Money & costs
Shoestring travelers watching their céntimos – by sleeping in dormitory rooms, traveling on economy buses, eating set menus – can easily get by on a minimum of US$25 a day. Visitors who prefer private hot showers, à la carte meals in moderately priced restaurants, comfortable buses and occasional flights will find that at least US$60 to US$100 a day should meet their needs. Staying at luxury hotels and dining at top-end restaurants can cost up to several hundred dollars a day, especially if you’re doing your trip by organized tour or visiting only the most expensive cities of Cuzco and Lima.
You can stretch your budget by traveling with a partner as double rooms are usually less expensive than two singles. Hone your bargaining skills – taxi cabs don’t have meters, and drivers routinely overcharge gringos. Hotels often give discounts if you simply ask for their best price (mejor precio or inquire about promotional, student or business rates. Many restaurants offer filling three-course set lunches for around S7, while eating à la carte will triple your bill. Pay with cash rather than credit cards, in order to avoid hefty surcharges. Peruvian ATMs dispense both local currency (nuevos soles) and US dollars. Above all, keep your money safely stashed – an economical trip can get expensive fast if you are pickpocketed!
Adventurers on a tight budget will be dismayed at the high costs of hiking the famed Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Unguided trips are now illegal (and this is strictly enforced) and the cheapest four-day trips start at around US$300 per person, not including equipment rental, tips for the guides and porters, or any incidental expenses, such as bottled water. Plan on spending US$400 if you're going with a reputable outfitter. A day trip to Machu Picchu via train and bus isn’t cheap either.
Peru uses the nuevo sol (S), which has traded at S3.00 to S5.50 per US dollar (US$) for several years, although you should keep an eye on current events.
Carrying cash, an ATM or traveler’s check card and also a credit card that can be used for cash advances in case of emergency is advisable. When receiving local currency, always ask for small bills (billetes pequeñas), as S100 bills are hard to change in small towns or for small purchases. The best places to exchange money are normally casas de cambio (foreign-exchange bureaus), which are fast, have longer hours and often give slightly better rates than banks. Many places accept US dollars. Do not accept torn money as it will likely not be accepted by Peruvians. It is best not to change money on the street as counterfeits are a problem.
Cajeros automáticos (ATMs) are found in nearly every city and town in Peru, as well as at major airports and bus terminals. ATMs are linked to the international Plus (Visa), Cirrus (Maestro/MasterCard) systems, American Express and other networks. They will accept your bank or credit card as long as you have a four-digit PIN. Before you leave home, notify your bank that you’ll be using your ATM card abroad. Even better, leave your bank card at home and buy a traveler’s check card instead.
ATMs are a convenient way of obtaining cash, but rates are usually lower than at casas de cambio. Both US dollars and nuevos soles are readily available from Peruvian ATMs. Your home bank may charge an additional fee for each foreign ATM transaction. Surcharges for cash advances from credit cards vary, but are generally expensive, so check with your credit-card provider before you leave home.
ATMs are normally open 24 hours. For safety reasons, use ATMs inside banks with security guards, preferably during daylight hours.
The nuevo sol (‘new sun’) comes in bills of S10, S20, S50, S100 and (rarely) S200. It is divided into 100 céntimos, with copper-colored coins of S0.05, S0.10 and S0.20, and silver-colored S0.50 and S1 coins. In addition, there are bimetallic S2 and S5 coins with a copper-colored center inside a silver-colored ring.
US dollars are accepted by most tourist-oriented businesses, though you’ll need nuevos soles to pay for local transportation, most meals etc. Paying in nuevos soles can be a time-consuming hassle at some midrange hotels and many top-end establishments.
Carrying cash entitles you to get the top exchange rates quickly. The best currency for exchange is the US dollar, although the euro is increasingly accepted. Other hard currencies can be exchanged, but usually with difficulty and only in major cities and tourist centers. All foreign currencies must be in flawless condition.
Cambistas (money-changers) hang out on street corners near banks and casas de cambio and give competitive rates (there’s only a little flexibility for bargaining), but are not always honest. Officially, they should wear a vest and badge identifying them as legal. They’re useful after regular business hours or at borders where there aren’t any other options.
Many top-end hotels and shops accept tarjetas de credito (credit cards) but usually charge you a 7% (or greater) fee for using them. The amount you’ll eventually pay is not based on the point-of-sale exchange rate, but the rate your bank chooses to use when the transaction posts to your account, sometimes weeks later. Your bank may also tack on a surcharge and additional fees for each foreign-currency transaction.
The most widely accepted cards in Peru are Visa and MasterCard, although American Express and a few others are valid in some establishments, as well as for cash advances at ATMs. Before you leave home, notify your bank that you’ll be using your credit card abroad.
If you carry some of your money as cheques de viajero (traveler’s checks), these can be refunded if lost or stolen. However, exchange rates for traveler’s checks are quite a bit lower than for US cash. With the commissions sometimes charged, you can lose over 10% of the checks’ value when you exchange them, and they may be impossible to change in small towns. Almost all businesses and some casas de cambio refuse to deal with them, so you will need to queue at a bank. American Express checks are the most widely accepted, followed by Visa and Thomas Cook.
Reloadable traveler’s check cards work just like ATM cards, but are not linked to your home bank account. These cards enjoy some of the same protections as traveler’s checks, and can be replaced more easily than a bank ATM card. During your trip, you can add more funds to a traveler’s check card either online or by making an international collect call, or you can authorize someone else at home to do this for you, which eliminates the need for emergency wire transfers. Many Visa providers (www.cashpassportcard.com) offer traveler’s check cards.