This advice covers both island of St Kitts and Nevis, although it assumes you are arriving on flights to St Kitts (Basseterre).
Why get a hire car in St Kitts or Nevis?
- Explore at your leisure — with so much stunning scenery, a car is ideal for visiting both islands.
- Poor public transport — buses congregate around the seafront in Basseterre, but they tend to leave when they are full, and there is no set timetable or interval.
Also, there is no bus service out to Frigate Bay where the main Marriott resort is, nor are there any buses serving the peninsula. It is assumed that all villa users will have their own transport, but this is often not the case.
- Sea Bridge — you can take the Sea Bridge ferry across to neighbouring Nevis and explore the island at your own leisure. Alternatively, you can park in Basseterre and use the passenger ferry – a hire car gives you the flexibility to use either option, whereas there is no public transport serving the Sea Bridge on the St Kitts site.
Whether you get a hire car or not, an excursion to Nevis is highly recommended – see options for visiting Nevis without a car below.
- Plantation Inns — both St Kitts and Nevis have a number of plantation inns which tend to be situated away from the bus routes. Wherever you are staying, these plantations are always good to visit for a meal or a very genteel afternoon tea.
Why not? St Kitts and Nevis without a car:
- Car hire cost — in our survey of car hire prices around the world for cities featured on Carornocar.com, the cost of renting a car in St Kitts is amongst the highest in the world.
- Taxis are widely available, and are usually reasonably priced, with fixed rates to and from major locations such as the ports and airports. Always agree the price in advance, and confirm whether the quote is in local (EC) dollars or US$.
You can charter a taxi with driver for the day, although this will be considerably more expensive than getting a hire car or just making individual taxi trips.
- Limited road space — a car might be fine for a day tour around the island, and an additional day on Nevis, but after that you might well find that you don’t need to go that far anyway, or that you’re doing other activities which don’t need a car.
- Local driving licence — in order to drive a car in St Kitts or in Nevis, you need to pay for local driving licence, which costs US $20. Considering that a hire car in St Kitts is expensive enough as it is, this is just an unwelcome extra cost.
- Sugar train — step outside Robert Bradshaw airport and it almost looks like there is a station right on-site. In fact, Basseterre has the curious distinction of being the only city with a station next to the airport, but no train service to the city centre.
This is because the sugar train is very much setup as a scenic attraction, rather than a functional line, and if you can get a booking, this really is a great ride to take, and the only one of its kind in the Caribbean (outside Cuba).
I would like to say that the St Kitts sugar train alone is a reason not to bother with a hire car, but unfortunately despite having made several trips to the island, I’ve never yet managed to go on it.
Running patterns are determined more by the arrival of cruise ships than by any kind of regular schedule, and then the service tends to sell out quickly to block bookings from the cruise companies, so check ahead to see if you can get on board.
- Buses — despite local buses not running to a European style schedule, they are still a great way of getting around either island.
All the major settlements are served, and circular trips can be done from either Basseterre in St Kitts or Charlestown in Nevis.
Buses usually have their names in emblazoned on the front, and they can stop anywhere on the route. Payment is usually around $3 EC per trip, made at the end of the journey.
- Town ferry — whereas the Sea Bridge is mainly a vehicle ferry, a slower but far more scenic ferry operates between Basseterre and Charlestown, catering for pedestrian traffic. This makes it easy to travel both between and around the islands by a combination of bus and ferry.
- Cycling – despite its compact size, Nevis has established itself as a leading destination in the Caribbean for cycling, and it even hosts an annual triathlon which attracts top competitors from around the world.
Bikes can be hired from Ouallie Beach in Nevis. You can also hire a bike and explore both islands, using either the Sea Bridge or the town ferry.
- Walkability — the islands are generally pleasant to walk around, and there are several reasonable hotels within the town of Basseterre. Any of the sea level hotels in Nevis are easy to get to by bus.
Real cheapskates (we know, not usually an expression you associate with travel around the Caribbean, but there are a few of us) can even walk from Robert Bradshaw airport into Basseterre.
Conclusion: – To get the best out of both islands, a hire car is extremely useful to have. In any other destination we would say that the hire car costs are exorbitant, but nothing in the Caribbean comes cheap, so if you’re spent a fortune getting here and you want to keep things simple, a hire car is a good idea.
Verdict — yes.
Note: Very few car hire companies actually have representation at Robert Bradshaw airport in Basseterre, and there is no on-site car hire facility at Vance Amory airport in Nevis. Avis have an office in Basseterre, which is only five minutes’ drive from the airport, so it should be fairly straightforward to arrange a pickup.