Bermuda: a short travel guide

Simon Calder offers help and advice to those embarking on a Bermudan adventure


WHEN TO GO

From December to March, temperatures are often low. Added to the rain that is a perennial visitor to Bermuda (you are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, after all), a visit at this time of year can be decidedly chilly. But air fares and room rates are low, except around Christmas/New Year, and the territory is quiet and relaxed.

April and November are the "shoulder" months - with luck, you will get sunny, calm days. These months are second and third driest respectively, behind May - which in many respects is the ideal time: the weather will have settled into bright, warm days, and many of the places that close in "winter" will be open for business. Yet the influx of summer holidaymakers and cruise passengers will not yet have reached its peak.

From June until September, Bermuda is at its busiest, and prices for accommodation rise to reflect that. Furthermore, from August onwards the risk of hurricanes is at its highest; the most recent, Fabian in 2003, caused widespread damage.

GETTING THERE

The only airline with a direct link from the UK - or, for that matter, anywhere outside North America - is British Airways (0870 850 9 850; www.ba.com). From next weekend, BA will fly daily from Gatwick. Fares start at £662 return.

Travelling via the US is another option. American Airlines, Continental, Delta and US Airways fly from a range of East Coast hubs to Bermuda. This gives you the opportunity to combine New York or Washington with Bermuda, which makes up for the much longer journey time.

Two more solutions involve low-cost airlines from the US. USA3000 ( www.usa3000.com) flies twice a week from Baltimore and Newark for under $300 (£175) return, while jetBlue ( www.jetBlue.com) is soon to start flying twice-daily from New York JFK for around $375 (£220). So you could, for example, find a cheap flight to JFK and transfer there.

GETTING AROUND

Public transport - buses and ferries - is excellent, which is just as well because visitors are not allowed to rent cars. You can hire a scooter, a bicycle or an electric power-assisted bike, but road quality is uneven and the locals' standard of driving erratic.

One local habit is to sound the horn at every conceivable opportunity: to thank other motorists for their courtesy, to greet friends walking or driving past and, occasionally, as a warning instrument.

Bermuda's basic divisions are parishes: the territory was fairly arbitrarily carved up by the original settlers into a series of parishes from St George's in the east to Sandys (pronounced "sands") in the west. One example of this complicated system: St George's Island lies within St George's parish, which also includes St David's Island. The main settlement is called Town of St George, which everyone calls St George's. Another source of confusion: the neighbouring parish, Hamilton, is several parishes away from the City of Hamiton, which lies within Pembroke parish.

Bus: The network is centred on the smart new bus terminal in Hamilton, where computerised screens announce impending departures. Services are frequent on the main links to each end of Bermuda - St George and Dockyard - and regular enough to other destinations. Schedules are available at Visitors' Service Bureaux and in most hotels. Timekeeping is excellent.

Fares can be high for single journeys; the minimum is $3 (£1.70), even to go a few stops, though for journeys involving a connection you can get a free transfer from the driver. The exact fare has to be dropped into the box next to the driver. You are supposed to pay only in coins, but since this is Bermuda a solution will be found if you only have notes.

Unlimited-travel passes are much better value if you plan extensive trips around Bermuda. These range from one day for $12 (£7) to a week at $45 (£26), with children travelling at half price. These are also valid on ferry services.

Ferry: The SeaExpress network is based on the offers frequent departures on the "Blue Route" between Hamilton and Dockyard, taking 15 minutes, though some sailings call also at other West End ports. "Pink Route" services link the capital with communities just across the harbour. The "Orange Route" starts in Hamilton, serves Dockyard and ends in St George's, providing a faster option than the road journey, but only in summer. One-off journeys cost around $4 (£2.50), but all ferries are covered by Bermuda's travel passes.

Scooters: "You can recognise the visitors by their grazes", says one local, referring to the number of tourists who take a tumble from their rented scooters. Plenty of outlets will hire you a scooter, or "cycle", as they are called locally. A handy company is Oleander Cycles (00 1 441 236 2453), which has five branches dotted around Bermuda. Another firm in Hamilton is Smatt's on Pitts Bay Road (00 1 441 295 1180). Eve's Cycle (00 1 441 236 6247; www.evecycles.com) will meet you from your plane if you plan in advance. Expect to pay around $60 (£35) per day.

Bicycles: "Real" pedal cycles can be rented, for example from Eve's as mentioned above, for $25 (£15) per day. One location, EZ Rider (00 1 441 777 3500), even offers electrically-assisted bikes.

You are required by law (and common sense) to wear a helmet.

ACCOMMODATION

You will pay handsomely for a place to stay in Bermuda, but in return you will find high quality and a friendly welcome. At the top end, the Fairmont Princess in Hamilton (see page VI) offers the five-star experience. There are a number of other big but less grand hotels, such as the Grotto Bay Beach resort. For a more individual experience, though, you should choose one of the many historic homes (by New World standards) that have been converted into upmarket accommodation.

Rates are high and largely non-negotiable; hoteliers would apparently rather leave rooms empty than reduce prices, though you could try asking for a corporate rate. And on top of published prices, you must add 10 per cent for "grats" (service charge) plus 7.25 per cent government hotel tax.

Rates are usually room-only. At some smaller properties, though, you may get some extras, such as sparkling wine on arrival, afternoon tea and breakfast.

Plan well ahead; unlike many destinations, simply turning up and taking pot luck is a poor strategy. Many places are booked up weeks or months ahead. Also, there is a certain inflexibility among smaller accommodation providers: even though they may have empty rooms, if you phone or call in on the day, you may be told that they are simply not ready.

Buying a package holiday, for example through British Airways Holidays (0870 243 3407; www.baholidays.com) or Kuoni (01306 740 888; www.kuoni.co.uk), can work out as the cheapest option, as well as bringing robust protection if things go awry.

MONEY

Reflecting Bermuda's main trading partner, the local currency is on a par with the US dollar. The Bermuda dollar has its own coins and notes, which are interchangeable at par with American currency. Outside Bermuda, however, the local currency is hard to convert, so before you leave, make sure your funds are all in US$ unless you want to bring back some colourful souvenirs. Banks and hotels will change Sterling for dollars, but you are likely to get a more favourable rate by using one of the many automatic teller machines.

TAXIS

Bermuda has hundreds of taxis, almost all of them MPVs capable of carrying four people and lots of luggage. The standing charge is $3.75 (£2), and each kilometre costs an additional $2 (£1.25). A short hop around town should therefore not be more than $8 (£4.50), but a tip of 15 per cent is expected, so plan to pay $10 (£6). The 16km ride between the airport and Hamilton, is likely to cost around $45 (£25) including tip. Taxi drivers are happy to be hired for several hours or a full day, and will reliably take you to places of interest with a colourful commentary. The standard rate is $36 (£20) per hour, with a minimum of three hours and a tip on top.

DRESS

If you are accustomed to the informality on most Caribbean islands, you should smarten up for Bermuda. Most restaurants - and even golf courses - insist on "smart casual" attire, and frown on jeans. In this conservative territory, topless sunbathing is unheard of, and beach attire is never seen away from the shoreline.

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