Everybody needs it, here are
the best ways to get
it, carry it, and spend it while in Puerto Vallarta!
be afraid to operate in Pesos!
You will get your best deals this way! Remember that for years the exchange rate was very close to 10 Pesos = 1 US Dollar, making mental conversions very easy. Since 2016, however, the exchange is closer to 18 Pesos = 1 US Dollar, so if your mental math isn't great, bring along a calculator!
THE MEXICAN PESO:
international currency can take a while to get familiar
with, and the Mexican Peso is no exception. At first
glance, to the first-time visitor, all the bills look
like Monopoly money, but you’ll get over that
feeling as soon as you start spending it. While US
and Canadian dollars will be accepted by most stores
and vendors in Puerto Vallarta, it will be at an exchange
rate that is definitely not to your advantage, so
plan on working with Pesos.
visitors from the USA and Canada, the easiest way
to make ‘on-the-go’ conversions between
prices in Mexican Pesos and the value ‘back
home’ usedto be to divide by 10…10 Pesos = 1
Dollar, 100 Pesos = 10 Dollars, 230 Pesos = 23 Dollars,
etc. Depending on the exchange rate, in actuality
10 Pesos is a little less (about 90 cents) in USA
money and a little more (about a Dollar and 15 cents)
Canadian, but using the “Rule of Ten”
made it very easy to get an idea of prices. With today's economic climate, however, the exchange rate is closer to 18 Pesos per Dollar, so you'll need to do a little more math..
Pesos bills come in 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000
Pesos denominations (see graphic). The newer 20’s
are actually made of plastic, and even have a little
clear ‘window’ in it. It’s the look
of the future for currency in Mexico (and probably
the rest of the world), as it lasts a long time and
is very difficult to counterfeit. 20’s and 50’s
are slightly smaller than the rest, making them easier
to distinguish from large bills.
Peso notes should be avoided at all times. This is
a ‘new’ denomination (introduced in early
2005), and once issued was immediately counterfeited.
More importantly, it is extremely difficult to pass
these as payment except at banks, because most small
stores, vendors, and restaurants will not have sufficient
cash to make change. If you receive a 1000-peso note
at a bank or money-exchange, pass it back and insist
on smaller bills (say “cambio mas chico, por
favor” roughly meaning “change for smaller
Peso notes can also present a problem in change-making
at smaller shops and restaurants, so make sure you
carry bills smaller than this at most times. 100’s
and 200’s are not too large for all but the
smallest vendors and stores. Also know that nearly
nobody will accept a bill which is not entirely whole,
and ripped or torn bills may be refused as well. You
should not accept them as change, either.
coin denominations are 1, 2, 5, and 10 Pesos. The
10 is especially easy to identify…it’s
a nice thick, substantial coin, bronze on the outside
and silver on the inside. (Gringos often wonder why
the US Treasury can’t come up with an easily-distinguished
Dollar coin like this.) There are also 5, 10, 20,
and 50 centavo (cents) coins, but you’ll rarely
see these. They are roughly the US and Canadian equivelent
of ½, 1, 2, and 5-cent coins, and the smallest
ones have the look and heft of toy money. Indeed,
5- and 10-centavo coins are more than occasionally
simply tossed on the street, and nobody but the smallest
children bother to pick them up. You’re only
likely to receive these small coins as change at larger
stores, like groceries and pharmacies…prices
at almost all other stores are in even-pesos.
are also 20 and 100 Peso coins (each slightly larger
than it’s next-smaller denomination), but as
a visitor you are not likely to encounter them unless
you are visiting in September – the very slowest
of tourism months. These coins tend to be hoarded
in jars and piggy banks until the tourists leave,
then the income of money slows down, and the jars
are opened to tide people through until the tourists
You can change money at banks or at any of the dozens
of “Casas de Cambio” (or simply “Cambios”
– “Change Houses”) located throughout
the area. Banks will give you the best exchange rate, but you will be required to show your passport, and the lines tend to be LONG…it’s not unusual
to wait ½ hour or more in line. UPDATE: Since 2014, many banks will not exchange US Dollars...they won't even accept them as deposits to an account. Banks will
allow you to cash traveller’s checks, but
only if you present your passport, and even then the process is time-consuming...the tellers seem to need to triple-check every traveller's check, and consult with at least one (and usually more) supervisor.
