4: Go, Speed Racer, Go!

Published on 1 September 2023 at 10:52

One of the main things I failed to comprehend before moving to Curacao was how I could possibly require a car to get around on such a small island. Well, for those unfamiliar, Curacao is VERY hilly, can be extremely hot in the direct sun, doesn’t have sidewalks on main roads, and the public transportation is spotty. I’m not yet a chill enough person to handle these obstacles, so I planned to get a car as everyone recommended.

As in most places, cars mean traffic. Curacao is no different. There are a few places where congestion happens– primarily on Caracasbaiiweg on the way to Jan Thiel (a popular tourist area) or in Punda/Otrobanda during special events. But I’ve also been in a traffic jam caused by an accident. In Curacao, you are not to move your car if you are in an accident. You have to call for someone to come and document the situation for insurance and liability reasons. If you leave an accident you are automatically at fault. This is a really important thing to know especially for tourists who are just renting a car for the holidays.

A nice thing though, is that my American driver’s license is valid here, so no red tape to be able to drive (until, of course, it expires). Like most of the world, Curacao drivers drive on the right side of the road, though some vehicles do have their steering wheel on the right side also (typically the passenger side in the US). I had a rental car like that when I first arrived and other than confusing the blinker and the windshield wipers repeatedly, it wasn’t too terribly hard to drive.

Since I didn’t have a bank account or continuous income to show over the summer, I wasn’t planning on getting a car loan. I sold my car before I left the US, and planned to use the cash I had from that sale to buy a car here. Unfortunately, most of the used cars in Curacao are over 10 years old and aren’t in the best of shape. I was lucky enough to find some expats leaving the island and offloading their 2004 Nissan Murano. It needed some work, but the price was right and it would do for now. I was extremely thankful for my friend Penny who had already been through the car buying process because there are several steps to registering it, inspecting it (thankfully it was already inspected for the next 2 years), and obtaining insurance. On the upside, car insurance is incredibly inexpensive here compared to the US, but they will only cover liability on any car over 5 years old. Once I got the car legal, it was time to hit the road! 

So, driving in Curacao is a bit like the movie Mad Max. You’ve got a bevy of junky vehicles going various speeds while attempting to avoid potholes and each other. Green means go, yellow means go faster, red means caution. Most of the street signs are European (ie. Dutch) so I had to learn a few new ones. Probably the most difficult thing to remember is to stop early enough at the lights to be able to still see them– they aren’t over the front of the road, but are on the side like a stop sign. If you pull up past the light and can’t see it, you won’t know when it turns green and will definitely get honked at once it does! I often feel like I’m being followed by Beetlejuice sandworms as the curbs and lights here are striped with big bands of alternating black and white. The other perturbing thing is that there are NO RIGHT TURNS ON RED. There are also pretty much no U-turns, so good luck trying to take any shortcuts. Roads here are meandering and convoluted, but at least there aren’t too many of them! 

As far as navigation goes, using Maps.me is the standard, though Google maps can also be handy at times. Don’t bother trying to learn street names because no one else does and many don’t have signs, or if they do they are posted only in one direction that you can’t see until you’ve already turned onto the street. Luckily, there are only a few main roads and once you learn those, it’s fairly easy to get around and figure out where things are. 

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the number of roundabouts around the island. They are plentiful and for an American can be a bit tricky. For most of them, you will yield to the cars already in the roundabout before you enter and then exit based on which lane you are in– the right lane usually exits the first to second exit, and the left lane the second and third exits. I say most because there are a couple of roundabouts where you yield to the incoming traffic while you are in the roundabout. 

If you are planning to visit Curacao, you can do so without a car, but it will be expensive unless you have the patience and fortitude to figure out the bus system. I have local friends who offer good deals on rentals, and I also have been known to do some tours of my own for next to nothing. I love that I’m able to build my business network as a travel agent and help out people here on the island at the same time. There is so much to see and do here, you can’t let transportation get in your way!

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