Renting a Car in Honduras
by Ron Hay
I was planning a four week visit to Honduras and wanted to sample
several areas of the country. I planned to at least see the Copan ruins,
some of the Western colonial towns, Lake Yojoa; to do a sample river
raft trip; go on into the Miskito region; and then continue on to dive
on at least one of the Bay Islands. I thought that it would make sense
to rent a car upon my arrival at the San Pedro Sula airport and then to
use it to visit just the Western portion of my itinerary.
Highland areas seemed rather spread out and, while riding the bus would have been
totally acceptable to me, I just wanted a little more freedom to visit
interesting areas and in less time than the bus travel would allow. So I
started to plan for a one-week rental car trip. The information that I
found in the Travel books was that “car rental is very expensive in
Honduras”, that “driving is very dangerous”, “gasoline is more that
$4.50 US per gallon” and in general, not so much useful information as
to what to expect.
My Experience Driving in Honduras
Since I did not really plan to get into the rougher dirt and gravel
roads in the country, I decided that a compact size car (not a four
wheel drive) would be fine for my wife and I with about 100 pounds of
luggage between us. We had used this type of vehicle for some rather
lengthy previous trips into Mexico and Belize and it had suited us just
I used a couple of web travel sites to get an idea of car costs
and then went specifically to the site that looked promising as far as
availability and price. I selected Avis as my choice rather than several
of the other “local” companies. My choice of Avis was based upon my past
experience with this company and my hope that their in-country service
would be predictable and decent if I needed it. I web reserved a
Chevrolet Optima (stick shift) at a rate of $172 per week with unlimited
miles. This price included local taxes and airport fees.
Avis Experience Was Good
I arrived in Honduras on schedule and, in just about twenty steps after
clearing customs and leaving the restricted area, found a line-up of a
half dozen car rental booths inside the terminal. The Avis clerk was a
friendly, and English speaking, Honduran girl. I was expected, my
reservation was on file, and the car was ready.
At this point, a discussion of car insurance might be helpful.
Naturally, my own US
home policy was of absolutely no value in Honduras. I also knew that my
credit card company provided a collision insurance that I determined
would protect me from paying for a car loss or damage as long as I
charged the car on their card. I called and emailed my card company
(Master Card) several times to determine if this coverage would extend
to me in a different country and was satisfied that it would. This left
the problem of Liability and Medical payments if I injured or killed
I determined that almost no one in Honduras has any kind of car
insurance and that in the event of an accident; the car would be
confiscated until restitution can be made by the party deemed to be at
fault. (Never even think of moving the car from an accident site before
the police investigate!). Several US citizens who were living in
Honduras told me that a settlement payment for a fatality is about $3000
US. But somewhere I also read that there were some lawyers in the
country that might see a US citizen as cash cow and seek much bigger
My decision was to opt for the
Avis additional Liability insurance for an additional $5 US per day and
that would provide me with $6000 total liability insurance. I decided
that I would just have to accept the reality of the risk.
The Avis girl and I inspected the car for any prior visible damage and
she marked down a lot of body scratches that I could not even see. I
soon signed the document and was on my way.
Now for the Road
Now, do not even remotely
begin think that because you are an experienced driver in your country
that you will know how to drive in Honduras. Expect it to be different
because it is. If you are a road rage type, take the bus. If honking
horns mean something to you, take the bus. If you are used to good road
signs and good road safety standards, take the bus. What you do need is
a good map (bring it with you) and a good navigator.
The speed limits
and mileages are all in the metric system and I have converted them here
to the mileage system since I understand it better. Expect the main
highways in the San Pedro Sula area and, in general, all of the other
primary roads in the Western part of the country, to be in really good
shape, even by big country standards. There will be some potholes and
usually there are signs warning of fallen rocks and any broken pavements
or washouts. (Yes, you need to be able to read some Spanish).
How are the Roads?
primary roads are generally quite wide (at least 50 feet) including the
paved berms but with only a centerline (usually), and no edge lines. The
problem is that of the inexperienced driver going too fast and not
looking much more that 100 feet ahead. I have a theory that while the
locals are growing up, they never have to look farther ahead than their
horse or their feet will move them. At 75 MPH, they still look ahead
that short ingrained distance.
I experienced one incident when cattle
were crossing the road. I saw them at a safe distance and slowed
rapidly. But the driver behind me never even noticed them until he had
passed me and had to swerve so violently in order to miss a cow that he
almost rolled his vehicle. The drivers will pass you on any curve, site
unseen, and I found that moving to the right would help a lot as long as
there was no bicycle or horse in the right berm area. I felt that I
could usually maintain a 50 MPH speed where I thought that there was a
safe site distance ahead. The highway cars and large trucks! generally
seemed to run at 60 MPH or a little more. Note that the car speedometer
and the few speed limit signs erected are in Kilometers per hour.
The secondary road driving and the driving within the small towns (Copan
Ruins included) would mean more potholes and some pretty bumpy spots.
One had to pick the way carefully in order to avoid hitting bottom.
Almost all city streets are really narrow with just enough room for two
small cars to pass.
Gas Stations and Parking
Fuel stations are quite plentiful and generally well staffed and well
run. Gasoline was usually just a little more that $3.10 US per gallon
($3.60 US for high grade) at the time of my travels.
When we stopped for the night, I always inquired about where to safely
park the car for the night and was always assured that the area that I
was shown would be secure.
Generally, I averaged about 35 mph when traveling on the best of the
highways and less than half that when using the secondary paved roads
(don’t get behind a beer truck that is going up grade). Be careful in
the cities that have traffic lights. They are not always in the same
general location and may be nearly hidden at some lower level. The
locals know where they are so the system usually works.
Make sure that
your driver’s license is available to show along with the ownership
paper provided by the rental company. I only had one police check point
stop in seven days of driving and the National Policeman was courteous
and efficient. There was never a hint of an improper solicitation by him
of any money.
I drove about 492 miles in the week that I kept the car. I
saw a couple of accidents and a few emergency vehicles working along the
roads but I really never even had a close call. The car turn-back at the
San Pedro Sula airport was easy and pleasant with no damages noted. For
the rest of my travels I did jump a bus or used a taxi where walking was
too far. The car rental venture thus ended as a total success for me.
Ron Hay is a retired Civil
Engineer who enjoys traveling with his wife to just about anywhere in the world
to explore ancient civilizations and to enjoy its natural beauty. He lives in
Ohio, USA, and also has lived in Europe, Panama, and South East Asia. Their
travels have taken them to spots on all of the Earth’s continents and they
especially love the time that they can spend in Central and South America.
The Maya city of Copan brought them to Honduras for the first time and they were
not surprised to find an entire country filled with opportunities for adventure.
From the Western Highlands to the Miskito Coast they were warmed by the
friendliness of the people, the beautiful scenery, the enjoyment of good fresh
food, and the opportunity to just plain have fun.
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