Updated on August 1st, 2022
Driving in St Lucia is not everyone’s idea of a relaxing road trip. During my month on the island, I tackled many potholes, steep hills, hairpin bends and drivers who love to overtake on a corner. I got lost a lot, made friends in the process, was regularly terrified but ultimately exhilarated. Every completed journey felt like I had triumphed over an obstacle course. And I can honestly say I loved it! I hope you will too after reading my essential guide for taking to the roads in St Lucia.”
St Lucia, West Indies
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Over the last few years, I have spent many months getting better acquainted with the beautiful islands in the Caribbean. However, beyond driving in the Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic and Barbados, I have never actually braved the roads alone. But I don’t think you can beat the experience of exploring anywhere on your own terms with a car. It gives you the ultimate flexibility and freedom. When I was planning my latest 2-month adventure in St Lucia and Grenada, I wanted to hire a car and explore my way, in my own time.
Initially, when I shared these plans with fellow travellers in my first few days, they all seemed to be a bit surprised. They gave me that look when someone clearly believes you have no idea what you’re doing. And when I announced that I was going on my own, it became mixed with a little admiration and a lot of concern.
And I can see their point.
Driving in Saint Lucia is an obstacle course made up of deep potholes, steep inclines and descents, switchbacks, and blind corners. Add to that deep trenches on either side of the road, lack of pavements for pedestrians and the fact that many of the locals are keen to overtake, whether there is a corner ahead or not!”
And then there are regular distractions from spectacular views at every turn.
The first time you drive anywhere is terrifying. The second time is slightly less daunting and by the third, it really does feel like second nature.
There are many reasons to visit the stunning island of St Lucia but one of the main draws is the amazing choice of beaches. Check out my pick of the best ones here. And don’t miss my rundown of over 30 Epic Activities to add to your itinerary in St Lucia.
Love chocolate? Then you must take a tour of the Hotel Chocolat plantation & make your own chocolate bar. You can read all about it in my comprehensive blog post.
Be warned, that I was also robbed while sleeping in my room in St Lucia so please don’t miss my 16 Essential Hotel Safety Tips written as a result.
Before I get into my top tips for staying safe on the roads in St Lucia, there are a few questions I felt would be useful to cover.
Yes…and no! The big thing to say first is that they drive on the left-hand side. Coming from the UK did make things easier. If you are a confident driver, keep your wits about you and expect the unexpected, then you should be fine. On the other hand, if you are inexperienced or cautious, then my best advice is to take one of the many tours on offer or hire a driver to help you explore the island. Here are a few suggestions of the fantastic tours available from Get Your Guide:
Do I need a permit to drive in St Lucia?
Hiring a car in Saint Lucia is a straightforward process. All you need is a driver’s license and then spend US$6 on your island permit. But the big question is which company do you choose to hire from?
In St Lucia, I found that the well-known, international hire car companies were significantly more expensive than hiring from a local agent. In addition, booking online seemed to only offer the option of pick up and drop off from the airport.
I chose to hire my car through Booking.com (Rentalcars.com) which was by far the cheaper option. I used the agent Drive-A-Matic, which operates solely on the islands of Antigua, Barbados and St Lucia. And I have to say, I couldn’t fault them!
Not only were they much better value than the other rental companies, but they also offered to drop off and pick up the car at two separate locations. In addition, they delivered it to me and picked it up all at no extra charge! I even ended up extending the booking easily via a simple friendly phone call. What more can you ask for?
If you enjoy hitting the road too, then don’t miss my post on Solo Road Trip Essentials.
A word of warning on hiring a car in St Lucia
I heard a story about a couple who had trouble after hiring a car locally, for a very small budget. On their second day, they were hit from behind by another driver. The agent told them they would have to pay an extra £500 minimum to cover the cost of the insurance. They were encouraged to strongly challenge this charge, which they did successfully.
The issue comes when the agent is hiring out a private car. This means that the insurance cover may not be as comprehensive as vehicles designated as hire cars. In St Lucia, it is easy to tell. If the registration plate starts with a P, it’s a private car. If it starts with an H, it’s a hire car. The smaller companies can charge less because they rent out private vehicles. This means that you could be liable for much bigger charges if you are unfortunate enough to have an accident.
