Road Safety and Transport Tips for Travelers in Dominica

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With narrow winding roads, steep drops-off and traffic signs a rare sight, driving in Dominica is a challenge. Here's what you should know to get around safely.

Photo © iStock/holgs

Driving on islands in general is not for the faint of heart. Many road systems in Caribbean locales aren't the same as in other countries. Of the 484mi (780km) of highways on the island, nearly half are unpaved. Cars are driven on the left-hand side.

Traffic lights and road signs

Stoplights and road signs are rare on most roadways, sidewalks even rarer, and many roads are still not equipped with two proper lanes to let both sides of traffic pass at the same time. Road surfaces are poor and don't have much grip, so driving in rainy conditions is very difficult. Sizeable potholes are plentiful and the asphalt is not intact on many roads. Blind corners and hairpin turns are abundant.

Honking in Dominica

It's customary on Dominica and other islands to honk to alert another vehicle or pedestrian of your impending arrival. This is especially crucial at night, as many roads aren't well-lit even in urban areas. Add to this the fact that seat belts aren't always worn, and you have some potentially fatal possibilities, especially if you aren't used to driving in a place.

Beware of narrow roads

The narrow, winding roads around the volcanic island don't normally have guardrails, and what lies on the other side is often a pretty straight drop off into nothingness. These steep drop-offs are often hidden by vegetation, so the unknowledgeable driver will have no clue that it buffers a sheer cliff. If driving yourself, the route from the airport to Roseau is especially nausea-inducing, with sharp curves all through a mountain. Tourists are involved in accidents on this roadway often. Landslides can also occur after heavy rains, and while there may be warning signs, it is near impossible to see them at night.

A recent pair of travellers to Dominica said they encountered difficulty driving up the Aerial Tram. The road was under construction, so conditions were worse than normal and only one lane of traffic could go by. They wound up stuck between several large buses and had to drive into and then out of a muddy section on the side of the road.

8 important road safety tips for Dominica

  • Due to the lack of traffic signals and signs, many cars and public transport vehicles simply stop at whim
  • Minibus, or taxi; many stop suddenly and drive into traffic without a signal. Move over if possible when a large truck approaches, as its sheer size will force a car off the road
  • Speed limits, shown in kilometers, are non-existent on country roads, and roads outside cities are largely unlit and signs are poor
  • Bring a map, or ask for directions when driving here - the Dominican people will be happy to help, usually
  • If you get in an accident, stop your car wherever there is a safe area and call police
  • If you do rent a car on your trip to Dominica, a compact vehicle or small 4x4 are your best options; the latter will help when driving in mountainous areas and get you unstuck in muddy conditions
  • If you'd rather be carted around, mini-buses, indicated by a plate starting with an H, travel from Roseau to most villages. Prices are fairly reasonable
  • There are no rail lines on the island. If you feel like taking a day trip away from the island, ferries go between Dominica and Guadeloupe, St. Lucia and Martinique.

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