Which Currency Do They Use in Peru?
The official currency in Peru is the Nuevo Sol (usually people just say 'sol', plural soles 'so-less') but US dollar notes are also accepted as money in Peru, especially for higher-value transactions. So, for example, if you were just buying a cup of coca tea, then soles would be your first choice but if you were ordering a meal at Astrid y Gaston in Lima you'll find the menu priced 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.
It is possible to buy Peruvian currency in the UK, and rates are increasingly competitive so this can be a good way to go. However, given that you can use US currency in Peru (and also exchange it locally at extremely competitive rates), you may find that US dollars are the best money to bring to Peru. You can always easily exchange them for Peruvian currency once you're in Peru, and if you have money left at the end of your holiday it's a lot easier to exchange dollars back into pounds in the UK than it is with Peruvian money!
How much Peruvian money will you need?
Using Cash and Cashpoints in Peru
If you'd rather not carry large amounts of money in 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 to withdraw currency in Lima, or whenever you need it. You'll find cash machines just about everywhere, and they handily dispense both US dollars and Peruvian currency, so you can withdraw whichever currency you think best. You'll usually be charged a small cashpoint fee but the rates are generally quite competitive and this charge can often be avoided by using a pre-paid currency card.
Whether you bring them with you or withdraw dollars from ATMs, you can use them as legal currency in Peru 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 street money-changers to exchange Peruvian money for dollars or vice-versa. 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 correct amounts.
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 small change like it's your last money on earth. Dealing with the change issue is often one of the most frustrating aspects of using money in Peru.
Can I Use My Credit Card in Peru?
Many shops and restaurants in the larger cities also now accept debit and credit 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 credit 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 types of credit card 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 cards are also a good option for Peru as you can get a cheap dollar-denominated card and it will work in all Peruvian cashpoints with no nasty exchange fees or commissions.
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
When trying to work what you'll need in terms of money for Peru, tipping is always a big question. 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 your Inca Trail holiday the head guide will gather everyone together and each trekker is expected to tip around US$40-50 (roughly 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!
How much money should I bring to Peru?
It's obviously very difficult to work out exactly how much spending money you should bring on a holiday in Peru, as everyone has different tastes and spending habits, but hopefully this table will give you a reasonable idea of how much money you can expect to spend in Peru on day-to-day expenses.
|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
||£1.20 (Cristal) / £1.80 (Cuzqueña)
|Glass of wine
||£3 (Peruvian) / £5+ (imported)
|Coffee / Tea / Coca Tea
Please note that all the above costs are likely to be slightly higher in Peru's capital, 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...