remember to try and park in the shade, especially if you're leaving the car for a while, otherwise the interior becomes exceptionally hot.
Purchase the Insurance!
As we say in all our road trip guides, it just makes sense to get the 'collision deductible waiver' insurance.
Most car rental companies make you retain a large deductible or excess which you will have to cover in the event of damage to the vehicle - there is always the option however to pay a little extra per day to reduce this deductible to zero.
For peace of mind, we always do this and recommend you do too.
Also, as ever, make sure to do a thorough inspection of the vehicle before you take it out on the road for the first time and ensure that any pre-exisiting damage is noted by the rental firm.
Everything is 45 minutes away
This is something we joked about all week. But, it really is true!
Antigua is really pretty small, but the attractions and beaches are spread over its breadth. This means that, as we've already said, getting a car is essential, and two, everywhere takes about the same amount of time to get to: 45 minutes to be precise!
Lastly, as with ever car rental, we never recommend going much lower than a 1/3 of your fuel tank without filling up. There's a good number of petrol stations on the island but most are concentrated on the north side, with options becoming fewer in the south and east. This map has a useful overview of Antigua's fuel stations, and just take note of where you nearest one is before the fuel tank gets too close to running dry!