Once you've made it over one of the bridges guarding the Cape Cod Canal -- or bypassed the bridges by flying or boating in -- getting around is relatively easy. Traveling by car does offer the greatest degree of flexibility, although you'll probably wish no one else knew that. Traffic is frustrating enough, but parking is yet another problem. In densely packed towns, such as Provincetown, finding a free, legal space is like winning the lottery. Parking is also problematic at many beaches. Some are closed to all but residents, and visitors will almost always have to pay a day rate of about $10 to $20. Renters staying a week or longer can arrange for a discounted weeklong or month-long sticker through the local town hall (you'll probably need to show your lease, as well as your car registration). You can usually squeeze into the Cape Cod National Seashore lots if you show up early (by 9am); here the fee is only $15 a day, or $45 per season.
Further complicating the heavy car traffic on the Cape is the seemingly disproportionate number of bad drivers. A few key traffic rules: A right turn is allowed at a red light after stopping, unless otherwise posted. In a rotary (think traffic circle with Boston drivers), cars within the circle have the right of way until they manage to get out. Four-way stops call for extreme caution or extreme courtesy, and sometimes both.
Rental cars are available at the Hyannis Airport and at branch offices of major chains in several towns. The usual maze of rental offers prevails. Almost every rental firm tries to pad its profits by selling loss-damage waiver (LDW) insurance at a cost of $8 to $15 extra per day. Before succumbing to the hard sell, check with your insurance carrier and credit card companies; chances are you're already covered. If not, the LDW may prove a wise investment. Exorbitant charges for gasoline are another ploy to look out for; be sure to top off the tank just before bringing the car in.
Certain car rental agencies have also set maximum ages or may refuse to rent to those with bad driving records. If such restrictions might affect you, ask about requirements when you book to avoid problems later.
It's worthwhile to call around to the various rental companies to compare prices and to inquire about any discounts available (members of AAA or AARP, for instance, may be eligible for reduced rates). The national companies represented on the Cape and islands include Avis (tel. 800/331-1212), Budget (tel. 800/527-0700), Hertz (tel. 800/654-3131), National (tel. 800/227-7368), and Thrifty (tel. 800/367-2277).
Internet resources can make comparison-shopping easier. Travelocity (www.travelocity.com) and Expedia (www.expedia.com) help you compare prices and locate car rental bargains from various companies nationwide. They will even make your reservation for you once you've found the best deal. Also check out BreezeNet.com, which offers domestic car rental discounts with some of the most competitive rates around. For additional car rental agencies,
If you're visiting from abroad and plan to rent a car in the United States, keep in mind that foreign driver's licenses are usually recognized in the U.S., but you may want to consider obtaining an international driver's license.
To discourage congestion and provide a pleasant experience, a growing number of towns offer free or low-cost in-town shuttles in season. You'll find such services in Falmouth, Woods Hole, Mashpee, Hyannis, Dennis, Yarmouth, Harwich, Martha's Vineyard, and Nantucket. Each town's chamber of commerce can fill you in, or call the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (tel. 800/352-7155; www.capecodtransit.org).
The bicycle is the ideal conveyance for the Cape and islands, for distances great and small. The Cape has some extremely scenic bike paths, including the glorious Cape Cod Rail Trail, which meanders through seven towns for more than 25 miles. Two wheels are the best way to explore Nantucket's flat terrain, and scenic bike routes run through all six towns on Martha's Vineyard. You'll find a rental shop in just about every town -- or better yet, bring your own.
Helmets for Your Health! -- There's one key health precaution you can take if you plan to do any bicycling while on the Cape and islands: Wear a helmet. In Massachusetts children 12 and under are required to wear one. All the good bike shops rent helmets as well, and those few extra bucks could save your life.
They're legal on the islands and can be rented at many bicycle shops, but locals loathe them: They're noisy, polluting, traffic-clogging, and a menace both to their riders and to innocent bystanders. In other words, caveat emptor, and expect dirty looks.
You'll find taxi stands at most airports and ferry terminals. The islands also offer jitney services with set rates, such as Adam Cab, on Martha's Vineyard (tel. 800/281-4462 or 508/627-4462), and Chief's Cab, on Nantucket (tel. 508/284-8497). Several offer bike racks or can arrange for bike transportation with advance notice -- call around until you find what you need. Some companies offer sightseeing tours. Among the larger taxi fleets on the Cape are Falmouth Taxi (tel. 508/548-3100), Hyannis Taxi Service (tel. 508/775-0400), and Provincetown's Mercedes Cab (tel. 508/487-3333), which delivers elegance at no extra charge. Other cab companies are listed in the Yellow Pages, as are limousine liveries.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.