The difference in exchange rates
paid by the cambios versus the banks really is minimal,
unless you are changing thousands of dollars. A cambio
will generally pay about ½% less…so saving
the half-hour in line at the bank will only cost you
a few dollars per $100 US/Canadian at the cambio.
The cambio at the front desk of your hotel will typically
have the worst exchange rates, so plan ahead and use
the cambios on the street.
REGARDING TRAVELER'S CHECKS: Very few merchants will accept traveler's checks, so if using them is your preferred manner of carrying money here, be prepared to spend a bit of time in banks and Casas de Cambio.
The best way to get money is to use your ATM card.
You get the absolute best exchange rate, even though
you may have to pay a transaction fee. There are quite
a few ATM’s in and near Viejo Vallarta (the
‘Old Town’ of Puerto Vallarta…see
map), as well as a few in El Centro (Downtown), and
in every major supermarket throughout town. KNOW BEFORE
YOU GO what your daily withdrawal limit is, and know
that many ATMs here will only dispense a maximum of
3000 pesos per transaction. The most generous ATM may allow you to withdraw up to 5000 pesos, but all of this may be limited by YOUR bank's allowable daily maximum withdraw.
NOTIFY YOUR BANK OF YOUR TRAVEL PLANS BEFORE YLOU DEPART! To combat fraud, many US and Canadian banks will block your debit and credit cards from being used in Mexico (or any foreign country, for that matter) unless you have advised them in advance! It's a lot harder to get your cards un-blocked from down here, than it is to just call your banker before you leave.
ATM TIP #1: When an ATM asks you how much money
you want, it’s in PESOS, not dollars or whatever
your ‘home’ currency is. If you want (roughly)
FIFTY DOLLARS, request SEVEN HUNDRED FIFTY Pesos (as of Feb. '09 exchange rates). There are
just a few ATMs in town that will ask you if you want
‘Local Currency’ or U.S. Dollars…be
sure you select ‘Local’, or else you’ll
get US Dollars that you’ll then have to change
at a bank or cambio.
HOT ATM TIP #2: Avoid getting
a stack of hard-to-spend 500 Peso bills at the ATM:
After you’ve inserted your card, entered your
PIN, and chosen “withdrawal”, you will
usually be presented with several withdrawal amounts
to choose from – 100 Pesos, 300 Pesos, 1000
Pesos, etc – and an additional choice of “Other
Amount”. Choose “Other” and enter
an odd number divisible by 50 or 100 Pesos bills…for
example, 2950 or 2900 Pesos…this will force
the machine to dispense at least a few bills other
than 500 Peso notes.
You’ll find that your credit cards are accepted
only at most hotels and large stores and restaurants.
As a general rule, plan on carrying enough cash for
your purchases unless you have inquired in advance
at the restaurant or store you plan to visit. Where
credit cards are accepted, it is usually restricted
to MasterCard and Visa. Acceptance of Discover cards
is very rare, and while American Express has 2 offices
here (at the airport and Downtown), it is difficult
to use you ‘AmEx’ card except in the larger
hotels and a few restaurants.
Vallarta is not immune to a world-wide credit card
fraud called ‘swiping’, where the magnetic
strip of your card is recorded on a special device
and then duplicated (nearly immediately) on another
card in another city, and then used to run up all
sorts of charges. While most all U.S. and Canadian
credit card companies will reimburse you for this
fraud, it’s a hassle to try to do while you’re
on vacation. With this in mind, we suggest taking
your card to the cashier of the restaurant or store
so that your card never leaves your sight. Also, it’s
good advice to use DEBIT cards ONLY at ATMs.
Spending your money won’t be difficult,
but the concept of ‘bargaining’
over prices may be new for you. Do not feel
uncomfortable about this…it is a way of
life across Mexico, even in ‘non-tourist’
areas. If a store’s wares have marked
prices, then generally these are ‘fixed’
prices. It won’t hurt to ask about a lower
price though, especially if you are buying several
items. If prices are not marked (and always
with the vendors on the beach), then it’s
time to begin the game of bargaining. This can
be one of the most enjoyable parts of shopping
for some people, and for the Mexican shop-keeper,
it’s an enjoyable tradition.
