The currency of Peru is the Sol (PEN), symbolised by S/.
As of 20 October 2015, 1 USD = 3.25 PEN and 1 € = 3.69 PEN is one of the most stable currencies in South America in recent years.
Coins come in five, two and one soles, as well as 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 cent. Five and one cent coins are not usually accepted outside large supermarkets or banks, so avoid them (or take them home to collect or give to friends). Banknotes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 soles; 200 soles notes are unusual and – like large notes in other countries – are not accepted in many places.
ATMs are available in major cities, upscale hotels and tourist areas. With a Cirrus or Maestro sign, you can easily withdraw money. The exchange rate is the same as for credit cards, but the fees are much lower. Some banks charge a fee for withdrawing money from their ATMs. BBVA Banco Continental reportedly charges excessive fees without informing you in advance. Make sure you take enough cash with you when visiting small towns, as your credit card or traveller’s cheques may not be accepted there.
Credit cards and travellers’ cheques are common. Although the exchange rate for cash is about 2% higher, it is strongly discouraged to carry large amounts of cash while travelling. The Banco de Credito (BCP) offers good rates for travellers’ cheques. Rates at exchange offices are often slightly lower. It is always worth comparing them before changing money. If you change money at bureaux de change, check their calculations. Most bureaux de change will calculate the amount you want using an electronic calculator and even show you the process step by step (unless it’s something brutally obvious like changing tens or hundreds). If they don’t do it, keep the money in your pocket and find someone who will.
Never forget that counterfeiting is a big problem in Peru: get to know the money and don’t hesitate to reject any note or coin (especially 5 sol coins) that looks suspicious, as any Peruvian would. In other words, if you want to look like a smart foreigner, take 10 seconds to check every bill you receive, even at a bank. All notes have a watermark and a security strip, and the large number on the far right that indicates the denomination of the note turns from purple to green when you look at it at an angle. Do not take torn banknotes with you; you can only use them in a bank.
If you have a counterfeit coin or note in your hands, they may want to confiscate it in department stores. Do not accept damaged or cracked notes, as you will have to take them to a bank to exchange them for new notes before you can spend them. Be especially careful when changing money at street money changers (a common way for counterfeit money to enter circulation) or at the border (especially the border with Ecuador).
In general, small bills are very useful to carry. Change large notes into small notes as often as possible. If you only carry 50 and 100 soles, consider changing them at a bank. Local shopkeepers and taxi drivers often claim not to have change on them, forcing you to wait in public while they look for something (which can be dangerous) and sometimes hoping you will get impatient and give them change.
In Peru it is not as common as in other countries (e.g. Ecuador) to accept US dollars in transactions, but a few nice new 10 or 20 US dollar notes can be useful in some situations. Often, in small towns, local shops will change money for you. If this is the case, it will be clearly marked.
If you’re on a budget, you can get around easily for USD 50 per day. Basic hotels or hostels (hospedajes) are everywhere, with hostel dormitories generally costing USD 8-15. There are many very cheap restaurants (US$0.50-1.50), but for a little more (US$2-3) you can get a much better lunch or dinner in better restaurants. There are fancy restaurants in every town, with menus starting at USD 20.
Buses are a fairly cheap way to get around. A 10-hour trip on an ordinary bus (not “royal class” or anything like that) will cost you about $20. If you can afford it, the most luxurious seats cost about double that, but they make a big difference in terms of comfort. Avoid bus companies that allow passengers to board buses outside the official stops. They are often poorly managed and can be dangerous, both because of unsafe practices and street robberies, which are unfortunately not uncommon. Women travelling solo, in particular, should take this into account. Your hotel, hostel or local tourist information booth can tell you the best options.
Trains (except those to Machu Picchu, which are relatively expensive) run at similar prices.
Don’t forget to retain the exit fee of 30.25 USD. They accept USD or Soles for the fee and make sure you pay the exit fee before you queue for security or you will have to wait again.
