Travel and Adventure

The art of island driving

The roads on Tortola are not for the fainthearted, in fact when you first arrive on the island they are absolutely terrifying! It’s pretty difficult to get lost on the island as there are really only two roads to go on to get from one side to the other. The ridge road runs along the top of the island giving spectacular views of Road Town, the lush green mountains, powdery white beaches and the neighbouring islands. The bottom road runs alongside the coast where you get to hear the waves crashing, feel a cool sea breeze and watch the boats sailing in the distance.

Driving on the island is not particularly a pleasant experience, in fact it’s pretty hair raising every time you get behind the wheel. Here are a few pointers for anybody new to island driving : –

  • Firstly, they drive on the left hand side of the road and the majority of the cars are left hand drive.
  • Everybody drives like a wannabe Formula One driver. They race along the roads at great speed, overtake around blind corners and drive so close up your backside they may as well be in the boot of your car. Driving is the only thing the natives do quickly on the island.
  • Indicators are never used, which makes junctions and roundabouts a great guessing game.
  • Hitchhiking is the norm here. A lot of people don’t own their own cars and there is no public transport. Hitchhiking is a daily commute for a lot of people getting to work and school.
  • Horns are used on a frequent basis, normally to give way, say hi to friends, to thank someone, to say how bad somebody’s driving is and to attempt to pick up the ladies.
  • Parking is a free for all. You don’t need to park in bays, just abandon your car anywhere on the side of the road. You can even park right behind someone who is in a bay and block them while you go shopping for half the day!
  • Potholes are everywhere, most people swerve to avoid them and almost crash into  oncoming traffic as they are doing so.
  • Drivers stop literally anywhere and at any point. They don’t give you any indication they are slowing down or stopping to drop a friend off, again another great guessing game!
  • Most speed bumps are no longer marked causing you to fly off into the air at speed.
  • The majority of island cars are not roadworthy. They drive around with no bumpers, smashed windscreens, no mirrors, broken lights. As long as it has an engine and four wheels, it’s good to go.
  • It’s illegal to drive drunk, but not illegal to drink whilst driving.
  • Take care to avoid the dogs, chickens, lizards, goats, sheep and cows all roaming around the roads.
  • Make sure you have a car with enough power to get up those steep hills and hairpin turns. They are terrifying and almost make your palms sweat.

Unfortunately living and driving on the island definitely takes its toll on your car. New brakes are needed almost every month, steering fluid is required on a regular basis due to the amount of switchbacks on the roads and your paintwork takes a beating due to the sun and salty sea air. We are already on our second car in 3 years. Sadly our beloved Jimny is no more, however our Jeep wrangler has the best 4×4 and eats up the hills.

Driving here takes a while to get used to, but once you’ve memorized where all the potholes are, have reflexes like a cat to avoid collisions and mastered the art of driving at a 90 degree angle, you’ll be proud of your new skill set.

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