What to do about Money in Peru
Peru's official currency is the Nuevo Sol (usually people just say 'sol', plural soles 'so-less') but the US dollar is also widely used, traditionally for higher-value transactions. So, for example, if you were just buying a postcard or a cup of coca tea, then soles would be your first choice but if you were ordering a meal at Gaston y Acurio in Lima, the prices on the menu are given in dollars... In fact, recent dollar depreciation has seen the nuevo sol used more and more for even quite high-value transactions, and where a few years ago adverts for cars or computers were always in dollars, that is starting to change.
|Latest Peru Nuevo Sol Exchange Rate
|£1 = S./4.6643
|Last Updated: 18:27 17 September 2014
It is possible to get hold of soles in the UK, and rates are increasingly competitive so this can be a good way to go. However, given that dollars are widely accepted and exchanged within Peru at highly competitive rates, you may find that it makes sense to bring dollars with you and change them for soles once you're in Peru.
Setting a budget for your holiday in Peru
It's obviously very difficult to give an exact budget for a holiday in Peru, as everyone has different tastes and spending habits, but hopefully this table will give you a reasonable idea of what you can expect to spend on day-to-day expenses.
Please note that all the above costs are likely to be slightly higher in Lima, but slightly cheaper in the north of Peru. You'll also find that if you wander just a couple of blocks from the main square in places like Arequipa and Cusco, and if you're prepared to give a bit of Spanish a go, you can probably knock 30-50% off many of those prices as well...
|Lunch (set menu - mid-range)
|Lunch/Dinner (a la carte - mid-range)
|Lunch/Dinner (a la carte - high-end)
|Bottle of water
|Bottle of beer
||$1.50 (Cristal) / $2.00 (Cuzqueña)
|Glass of wine
||$4.00 (Peruvian) / $7+ (imported)
|Coffee / Tea / Coca Tea
Using Cash and Cashpoints in Peru
If you'd rather not carry large amounts of cash when travelling to Peru then a good approach is to just bring a small amount of US dollars with you so you have some cash on arrival, and then use the widely-available cash machines once you've landed in Peru. You'll find them just about everywhere, and they handily dispense both US dollars and Soles, so you can withdraw whichever you prefer. You'll usually be charged a small cashpoint fee but the rates are generally quite competitive and so this seems a small price to pay for the convenience.
Whether you bring them with you or withdraw dollars from ATMs in Peru, you can use them either to pay for things directly (say for a nice meal in a 'proper' restaurant) or you can exchange them. Banks and casas de cambio are widespread, but you can also use the street money-changers. These tend to cluster outside banks and you can identify them by their coloured tabard with a dollar symbol on it. They are perfectly legal and regulated by each city so don't feel nervous about using them. Although most won't speak any English, they will all have a pocket calculator so you can check the rate they are offering and make sure you're getting the right amount.
They say that nobody likes change, but Peruvians seem to have a positive aversion to it, and getting change from even small notes can seem like a huge operation. If you've just been to a cash machine and have a wallet full of nice crisp 50-Sol notes, under no circumstances try and buy anything interesting with them! Instead pop into the nearest supermarket or chemist and buy a bottle of water, and then guard your change like it's your last money on earth.
Travellers Cheques and Credit Cards in Peru
Many shops and restaurants in the larger cities also now accept card payments, although most smaller cafes and shops won't, so you certainly shouldn't rely on this. Don't be surprised if establishments ask to see ID if you're paying on a card as well - all Peruvians carry their national ID card and it's more or less mandatory for Peruvians to show this when they're using a credit card. As a tourist you'll usually get a 'pass' on this, but don't rely on it.
It's also worth noting that many shops and restaurants will either take Visa OR Mastercard, but not both - Visa is definitely the most widely accepted, but if you have both cards you may want to take both with you to be sure.
If you are planning to use your card either in cash machines or to pay directly for something, we'd recommend contacting your bank before travel so that they know you will be overseas, and when. Pre-paid currency card are also a good option as you can get a cheap dollar-denominated card and it will work in all Peruvian cashpoints.
We're finding that travellers cheques in Peru are less and less widely-accepted, but some casas de cambio do still take them. However, the commission rates are highly uncompetitive and you can't rely on finding anyone to take them. Dollar-denominated Visa travellers cheques are the most widely-accepted travellers cheques in Peru but these days we'd really suggest you look at a pre-paid currency card instead.
Haggling and Tipping in Peru
None of our drivers and guides in Peru expect tips so please don't feel you need to tip them unless you think they've really gone above and beyond. In general you'll find Peru is pretty similar to the UK or mainland Europe in its tipping culture. You won't usually find a service charge added to restaurant bills (if it's there it will usually be identified as a 10% Gratuito Opcional and please don't mix it up with the 17.5% IVA you'll see on all bills, as that is the equivalent of VAT) but a 10% tip is customary so long as the service was good. For just a drink or a snack, you don't have to leave 10% but you might leave the change. If you're paying at a counter or bar then you generally don't need to worry about tipping at all.
An exception to this rule is hotel porters, who generally do like a small tip for carrying your bags up to your room. Obviously you don't have to do this, but they tend to receive next to no wages, so the tips are effectively their earnings. A few dollars/10 soles is a good tip and will be appreciated.
The other big exception is the Inca Trail, where a fairly sizeable tip is customary. At the end of the Inca Trail the head guide will gather everyone together and each trekker is expected to tip around US$40-50 (S./100-120), which is shared between the guides, the cook and the porters. Again, strictly speaking this optional, but although we make sure our porters are paid fairly, these are not rich people and if you do have a problem with any of the service you received, we'd much rather you took it up with us than witheld a tip from them.
Unlike many South Americans, Peruvians don't tend to haggle much in high street shops and never over the price of a meal or a drink. However, get them in a market and things are very different. Set yourself up for a good old haggle if you're at the market in Pisac, or looking at street stalls in Cusco and Lima; and never, ever take a taxi driver's first offer!