Arts and crafts
Peru is famous for its many different, truly beautiful and relatively cheap handicrafts. Remember that buying handicrafts supports traditional skills and helps many families to maintain their modest incomes. Search for :
- Jumpers and many other wool (alpaca) products throughout the Sierra. Puno is perhaps the cheapest place.
- Tapestries (Tejidos).
- Sculptures on stone, wood and dried calabashes.
- Silver and gold jewellery.
- typical musical instruments such as pan flutes (zampoñas), skin drums.
- many others
Do not accept handicrafts that look like (or are in fact) pre-Columbian pottery or jewellery. It is illegal to trade in them, and there is not only the possibility of confiscating them, but also of being prosecuted for illegal trade, even if the actual artifacts are copies or fakes. Dealing with the police on the criminal side is messy and really unpleasant.
Beware of fake alpaca (Bamba) wool products, many items sold at the unsuspecting gringo are actually synthetic or ordinary wool! The nice soft jumper you find on the market for about 8 USD is most likely acrylic. Even in places like Puno it is not easy to tell if it is made of alpaca, sometimes it may contain a small amount of alpaca mixed with other fibres. Baby alpaca does not come from young animals, but from the first shearing and its fibre is very soft and fine. In general, alpaca fibre has a low sheen and a slightly greasy feel, and is slow to recover after stretching. Buy and compare.
Haggling is very common. If you are not used to it, you should follow some rules. If you want to buy something, ask the price first, even if you already know what it should cost. Then check that everything is in order. (Does the jumper fit? Do you really want to buy it? Has the cheese expired? etc.) If the price is right, pay it. If it is not, it is up to you to offer a lower, but realistic price. First, get an idea of how much you can expect to pay. Then say a price that is about 20-30% lower. It is always good if you can give a reason. Once you have quoted a price, you cannot quote a lower price later. This would be considered very rude behaviour. If you feel that you cannot meet your price, just say “No, gracias. ” and start walking away. This is your last chance. If you are lucky, the seller will make you a final offer, if not, say “No, gracias. “and move on. Be aware that most products sold in tourist markets (such as the Pisac market) are sold in almost every other market during your trip to Peru and South America, so don’t worry about never finding that alpaca scarf again.
They have a way of negotiating without giving an exact price, and that is “¿Nada menos?“, so you will simply ask if they can lower the price a little.
Remember, never start bargaining if you don’t really want to buy.
DO NOT BRING COCA PRODUCTS HOME.
Coca leaves and products made from them (unless decaffeinated) are illegal in the vast majority of countries under the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Simply bringing in a tin of coca tea can land you in the hands of strict anti-trafficking laws. Although coca is legal in Peru, buying or selling cocaine is illegal.
Thawed coca products are not commonly available in Peru, and sellers may assure you that processed coca products (such as tea) can be taken home, but this is not true. It is legal to buy and consume coca products in Peru (with the exception of cocaine), and it is probably legal to buy thawed coca products (such as Coca-Cola or thawed coca tea) in your home country, but importing coca products is illegal.
Instead of coca tea, consider emoliente, a traditional herbal tea from the coastal regions, widely available in Lima.
While in Peru, you can find coca tea, coca leaves, coca candy, coca beer, etc. The Museo de la Coca in Cuzco sells a wide range of coca products.
Supermarkets are only found in the cities and are somewhat more expensive. In every city there is at least one market or market hall, except in Lima, where there is a dense concentration of supermarkets, shopping centres and department stores. In the cities there are different markets (or sections of a large market) for different items.
Shops with similar items are usually clustered in the same street. So once you know the street when you are looking for something special, you should have no trouble finding it quickly.
Tipping in restaurants (at least if it’s a simple or average restaurant) is not very common, but 10% for good service is polite. In the cities you will always find beggars, sitting on the street or doing a musical number on the buses. Many of them really need help, especially the elderly and disabled. Common donations are about 0.10-0.20 PEN (0.03-0.06 USD). This is not much, but some unskilled workers get as little as 10 PEN for a day’s work. Whether you want to give money to child beggars or not is up to you. But remember that this may encourage parents to let their children beg on the streets instead of sending them to school. Buy them food instead, they need it.