Transport, Communications & Weather
Similar driving laws apply in Antigua & Barbuda as to much of the rest of the world. However, as with many things in these holiday islands, there is a more relaxed attitude to enforcement unless you do something really stupid or dangerous.
Things may change a little though as the law has recently been amended to include using a mobile phone while driving classified as careless driving and drink/driving laws similar to those in the U.K, which could have an impact on how entertain yourself whilst in Antigua. If you have a hire car and are eating or drinking away from your hotel or villa, visiting one of the many bars or restaurants scattered around the island, especially during events such as Sailing Week, you may want to consider nominating a designated driver who remains sober.
Dont forget "clunk click" you must wear your seatbelt.
Cars and four wheel drive SUVs of varying size are available and a few rental companies have larger seating capacity vehicles. A convertible jeep may seem like fun but consider a closed in vehicle with air conditioning as driving in the tropical sun is not always such fun.
Hire a vehicle with decent ground clearance if you are planning to visit parts of the island where the roads can be a bit rough. Rates are from about US$45 per day with a US$10 per day optional insurance. The English traffic system is in force so remember to drive on the left at all times. Most of the island has a 40 mph (64 kph) speed limit with a 20 mph (32 kph) limit in all villages and built-up areas.
Many of the vehicles are Japanese imports and have speedometers calibrated in kilometres, roughly halve it to convert to MPH and you won’t be over the limit. Always make sure you have a spare tyre and jack in the vehicle before you set out.
Most rental companies offer airport drop off and pick up. Ask about 24hr roadside assistance too.
Several hire companies also have ATVs and scooters but you have to be over 21 to hire one.
Petrol (gas) and diesel are relatively cheap, just above average US prices but about half U.K. prices. Low sulphur diesel is now available but only from the main West Indies Oil station north of St. John’s although it is being extended to other parts of the island.
There is no scheduled system on Antigua just numerous privately owned buses, many are the 12 seater mini bus type with some larger 28 seaters. Buses are easily identified by their licence plate. There are some designated stops but you can flag a bus down almost anywhere.
To go to town from English Harbour the buses stop outside the entrance to the Dockyard and outside the petrol station in Falmouth. The fare is one way and the cost to town is EC$3.50. Buses operate between about 6:30 am until nightfall with a much reduced service in the evening as well as on Sundays and holidays. Sometimes, in the evening, a bus will terminate its journey a few miles north of English Harbour. Ask before you get in.
To travel to the north of the island you walk from the Market Place station to the East Bus Station. The driver will give you directions. If you wish to take a bus to Jolly Harbour, you have to go into St. John’s and change.
Bus Stop Antigua is useful to find bus numbers and routes along with the fare.
All taxi cabs are privately owned and standard rates apply throughout the island. Be sure to ask the price and make sure you know if you have been quoted in US$ or EC$. The fare is the same for 1-4 persons, then an addition for extra persons and for one way transfer only.
If your trip is to some remote place or you need a pick up late at night take the drivers mobile number. If you are missing Uber, try PayCab, the mobile phone app offers a quick and easy taxi booking service.
WE DRIVE ON THE LEFT
You will need to bring your driving license with you and take it to a local police station to purchase your driving permit. This will allow you to drive legally in Antigua & Barbuda and only costs EC$50/US$20. If you are hiring a car most rental businesses will arrange this for you.
Speed limits on the Islands are 20mph in villages and towns and 40mph on open roads,15mph limit in St John's. There are signs around the Island.
Some things to look out for, potholes, animals and people frequently wander into the road. Dont be offended if a driver does not thank you when you let them out, its just not a done thing here. Generally drivers give way much more readily. Occasionally you may have to wait for the car in front to have a quick chat with another passing by. But there is no road rage here, so take it easy, its the Caribbean.
Main dealers for Japanese and Korean brands such as Nissan, Suzuki, Toyota, Honda, Kia and Mitsubishi plus Chevrolet built in Korea, have been established for many years but European names have found a niche market.
