international currency can take a while to get familiar
with, and the Mexican Peso is no exception. At first glance,
to the first-time visitor, all the bills look like Monopoly
money, but you’ll get over that feeling as soon
as you start spending it. While US and Canadian dollars
will be accepted by most stores and vendors in Cancun,
it will be at an exchange rate that is definitely not
to your advantage, so plan on working with Pesos.
visitors from the USA and Canada, the easiest way to make
‘on-the-go’ conversions between prices in
Mexican Pesos and the value ‘back home’ is
to divide by 10…10 Pesos = 1 Dollar, 100 Pesos =
10 Dollars, 230 Pesos = 23 Dollars, etc. Depending on
the exchange rate, in actuality 10 Pesos is a little less
(about 90 cents) in USA money and a little more (about
a Dollar and 15 cents) Canadian, but using the “Rule
of Ten” will make it very easy to get an idea of
Pesos bills come in 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 Pesos
denominations (see graphic). The newer 20’s are
actually made of plastic, and even have a little clear
‘window’ in it. It’s the look of the
future for currency in Mexico (and probably the rest of
the world), as it lasts a long time and is very difficult
to counterfeit. 20’s and 50’s are slightly
smaller than the rest, making them easier to distinguish
from large bills.
Peso notes should be avoided at all times. This is a ‘new’
denomination (introduced in early 2005), and once issued
was immediately counterfeited. More importantly, it is
extremely difficult to pass these as payment except at
banks, because most small stores, vendors, and restaurants
will not have sufficient cash to make change. If you receive
a 1000-peso note at a bank or money-exchange, pass it
back and insist on smaller bills (say “cambio mas
chico, por favor” roughly meaning “change
for smaller bills, please”).
Peso notes can also present a problem in change-making
at smaller shops and restaurants, so make sure you carry
bills smaller than this at most times. 100’s and
200’s are not too large for all but the smallest
vendors and stores. Also know that nearly nobody will
accept a bill which is not entirely whole, and ripped
or torn bills may be refused as well. You should not accept
them as change, either.
coin denominations are 1, 2, 5, and 10 Pesos. The 10 is
especially easy to identify…it’s a nice thick,
substantial coin, bronze on the outside and silver on
the inside. (Gringos often wonder why the US Treasury
can’t come up with an easily-distinguished Dollar
coin like this.) There are also 5, 10, 20, and 50 centavo
(cents) coins, but you’ll rarely see these. They
are roughly the US and Canadian equivelent of ½,
1, 2, and 5-cent coins, and the smallest ones have the
look and heft of toy money. Indeed, 5- and 10-centavo
coins are more than occasionally simply tossed on the
street, and nobody but the smallest children bother to
pick them up. You’re
only likely to receive these small coins as change at
larger stores, like groceries and pharmacies…prices
at almost all other stores are in even-pesos.
There are also 20 and
100 Peso coins (each slightly larger than it’s next-smaller
denomination), but as a visitor you are not likely to
encounter them unless you are visiting in September –
the very slowest of tourism months. These coins tend to
be hoarded in jars and piggy banks until the tourists
leave, then the income of money slows down, and the jars
are opened to tide people through until the tourists return.
You can change money at banks or at any of the dozens
of “Casas de Cambio” (or simply “Cambios”
– “Change Houses”) located throughout
Cancun. Banks will give you the best exchange rate,
but lines tend to be LONG…it’s not unusual
to wait ½ hour or more in line. Banks will allow
you to cash traveller’s checks, but usually only
if you present your passport.
The difference in exchange
rates paid by the cambios versus the banks really is minimal,
unless you are changing thousands of dollars. A cambio
will generally pay about ½% less…so saving
the half-hour in line at the bank will only cost you a
few dollars per $100 US/Canadian at the cambio. The cambio
at the front desk of your hotel will typically have the
worst exchange rates, so plan ahead and use the cambios
on the street.
best way to get money in Cancun is to use your ATM card.
You get the absolute best exchange rate, even though you
may have to pay a transaction fee. There are quite a few
ATM’s all over Cancun, and in every major supermarket
throughout town. KNOW BEFORE YOU GO what your daily withdrawal
limit is, and know that most ATMs here will only dispense
a maximum of 3000 pesos (roughly 300 Dollars US/Canadian)
ATM TIP #1: When an ATM asks you how much money you
want, it’s in PESOS, not dollars or whatever your
‘home’ currency is. If you want (roughly)
FIFTY DOLLARS, request FIVE-HUNDRED Pesos. There are just
a few ATMs in town that will ask you if you want ‘Local
Currency’ or U.S. Dollars…be sure you select
‘Local’, or else you’ll get US Dollars
that you’ll then have to change at a bank or cambio.
HOT ATM TIP #2:
Avoid getting a stack of hard-to-spend 500 Peso bills
at the ATM: After you’ve inserted your card, entered
your PIN, and chosen “withdrawal”, you will
usually be presented with several withdrawal amounts to
choose from – 100 Pesos, 300 Pesos, 1000 Pesos,
etc – and an additional choice of “Other Amount”.
Choose “Other” and enter an odd number divisible
by 50 or 100 Pesos bills…for example, 2950 or 2900
Pesos…this will force the machine to dispense at
least a few bills other than 500 Peso notes.
