Tobago Car Hire : Introduction
A detailed guide to hiring self-drive cars, jeeps and other auto rental on Tobago
Taxis are relatively expensive and a self-drive rental is by far the best choice for true convenience and flexibility. Sadly, auto rental is not cheap and the wrong choice could easily spoil an otherwise wonderful holiday. myTobago receives more complaints and hears more horror stories about car hire than any other subject.
Travellers visiting Tobago for the first time are strongly recommended to read all the information in this set of page. However, if you just want a list of Car and Jeep Hire Services on Tobago, please click on the Agencies tab above.
Driving in Tobago
Visitors from the UK will be delighted to hear that vehicles travel on the left in Tobago. Brits, in particular, will also be undaunted by the narrow twisty roads.
Driving on Tobago is remarkably easy. There are very few roads – and even fewer signposts. Wandering from your intended route is seldom more than a minor inconvenience. You can never get truly lost in an island that is only 26 miles long by 8 miles wide. Stopping to ask for directions can be an illuminating experience and will often produce helpful information and suggestions. You will invariably continue with a smile on your face.
The roads on Tobago are now of reasonably good quality by Caribbean standards. Sadly, once you move away from the Crown Point-Scarborough belt and into more rural areas, surface quality deteriorates. Mind you, I well remember the days when it used to take a day to drive to Charlotteville and back, weaving between the potholes at 10mph. It amuses me to return to Tobago, year after year, to find the same stretches of road un-surfaced and still ‘under repair’. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security: you can be driving down a perfectly sound stretch of road and then suddenly crash into a huge pothole if you're not concentrating.
Great care must be taken on the twisty roads in the more isolated parts of the island. You will regularly encounter oncoming traffic on your side of the road, avoiding potholes. Fortunately, the poor surface means that speeds are low, so accidents are less frequent than you might imagine.
Driving standards on the island are terribly poor. Most local drivers abhor air-conditioning and drive with one arm out of the window. This is partly to hold on the roof (well, probably, given the state of some cars), partly to keep cool, but primarily to facilitate greeting other drivers and passers-by. Hand signals are a compulsory part of the local driving exam. An arm waving up and down, or held straight up, may be signals to 'slow down' due to some obstruction or incident ahead - but could also be simply a greeting to a friend or relative. The use of turn indicators is sporadic, so don't assume that other road users will understand your own signals. Drivers stop without warning wherever the fancy takes them. Route taxis are the worst offenders, stopping to drop off and collect passengers without the slightest notice (not unlike taxis at home). Parked cars regularly have to be 'overtaken', having been parked several feet from the kerb.
You can be excused for thinking that I am doing an excellent job of persuading you not to hire a car. This is most certainly not the case! Driving yourself around the island is highly recommended, very easy and can be great fun. I have exaggerated the problems to make the point that drivers should avoid getting carried away by the stunning scenery and must constantly keep an eye on the road and vehicles ahead. Although there is technically a 50kph (30mph) speed limit on Tobago, this is widely ignored and law enforcement is marginal, to say the least.
The number of cars on Tobago has increased dramatically within the last few years and the island is now starting to suffer from the congestion that most of us take for granted at home, but which was unheard of in Tobago just a few years ago. The roads around Scarborough can be a nightmare during the morning (7-9am) and evening (after 3:30pm) rush hours. The town has limited parking at the best of times and should be particularly avoided on a Friday afternoon.
A final word if I may. Public transport is limited in Tobago. When travelling in the more remote parts of Tobago you will often see local people standing by the roadside. Many will raise a hand, asking for a ride. Ten years ago, we always stopped for women and children. Sadly, times have changed and foreign visitors should take police advice and NEVER give lifts.