All prices quoted in this guidebook are in Canadian dollars and cents unless otherwise noted.
Canadian currency is based on dollars and cents, with 100 cents equal to one dollar. Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, and 25 cents, and one and two dollars. The 11-sided, gold-colored, one-dollar coin is known as a “loonie” for the bird featured on it. The unique two-dollar coin is silver with a gold-colored insert. The most common notes are $5, $10, $20, and $50. A $100 bill does exist but is uncommon.
The safest way to carry money is in the form of travelers checks from a reputable and well-known U.S. company such as American Express, Visa, or Bank of America; those are also the easiest checks to cash. Cash only the amount you need when you need it. Banks offer the best exchange rates, but other foreign-currency exchange outlets are available. It’s also a good idea to start off with a couple of travelers checks in Canadian dollars so you’re never caught without some money if you don’t make it to a bank on time.
Visa and MasterCard credit and debit cards are also readily accepted in the Canadian Rockies; American Express charge cards are less widely accepted. By using these cards you eliminate the necessity of thinking about the exchange rate—the transaction and rate of exchange on the day of the transaction will automatically be reflected in the bill from your credit-card company. On the downside, you’ll always get a better exchange rate when dealing directly with a bank.
The cost of living in the Canadian Rockies is generally higher than in other parts of Canada, especially when it comes to accommodations. Provincially, the cost of living is lower in Alberta than in British Columbia but higher than in the United States. By planning ahead, having a tent or joining Hostelling International, and being prepared to cook your own meals, it is possible to get by on $80 per person per day. Gasoline is sold in liters (3.78 liters equals one U.S. gallon) and is generally $1–1.20 cents per liter for regular unleaded, rising to $1.50 along the Icefields Parkway.
Tipping charges are not usually added to your bill. You are expected to add a tip of 15 percent to the total amount for waiters and waitresses, barbers and hairdressers, taxi drivers, and other such service providers. Bellhops, doormen, and porters generally receive $1 per item of baggage.
Canada imposes a 5 percent goods and services tax (GST) on most consumer purchases. The British Columbia government imposes its own 7 percent tax (PST) onto everything except groceries and books. Alberta has no provincial tax. So when you are looking at the price of anything, remember that the final cost you pay will include an additional 5–12 percent in taxes.
© Andrew Hempstead, from Moon Western Canada, 3rd Edition