Crossing Latin American international borders is rarely easy or pleasant (why do they always smell like pee and desperation?). Things are even more complicated when you’re driving across in your own vehicle as part of an overland road trip. We hope the following border crossing 101 travel tips help you get prepared and travel across smoothly with or without a vehicle.
Date: June 8, 2011
From: El Florido, Guatemala
Lay of the land: This border crossing, referred to as El Florido on both sides and used primarily by big rigs and day-trippers visiting the Copan archaeological site, is dusty and quiet. No touts, no hassles, no services, banks or other facilities. The immigration office on the Guatemala side is well-marked and efficient. A brand new immigration and customs building has been put up on the Honduran side. A charming Honduran customs agent named Fabricio handled our truck importation with an absolute minimum of hassle. He barely inspected the vehicle at all but he was a bit of a Chatty Cathy which ate up some time. Before we drove away Fabricio gave us his cell phone number in case we had any questions or problems in his country and he tipped us off about a German man making excellent small batch beer in the town of Copan Ruinas just a few miles away.
Elapsed time: 1.5 hours (mostly spent talking to Fabricio)
Fees: $3 per person for a Honduran visa; $35 for temporary importation of the truck into Honduras
Number of days they gave us: 90 days for us and for our truck. See warning below regarding CA-4 regulations for overland travelers.
Vehicle insurance requirements: We were not required to show proof of Honduran liability insurance and there was no place to buy insurance.
Where to fill up: Fill your tank before you leave Guatemala. Fuel is much more expensive in Honduras. If you’re headed to the El Florido border from Chiquimula, Guatemala the best place to fill up is the Shell station about a mile and a half before you reach the turn for El Florido. There’s no fuel immediately available on either side of this crossing.
Duty free finds: None
Need to know: Police officers in Honduras are serious about seat belts and you are required to carry reflective emergency triangles and a fire extinguisher in your vehicle (as is the rule in most of Latin America). We were pulled over about three miles into Honduras by cops looking for our front plate (we only have a back plate because a front plate won’t fit underneath our winch). The cops were not hassling us at all nor were they looking for a bribe. Once we showed them the temporary importation papers we’d just been given they explained that all vehicles registered in Honduras are required to have front and back plates then sent us on our way.
CA-4 warning: In 2006, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras joined together to create the so-called CA-4 (Central American 4) group of countries all honoring and enforcing one CA-4 visa governed by rules spelled out in the CA-4 Border Control Agreement.
Tourists are allowed to spend up to 90 days in total in any combination of the four participating countries and the clock starts ticking on your CA-4 visa the moment you step foot in any of the CA-4 countries.To complicate things further, in 2009 Honduras stopped honoring CA-4 regulations and started issuing its own 90 day visa. This means that you can spend 90 days in the other three CA-4 countries then enter Honduras and receive a new 90 day visa for that country.
But be warned: Honduras is completely surrounded by other CA-4 countries and, unless you fly, the only way out is overland. This requires entering one of the other CA-4 country which still abides by the 90 day limit starting when you first entered Central America. If you’ve used the 90 days Honduras give you, you will not be allowed to enter another CA-4 country overland.
We learned this the hard way after we spent almost three months in Guatemala, entered Honduras and got another 90 day visa and then tried to enter El Salvador which denied us entry because we’d (unwittingly) overstayed our allotted 90 days in the region as defined by the CA-4 regulations.
Overall border rating: Excellent. The El Florido crossing between Guatemala and Honduras was smoothly run, hassle-free and relatively quiet despite the presence of quite a few big rigs.