Here’s how it works:
You start admiring an object, and the shop-keeper
asks you if you like it. You ask how much it
costs, and he replies that it is 200 pesos.
At this point you tell him that this is far
too much money, and he replies by explaining
about the fine quality of the item, how many
days it took the craftsman to create this piece
of art, and then asks how much you want to pay.
You suggest that you might like to take it home
with you if it were 75 pesos. He chuckles and
tells you that this is simply not possible,
as he has children to feed, but allows that
he could bring his price down to 180 pesos.
You in turn offer to pay 100 pesos, and on and
This can, if you like, go on
for quite some time, until you reach a price
at which you can both agree. Or, you can simply
put the item back on the shelf at any time and
say that it’s just more than you can afford.
Be aware that the shopkeeper may, as you are
leaving the store, agree finally to sell it
to you at your last-offered price (which you
are rather obligated to now accept), but to
“please don’t tell anybody else”.
This can be a way for both of you to save face
and complete the transaction. This is the way
business is and has been done in Mexico for
years and years, and how friends are made as
Bartering should never be insulting.
For the Mexican it is normal and fun; if it
is not fun for you, stick to the stores with
price tags on their stuff. To insult someone's
merchandise is down-right rude, and will only
make you, and your fellow countrymen, look bad.
GRATUITIES / TIPPING
The Mexican people are friendly and eager to help
you. They enjoy it, really!! But that does not mean
they also do not enjoy receiving a tip for their services.
The tip, "propina" in Spanish, is the recognized
way of saying thank you. It is not so much the amount,
as it is the thought that counts. Tips can be in Pesos
or Dollars, but please NO American/Canadian coins,
as they are not exchangeable here, even in the banks,
and thus hold no value. Below are some guidelines
for who you should tip, and how much.
1. House Staff: Tipping
the housekeepers is not common, nor is it un-common.
Experienced travelers will tell you, though, that
a small tip after the first night will insure attentive
extra service should you require it; another tip at
the end of your stay, if you appreciated the overall
housekeeping service, is appropriate. Leave your tip
on a piece of paper and write "para tu servicio...gracias!"
(for your service...thank you!) so they know it's
a tip and not your pocket-change, unintended for a
tip. The housekeeping staff generally works hard for
small salaries to make you comfortable...a few dollars
(in pesos, of course) will be most appreciated.
2. Waiters/Waitresses: Gratuities
for wait staff are comparable to gratuities here.
The standard tip is 15%, 20% for exceptional service.
As you will likely be serviced by many people through
out your meal, you can expect that the gratuity you
leave will be divided between all of them. Also know
that in Mexico, going out to eat is an event. You
will NEVER be offered the check until you ask for
it! Do not assume that the waiter/waitress is being
rude or ignoring you, this is simply customary. When
you are ready for your bill, simply signal the waiters
with a small wave, and ask for "la cuenta"
(pronounced "la kwenta").
3. Taxi Drivers: It is not
necessary to tip taxi drivers unless they perform
an extra service for you (help you with your luggage;
wait for you while you exchange money or get something
from a store, etc.). If they do, then your tip should
be appropriate to the amount of service they provided
for you (20 pesos for waiting, 30 to 50 pesos for helping with luggage,
depending on how much luggage you have).
4. Airport Porters: Figure
about $1 per bag is a reasonable tip for airport porters
if you use their services. $5 or $50 pesos should
be your maximum tip unless you have an excessive amount
5. Salon Staff: Similar
to the US, the standard tip for salon services (massage
therapy, hair cuts, pedicures etc…) is 10-15%.
6. Grocery Store: In the
large supermarkets it is customary to tip the young
boy or girl who sacks your groceries...two to five
pesos is fine, or even 10 or 20 pesos if there are a lot of bags. If you want, they'll push your cart out to your car for you and help you load it in...this is worth 30 to 50 pesos (a few measly bucks to you, but a much-appreciated windfall for them!)