Crossing the border, especially at El Amatillo (Honduras), can be a traumatic experience. Weaving your way around various unmarked buildings in search of the necessary stamps and documentation, while surrounded by nosy helpers and clever scam artists, is likely to overwhelm and frustrate. Additionally, you have probably spent a day or two reading all the “what not to do” stories floating around the web, resulting in a dangerous combination of fear and the unknown. Entering a situation like this armed with specifics enables you to gain the upper hand. Here is our step by step guide to getting through it:
Although border helpers can sometimes prove useful, we strongly recommend against hiring any for Honduras. This was the only crossing where we were specifically warned by a border agent (after she ordered them out of her office, dirty look included) to be very careful, they are more trouble than help. Using a helper not only wastes your money but also shows the officials you have money to burn and do not fully understand what is happening.
When driving through Honduras, three items appear to be necessary for motorcycles, SUVs, and campers alike: triangles (at least 2), a fire extinguisher, and reflective tape applied to the rear. We were stopped four times between borders. Within the first ten kilometers there were two checkpoints and these were the most aggressive. Our lack of reflective tape was an issue at only one stop and we haggled the “infraction” fee down to $10, happy to have a tape free camper.
Looking back, this was probably the most entertaining checkpoint. The two officers trying to work us over for $100US clearly had a well rehearsed good cop, bad cop routine. While one repeatedly yelled “banco” and “lunes” at Logan, another made his way to Breezer’s side smiling calmly and looking apologetic for his angry compadre. With her window down, good cop felt comfortable reaching his arms into the truck and settling in like an invited guest. Fully understanding the consequences being slowly and deliberately explained to us, we did our best to contort our faces and shrug apologetically as the scene continued. Bad cop eventually left in a huff and good cop suddenly began lowering the asking price.
At our first checkpoint, Logan gave the officer a laminated copy of his California ID and this did not fly at all. Logan repeated “no comprendo” as many times as the officer replied “esta copia.” Not until he retrieved his AAA international driving permit (20 minutes later) did the battle of repetition conclude. Cops in Honduras are clearly very familiar with US drivers licenses and can spot a fake right away. We do not recommend using any identification other than your international permit. They are easy to replace and if the cops threaten to keep it, you can drive away worry free.
While the checkpoints were a little nerve wracking and the police often antagonistic, we later agreed we wasted too much time worrying. Rather than feeling an immediate intimidation, realize this is a game to them and they make it easy for you to play along. Every exchange, no matter how seemingly threatening, ended in a smile and a handshake. Half our stops appeared to be legitimate, making sure we had the right equipment and papers before sending us on our way. If you start your trip early Sunday morning, expect to be home free by Choluteca. You will be more than half way through before noon and will pass through a few checkpoints abandoned for the lunch hour.
Our border stats for the one day journey:
Left Alegria El Salvador 6:15AM (Sunday)
Arrived El Amatillo 8:30AM
Entered Honduras 9:50AM
Arrived Espino 1:20PM
Entered Nicaragua 2:30PM
Arrived Esteli Nicagragua 4:30PM