Don’t take taxis, rent a car
Renting a car and driving in St. Maarten is a great and inexpensive way to see the island. Taxis in Sint Maarten are relatively expensive compared to renting your own car. A taxi trip to the other side of the island will set you back in the neighborhood of $40, with surcharges for luggage on top. Alternatively, a rental car will run you $30-40 per day and give you unlimited access to the island. Though there are larger vehicles, like Jeeps, available, most rental cars are tiny sub-compacts which fit on the narrow roads quite well. Additionally, they do not burn through very much gasoline, keeping your transportation costs minimal.
When you arrive in the airport, there are many rental car booths jostling for your attention, calling to you and offering to undercut each others’ prices. Negotiate for what you would like, especially if you are looking for specific features such as Bluetooth for your phone or a sunroof. Ensure the features are written down and the full price agreed upon before leaving the desk. The cars themselves are located a few minute drive away via shuttle. Depending on your country of origin, you will not need an international driver’s license. When you pick up your car, take photos of any damage on the car to ensure you are not charged for it in the future. Many of the rental companies even encourage this practice and have cameras of their own.
What roads are like
The roads in Sint Maarten are narrow, like many European streets, and twist and turn up and around and over the rolling hills. The drivers in St. Maarten will stop to let someone turn onto the street in front of them and stop to let many pedestrians cross the road, even if it is not a designated crossing. However, the rest of the time their driving is fairly aggressive. The navigation and friendliness are made easier by the relatively low-speed limits of 30km/hr and 50 km/hr. Pay attention to your lane position, as there are many open cement drainage ditches on the roads, which drop off immediately beyond the lane, at a 90 degree angle. If you lose a wheel into one, you will destroy the car in a heartbeat. Many of these ditches are 2-3’ deep!
Roundabouts keep traffic flowing fairly smoothly, but ensure you know how to drive in them before departing. Turn signal use is relatively uncommon, due to the prevalence of the traffic circles and the natural flow they have. Outside of roundabouts, intersections are generally governed by yield signs, or by no signage at all. There are a few relatively unregulated, large intersections, which can be confusing. Just pay attention and go where you need to go; drivers are used to different actions happening.
The tourist maps provided by most information centers and the car rental companies do not have very much detail. For example, they aren’t labeled with street names! That is okay as many of the streets aren’t labeled with their names either. Though the roads twist and turn, there are obvious main streets. For the most part, you can follow your nose and head in the general direction of your destination.
Horns and honking
Horns are used in short beeps and frequently! Taxi drivers will honk a quick hello if they pass a friend who is driving by or walking on the street. If someone wants to turn onto a road, they might honk to say, “Please let me in!” When someone finally does, they may honk to say, “Go ahead!” The original car will then honk a “Thank-you” once they have gone. Laying on the horn in the more aggressive fashion found in the rest of the world does not seem to be very common.
Do not leave anything visible inside the vehicle when parking, and always try to leave nothing at all in the vehicle. There is some paid parking on the island but there are places you can park for free in most locations.
All in all, if you have any experience driving in a city, then driving in St. Maarten will be no problem for you. The cost itself makes it a much better deal than taking taxis. So, you should definitely rent a car for your travels about the island.
What are your driving experiences like in the Caribbean? Do you like to rent a car in foreign countries? Tell us about it in the comments below!