Driving in Central America
Just because you possess a driver's license in another country, it doesn't mean you can or would want to drive in Central America. If you have a valid license you can legally drive, that is not the point. The point is that it can be amazingly crazy and extremely insidious.
Although the best way to see the country is by driving, hiring a driver, using shuttle buses, or private taxis may be better for the impatient, the road raged personality, or the slow reactionary. If you are planning to drive in Central America, here is what you need to know:
First the people
Maybe they are some of the world's most crazy drivers ever or maybe they are the best drivers ever! The driving conditions and the type of situations that could and do happen on the road make them the fastest and most adaptable drivers in the world! The ability to react quickly and make good decisions are essential to be able to drive safely and well.
Most of the roads are two lanes, and some are just one lane. In these roads it is not uncommon to spot one or two cows or horses crossing the road out of nowhere. This happens quite often, so you need to be alert and watch, especially with the curving winding roads.
Fog and Rain
Fog and rain can be very dangerous. Fog is very common during the rainy season. During this season the rain makes the ground so saturated with water that there are landslides, mountains that collapse, massive trees fall out of nowhere in front of you and sometimes even road ways just drop right off without notice. Obviously this amount of rain causes damages to the poor roadways with potholes. Potholes can be very dangerous because when they are filled with rain you can't really see them and hitting one at high speed can cause accidents and damages to the car and you. At night depending on how hard it is raining it even becomes difficult to see the roadway. So do not drive at night!!
Because of the humidity, you must keep the air conditioning and the defogger on at all times, so that you can see out of the windows. It is a good idea to always have a towel or paper towels in the car to wipe the windows down if the defogger is not working hard enough.
Bridges and single roadways
Some of the bridges have been replaced with modern day concrete metal supported bridges, but in many areas you can still find the old one lane wooden type. Sometimes these bridges are simply impassable, depending on the condition of the bridge. If you are not careful, it is not uncommon to have your car wheel fall through the bridge wood and get stuck.
Some of the single roadways are paved but can end up in unpaved rocked or dirt roads. Because this is a hard drive on rental cars, it would be better to use a four by four.
Accidents and Jams
There are plenty of unusual and crazy accidents in Central America. Be aware of how you drive because watching for the other guy is something that is not done! There could be a big accident in front of you and people will still try to go around during or while it is happening. When the accident is on a two lane road, it can take hours to clean up since you cannot move the vehicles involved at all until the traffic police and insurance companies show up. Plan on spending time when you see an accident. In the big city it is common all day every day, in the outer areas worse accidents seem to happen, and cause lost time.
Wild animals or snakes
In the outer road areas it is not uncommon to see or have wild animals cross the road. After all Central America is filled with nature! Do not run over them! Monkeys and the occasional Coatimundi can cross the road. Snakes especially in the dry season, looking for a cool spot, will rest in the middle of the road!!
There are many options on rental cars, from old four by fours to brand new small economical cars. If you get into an accident the most important thing to know is that you CAN'T move the car one inch or you will be liable for the damages to that car and all the others involved.
Never leave you car unlocked, or with anything in visible sight, as most rental cars are targets for thieves. If you have a flat tire, do not pull over if it is dark: go to a lighted area.
Talk to your travel agent, he or she probably has a list of professional drivers. Many hotels have lists as well.
These in a nutshell are the most important things you need to know if you decide to drive in Central America. If you are planning a trip of fun and luxury then hire yourself a chauffeur; they are not so expensive as one would think and can save you lots of time, since they know the roadways and when it is safe to travel over certain areas.