The municipality of La Ceiba has implemented a paid parking system in el centro (the center of town) to help alleviate parking and traffic problems. The area includes the major north-south streets of San Isidro, 14 de Julio, and La República, from a few blocks south of the municipal palace north toward the ocean as well as parts of some east-west streets.
A lot of self-generated confusion and lack of information about the new system has ensued, partly due to changes that have been made since the initial announcement. There is no signage indicating that parking payment is required and as a result, many have found out the hard way by having their tire locked by the 'parking police'. Word has been disseminated through local radio and television programs, but even the newspaper articles have been contradictory as to the cost, areas covered, fines, and how and where the permits can be purchased.
Wherever you see the parking spaces marked in white as in this photo, that means that these are paid parking spots. You must purchase a parking permit from a nearby store or the municipalidad (municipality building) and place it on the dashboard inside your car on so that it can be easily seen by the parking inspectors. Special areas are marked for motorcycles, which do not have to pay for parking, since obviously, permits left on them would be stolen. Additionally, I have heard, but can't verify, that special parking spots marked with blue paint are for specific business owners or managers.
Parking permits are available for L.5 on an hourly basis, L.30 on a daily basis, possibly weekly at a price I don't know, or L.300 monthly. The permits are punched with the day and hour. However, some drivers have reported that no hourly permits were available at any store in the city, with some even being out of daily permits, requiring drivers to purchase a weekly or monthly permit that they didn't need. Hopefully the muni will do a better job in the future of distributing the permits to vendors.
The new el centro area parking restrictions is being strictly enforced. A news article reported that the hours in which permits are required are 8 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday and 7 am to noon on Saturdays. Tire locks (boots) are placed on vehicles with no permit, those parked badly or facing the wrong direction, or those parked in the yellow no parking areas. In order to free your vehicle, if a ticket wasn't left on your vehicle, you must go to the municipalidad to get it and then the L.500 fine must be paid at a bank. Then you return to the municipalidad to arrange for someone to come to unlock the boot and go back to your vehicle to wait. The fine for parking in a handicapped spot is L.1,000.
Visitors and even many residents have been caught by surprise due to the lack of signage and lack of information about where the permits can be purchased. Many wonder whether their car will be "booted" while they go up and down the street searching for a store, sometimes blocks away, which sells the permits. A big sign in the windows of such stores would be helpful — and one reader has reported that signs with the parking logo are now being used (a square tilted at an angle with a street running through it).
After hearing many complaints about the size of parking spots on television programs, El Jefe measured one of them. It was exactly the length of our vehicle! So unless you have a compact car or your vehicle has the ability to slide sideways into a parking spot, you'll be out of luck in a crowded area.
If the system gets a little more organized it should be a help for downtown businesses, in which it is usually impossible to find a place to park. We have generally avoided shopping or dining in el centro when possible due to inability to find a spot, using the 'one person drives around the block while the other person runs into the store' method, which of course only contributes to the traffic congestion. The new system has freed up parking in el centro but apparently has only moved the problem to the outlying areas where other businesses may now suffer from parking congestion which prevents their customers from visiting. A municipal or private parking lot with frequent and cheap transportation to el centro might be a better solution. I'd like to see the cute little "train" used for that!
So, now you know what I know. Please feel free to add any information in the comments section as my information has come through the grapevine, the news articles have sometimes been inaccurate, and, of course, the rules could be changed at any time.
See also the update: More on La Ceiba paid parking