Top Tips for driving in Saint Lucia
I can attest that although challenging, it is safe to drive the roads in Saint Lucia. However, to help you feel more confident and bring you back incident-free, I have some top tips to share.
If the car in front is driving slowly, be patient, after all, you will rarely be in a rush! This can be very useful to help identify where the hazards are and guide you as to how to avoid them. Take it slow, you’re on island time, enjoy the journey!
2. Keep your eyes on the road
Obviously, this is a tip for driving anywhere! But on the St Lucia roads, you need to keep your wits about you. There are very few pavements so people will often be walking on the road. So will dogs, goats and chickens, so you need to keep your eyes peeled at all times! Stay focussed.
Potholes are also frequent challenges. Where there is one, there are usually many. The slower you go, the easier it is to dodge them.”
3. North vs South
Driving in the north of the island is much more straightforward than in the south. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security if you pick your car up in the north of the island. Here, the roads are generally flat, straight and efficient. Once you get past Castries it’s a different world!
4. Driving in Castries
The traffic in, out and around Castries can be very heavy, especially during rush hour. This means long queues and significant increases in your journey time. Also, be aware that there is a one-way system in place in the centre so look out for the signposts. When driving around Castries, don’t play your music too loud so you can’t hear the locals shouting at you if you are going the wrong way. Clearly, I know this by experience!
5. Be courteous
If someone is driving up close behind you, pull over and let them pass. Rather than driving faster than you are comfortable with. This way you can admire the (no doubt) stunning view from wherever you stop.
6. Beware of Google Maps
I’ll be honest while driving in St Lucia I relied on Google Maps. A lot. And many times, it took me on a wild goose chase or along roads that I was not comfortable negotiating. Bear in mind that I was on my own too which made me a little uneasy on occasions.
For example, there was the time I was told to turn, and the road was so steep I couldn’t even see what was ahead of me. I later discovered that this was a “short cut” so for future journeys I chose to stick to the main road.
Or the time it was insisting that I go along a very muddy waterlogged track through a field to get to my guest house. I turned around and asked some nearby builders who told me I was in the wrong place entirely.
But the worst was on the way to Tet Paul Nature Trail (one of my favourite activities on the island). It initially directed me to the Gros Piton hike which is somewhere completely different! To get there I had to drive through a river and then back again following a chat with a friendly local. After changing my destination, it dropped me in the middle of nowhere (“main entrance” as far as Google was concerned!). Finally, I put in Fond Doux Eco Resort and was able to follow the signs from there.
In conclusion, trust your gut! If it feels wrong stop, go back, ask someone. In my experience everyone is more than happy to help.”
7. Towns and villages
Driving through the towns and villages of St Lucia can feel like you’re negotiating an obstacle course. They may not have pedestrian pavements. There may be only room for one car, but not a one-way system. They probably will have deep trenches on either side of the road for water run-off which is terrifying when you drive too close. And of course, the obligatory dogs, goats and chickens again. In addition, there will be speed bumps. These will often be unannounced, unmarked and sometimes very steep. Keep on the lookout and if you spot them in time, take it slow. There will always be at least one as you enter an area and another as you leave.
8. Night driving
Be careful if you plan to drive at night. I admit to avoiding it completely. The roads are not lit, and you will still face all of the challenges I’ve already discussed. In the dark. I did do it a couple of times in Grenada but was terrified. Apart from all the other hazards, you can add cars driving towards you or close behind you with their lights on full beam. For me, this was one adventure too far!
9. Take your time
Journeys will take longer than expected. They may be short in distance, but they may also contain blind turns, steep slopes, potholes and all the other hazards mentioned already. But you will also constantly have breathtaking views that you will want to stop and take in. Leave plenty of time and enjoy the experience!
So, there is all you need to know before embarking on your St Lucia driving adventure. Good luck and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! After all, as I always say, it’s not about the destination, it’s the journey!
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