ATMs and Banks
Make a point to stop at an ATM (cajero automático) to get cash while you're in the bigger cities (Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba, Comayagua, Santa Rosa de Copán) or important tourist destinations (Copán Ruinas, Roatán). You'll find machines at banks, large shopping malls, international airports, and gas stations. Although it may sound counterintuitive, we recommend using ATMs inside banks during opening hours. They're more secure than free-standing ATMs, and you have access to bank personnel right there if something goes wrong. If you must use a freestanding ATM, especially at night, choose one only in a well-lighted area and be aware of your surroundings.
Most branches of BAC Honduras and Banco Atlántida have ATMs that work with Visa (Plus-affiliated) or MasterCard (Cirrus-affiliated) cards. A few machines—very few—will also give cash using an American Express or Diner's Club card.
ATMs are fewer and farther between once you get out-country. Several communities—Gracias, for example—have banks but no cash machines.
BAC Honduras. www.bac.net.
Banco Atlántida. www.bancatlan.hn.
Visa and MasterCard are the two most widely accepted credit cards, with American Express in third place. Discover has been introduced to Honduras in the past couple of years, but it is still new enough that businesses may not realize they can accept it. You may have to look at the credit-card decals on the business's window or door and point it out to the employee if Discover is shown.
Small businesses that do accept credit cards will always prefer that you pay in cash. Processors charge them high fees for credit-card transactions. The business may pass this charge onto you in the form of a surcharge on your purchase price. Conversely, it may offer a small discount if you pay in cash.
Currency and Exchange
Honduras's currency is the lempira, named for a 16th century martyred Lenca indigenous leader. (His portrait appears on the one-lempira bill.) Prices are designated L or Lps or as HNL in international currency charts. The exchange rate, which has remained fairly constant in recent years and which we use in this book, is L19 to the U.S. dollar. (When doing mental calculations, L20 to the dollar works pretty closely.)
Bills come in lempira denominations of 1 (red), 2 (purple), 5 (green), 10 (brown), 20 (green), 50 (cyan), 100 (tan), and 500 (violet). The lempira is divided into 100 centavos, with coins of 10, 20, and 50 centavos in circulation. Given the tendency of businesses to round prices up to the nearest lempira, you might never see any coins during your visit. The government has announced plans to mint 1-, 2-, 5-, and 10-lempira coins to replace the corresponding bills. At this writing, no target date has been set.
It is nearly impossible to buy or sell lempiras outside Honduras, and on the outside chance you find someone who will engage in exchange, the rates will be extremely unfavorable to you. Wait until you arrive before changing money. Conversely, try to spend or exchange those leftover lempiras before you leave Honduras, or resign yourself to saving them for your next trip.
Informal money changers with wads of bills operate anywhere that visitors congregate. Many travelers insist they are fine to deal with, but you always risk a scam or being shortchanged and run an even greater risk engaging in a cash transaction in the open on a public street. Look for more conventional means of changing money.
For the most part, Honduras is not one of those "Everybody takes dollars" destinations. U.S. dollars do circulate as practically a second currency on the Bay Islands, but much less so on the mainland. Larger tourist-oriented businesses on the mainland will accept dollars. Big hotels all over the country express their rates in dollars or the lempira equivalent. For smaller businesses on the mainland and for tipping individuals, you should deal in lempiras.
Try to be sensitive to the type of business you're dealing with when paying for purchases. While a 100-lempira bill represents only about $5 to us, a market vendor may have trouble changing it if you buy something for only L10.
Google does currency conversion. Just type in the amount you want to convert and an explanation of how you want it converted (e.g., "14 Honduran lempiras in dollars"), and then voilà. Oanda.com also allows you to print out a handy table with the current day's conversion rates. XE.com is another good currency-conversion Web site.
Unfortunately, Honduras offers no fixed rules to count on when tipping in restaurants. Many establishments include the tip in your final bill. If you see the word servicio when you get your bill, you'll have made an obligatory tip. Other places suggest a propina voluntaria, a voluntary tip. The bill may specify what the amount should be, or it may not. Still other places do nothing at all. In any case, 10% to 15% of the bill is a good amount to tip your waiter or waitress. Dining spots may levy a cover charge for nights when they offer live entertainment.
A tip of about L20 per day is an acceptable tip for housekeeping staff. Again, the servicio may be included in your final bill at checkout. If in doubt, ask what the practice is at the hotel.
When tipping, the kind thing to do is to deal in lempiras. A tip in dollars requires the recipient to stand in line at the bank—and they're usually long lines—to change your tip into local currency.
Almost no business accepts traveler's checks for payment for purchases. Branches of BAC Honduras will exchange American Express checks for lempiras or dollars with a 2% commission.