CARDS: You’ll find that your credit cards
are accepted only at most hotels and large stores and
restaurants. As a general rule, plan on carrying enough
cash for your purchases unless you have inquired in advance
at the restaurant or store you plan to visit. Where credit
cards are accepted, it is usually restricted to MasterCard
and Visa. Acceptance of Discover cards is very rare, and
while American Express has an office here,, it is difficult
to use you ‘AmEx’ card except in the larger
hotels and a few restaurants.
Cancun is not immune
to a world-wide credit card fraud called ‘swiping’,
where the magnetic strip of your card is recorded on a
special device and then duplicated (nearly immediately)
on another card in another city, and then used to run
up all sorts of charges. While most all U.S. and Canadian
credit card companies will reimburse you for this fraud,
it’s a hassle to try to do while you’re on
vacation. With this in mind, we suggest taking your card
to the cashier of the restaurant or store so that your
card never leaves your sight. Also, it’s good advice
to use DEBIT cards ONLY at ATMs.
TO SPEND IT: Spending your money won’t
be difficult, but the concept of ‘bargaining’
over prices may be new for you. Do not feel uncomfortable
about this…it is a way of life across Mexico,
even in ‘non-tourist’ areas. If a store’s
wares have marked prices, then generally these are
‘fixed’ prices. It won’t hurt
to ask about a lower price though, especially if
you are buying several items. If prices are not
marked (and always with the vendors on the beach),
then it’s time to begin the game of bargaining.
This can be one of the most enjoyable parts of shopping
for some people, and for the Mexican shop-keeper,
it’s an enjoyable tradition.
it works: You start admiring an object, and the
shop-keeper asks you if you like it. You ask how
much it costs, and he replies that it is 200 pesos.
At this point you tell him that this is far too
much money, and he replies by explaining about the
fine quality of the item, how many days it took
the craftsman to create this piece of art, and then
asks how much you want to pay. You suggest that
you might like to take it home with you if it were
75 pesos. He chuckles and tells you that this is
simply not possible, as he has children to feed,
but allows that he could bring his price down to
180 pesos. You in turn offer to pay 100 pesos, and
on and on.
This can, if you
like, go on for quite some time, until you reach
a price at which you can both agree. Or, you can
simply put the item back on the shelf at any time
and say that it’s just more than you can afford.
Be aware that the shopkeeper may, as you are leaving
the store, agree finally to sell it to you at your
last-offered price (which you are rather obligated
to now accept), but to “please don’t
tell anybody else”. This can be a way for
both of you to save face and complete the transaction.
This is the way business is and has been done in
Mexico for years and years, and how friends are
made as well!
never be insulting. For the Mexican it is normal
and fun; if it is not fun for you, stick to the
stores with price tags on their stuff. To insult
someone's merchandise is down-right rude, and will
only make you, and your fellow countrymen, look
TIPPING: The Mexican people are friendly and
eager to help you. They enjoy it, really!! But that does
not mean they also do not enjoy receiving a tip for their
services. The tip, "propina" in Spanish, is
the recognized way of saying thank you. It is the thought
that counts almost more than the amount. Tips can be in
Pesos or Dollars, but please NO American/Canadian coins,
as they are not exchangeable here, even in the banks,
and thus hold no value. Below are some guidelines for
who you should tip, and how much.
1. House Staff:
Tipping the housekeepers is not common, nor is it un-common.
Experienced travelers will tell you, though, that a small
tip after the first night will insure attentive extra
service should you require it; another tip at the end
of your stay, if you appreciated the overall housekeeping
service, is appropriate. Leave your tip on a piece of
paper and write "para tu servicio...gracias!"
(for your service...thank you!) so they know it's a tip
and not your pocket-change, unintended for a tip. The
housekeeping staff generally works hard for small salaries
to make you comfortable...a few dollars (in pesos, of
course) will be most appreciated.
Gratuities for wait staff are comparable to gratuities
here. The standard tip is 15%, 20% for exceptional service.
As you will likely be serviced by many people through
out your meal, you can expect that the gratuity you leave
will be divided between all of them. Also know that in
Mexico, going out to eat is an event. You will RARELY
be offered the check until you ask for it! Do not assume
that the waiter/waitress is being rude or ignoring you,
this is simply customary. When you are ready for your
bill, simply signal the waiters with a small wave, and
ask for "la cuenta" (pronounced "la kwenta").
3. Taxi Drivers:
It is not necessary to tip taxi drivers unless they perform
an extra service for you (help you with your luggage;
wait for you while you exchange money or get something
from a store, etc.). If they do, then your tip should
be appropriate to the amount of service they provided
for you ($2 for waiting, $3-$5 for helping with luggage,
depending on how much luggage you have).
4. Airport Porters:
Figure about $1 per bag is a reasonable tip for airport
porters if you use their services. $5 or $50 pesos should
be your maximum tip unless you have an excessive amount
5. Salon Staff:
Similar to the US, the standard tip for salon services
(massage therapy, hair cuts, pedicures etc…) is
6. Grocery Store:
In the large supermarkets it is customary to tip the young
boy or girl who sacks your groceries...two to five pesos