Currency and Exchange Rates
Mexico’s official currency is the peso, divided into 100 centavos. At the time of research, US$1 was equal to MP$12, while the Canadian dollar exchanged at MP$10.5, and the euro at MP$15.0. However, the peso was undergoing severe fluctuations—after over a decade of being virtually rock solid—so it’s worth double-checking all listed prices listed in this guidebook.
Almost every town in Chiapas has an ATM, and they are without question the easiest, fastest, and best way to manage your money. The ATM may charge a small transaction fee (US$1–3 typically) and your home bank may as well, but you don’t lose any more than you would by buying travelers checks and then exchanging them for a fee or at a bad rate.
Tip: Find out if your bank partners with a Mexican bank; if it does, use that bank’s ATMs to avoid double transaction fees.
With the spread of ATMs, travelers checks have stopped being convenient for most travel, especially in a country as developed as Mexico. If you do bring them, you will have to exchange them at a bank or a casa de cambio (exchange booth).
Visa and MasterCard are accepted at all large hotels and many medium-size ones, upscale restaurants, main bus terminals, travel agencies, and many shops throughout Mexico. American Express is accepted much less frequently. Some merchants tack on a 5–10 percent surcharge for any credit card purchase—ask before you pay.
It’s a good idea to bring a small amount of U.S. cash, on the off chance that your ATM or credit cards suddenly stop working; US$200 is more than enough for a two-week visit. Stow it away with your other important documents, to be used only if necessary.
A 12 percent value-added tax (IVA in Spanish) applies to hotel rates, restaurant and bar tabs, and gift purchases. When checking in or making reservations at a hotel, ask if tax has already been added. In some cases, the tax is 22 percent.
Bargaining is common and expected in street and artisans’ markets, but try not to be too aggressive. Some tourists derive immense and almost irrational pride from haggling over every last cent, and then turn around and spend several times that amount on beer or snacks. The fact is, most bargaining comes down to the difference of a few dollars or even less, and earning those extra dollars is a much bigger deal for most artisans than spending them is to most tourists.
While tipping is always a choice, it is a key supplement to many workers’ paychecks. In fact, for some—like baggers at the grocery store—the tip is the only pay they receive. And while dollars and euros are appreciated, pesos are preferred. (Note: Foreign coins can’t be changed to pesos, so are useless to workers.) Average gratuities in the region include:
- • Archaeological zone guides: 10–15 percent if you’re satisfied with the service; for informal guides (typically boys who show you around the site) US$1–2 is customary.
- • Gas station attendants: around US$0.50 if your windshield has been cleaned, tires have been filled, or the oil and water have been checked; no tip is expected for simply pumping gas.
- • Grocery store baggers: US$0.25–0.50.
- • Housekeepers: US$1–2 per day; either left daily or as a lump sum at the end of your stay.
- • Porters: about US$1 per bag.
- • Taxi drivers: Tipping is not customary.
- • Tour guides: 10–15 percent; and don’t forget the driver—US$1–2 is typical.
- • Waiters: 10–15 percent; make sure the gratuity is not already included in the bill.
© Liza Prado and Gary Chandler from Moon Chiapas, 1st Edition