Published: January 11th 2009January 10th 2009
Depending on which guidebook you read, you will find a wide range of reasons not to drive in the country of Honduras. The Moon Guide to Honduras calls it chaotic which is fairly accurate. However, most of the accounts that I’ve read seem somewhat exaggerated and I’d be willing to bet that 90% of the people who’ve traveled by car in Honduras haven’t experienced anything that a seasoned traveler couldn’t handle. Also, don’t assume that because you were able to book the car in English via a website that the person you will encounter in Honduras can speak the language. Spanish is virtually a must all over Honduras with the slight exception of the Bay Islands. In general, make sure your Spanish is up to snuff or the process is going to be a headache for both you and the rental agency employee.
Renting a car is pretty tedious in Honduras because the agencies seem to have their personnel go over the vehicles in excruciating detail both at pick up and at the drop off point. Be prepared to watch them notate every dent, scratch and scuff. They also note things like whether the logo emblems are on every wheel
Pulperias are ubiquitous with Honduran roadside towns..
and what shape the jack and lug wrench is in. Also note any dings on the windshield.
Make sure that you either have coverage through your own auto insurance policy or through your credit card. Honduran agencies require that you use a credit card for the reservation. You will also be required to leave a deposit of around $700 USD on your credit card so if you have a low limit, be aware of this. When booking a car online, this isn’t clearly explained so I’m sure this surprises many people upon arrival.
When choosing a vehicle, you don’t have to go crazy and rent a Hum-V or anything. A good economy car with high clearance or a compact SUV will do. The roads in Honduras are pretty bad by most standards but most people will not be traveling on a rutted jungle road or crossing rivers. Just use your best judgment here. For example, you can get to Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, Copan, Yojoa and La Ceiba by driving on normal Honduran Carreteras (highways). Also make sure you have a valid drivers license. You don't need a Honduran one so make sure you bring your own from
Downtown San Pedro Sula
Do yourself a favor and never drive through any of the downtown avenidas in San Pedro Sula. For that matter, just avoid driving downtown at all costs.
home. Technically speaking, you'll need to have this on you at all times while driving.
Wikipedia says that there are 15,400 km of roads in Honduras and out of that, only 3,126 km are paved. I’d tend to believe that based on what I've seen. No matter what the exact measurement happens to be, the fact is that Honduran roads are utilitarian at best and at their worst, you might as well walk. An Interstate Highway system such as the one found in the USA doesn’t exist in Honduras so what you are left with is a network of roads in varying states of repair possibly similar to US Highways but far less kept. What I mean by this is that there are lots of potholes and missing sections of pavement. It’s also common to find bridges partially washed away as well as large boulders in the middle of mountain roads. Also keep an eye out for tumulos
, which are two different words for what I’d call speed bumps. In what I can only assume is an attempt to slow down traffic through small towns, there are large, sometimes metal speed bumps every 50 meters or so
Rusty bridge anyone?
If it looks dangerous, it probably is. Don't worry though, most bridges in the USA are out of repair, too.
which can be hell on a small car. Often they’re formed out of the asphalt and unfortunately seldom painted making them extremely hard to detect till you're nearly on them. Hitting these things at high speeds seems to be a pastime for some Hondurans but I’ve never tried it myself. My best advice is to watch the other cars in front of you. If you see a fair amount of brake lights, something is afoot. Of course, there are sometimes signs to warn you but you can't depend on that to always be the case. In a country where there are hardly even names for many roads, it pays to keep your eyes on the road at all times.
One thing you'll notice almost immediately is that lanes are somewhat arbitrary on Honduran roads. This is partially because many of them have no painted lines and partially because Hondurans love to pass each other. I can see the appeal of passing an 18-wheeler full of Imperial moving at a snails pace in the mountains. What I cannot understand is the tendency to wait till the worst possible moment to attempt this pass. It's not uncommon to find yourself winding
Built on the road
Many Honduran towns are built right up against the road. Keep your eyes open because people pop in front of you very quickly.
around a curve only to find another car in your lane coming at you headfirst. Since Hondurans drive to the right, the best course of action is to move even further to the right even if you have to drive off the shoulder of the road. Trust me, this will likely happen to you but you'll live. In fact, the chaos of driving in Honduras only takes an hour or so to get a grasp on. After this, you'll probably get used to it.
I've heard stories of Hondurans driving at night without headlights to "save gas" however, I've never actually seen this happen. Maybe it was something that used to happen in the past. It is true that you'll encounter vehicles missing headlights and sometimes even brake lights. My advice is to do your traveling during the daylight hours and stay off the roads at night if you can help it. There are just too many obstacles like the aforementioned tumulos to make it comfortable to drive at night in most of the country. You'll also find lots of horses, cows, dogs, chickens and assorted Hondurans standing in your way as well. Of course, this will be true
Horse carts and automobiles
If it rolls, it will probably be on the road.
both by day and night so just keep your eyes on the road.
Finally, don't assume that a road is obviously marked in real life just because it's found on your map. Most of the time you won't see any sign telling which road you're on until you reach a decent sized town and usually then you're only seeing the names of the towns the road will take you to. So by process of elimination, you can usually figure out the highway number in question. Don't worry, you'll get used to it. Just allow yourself some extra time to get anywhere. Also, make sure your car has a spare tire and all the necessary tools because getting a flat is likely depending on the condition of your vehicle. There are lots of potholes and rocks on Honduran roads.
I can't write about driving around this country without mentioning the transit police. Generally speaking you won't run into any police at all in Honduras, which is a mixed blessing. However, if you're in a car you'll definitely be driving through police stops. Typically you won't have to stop but if you do, just show them your license and the
Every man for himself!
In Honduras, feel free to make your own lane!
car registration info. You should have this in the car somewhere. The rental car agencies will point it out to you. If you get a ticket for some reason, you'll have to give them your license but they must give you a ticket in return. To get your license back, you have to go to the transit office and pay a fine. I'd like to say this never happens but I hear it actually does. I think you even have to wait a day to get the license back. In short, just make sure you have all your paperwork on you so there won't be a problem. Also, don't attempt to bribe an officer because you'll just end up complicating matters.
All in all, this was probably far more information than you’ll need on any given day. Just make sure you fill up on gasoline when you can and keep all your documents in order. Then just drive like you have a clue and you’ll be fine.
There are more photos below