Cancun Mexico







Using Dollars or Pesos in Cancun Mexico


Dinero (MONEY)
Everybody needs it, here are the best ways to get it,
and carry it, while in Cancun! Don't be afraid to operate
in pesos. You will get your best deals this way, and
it's pretty easy to get the hang of it: More or less,
10 pesos = 1 dollar; 100 pesos = 10 dollars;
1000 pesos = 100 dollars, etc.


Any 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.


For 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 prices.


Mexican 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.


1000 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”).


500 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.


Common 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.


CHANGING MONEY: 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.


ATMs: The 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) per transaction.


HOT 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.


CREDIT 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.


HOW 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.


Here’s how 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!


Bartering should 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 bad.


GRATUITIES / 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.


2. Waiters/Waitresses: 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 of baggage.


5. Salon Staff: Similar to the US, the standard tip for salon services (massage therapy, hair cuts, pedicures etc…) is 10-15%.


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 is fine.

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