As much as I wish everything could be free, it’s best to know what to expect about spending money in Peru. Here are my tips for making sure you get the best value out of your money!
You will use only cash
Okay, maybe not only. But don’t be fooled by companies that say they take Visa and MasterCard because they almost always charge extra fees, which can cost you up to an astronomical 6%. This is almost never worth it, unless you’re absolutely desperate. These fees, added to potential foreign transaction fees that your bank charges, can eat away your budget FAST. Even if you get charged ATM fees to withdraw (which you shouldn’t!) or find a bad exchange rate from changing cash in other currencies, it is doubtful those will cost you this much over time.
I would highly recommend getting a card (debit and/or credit) that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. Most good cards no longer have them.
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You may pay after the service
I was so confused the first time I checked into a hostel and they didn’t ask for money up front. It turns out that some places ask you to pay afterwards – this is common practice. If you need to check out of a hostel early, just let the owners/front desk know.
You won’t be able to change cash of currencies other than dollars and Euros easily
Almost every city has a Plaza de Armas or Plaza Mayor – the center of the city and its tourism. Tons of currency exchangers flock there to change dollars and Euros for soles, the Peruvian currency. They can usually give you a good deal, just make sure you only go to people with official vests or the bank, and ask around for their exchange rates. All will accept Dollars and Euros. You will occasionally see people who will change British Pounds, Mexican Pesos, Bolivianos, Chilean Pesos, etc. but they are much more rare and in the most popular areas of the most popular cities only.
I would highly recommend not carrying around a ton of cash. Many banks can let you directly withdraw the local currency from a local ATM at the market exchange rate. I almost always do this instead of carrying a bunch of cash with me when I arrive.
- Always agree on a price with taxis BEFORE you get in
Taxis don’t have price meters, so always ask. You can always suggest a price if you know what to expect, or ask for a lower one when the driver asks; saving 1 or 2 soles each time may not seem like much, but you can buy extra snacks, water, etc. with that and it adds up.
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This goes for many, many things – not just taxis! Any time you don’t see a price tag is a time that is available for haggling. Apparently you can even try to haggle with bus ticket prices. Even the most reliable companies like Cruz del Sur can decreases prices – I met two travelers who were able to do this. It feels weird to haggle because many of us are uncomfortable with the custom; it may feel like you are taking from shop owners, but owners expect you to haggle. If you don’t, they are taking from you.
- Ask around for prices of everything
The tours you can book are generally the same – you see the same sights, have the same experiences, eat similar food – because there is so much competition in tourism. However, prices can vary significantly. Your best bet is to ask at least 3 companies, especially since they all offer free information, and go with the best one. If you’re pressed for time, ask at least two. This is especially important if you book bus tickets through tour companies as they often charge a commission. Ones that don’t are rare, but they exist.
- Buy bus tickets from the bus company directly
#6 being said, buying bus tickets directly from the bus company is the only way to ensure you are paying the absolute lowest price. The best thing about buses in Peru is that you often leave from a joint bus terminal – all the companies’ desks are within sight of each other – and you can easily walk from desk to desk asking about prices. In Puno, I asked around for bus tickets as soon as I arrived and got a fantastic deal that included pickup. Someone at my hostel had to pay for a taxi to the bus station AND didn’t get as good a deal as I did on the same ticket because he waited until the last minute and had to use a local travel agency.
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- Look at value, not just price or amenities
As a traveler, it’s easy to look at just the price to make decisions, especially on accommodations. When making decisions (while traveling, with money, or otherwise), what’s more important is the value. If you are looking at living spaces, consider the following. Does the place have wi-fi, and if so, how is it? Hot water? Breakfast? Where is it? How much will a taxi ride cost? Is it going to be loud, or quiet? Don’t be afraid to spend that extra money to get the experience that you want.
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