Currency

Belize: Belize dollar (BZ$)

Costa Rica: colón (‎₡), US dollar (US$)

El Salvador: US dollar (US$)

Guatemala: quetzal (Q)

Honduras: lempira (L)

Mexico: peso (M$)

Nicaragua: córdoba (C$), US dollar (US$)

Panama: balboa (B/.), US dollar (US$)

Daily Costs

Budget: US$30–50

  • Dorm bed: starting at US$10–15
  • Set meals or street food: US$4–8
  • Public transport: US$5–15

Midrange: US$50–180

  • Double room in a midrange hotel: starting at US$30–60
  • Restaurant meals: US$8–20
  • Park fees or surf lessons: US$15–25

Top End: More than US$180

  • Double room in a high-end hotel, resort or lodge: starting at US$60–140
  • Guided hikes and tours: US$30–60

Bargaining

It's OK to bargain in markets and at street stalls, but educate yourself first by asking around to get an idea of the pricing of different items and the specific factors that contribute to the quality of what you're bargaining for.

Further Information

Brush up on your bargaining skills at Central America’s markets, particularly when shopping for souvenirs and craft goods. Most accommodations' prices are fixed, but for long-term stays (or during low season) it’s worth asking for a discount. Indoor shops (such as grocery shops) generally have fixed prices. You may need to negotiate a price with a taxi driver. If you always approach bargaining with patience and humor, you’ll often end up with a price agreeable to both you and the seller.

Money

ATMs are widespread (except for remote areas). Credit cards are accepted mainly by midrange/high-end hotels, restaurants and tour operators. Bargaining is OK for informal transactions.

ATMs

  • Bring an ATM (or debit) card. ATMs are available in most cities and large towns and are almost always the most convenient, reliable, secure and economical way of getting cash. Many ATMs are connected to the MasterCard/Cirrus or Visa/Plus networks.
  • The exchange rate from ATMs is usually as good as (if not better than) that at any bank or legal money changer.
  • Notify your bank of your travel plans so international transactions are not rejected.

Black Market

The mercado negro (black market) – also known as mercado paralelo (parallel market) – is generally limited to money changers at borders, who may or may not be legal. They are known to slip in torn bills or to short-change on occasion, though they accept local currencies that banks elsewhere sometimes don’t take. Such unofficial exchange rates for the US dollar can be lower than official bank rates.

Cash

It’s a good idea to always have a small amount of US dollars handy – enough to get a room, a meal and a taxi, at least – because they can be exchanged or even spent practically anywhere. It’s particularly useful when crossing the border or when an ATM isn’t available. Central American currencies don’t always fly in the next country; plan ahead before you head to remote areas and take more than enough cash.

Getting change for bigger notes in local currency is a daily concern. Notes worth even US$20 can sometimes be difficult to change.

Costs & Prices

  • Costs vary by country, with the cheapest being Guatemala and the most expensive Mexico and Belize.
  • Where Lonely Planet lists prices, they are given mostly in local currencies. The US dollar is the official currency in El Salvador and Panama, and is widely accepted in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.

Credit Cards

  • American Express, Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted credit cards in Central America. Some card companies also charge a fee (from 2% to 10%) for international transactions. Some banks issue cash advances on major credit cards.
  • Although credit cards are widely accepted, it is not always economical to use them. In Costa Rica, for example, many hotels offer a discount for cash payment.

Exchange Rates

Belize

AustraliaA$1BZ$1.50
CanadaC$1BZ$1.50
Euro Zone€1BZ$2.20
Japan¥100BZ$1.70
New ZealandNZ$1BZ$1.30
UK£1BZ$2.80
USUS$1BZ$1.90

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.

Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua & Panama

US dollars are widely accepted in both Costa Rica and Nicaragua. As many lodgings and activities list their prices in dollars, we have followed suit here for consistency.

AustraliaA$1US$0.75
CanadaC$1US$0.75
Euro Zone€1US$1.10
Japan¥100US$0.88
New ZealandNZ$1US$0.68
UK£1US$1.43

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.

Guatemala

AustraliaA$1Q5.80
CanadaC$1Q5.8
Euro Zone€1Q8.60
Japan¥100Q6.80
New ZealandNZ$1Q5.20
UK£1Q10.90
USUS$1Q7.70

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.

Honduras

AustraliaA$1L17.10
CanadaC$1L17.10
Euro Zone€1L24.40
Japan¥100L20.10
New ZealandNZ$1L15.20
UK£1L32.10
USUS$1L22.70

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.

Mexico

AustraliaA$1M$13.20
CanadaC$1M$13.20
Euro Zone€1M$19.60
Japan¥100M$15.50
New ZealandNZ$1M$11.80
UK£1M$24.80
USUS$1M$17.50

For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.

Exchanging Money

Change traveler’s checks or foreign cash at a bank or a casa de cambio (currency exchange office). Rates between the two are usually similar, but in general casas de cambio are quicker, less bureaucratic and open longer or on weekends. Street money changers, who may or may not be legal, will only handle cash.

Sometimes you can also change money unofficially at hotels or in shops that sell imported goods (electronics dealers are an obvious choice). Compare exchange rates and commission fees first. Big cities tend to offer better exchange rates.

Don’t accept torn notes, as most locals won’t when you try to use them.

Tipping

  • Restaurants Tip 10% (but check first to see if it's included in the bill).
  • Taxis Tipping is optional but you can round up to leave extra, especially at night.
  • Guides Tip US$1 to US$2 per person for day tours, with more substantial tips for specialized guides.

Traveler’s Checks

Traveler's checks are not nearly as convenient as ATM cards and you may have difficulty cashing them – even at banks. If you must, use only widely accepted brands, such as American Express, Visa, Thomas Cook and Citibank. To facilitate replacement, keep a record of check numbers and the original bill of sale separately in a safe place.

In some countries, such as Honduras, traveler’s checks are nearly impossible to cash and banks and casas de cambio charge high commissions. Check if there’s a fixed transaction fee (regardless of the value of the checks) or a percentage fee (from 3% up to 10%).