A lot of nearly new Japanese cars are also imported as Japan, like Antigua, drives on the left. Left hand drive cars are sometimes imported from the U.S but not recommended.
At the top end of the market there is still a demand for high specification off-roaders and some inclination for the less capable but more flashy American models but the most popular up-market 4 x 4’s are Range Rovers in their various guises.
Import duties and other taxes on vehicles does make vehicle purchase prices rather on the high side, about equivalent to the U.K. but double that of the US.
At one time Antigua built its own cars, the off-road looking but not very capable Arawack, based on the Hillman Imp.
These days small cargo is as important to yachts as are air passenger services. With the increase in ‘plug & play’ electronics and other replace rather than repair components, the need for the swift delivery of parts is paramount in the yachting market particularly for charter yachts where time in port is lost revenue. Many of the yacht agents act for one or more of these courier services.
Most visitors to Antigua arrive by air and a variety of airlines fly from the U.K. and U.S.. Virgin Atlantic and British Airways fly from the U.K., departing from London Gatwick. Caribbean Airlines fly from London Heathrow. Flights are also available from Manchester but are often not direct. The main airline serving the U.S. from Antigua is American Airlines which operates out of Miami from where many other U.S. destinations can be accessed. Delta has direct flights to and from Atlanta and Continental fly from Newark. Air Canada serves Antigua from Toronto and Montreal. In season, there are direct flights from Italy.
Several airlines depart from Antigua to serve other Caribbean islands. LIAT, the largest carrier serves most islands with very regular scheduled daily flights. Barbuda and Montserrat are accessed by SGV Airlines with both a passenger and cargo service.
A new passenger terminal opened at Antigua’s international airport in July 2015 and has all the facilities expected of a modern airport including a VIP lounge which is available to First and Business Class passengers but other passengers have the opportunity to purchase daily tickets.
There is an FBO at the airport for arriving and departing private aircraft with access direct to yachts from the nearby Shell Beach Marina together with servicing and catering for the aircraft.
Almost all bars and cafés now have free Wi-Fi although there are a few internet cafes for those who do not have portable computers or internet enabled ‘phones. The marinas and some bars have secure networks which will require a pass code. If you are not moored in a marina, on-line access is available from a variety of sources including ACT. Digicel and FLOW also offers 4G LTE wireless broadband throughout the island. APUA provide fibre optic connection but this is limited.
Mobile ‘phones and local SIM cards are readily available from several sources as is international roaming but that can be costly. Pre - paid sims are common and you can top up on-line or at one of many local supermarkets.
Marine VHF has almost ceased to exist except for broadcasting. If you are using the VHF, Ch 68 is the hailing and emergency channel although, close to shore, a mobile ‘phone is probably more useful as Ch 68 is not extensively monitored. VHF Distress Channel 16 is monitored by ABSAR, the Antigua Barbuda Search and Rescue, a volunteer service which operates in the coastal waters within VHF range.
Temperatures do not vary by much more than 10 degrees throughout the year here, its lovely and warm with cooling trade winds from December to May. The hurricane season in the Caribbean runs from 1st June until 30th November. The recent high power hurricanes are rare with only 1 or 2 per cent chance of one hitting a Carribean island and, over the past 25 years or so the methods and accuracy of reporting weather have dramatically changed and, as a result, bad weather is not necessarily the threat it once was. Today almost every yacht has satellite communications with the latest forecasts and predictions which enable not only route planning but also assist in a decision whether or not to stay in a port or area during a predicted weather pattern.
Check out several sites to get a balanced view of what might happen over the forthcoming days especially if planning an extended voyage. The original VHF English Harbour Radio no longer operates but the local and Leeward Islands Marine forecast can still be heard on VHF Channel 06, Monday to Friday (occasionally weekends) at 09:00 followed by notices of interest to sailors and other useful information. Stormsurf.com is one of many forecasting sites available.