Getting around in any new country is a learning experience from the get-go. Among different traffic laws, there’s standard courtesy expectations and a bundle of unspoken local rules that you can only figure out on your own.
Let’s talk about Barbados. If you’d prefer avoiding the driver’s seats, there are many alternative options. You can check those out at Totally Barbados about how to get around Barbados. However, if you want two hands on the wheel and an elevated heart rate, please keep reading!
Tips for Driving in Barbados
— First off, Bajans drive on the left side of the road.
— Honking in Barbados is a sound of courtesy
— How do they thank you?
— Note: Pedestrians have the right away.
— What else causes a standstill traffic scenario?
— Things you can find for sale on the side of the road
Experience Driving in Barbados
First off, they drive on the left side of the road.
For some this is normal, for the rest of us it’s a bizarre feeling that takes you directly into oncoming traffic wondering why the truck facing you won’t get into the correct lane!
I tell you for the first five years visiting here; I would naturally walk to the right side of a friends car thinking to be the passenger until I’d see the steering wheel and awkwardly circle the vehicle again.
Now, I’m driving here and have more than once (with keys in hand) opened the passenger side door expecting to hop in the driver’s seat. For what it’s worth I either giggle to myself and walk around or reach in as if “I meant to open this door.”
Once behind the wheel, I was slightly impressed with my natural ability to stay on the ‘right side’ (left side) of the road. What I was not expecting was the reversed locations of the signals. For the first week, every time I went to turn left or right, I’d switch the windshield wipers on. Of course, this meant the first tropical rain that hit my view was quickly taken care of by clicking my indicators (blinkers).
Honking in Barbados is a sound of courtesy
Well, I suppose that depends on the number of consecutive horns and the duration of the blowing horn. If a horn is blaring at you followed by some curse words, I wouldn’t necessarily blow them a kiss back.
A quick tap of the horn is giving a fellow driver the “go ahead.” For example, if they’re waiting to turn into heavy traffic and you slow down to let them in, you can either flash your lights or give a quick honk of the horn.
How do they thank you?
You guessed it, a quick double honk back at you. Although the public transportation vans that have their own specific horn acknowledging pedestrians when offering a lift.
My favorite is one that reminds me of the taco trucks on US construction sites. For those of you that don’t know, it resembles the tune “La Cucaracha.” So now you can imagine a two-lane stretch of road around here sounds like a song of vehicle tunes.
For all the North Americans who grew up with bruised shoulders from playing Slug-bug, let me introduce you to the Bajan game called “Cheezy wheels.” Rather than a quick strike to your neighbor for every Volkswagen Beetle, instead you hit for a yellow vehicle. Nothing special, just a yellow vehicle that’s not public transportation. Try being the clueless one in that game the first round! Thank you, Kevin and Dani.
There are more potholes in this country than sidewalks, and center divides, crosswalks and curbs combined.
When you’re following a vehicle you also have to take into consideration some small crater-sized potholes you must avoid while driving on some of the beat up roads. I am indeed guilty for the last minute swerve in order to protect my tires from the near cliff drop of the average pothole.
Pedestrians have the right away
In other words, the chances of hitting a human are just as likely as popping a tire on a pothole.
If you’re behind a van or bus, expect to stop every 8-20 seconds. Not only will these public transporters slow down for every bus stop, but they’ll also take a park mid-street if there’s a friend in a different bus coming at them. I have heard conversation for the weekend plans as two drivers just randomly paused mid-route causing a traffic back up.
What else causes a standstill traffic scenario?
— A fallen tree branch
— School kids
— Ninja Man
— Wild Chickens
— Stray dogs
— Broken down car
— A taxi driver who thinks temporarily parking on a highway is acceptable
— and the occasional overflow of a Rum Shop.
Things You Can Buy on the Side of the Road
Things you can find for sale on the side of the road:
— Raw fish
— Fresh vegetables
— Coconut water straight from the nut
— Burnt corn
— Homemade juice
— the favorite pre-made lunches out the back of a locals car including but limited to mac pie, chicken, rice, fish, plantains and sweet potato pie.
So to give you an idea of my first exciting day behind the wheel, please visualize a peanut shell-covered lap with windshield wipers blaring through the sun as I attempted to signal barely dodging a pothole before coming to a screeching halt so the pedestrian could cross without looking both ways.
I laughed the whole way like a high school kid in their first car.
Brett Callaghan is the founder and managing director of Totally Barbados. I specialize in writing content for the tourism industry for my island home of Barbados. I help companies build strategies to grow their businesses online with SMART marketing, advertising, and social media goals.